Thursday, 24 November 2016

Best of the Year 2016 Volume 1


I am getting a bit ahead of myself. It's only November, but lots going on in December so I thought I would get this out of the way now while I have the chance. Like last year I have compiled my favourite tracks onto two 80 minute mini-discs. So here is volume 1.

1. Big Big Train - Folklore. The catchy-as-hell title track from the bands latest. After the mighty English Electric double album, could they top that? They did indeed! More folky, but they are on such a peak of songwriting and arranging, the whole album is top notch.

2. Holon - The Times they are A-Taming. My album of the year. The whole album is so strong, but this features the voice of Rhys Marsh who I admire very much.

3. Grumbling Fur - Strange the Friends. The first track from Furfour. I do love Daniel O'Sullivan's work and this and many others on this great album imbody the spirit of early Eno so much.

4. Pineapple Thief - In Exile. From the fantastic Your Wilderness album. Pineapple Thief have always been a great band, but after Bruce Soords superb solo album of last year, the momentum continues here. Also boasts the best album cover of the year. Carl Glover's found photos are so haunting and fit the mood of the album to a tee!

5. Steven Wilson - Don't Hate Me. All the touring has meant that SW only managed a mini album this year. This re-working of the Porcupine Tree track was a particular highlight with fantastic sax by Theo Travis.

6. Contact - Sensorium. Superb synth rock from Zombi's A E Paterra, very much in the style of Vangelis, circa the Blade Runner end credits.

7. Black Mountain - Space to Bakersfield. The Canadian psychedelic rock band's fourth album ends with this beautifully serene slice of floating, elegiac wistfulness. Driven by languid guitar, which owes as much to Vini Reilly as Dave Gilmour. It feels as if it should go on forever!

8. Grumbling Fur - Milky Light. Doing Eno better than Eno and featuring John Cale like viola, just to add to the Enoness!

9. Opeth - Will O The Wisp. One of the more laid back numbers from their Sorceress album. Very Tull like indeed!

10. Glass Hammer - Eucastrophe. This US band have always produced very fine retro prog, but this years Valkyrie is especially good. The coupling of this track and the following Rapturo, produces the same big, emotional impact which Afterglow achieved on Genesis's Wind and Wuthering.

11. Glass Hammer - Rapturo. See above.

12. Big Big Train - Salisbury Giant. Another prime example of Big Big Train's evocation of pastoral England.

13. Syd Arthur - Coal Mine. So-called Canterbury type band's third album, sees them producing an assured collection of succinct, catchy songs.

Next, volume 2 which includes the epics of the year!


Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Yes - Tales from Topographic Oceans, Steven Wilson Remix


Well, here we are at last! This nearly never happened. After the last Yes Steven Wilson remix, the news was that was to be the last. SW had been working on a remix of TFTO, but the decision was made to put it on ice for now. That left a big gap in the Yes remix series which upset fans so much as they really wanted to hear what SW could do with this album. But after much lobbying by fans in various forums, the project was completed and here we have it.

Word is the surround is pretty good, but I can personally say I love the stereo mix very much indeed. I always felt the original mix lacked dynamics and buried Squire's bass way too much. Wilson's remix has really opened up the instrumental detail and highlights the intricacies, dexterity and punch in Squire's bass playing at last. You can really hear all the metal bashing going on in The Ancient and I am particularly pleased that Howe's guitar figure at the end of The Revealing Science of God is brought to the fore, adding real impact to the end of the piece.

As usual there are lots of extras spread over the 3 CD's and Blu-ray Disc. All packaged in the customery min-vinyl sleeves. However, I feel for this release something extra special should have been done, as the CD format does not do Roger Deans spectacular artwork any favours at all. For one thing you cannot read the original album notes and lyrics at all! Maybe a super deluxe box set could have been produced, including the vinyl edition with the discs and a large format booklet. I really feel with TFTO especially, that only the 12 x 12 format does justice to the artwork which is such an integral part of this album. However, I am griping as the work that has gone into the sonics is quite spectacular and I am just glad this has been released at all!

It may be the last in the series of SW remixes, but from The Yes Album up to Relayer, we have a wonderful set of remixes, which give us such a complete insight into how original and inspired these recordings are.