***Author's note: Below you will find two different rankings for this year's albums. The first is merely a list consisting of a Top Ten with a following list of "Honorable Mentions." These are my favorite albums of the year, that is, the albums to which I have formed the greatest emotional attachments. The ensuing Reviews are ordered according to my personal, more objective judgment as to their quality, that is, the "best" albums of the year. Here I have tried to order the albums reviewed according to my personal determination as to what are the "best" albums of the year from a more critical, qualitative viewpoint, that is, without as much emotional attachment as "My Favorite" albums.
8. STEREOLAB Margerine Eclipse
9. KNIGHT AREA The Sun Also Rises
GUAPO Five Suns
UNIVERS ZERO Implosion
1. "Gluttony" (12:07) begins with a very familiar YES Relayer sound to it but, in fact, this is the song where the band break out from under the grips of neo-clonehood and offer something uniquely their own, something fresh (despite the occasional Steve Howe-like leads, Rick Wakeman-like organ and Chris Squire-like bass stylings.) The vocal harmonies and lead vocals are gorgeous and the use of 'harp' and The Vienna Symphony Strings is absolutely brilliant, integral, beautiful. And the diverse guitar and keyboard sounds and soli make it much more than just another Yes clone. (8/10)
3. "Lust" (12:29) begins with the movie theme-song-like Vienna Strings intro before the band joins in for a couple of minutes of jamming in a YES/STYX sound and feel. At the 2:30 mark vocals are introduced in harmonic chords before the song settles into a straightforward rock backbeat with Christina singing and STYX-STARCASTLE-llike keyboards playing around. The guitar solo sections accompanying the vocal "Ahh" harmonies are wonderful. At 4:45 everything switches to an astoundingly beautiful blues setting with Chris Fry playing one of the best ROY BUCHANAN solos I've ever heard. Wish it would go on forever! By 5:50 we're into a new "confess" section with repeating bouncy piano chords and regular breaks for Chris Fry soli. The use of orchestra in the next, instrumental, section beginning at 7:30 is wonderful. Guitar solo hear conjures up pure CARLOS SANTANA before giving way to a Moogy Klingman-like keyboard solo. Very exciting section! 9:40 begins a "take my soul/give me new life" section with recorders, tubular bells and piano, before giving way to orchestral support for a blistering guitar solo. Great emotion from Christina Booth's vocals leading into the outro! Wow! What a ride! (9/10)
4. " Greed" (13:55) starts off so beautifully, with harmonized vocal "Ahhs" striking an arpeggiated variety notes/chords, and, despite the joining of some Yes-like instruments (keys and guitars), the song really takes on a sound and feel quite unlike the prog Masters, though perhaps at times with some ANNIE HASLEM -like (post Renaissance) vocal similarities. In the mid-sections there are actually some similarities to THE CARPENTERS (in a good way), followed by some Yes Drama-era sounds and riffs, switching around the eight minute mark to total RENAISSANCE (piano & vocal). Genius Chris Fry then takes over for a flash or two over the continued Sheherezade-like music. With two minutes to go there is a switch: it sounds as if they're about to break into "Squonk" when instead a light BURT BACHARACH-like section ensues to end. Beautiful. (10/10)
Out of nowhere comes an album and group I've never heard of producing amazing music! I'm hearing Stereolab, Ben Watt, David Sylvian, Lunatic Soul, Ulver, Massive Attack, No-Man, Tortoise, XTC, Bill Evans, Koop, The Jazzmasters, Robert Fripp, Ryuichi Sakamoto, The Beta Band, Adam Plack, Alain Eskinazi all mixed into one in a way in which the sum of all these parts is breathtaking! If this is Post/Math Rock, then this is my new favorite album from the sub-genre. And such diverse sounding songs! Though all the offerings could almost be considered low-key lounge music, there are so many subtle, interesting, brave, and virtuosic things going on within each song as to be totally engaging--no: engulfing! And it's so beautiful! And just listen to the wonderful drum work! And the power of the growly (à la Ulver's "Garm" and David Sylvian) male and breathy female vocals. All five star songs but two. Another modern masterpiece.
1. "Lazarus" (6:31) is a drummer's/drum fan's wet dream. I love when drums are recorded/treated with special effects (flange, wah, volume, chorus, pan, reverb, chorus, echo--NOT gated). This is just an amazing, enervating, and beautiful drum showcase. (10/10)
2. "Reserve Shot - Gunman" (5:46) is actually from 1994's EP Street Scene but somehow finds itself on my copy of Codename: Dust Sucker. Kind of a continuation of the drum-as-lead showcase of "Lazarus" yet very different. (9/10)
3. "Miss Abuse" (6:18) is pure DAVID SYLVIAN from start to finish. As a matter of fact, were I hto have heard this song alone, without the Bark Psychosis name and reference, I would have assumed it was an obscure Sylvian song that I had never heard. The second half, when the synth melody starts to fly, and the background synths carry you away in another direction, is my favorite. I love all the incidental samples in the last minute. (9/10)
4. "400 Winters" (5:47) is the most blatantly poppy but also my favorite song on the album--one that leaves me singing, humming, haunted by the b-vox for hours after. A song that displays the amazing diversity of song-writing and performance abilities of leader Graham Sutton. Amazing lead and background vocals (Anja Buechele) and love, love, love the combo of acoustic guitars, JANSEN-like drum rhythm, and vibes! Great song! (10/10)
5. "Dr. Inocuous/Retarded" (1:04) really a piano intro/flow through to the next song. (9/10)
6. "Burning the City" (6:12) Miss Buechele's presence is again hypnotic and appreciated, but, alas! only counting numbers in the beginning. The male Sylvian-like vocal sings a fascinating song about a girl obsessed with flying (suicide?). (8/10)
7. "Inqb8tr" (7:10) is another STEVE JANSEN/DAVID SYLVIAN-like piece, this time right down to the whisper/sung male vocals. (But also incredibly similar to Mariuz Duda's LUNATIC SOUL sound.) What an dreamy mood-setter. (9/10)
8. "Shapeshifting" (6:02) again has that kind of DAVID SYLVIAN/MONO/DIDO feel with the amazingly sultry vocals of Rachel Dryer, the Fripp-like wild cacophonic guitar solo, and the very odd Prophet 5-like sound/effects throughout. (9/10)
9. "Rose" (5:50) begins with a solo oriental (perhaps Chinese or Japanese) stringed instrument playing. After over a minute it is replaced by synth wash, electric piano, and incidental samples (including a woman repeating a single German-sounding word intermittently throughout the song.) (8/10)
(Not on the version of Codename: Dustsucker that I own, but amazing as well, coming in in the #1 and #2 slots in the place of "Lazarus" and "Reserve Shot Gunman" are "From What I Said to When It's Read" [5:28] [10/10] and "Black Meat" [6:57] [9/10]. The former has a kind of 70s soul vibe mixed with a spacey DAVID SYLVIAN, CSN&Y, COCTEAU TWINS feel going on while the latter, with its presence of a jazzy trumpet throughout, is more pop-jazzy, though still with a COCTEAU TWINS-like feel and sound to it.)
90.0 on the Fish scales = five stars. Either version that you end up getting is without question a 5 star masterpiece, beyond belief. Highly recommended as essential for any prog rock lover's music collection!
90.0 on the Fish scales = a five star masterpiece; unsurpassed blends of styles and techniques, sounds and effects, acoustic and electric.
5. AMAROK Quentadharkën
87.5 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near masterpiece.