1. Steven Wilson - Grace for Drowning
A love letter to progressive rock, utilizing his unique voice and talents as a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist producer to full capacity, is proof the genre has more of a legacy than the Jann Wenner's of the world would have you believe. Certain songs contain benchmark progressive moments (especially the 23-minute opus "Raider II
"), but some songs defy description or genres such as the ominous "Index
" or dreamy ethereal instrumentals such as the title track, "Belle de Jour
", and the closing minutes of the final song "Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye
". It stands as a testament to his utter commitment as an artist, collaborator (in this case, with the many musicians who lend their unique talents to this, such as Steve Hackett
, Tony Levin
, Jordan Rudess
and Theo Travis
) and someone who clearly defies the throwaway elements so much popular music is cluttered with these days.Standout track
: A very hard choice but if one was forced to choose, I would elect "Deform to Form a Star
" as GFD
's best song. The piano, harmonies and tight instrumentation provide a perfect backdrop to one of Steven's most uplifting melodies.
2. Cliff Martinez & various artists - Drive
What I consider to be the best film of 2011, has one of the more hypnotic and beautiful scores I've ever heard. Recalling such classic electronica as Tangerine Dream
's score for Michael Mann's Thief
and some of Brian Eno
's seminal ambient work, it is a perfect sonic template befitting Ryan Gosling's stoic and sometimes icy turn as Driver. The songs themselves were not appealing to me at first, but as time has gone on they've grown on me. It's easy to understand how they fit in, if you consider one of director Nicholas Winding Refn's influences is John Hughes, who had a similar affinity for the kind of 80's synth-pop the songs here are likely inspired by.Standout tracks
: "Wrong Floor
" and "Skull Crushing
" are used during what is both the most romantic and most disturbing sequences of the film. It show's both Driver's longing for love in a passionate embrace with Carey Mulligan's Irene, and his violent temper at it's most extreme back to back. And the music is a perfect dichotomy of elegant dissonance between those two tracks.
Also, I was really impressed with the use of "Tick of the Clock
", used during the tense opening minutes of the film. I honestly thought it was score until I discovered it was not by Cliff at all, but by Chromatics
. A really perfect track for the scene.
3. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
To be perfectly honest, this took me a bit by surprise. I was expecting it to be good, but not something that has intrigued me this much. As a score for the film, it works quite good as a sonic translation to the desolate Swedish winter, and the even more desolate journey the lead characters take. As a 3-hour collection of music, it's an astounding work. It far surpasses their prior award-winning collaboration with director David Fincher, expanding upon the elements and pushing the medium of film score into something more abstract.Standout tracks
: The rhythms and use of mellotron on "Great Bird of Prey
" make for a dark foreboding track that accompany one of the more tense scenes. "Under the Midnight Sun
" is used a few times throughout as a theme of the unraveling mystery, as a stand alone track it is a haunting sparse piano ballad, slathered in dissonant electronic humming. "What If We Could?
" share some of the same qualities, but resonates with the emotional core of the two main characters and the dysfunctional connection that is created.
4. Paatos - Breathing
Another surprise, I was taken with the single "Gone
", which had more of an edge than I was expecting, being familiar with some of their more dreamy, post-rock material. The rest of the songs aren't as long as on previous albums and more focused, which gives them a unique sound away from their progressive rock roots. It does retains some of the mysterious and melancholic arrangements, lifted by the angelic voice of Petronella Nettermalm. Standout track
". A catchy (and timely) chorus, and retro feel is what really appealed to me. It feels like it could be the love theme of some forgotten but brilliant 70's film.
5. Black Country Communion - 2
An explosive follow-up to their infectiously heavy first outing, this band is cementing a growing reputation as a hard rock force like very few you'll find in the 2010's. Glenn Hughes
' powerful voice and bass-playing, Joe Bonamassa
's dirty riffs and searing leads, and Jason Bonham's powerhouse drumming (doing his father proud, no doubt) are at the forefront of this sound, pounding the listener's senses into submission.Standout track
: "Save Me
" is particularly powerful (a word never used to excess when describing this band) track, with a chorus that can give me chills sometimes. And it is one of the few moments on the album for keyboardist Derek Sherinian
to shine (however briefly lol), on the atmospheric beginning.
6. Opeth - Heritage
Pushing the envelope of progressive metal even further, the band explores a wider range of genre's with this impressive and unique effort. Folk, jazz, hard rock and prog comes together for a wicked brew of songs. Mikael's voice and guitar playing reach interesting heights, especially since there is none of the growling approach of earlier material. My hope is that this heralds a new beginning and a new direction, as this has potential to lead to even greater material.Standout track
: "I Feel the Dark
". Combining folk and psychedelic influences, the quieter bits hooked me in, especially the brief opening acoustic guitar run. The heavier counterpart provides an interesting dynamic, especially with the vocals.
7. Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins - A Scarcity of Miracles
An impressive effort from what sadly seems what will be a one-off (at least for now, Robert Fripp
says he's taking time away from the music industry for legal reasons) that is something of a throwback to early King Crimson albums such as Lizard
, with a little of Fripp's ambient work on his own and with Brian Eno
. Singer/guitarist/keyboardist Jakko M. Jakszyk
and former KC reedman Mel Collins make up the core trio that came together to improvise on new material, finally joined by the formidable rhythm section of Tony Levin
and Gavin Harrison
. What results is a hypnotic blend of prog, jazz and ambient sounds coming together to create what could be the next chapter of KC history, a detour (or ProjeKct, if you will), or sadly the end of one of the great dynasties in all of progressive rock.Standout track
: the title track. For me, once I saw the video
I was hooked and was digging it immediately. The rest of the album stands up to it, but this is the song that always hooks me in the fastest.
8. Gregg Allman - Low Country Blues
. This great effort from a classic voice was reviewed already in this
9. Memories of Machines - Warm Winter No-Man
vocalist Tim Bowness
leader Giancarlo Erra
worked four years on this album, and it shows as a labor of love. In both of their respective bands, they've helped put a new face on the "post-progressive" genre, combining the soundscapes of prog with newer sounds. Here, they push it further, including more straight-up rock (such as the Floyd-esque "Before We Fall
") and ambient influences, as on the respective opening and closing tracks "New Memories Of Machines
" and "At The Centre Of It All
: For me, their version of the song "Beautiful Songs You Should Know
", which first appeared on the 2008 No-Man
album Schoolyard Ghosts
, is better than the original. The slower pace is a better accompaniment to the lyrics, and allows Tim to explore a quieter range as a vocalist. In contrast to that track's sometimes bleak arrangement, the title track is more uplifting. Even just it's title alone, "Warm Winter
", is optimistic. The regularly sullen Bowness seems capable of matching that energy (like on No-Man song's such as "Days In The Trees
" and "Wherever There Is Light
"), and to top it off there is a sublime guitar solo seeming to burst with sunshine from the equally often sullen Erra.
10. Steve Hackett - Beyond the Shrouded Horizon
An epic offering from the former Genesis
guitarist, continuing a trend of recent efforts that touch on his halcyon days with his old band, and his first 3 solo albums. Acoustic guitars, string arrangements, multi-layered vocal harmonies, atmospheric sound effects (such as a train rolling along) and various other instruments give this batch of songs a worldly flavor.Standout tracks
: The first two songs, "Loch Lomond
" and the anthemic instrumental "The Phoenix Flown
" provide a perfect opening for such a monumentous undertaking, as this album is. Also of note is the track which ends the bonus disc, "Reconditioned Nightmare
" which is an updated re-take of his previous composition, "The Air Conditioned Nightmare