Thursday, October 24, 2013

Albums of the year 2013

As a real-life Vicar, I was chatting with a friend the other day and we acknowledged that when the church reaches Harvest Thanksgiving, the liturgical year is on a slippery slope non-stop to Advent then Christmas, after which it is full pelt to Easter. Only then is their some respite as we enjoy (endure) weeks of green '(Extra)Ordinary time' until the cycle begins all over again...

If none of that made any sense at all, it was a Vicary way of acknowledging that the end of the year is almost upon us.

I have blogged a lot of my church life over the years, but latterly music, which runs through me like the word 'Blackpool' does through rock, has become more and more important. Is this my mid-life crisis; me grasping at the straws of life, trying to relive my teenage past? That my dear reader is the stuff of another blog.

I was at a training day the other day and we were asked to reflect on what energises us. What renews us as us to give us something by way renewing what we give back to the parish coal-face. I realised again how important music really is to me. My friend Chris McGarel describes himself as a musicophile - I can identify with that.

Anyway, back to the point.  The end of the year is almost upon us, so I thought I would blog about the albums  have been important to me this year - this won't be an entirely '2013 best of list' but will include stuff that has moved me deeply this year. Over the next few weeks expect incoherent mumblings about Steven Wilson's 'The Raven That Refused to Sing', Leprous' 'Coal, Sanguine Hum's 'The Weight of the World', Lifesign's s/t album and Days Between Station's 'In Extremis', Marillion's 'Sounds That Can't Be Made', Breaking Orbit's 'Time Traveller', Rush's 'Clockwork Angels', 'Kairos 4Tet's 'Everything We Hold', and Mark Lockheart's 'In Deep' to name but a few.

So to the first... Haken's 'The Mountain.

To say that I was excited at this release is an understatement.  A few years back I would have dismissed their combination of tight riffage, circus music, great hooks, harmonies as a cacophonous howl (great name for a band btw) but thanks almost single-handedly to my mate Matt Spall - I began to be reeled in.

Firstly the almost completeness of 'Visions' emblazoned itself on my heart and brain to find it vying for top table with it's predecessor 'Aquaris'.  Both albums full of metal credentials, hooks that sink deep, intricate riffs and all enough all round musicality in one member of the band to make whole groups weep tears of joy.

'The Mountain' does not disappoint and scales new heights (see what I did there?) It builds on it's predecessors pop sensibilities combined with arrangements to feel like they were all put in a pot and shaken up and tipped out to form songs. Atlas Stone veers from wide screen prog, to modern jazz and tips it's hat to 60's tinged Motown.

Cockroach King's acapella introduction almost bobs into slowed down reggae, before schmoozing into lounge jazz and back into the wide-screen prog with majestic vocal harmonies.

In Memorium's opening piano/keyboard/guitar riff nods at Muse and promptly bests them with riffage which forces the listen to bang their head.

Because It's There begins with a haunting solo vocal which then makes Haken sound like a monastic choir and then Queen. Amid and simple guitar, riff, funky bass playing and simply beautiful chorus, the song is deliriously poppy and yet is far from throw-away.

Then Falling Back to Earth stomps in - technically astonishing riffing more chunky than a Yorkie bar lead the listener into some pretty heavy music and some beautifully harmonised vocals and into some pretty strange musical territory indeed including referencing that circus style music again.

As Death Embraces breathes and oozes as an antidote. It's beauty is almost crystalline, carried on the simplicity of a gorgeous piano melody.

This is followed by the, quite frankly progtastic track Pareidolia - Middle Eastern melodies infused with riffs that would not be out of place on an album by a Norwegian Black Metal band and a bouzouki solo to boot.

Somebody feels an uncomplicated poppy rock song. But only the scantiest listen reveals layer upon layer to the arrangement of the song. Beguiling.

The Path Unbeaten reprises the Path's opening piano melody and feels like the perfect epilogue, but it is no reprise. Over piano, come strings and then french horns. Positively orchestral.

The album closes with Nobody. 12 string guitar invites the listener into what feels like the prog equivalent of the heart wrenching tales told by many a folk song. Piano adds texture and urgency. But this is a Haken album, and the track builds and builds into a restrained climax that would make the most hardened metal fan cry like a baby.

What more can I say? This is not an album to put on in in the background. It demands your full attention, and the listener is rewarded on repeated listens - like admiring a fine painting the viewer notices new things on repeated viewings.  The listener will be forced to return to climb 'The Mountain' again and again noticing new musical textures and astonishing chops from the members of a band at the top of their game.

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