Saturday, 31 December 2011

Top 10 (alternative) Albums of 2011

After what was a very disappointing 2010 alternative music seems to have hit back with a vengeance in 2011, in particular September, which saw 3 of my favourite 7 bands release albums, the lead singer of another release a solo album and my favourite release a documentary celebrating 20 years of them being together - here's hoping for 20 more years from Pearl Jam!  Overall it's difficult for me to chose between them as there are so many quality offerings, but here goes (in reverse order this time):

10. Sylosis - Edge of Earth
Not a band I've listened a lot to in the past, however I saw them live a while back I was very impressed.  Probably the heaviest band on this list and not what I'd normally listen to in my free time, there aren't exactly many breakdowns with clean sung chorus's but as far as their genre goes it's really bloody good!  A total of 14 tracks and 72 minutes means it's definitely value for money and really doesn't let up, it's strong all the way through - although not good for your neck with the amount of headbanging that you end up doing!  Although I wouldn't recommend it for anyone wanting a bit of easy listening!

 9. Alkaline Trio - Damnesia
Complete contrast to Sylosis - much easier to listen to.  I would normally scoff at putting a best of on this sort of list but Damnesia isn't your usual best of, 12 tracks have been reworked into semi acoustic format with the addition of 3 new songs.  With a back catalogue of 7 studio albums it's fair enough to be releasing such a thing but massive respect to them for not just lazily lumping a few together and hoping it sells.  Particularly love "Every Thug Needs A Lady" and ""Clavicle" - two of their classics beautifully reworked.

8. Skindred - Union Black
Skindred are really unique, I don't think there is anyone around like them.  The review linked to above says "You’ll read a lot about this album not living up to the Skindred live show, which is a fair point to make, but only true simply because Skindred are one of THE best live acts you’ll ever see", this is so true.  Benji's rastafarian rock vocals are just so unique and honestly I can't wait for their gig with Therapy? Next year.  For me this album is up with their Babylon album for quality.  

7. Bright Eyes - People's Key
Conor Oberst has one of those voices where when I hear it I just want to stop and listen.  As far as The People's Key goes it doesn't quite catch me as much as "I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning" or "Fevers & Mirrors" and it doesn't quite reach the heights of the critically acclaimed "Lifted or The Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground" but that's just because these albums all set the bar so high.  His song writing is just as good really, if not better, he also manages not to be pigeon-holed whilst being everything at once.  It really is quite a gift.

6. Staind - Staind
Staind are my fourth favourite band of all time, so it would have been a massive surprise if they didn't make this list with an album - especially when it goes right back to what they do best and produced a really great album in the theme of their first two Tormented and Dysfunction.  There is only one reason why it isn't higher on my list and that is track 4: "Wannabe" (featuring Snoop Dog).  I really dislike this song.  However if you take that away it is a really awesome album that reminds me just why I like them so much 10/11 years on from when I purchased Break the Cycle.  

5. DevilDriver - Beast
It's as if they realised that their 2009 offering Pray For Villains wasn't their greatest album so they had to come back fairly quickly with a better offering and that they certainly did.  This album is just typical DevilDriver fair with their opening song "Dead To Rights" setting the pace from the word go.  Although I have to say Johnathan Boecklin on drums is the lynchpin of the band and Dez Fafara's lyrics are often lacking, however he makes up for this with pure anger!

4. Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning
I may have been a little influenced here because I met him when he launched the album in Bristol (which means I own a lovely signed copy) but Steven Wilson is amazing at making beautiful music.  I have become a big fan of Porcupine Tree over the last couple of years and really like Blackfield too, so was a little disappointed by his first offering Insurgentes which, whilst good didn't capture me - it felt like the build up to something else.  Grace For Drowning however I had on repeat for about a month.  The album is all about loss, after being dedicated to his late father and you can feel it throughout the double disc edition.  My particular favourite is "Postcard" but the album is just so full of awesome tracks that you could argue for any.  There has been a lot of talk about Storm Corrosion releasing something in April next year, and I for one can't wait as this album from Steven and the latest offering from Mikael Åkerfeldt's Opeth have both blown me away... which leads me nicely into:

3. Opeth - Heritage
As embarrassing as this is to admit - this was the first Opeth album I have purchased.  After one listen through I knew it wouldn't be the last!  There is an awesome melodic structure to all of their riffs whilst Åkerfeldt's vocals are hauntingly good.  From the sounds of things this is not a typical Opeth fan's favourite album - too prog, however I am a prog fan so maybe this is why I love it!

2. Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn Of Events
If you've heard one Dream Theater album you've pretty much heard them all.  You know exactly what you're getting as soon as you select play, exactly the same as their other albums.  But when their other albums are so good what's the problem?  There was the obvious worry that Mike Mangini wouldn't have settled in behind the drums and there would have been a gaping hole left behind by Mike Portnoy's surprising exit, however this is not the case.  The album is none stop awesome songs performed brilliantly.  "Build Me up, Break Me Down" is almost industrial in places and a refreshing change to have another Dream Theater song that I'd happily play at an Industrial/Metal night.  The stand out song though is the ballad at the very end "Beneath The Surface", when I heard this first I swear a tear formed.  This has become one of my favourite albums already, along with their previous offering of Black Clouds and Silver Linings.  It had to be something good to pip it for me...

How do you follow possibly the greatest metal album of all time in the form of The Blackening? Well if you're Machine Head you do this by making sure your next album blows any other album released that year out of the water.  The first 30 minutes or so are just pure blistering metal, there is hardly room to pause for breath.  Fortunately the chance to pause comes as the 5th song - "Darkness Within" starts.  On first listening this is not a Machine Head song, it doesn't seem to fit, however the more you listen the more you realise just how epic it is.  Their performance of it at Wembley Arena at the start of this month is something I'll remember for a long time. The song itself really resonates with me about how music can be there for you when you need it most.  The only disappointment for me is the use of the children's vocals in "Who We Are", however, as they are the band member's children I shall let them off this minor misdemeanor and thank them for what was a brilliant album. 

In short it has been an awesome year from my perspective for music, I hope it has from everyone else's point of view.  The only sadness for me was the passing of Amy Winehouse.  I know she was often criticised for her private life and often the butt of jokes but I thought she was wonderfully talented.  In addition to this the memory that will stay with me most from 2011 was the tribute to Slipknot bassist Paul Grey, RIP both.  Here's hoping 2012 will be just as good but without the need for any sadness.  

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