At this time of year everyone and his dog is publishing a list of something. It’s dreamtime for those who like to catalogue, rank and review.
I had a lot of fun pulling out and revisiting the 2013 releases in my collection (and trying to remember the gigs I’d been to) for the Über Röck website and Fireworks magazine end of term exercises.
Those interested can check out collective and individual lists in the January/February 2014 edition of Fireworks (Issue 61) and the Albums of the Year and Gigs of the Year features on the Über Röck website.
Rather than simply reproduce those exercises here, I thought I’d do something different. It’s true that in the introduction to Words and Music, I note that rock fans generally buck the modern trend for downloading single tracks and prefer to experience music through bands and albums. However, in thinking about my favourite albums of 2013 for the aforementioned exercises, I was troubled by the huge amount of good music I’d had to omit. It’s also true that you can cast some light on bands and albums by drawing attention to particular songs. I thought, therefore, that I’d compile a list of fifteen tracks that made a particular impression on me last year – an entirely arbitrary number, of course, but I guess you have to stop somewhere!
So, in no particular order, here are some tracks that rocked my world in 2013. Some are from my top twenty albums of the year, and some aren’t. Where I can I’ve added links to the music. Obviously (it almost goes without saying) I don’t own the copyright to any of the material, but I direct you to it in the hope that you’ll find something you’ll enjoy and will want to add it to your own collection. Here goes …
1. Deep Purple – ‘Above and Beyond’ (from Now What?!)
As a long-term fan of the Steve Morse-era, I was absolutely delighted that Purple came up trumps with what most commentators agree is their best album since 1996’s excellent Purpendicular. The quality and success of the album was tinged with sadness, though, as the band paid tribute to friend and former bandmate, the great Jon Lord. The album as a whole was dedicated to Jon, though ‘Above and Beyond’ is a very poignant and more direct tribute.
Rest on your sadness
And tomorrow we’ll find
That souls, having touched, are forever entwined
You Tube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wyNDlr-u6U0
2. Von Hertzen Brothers – ‘Flowers and Rust’ (from Nine Lives)
Here’s a great band who really should be as big all over the world as they are in their native Finland. The flip side of their crawl to international recognition is that it’s still possible to see them ‘up close and personal’ in small venues in the UK. ‘Flowers and Rust’ is one of the stand out tracks from their magnificient 2013 album Nine Lives and earned them the ‘Anthem of the Year’ accolade at the 2013 Prog Awards. Check it out people. Hopefully 2014 will be their year!
You Tube link to official video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1tAYCTZt6bA
3. Riverside – ‘We Got Used to Us’ (from Shrine of New Generation Slaves)
Gutsy, modern prog rock from Poland. Riverside are a band I already loved, and they didn’t disappoint with 2013’s Shrine of New Generation Slaves. In amongst the now customary psycho-drama and the intense and compelling musical passages, Mariusz Duda sure knows how to pen a great melody and strong lyrical hooks. I’ve gone here with ‘We Got Used to Us’ (with an honorary mention to ‘The Depth of Self-Delusion’) but could really have picked any of the album’s eight tracks to illustrate the quality of the band and the pull of the album.
Hear it on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuBvF3fZUi4
4. Steven Wilson – ‘Drive Home’ (from The Raven That Refused To Sing And Other Stories)
Considered by many to be the master of modern progressive rock, Steven Wilson was on fire in 2013. He released the astonishing The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), having assembled an all-star band who proved as effective live as they were in the studio. He followed up the album and tour with the Drive Home video EP, which came complete with live and previously unreleased bonus tracks. ‘Drive Home’, the track, was a compelling tear jerker and benefitted from a quite superb animated video, directed by Jess Cope. (Honorary mentions too, to ‘The Raven …’ itself – another stunning video – and the acerbic and punchy ‘The Holy Drinker’.)
Here’s a link to the official video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycYewhiaVBk
You can hear Jess speaking about the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUUaAV_4lgs
You can read my own Über Röck review of the Drive Home video EP here:
5. Spaceport Union – ‘Minnow’ (from Flirting With The Queen)
‘Minnow’ is a superb piece from the debut album of a Canadian band who will be unknown to most in the UK. One of the pleasures and privileges of writing for Über Röck is that you do sometimes come across rare gems from talented emerging artists . In my review I said:
“Checking in at a cool 14 minutes and eight seconds, ‘Minnow’ is a modern prog classic in the making. Ethereal and dreamy, edgy and experimental, and “recorded live off the floor,” its emotional weight is carried by Spence’s haunting vocal. “Do not go gentle into that dark night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” says the Dylan Thomas quote in the album credits. ‘Minnow’ is not always gentle and does not always rage, but it does induce a sense of melancholy and quiet torment throughout. It’s beautifully sad. It’s how things might turn out if Wilson and Åkerfeldt in Storm Corrosion mode ever collaborated with Kate Bush. But there’s still room for the guitar dominated final section to pick up the pace and really drive the track home.”
I stand by those words – and by my overall review of the album. It made my top twenty!
Check out the track and the album here: http://www.spaceportunion.com/
And here’s my full Über Röck review: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/27-july-cd/8720-spaceport-union-flirting-with-the-queen-groove-riot.html
6. Blitzkrieg – ‘V’ (from Back From Hell)
I reviewed the new Blitzkrieg album in Fireworks (Issue 61) and regarded it as a qualified success. Why “qualified”? Well, because it largely plays to an old-school NWOBHM audience and in that sense pigeonholes itself. ‘V’, however, has a great blend of power, drama and melody and had me reaching for the repeat play button. (An honourable mention too to ‘Complicated Issues’ – the other stand-out track on the album.) “An idea cannot be killed by bullets.” Great stuff!
Check out ‘V’ here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPyCGkteyPw
7. The Lidocaine – ‘Life is Beautiful’ (from The Road To Miero)
Another Finnish band, and probably one of the more obscure artists to make an impression on me last year. The Road to Miero is their second album. It’s not bad at all, and despite some of the album’s relatively grim lyrical themes, opener ‘Life is Beautiful’ struck me as a reaffirmation of the beauty of life despite hardship and struggle. This track has stayed with me all year.
There’s a ropey recording of ‘Life is Beautiful’ on You Tube that doesn’t really do it justice, so you might be better advised to check them out via their website: http://www.thelidocaine.com/
Here’s my Über Röck review of the album: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/25-may-cd/8031–the-lidocaine-on-the-road-to-miero-inverse-records.html
8. Gate 6 – ‘God Machines’ (from God Machines)
Top notch stuff from a Dutch band I hadn’t heard of before 2013. Although I was sent God Machines to review in 2013, it was actually released in 2012 – otherwise it would certainly have made my top 20 albums of the year. The title track is one of its stand out moments, and again, has stayed with me since the review. (An honorary mention to ‘Casualties of War’ too.)
Track samples are available on the Gate 6 website: http://www.gate6.nl/album/
9. Tipsy Road – ‘Wraith’ (from Somewhere Alive)
Tipsy Road are a young Swiss band with a less than convincing name but an album full of heavy rocking tracks that just keep comin’ atcha. ‘Wraith’ is one of the tracks that pulled me into their Somewhere Alive album and made me think that these guys have something special.
There’s a very nice four minute album preview on the band’s website: http://www.tipsyroad.com/tipsyroad.com/Home.html
And here’s my Über Röck review: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/32-december-cd/10076-tipsy-road-somewhere-alive-rockarchive.html
10. Split Sofa – ‘She Really Moved Me’ (from Coloured Dream)
Split Sofa, led by frontman and songwriter Lewie Docksey, are a band with a recording history. (Coloured Dream was, in fact, their sixth album.) They play a slightly anachronistic and very English brand of psychedelic rock, of which ‘She Really Moved Me’, with its early Pink Floyd and Satanic Majesties-era Stones vibe, is a prime example. I fell in love with this track on first play.
You can hear it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jae_cMgriSg
And here’s my Über Röck review: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/30-october-cd/9512-split-sofa-coloured-dream-self-released.html
11. This Devastated Fan – ‘Contingency Plan’ (from Plot and Debauchery)
TDF are a young band from the North West of England who in 2013 decided to “reboot” their debut album. It’s a good, solid, well thought-out affair that boasts some great tunes and deserves some attention. ‘Contingency Plan’ was one of the catchiest tracks I heard all year. I’ve been walking around singing it for months!
I can’t find a decent, available version online, but please do check out the band’s website: http://www.tdfhq.co.uk/
This is what I wrote about them at the time: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/29-september-cd/9123-this-devastated-fan-plot-and-debauchery-tired-eyes-productions.html
12. Primitive Instinct – ‘Solitary Man’ (from One Man’s Refuge)
Primitive Instinct are a somewhat older band, who produced a thoughtful ‘Sort of Rock’ album likely to provide comfort and succour to those of a certain vintage in particular. It didn’t make it to my top twenty list, but there are some very classy tracks here, of which ‘Solitary Man’ has become my favourite.
Check out the band via song samples available on their website: http://www.primitive-instinct.com/
13. Dyscordia – ‘Ache of Hearts’ (from Twin Symbiosis)
“And here come the Belgians …” with their loud heavy metal guitars and their growling vocals! Twin Symbiosis was another album I reviewed for Über Röck, and yet another album that was a very pleasant surprise. About ‘Ache of Hearts’ I said: “Stand out track for me is the beautifully sung ‘Ache of Hearts’, the album’s ‘resting point’ and a chance to come up for air after a storming run from the creepy ‘Dreamcatcher Tree’, through ‘The Empty Room’, ‘From Sight to Black’ and “the meanest motherfucker on the album” (it sez ‘ere) ‘Rise to Perception’. In a perfect world, ‘Ache of Hearts’ would win the Eurovision Song Contest every year, and everyone would have progressive metal for breakfast.”
You can hear it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e4wAEd-kmTg
Here’s my full Über Röck review: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/30-october-cd/9698-dyscordia-twin-symbiosis-road-mark-productions.html
14. Inner Odyssey – ‘Light Years Away’ (from Have a Seat)
Have a Seat was the very strong debut album from a young Canadian progressive rock/metal band with bags of talent and seemingly unlimited potential. ‘Light Years Away’ is a 3 part suite that, for fans of the genre, has everything.
When I reviewed this album, I wrote: “The band set out their stall early with the three part epic ‘Light Years Away’. Part I (‘Tides of Fate’) is dominated by the atmospheric keys of Mathiau Chamberland. Part II (‘Shades of Heaven’) showcases Leboeuf-Gadreau’s precision soloing and the smooth vocals of Pier-Luc Garand Dion. The raging riffola and occasional full band thrashes of Part III (‘Distant Illusion’) show the band’s modern metal influences and put drummer Étienne Doyon and bassist Simon Gourdeau in the shop window before reaching a wonderfully melodic conclusion.”
You can read my full Über Röck review here: http://www.uberrock.co.uk/cd-reviews/27-july-cd/8662-inner-odyssey-have-a-seat-unicorn-records.html
Expect to hear more from this band in 2014. In the meantime, the band has made the full album available online and I most heartily recommend that you check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgztcvjfGE0 ( ‘Light Years Away’ is the opening track.)
You might also like to know that Have a Seat made former Fireworks Reviews Editor Paul Jerome-Smith’s 2013 top five albums of the year!
15. Karelia – ‘Bill For The Ride’ (from Golden Decadence)
Karelia’s album Golden Decadence was another surprise. I know you can’t always judge a disc by its cover, but having seen the ‘bling’ and the ‘chicks’ I was expecting an album full of grimy sleaze rock. Having said that, I knew that they had supported the Scorpions and Michael Schenker, so on reflection probably should have expected a band with a bit more class. I was on my way to Wolverhampton to see Marillion when I first played it, and album opener ‘Bill For The Ride’ blew me away. It ‘benefits’, I’d say, from a misheard lyric – something about a “mother-loving Mars Bars”. I call it the ‘Mars Bar song’ now.
Hear the track (and mishear the lyric) here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-Op0qU2koo
So there you are. I’ll still probably agonise about the bands and good music I’ve still not managed to represent on any of my lists … Solstice, Legend, Corvus Stone, Mindwork, Nik Turner, Hammerforce. But hey, you have to draw the line somewhere! It’s a new musical year now and there’s already so much to look forward to.
Onwards and upwards, eh?!