Just before the end of last year, I had an idea to write a sort of end of year round up of 2011’s music, and what an absolutely amazing year it had been. As far as I’m concerned it was probably the best of at least the last five years. But then 2012 blindsided me, and 22 days in to the new year I’m already at the point of wanting to declare this as the best year in music, so rather than just looking back, how about we do some looking forward too? Yeah? Great, lets start.
Last year was a year that delivered in spades, many of my favourite artists put out new albums, all of which were of a stunning caliber. Here are some of the highlights:
Opeth – Heritage
This was one I was worried about. In my opinion Opeth’s previous album, Watershed, didn’t live up to the band’s usual seal of quality. I found it to be derivative of their older work without really bringing anything new to the table. Opeth are one of those bands that manages to find a different way of approaching every album they do, so I was disappointed when Watershed failed to surprise me. Had the band hit a creative slump? Had they finally ran out of ideas and creative energy? Needless to say, this left me worried about how their follow up would come out sounding. Not only were those worries completely unnecessary, what they came out with completely blindsided everybody to listen to it.
For those of you not familiar with Opeth, here’s a quick rundown: they’re a melodic death metal band who draw heavily on progressive rock influences, amongst other things. But for Heritage they completely threw away the rulebook. Death growls? Gone. Heavy, distorted guitars? Gone. Insanely loud drumming? Gone.
Heritage is a pure progressive rock album, and it’s a bloody good one. It’s definitely one of my favourite albums of the year, and I’d recommend it to anyone. One of the best things about it is that despite a complete shift from the band’s typical style and sound, anyone who knows the band can instantly listen to it and identify it as their work. Once again the band has excelled itself at finding a new way of approaching their work.
The Antlers – Burst Apart
The Antlers’ first album, Hospice, was widely recognised as one of the best albums of 2009, so I had a lot of expectations for the follow up. Burst Apart didn’t disappoint. When it first came out it was the only thing I listened to for about 2 weeks. As a full album it’s much better than Hospice, although I’ll concede that there’s nothing on Burst Apart that comes remotely near to my two favourites on Hospice. And that’s the album’s one downfall: a lack of standout tracks. It’s not much of a downfall when you consider the overall quality of the album though.
La Dispute – Wildlife
There’s not much to say about this album other than it’s brilliant. If you want to read my ful feelings about the band, you can do so here.
In short, the band has improved on everything. It’s a really interesting concept album that reflects on various aspects of mortality, and the lyrics are wonderfully written. Fucking depressing at times though, but incredibly powerful.
Animals As Leaders – Weightless
Looking back I think this may actually be my album of the year, and I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be. If you’re not familiar with the band, you need to rectify that immediately. But I’ll give you a quick rundown – it started as the solo project of guitarist Tosin Abasi, who is one of the best guitarists I’ve ever had the pleasure to see play. The man is capable of creating, and then playing, ridiculously complex music, all whilst making it look so easy you’d think anyone could do it.
Following his first album, he recruited a band to perform live with. And so Weightless is the first album by Animals as Leaders as a band, rather than a single man. And it shows. The guitar writing and performance is as solid as ever, but what really separates this album from their first is having a proper drummer involved in the writing process. The result is a piece of mindblowing musicianship that’s nothing short of inspired.
Steven Wilson – Grace for Drowning
I have to admit, I was a little disappointed with this one. Steven’s first album, Insurgentes, is one of my all time favourite albums. After listening to GFD a lot, I’ve finally formed the opinion that it doesn’t quite live up to it’s predecessor. That doesn’t mean it isn’t fantastic though. It is.
Thomas Giles – Pulse
This came as a complete surprise to me. It’s the second solo album from Between the Buried and Me frontman Tommy Rogers. Any of you who’ve heard BTBAM will know that they’re incredibly talented musicians who dabble in playing a diverse range of music. And yet I was still caught off guard by just how much of an incredible range of music Tommy is capable of producing, and performing. Check out the album’s first video, Sleep Shake, to see what I’m talking about.
There are a few songs on the album that aren’t anything to write home about, but by and large it’s a really well constructed album, and covers a lot of different styles. A very good listen.
A quick few honorable mentions go to Thrice for their latest album Major/Minor, which I found a bit too similar to their previous album, also Circle Takes the Square finally finished recording their second album. Given that their first was released way back in 2004, I was pretty surprised that this ever materialised. Although having said that, it didn’t really materialise. They released a 4 track taster EP, but never got around to releasing the full thing – hopefully we’ll see it in 2012 some time. Oh, and Sparta got back together and started recording a new album. Finally, Between the Buried and Me released a pretty sweet EP, as a precursor to a full album that they’re planning.
Since we’re on the subject of Sparta, 2012 should see the aforementioned album getting a release. But a much more important bit of Sparta related news was announced this year. After 12 years of being broken up, At the Drive-In announced that they were reuniting. And as if that wasn’t an excellent enough day in music news, a few hours later Refused, after 14 years of being broken up, did the same.
For me this represents the chance that I actually have the chance to have seen all of my favourite bands before I die. I’ve been very lucky in getting to see bands I love, but there are three of my favourites that I’ve never been able to see because they were broken up before I got into them. Those three bands are ATDI, Refused, and Faith No More. I now live in a world where all three of those bands are back together.
I’m excited about Refused most of all. I’m not exaggerating when I say that listening to The Shape of Punk to Come at the age of 14 changed my life forever. That album set me on the course of loving all the music that I love today, and it also helped form my political worldview. I’m sure I would be a different person without that album. The chance to see Refused perform live is something I’ve been waiting my entire adult life for.
Although I do have some anxiety about both Refused and ATDI being back together. One thing both of those bands share in common is that they broke up immediately after releasing their best works. They went out on a total high, without ever putting a foot wrong. I’m okay with both bands being back together and performing, but I worry about the possibility of them recording new music. What if they release something shit? I really don’t want to see either band fuck up their legacies. Still, neither band has mentioned the possibility of new material yet, and of course there’s always the chance that they could release something new that’s amazing. We’ll just have to wait and see. I’ll certainly be biting my nails if either of them do intend to make new music though.
Whilst I’m still on the topic of ATDI, the other band formed by it’s members, the Mars Volta, have finally announced a date for their new album, Noctourniquet. We’ll be hearing it in March. Hopefully it should be an ace album too – I’ve noticed that TMV tend to release an amazing album, then an okay one. If they stick with the trend, this one should be brilliant.
And that’s not the only album to look forward to in March, Every Time I Die release their new one, Ex-Lives. This is an album I’ve been anticipating for a while. 2009’s New Junk Aesthetic is an album that I still listen to on at least a weekly basis, if not more. And judging from the single, this one should be an amazing follow-up.
There are also a few other bits to look forward to. The Dillinger Escape Plan announced last year that they were recording material for release this year, Trent Reznor announced last week that he’s going to start recording Nine Inch Nails material again, and there’s the chance of the new Between The Buried and Me album I mentioned earlier.
All in all a lot to look forward to then. 2011 is going to be a very tough act to follow, but the signs are there that 2012 can definitely pull it off.