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25 December, 2007

Music of the year

I don't really like ranked 'Best of' lists – their compilation is too anal and stereotypically male for my taste, and the idea of asserting that Album A is 'better' than Album B but not as 'good' as Album C is patently absurd.  However, I thought it reasonable to identify those albums released in 2007 that I have (and haven't...) particularly liked.
It wasn't until that list reached fourteen albums that I really realised how productive a year this has been – most of my favourite artists have released something in 2007, and I've made a couple of worthwhile new discoveries.

Album of the Year

Porcupine Tree - Fear of a Blank Planet
[Reviewed here]
This wasn't in much doubt – if only in subjective terms of my own preferences, this was well ahead of anything else released this year: the first Porcupine Tree release since 1999 that I've liked completely, from start to finish, with multiple highlights. This would rank highly on a hypothetical list of my all-time favourite albums, too.

Highlights

Continuum - Continuum II
[Reviewed here]
I wasn't sure about an electric guitar accompanying full-on, extended dark-ambient pieces, but when I'm in the right mood, this grabs my total attention. Transcendental!

Fovea Hex - Neither Speak Nor Remain Silent
I have to confess I was drawn to 'Allure', the third of this 3-EP project, by the participation of Steven Wilson, but I couldn't distinguish his contribution and there was nothing 'fanboy' about my being blown-away by the music itself: a wonderful combination of haunting, vaguely Celtic folk and stark dark-ambient music. The other two EPs didn't quite meet the expectations set by 'Allure', but the overall result is still one of the best albums I've heard for quite a while.

Porcupine Tree - Nil Recurring
[Reviewed here]
Not, as some people have said in year-end reviews, 'FoaBP/NR' – that's just plain incorrect, as 'Nil Recurring' is an entirely separate release featuring material which happened to originate at the same time as, if not slightly before, 'Fear of a Blank Planet'. It is not b-sides/outtakes from 'FoaBP'.
Anyway, I like it a lot, though it's not as consistent as 'FoaBP'.

Explosions In The Sky - All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone
I said two years ago that I like this guitar-led, instrumental-only, post-rock. The new album isn't hugely different to its two predecessors (though stronger than the reissued debut album – if you're new to the band, don't start there!), but I liked them, so that's hardly a problem, and it's not really just 'more of the same'.

Sigur Rós - Hvarf-Heim
I think the band have called this a stopgap between 'real' albums or an offshoot of the 'Heima' tour & DVD project. I'd agree with that assessment: some of the live and revised arrangements of existing material are truly wonderful and the new material compares well with that on past albums, but I can't deny having hoped for genuine progression of the Sigur Rós sound.

The Reasoning - Awakening
An excellent reminder for me to keep my mind open: had I known before hearing the music 'blind' that The Reasoning are a new band featuring ex-members of 'neo-prog' acts Karnataka and Magenta, I wouldn't have expected the freshness and maturity of their debut album. The title track hooked me immediately, and repeated listening continues to unearth excellent details in the whole album.

Gazpacho - Night
My appreciation of this new discovery is developing daily, particularly as I become more accustomed to Jan Henrik Ohme's voice (I wasn't too sure about it at first). One could note a similarity to contemporary Marillion, but it's not too close and this is immeasurably better than the 'parent' band's 2007 release.

Expectedly Mediocre

Blackfield - Blackfield 2
[Reviewed here]
Like the debut album, I thought this was pretty good for a few weeks, but rapidly tired of it. I doubt I'd bother buying a third.

Riverside - Rapid Eye Movement
I was disappointed by Riverside's second album, as it lacked the novelty and energy of the first (my 'album of the year' acquired in 2005, though it was released in 2003). Hence, my expectations of this, the third, were more realistic: I didn't expect much, and was neither impressed nor disappointed.

Disappointments

Fish - 13th Star
[Reviewed here]
I tried to convince myself that I liked this, and I do think it works well when played as one continuous composition, in sequence, but occasional plays over several months have led to the conclusion that it's far from Fish's best.
In fact, I recently made an uncomfortable realisation. As I've mentioned, I've been listening to Frans Keylard's 'prog'-orientated podcasts for a couple of weeks in a conscious effort to widen my knowledge and discover new music. Apart from certain highlights (some on this list), the experience has reinforced both my prejudices about the stale 'prog'/'neo-prog' genre and my perception that there are 'top' bands exhibiting originality and musicianship, and 'also-ran' bands merely emulating what's gone before, somehow lacking the undefinable 'spark' of creativity that'd elevate them to the premier league of headline acts.
And '13th Star' very firmly fits amongst them.

Radiohead - In Rainbows
[Reviewed here]
I only have a slight interest in Radiohead anyway, and only like a few post 'OK Computer' songs, so I didn't expect to love the new album. It didn't meet even that expectation, and I only listened to it a couple of times.

Marillion - Somewhere Else
[Reviewed here]
This bored me in April, and I don't recall feeling the remotest urge to play it since then. Best, and easily, forgotten.

Too Soon To Decide

Pineapple Thief - What We Have Sown
I only received my copy a few days ago, and haven't even heard it once from start to finish, so I better hadn't comment, beyond saying it seems much more promising than '12SD'/'10SD' (haven't heard 'Little Man' yet; that arrived with 'WWHS'). There are another six days until the end of 2007, so if I get an opportunity to give the album my full attention (possible but unlikely), I might post an update.

Comments

Nice list there, you clearly do your homework!

I am still agonizing over my top favorites of 2007... So many good releases to choose from, but in the end it will contain releases I am still interested in after playing them several times through.

Some albums just keep improving while others drop precipitously after 5 plays, even if the first 2 plays were highly enjoyable.

Keep up the good work, love the blog!

Cheers,
Frans

Posted by Frans at December 26, 2007 09:32 PM

Given what I know of your tastes, I'm surprised you like The Reasoning's album; I though that one would have been far too retro-prog for you. Shows how I can never second-guess someone else's tastes.

Have to agree about Blackfield; everyone seems to rave about them. It's got a couple of great individual songs, but I find the rest of the album a bit dull.

Posted by Tim Hall at December 27, 2007 05:08 PM
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