Remember 2016? Good times, man. Good times.
Anyway, we’re here to talk about 2019, not 2020 just yet. So…
Chinese probe Chang’e 4 landed on the far side of the moon, science achieved the first ever actual image of a black hole, Assange was booted out of his cupboard and arrested, the Emperor of Japan abdicated (the first one to do so since 1817), Johnson, Thomas Cook, Greta Thunberg, climate, impeachment, the first news about a little thing called novel coronavirus, and my cat Jeff disappeared 😿.
All this against a permanent backdrop of increasing unrest over climate change and utter despair and disbelief at the state of the governments on both sides of the Atlantic. Remember Brexit? Good times.
People died. Among them: Windsor Davies, Jim Dunlop, Albert Finney, Stringfellow Hawke, Gordon Banks, Karl Lagerfeld, André Previn, Keith Flint, Magenta Devine, Dick Dale, Chewbacca, Freddie Starr, Doris Day, Grumpy Cat, Bob Hawke, Niki Lauda, Judith Kerr, Paul Darrow, Dr. John, Rutger Hauer, Toni Morrison, Peter Fonda, Jacques Chirac, Peter Sissons, Ginger Baker, Gay Byrne, Clive James, Gary Rhodes, Jonathan Miller, Odo, Marie Frederiksson, David Bellamy and Neil Innes.
As the world swirls further and further down the shitter, at least we have a good soundtrack. 2019 was possibly the best year for music since 2018, I don’t mind telling you. There is no way on this or any other Earth that I can keep these things down to 6 any more… so 12 is just going to have to be the new 6.
Saying that, here’s a further load of albums I recommend checking out, even though they didn’t make my top 12:
- Lari Basilio – Far More. (Instrumental rock/fusion.) Really interesting, great playing and production.
- Buckcherry – Warpaint. (Hard rock.) Another solid block of rock from Josh Todd and pals.
- Cloudkicker – Unending. (Instrumental prog.) Ben Sharp straddling comfortably as always the line between prog/math rock and ambient soundscapes. Nice.
- The Damned Things – High Crimes. (Hard rock/metal.) Fallout Boy plus Anthrax equals this? Fair enough, it’s good!
- Paul Gilbert – Behold Electric Guitar. (Instrumental rock.) A little less shred and a little more melody from Paul on this interesting if perhaps patchy album.
- Lonely Robot – Under Stars. (Prog rock.) His Holiness John Mitchell completes his spaceman trilogy in epic style.
- Rabea Massaad – Grinding Gears vol. 2. (Instrumental metal/rock.) Rabea’s gear demos make some great tunes, and here is the second compilation of them. Some of the heaviest riffs you’re likely to hear alongside some of the sweetest mood playing. Tasty.
- Myrath – Shehili. (Prog/metal.) If you like your metal with an eastern flavour, these Tunisians will sort you right out, and Malek Ben Arbia shreds.
- Periphery – Periphery IV: HAIL STAN. (Prog metal.) I normally can’t be doing with Periphery, as I cannot stand deathy vocals, but the singy fella calms it down a notch on this one and there’s some awesome riffs going on round the back. (I know where to get it, if you want it.)
- Queensrÿche – The Verdict. (Rock/metal.) I had no idea they were still going, and I tell you this, the new singer’s Geoff Tate impression is scary good. He’s less of a tool, as well!
- Mary Spender – Lone Wolf EP. (Pop/rock.) Mary’s voice is like a bath of warm chocolate and her songs are great.
- Devin Townsend – Empath. (Prog metal.) Absolutely fucking barking.
- Týr – Hel. (Folk/Viking metal.) The Faroese folk-metallers drop another great and heavy album. You really can’t go wrong with this lot.
- Underworld – Drift Series 1. (Techno/electronic.) Underworld’s mental project to make a new thing every week for a year yielded a 7-disc album at the end of it. It’s bloody great.
- Steve Vai & Miho Arai – Piano Reductions vol. 2. (Piano/acoustic.) The second volume of piano interpretations of Vai’s pyrotechnic guitar songs. Interesting, and wonderfully played!
- Jakub Zytecki – Nothing Lasts, Nothing’s Lost. (Instrumental.) Jakub is one of the most innovative and interesting guitar players of the new wave, and this album mixes his boggling guitar work with ethereal woven vocal lines and Jakub’s trademark new-lo-fi production. It’s gorgeous.
Wow, the preamble is almost as long as the actual post these days. I suppose that’s a side-effect of being locked in this house for the last 2 months. Oh well. Grab a cuppa, because here come the top 12. Beezer. ☕️
A regular fixture in the Honourable Mentions, Alter Bridge return with their 6th long player, and you’ll be pleased to hear it’s their best since the mighty Blackbird back in 2007. Myles Kennedy’s voice still gives me shivers, and Mark Tremendous on guitar just gets better and better. This is a really tight record, despite weighing in at an hour. The production is on-point and delivers the riffs right where you need them, even under the rim. Top track: “In the Deep”
I’ve been lucky enough to play some London shows opening for some of the classic rock acts of my day like Enuff Z’Nuff, L.A. Guns and Love/Hate. All of these shows have taken place at The Underworld, in Camden, London, and have been enormous fun. Anyway, I follow the Underworld on Twitter, and it was there that I saw them announce a show (now cancelled because COVID-19) coming up featuring a Japanese trance metal band called Blood Stain Child. Wait… what? Trance metal? CLICK. They’re bloody brilliant. Top track: “Del-Sol 1.02”
I’m a mid-40s guy, so I’m probably not supposed to be listening to 18yo girl music. Well, I don’t care. My listening tastes have shifted pretty radically in the last year, and this is a great album of darkened pop songs that never fails to evoke the feels, and it’s damned good fun. Top track: “You Should See Me In a Crown”
I absolutely love Elbow, and I will make no apology for it. (I once professed this opinion somewhere and one incisive commenter took the time out of their day to inform me that “Elbow is the most boring band name I’ve ever heard.” Thanks so much for that.) I was first enamoured with 2003’s Cast of Thousands and later with their whole catalogue. I found 2017’s Little Fictions to be a tad disappointing, but I’m happy to say that Guy Garvey and friends are back on top melancholic form here. Lush. Top track: "Dexter & Sinister"
Long-time listeners will be aware that I have something of a fondness verging on tumescence for folk metal. It all started back in around 2008 when a colleague played me Skyforger by Amorphis and something by Blind Guardian. I was smitten with these alternate takes on what is often an extremely po-faced parent genre (Metal) – the humour of Alestorm, the hedonistic revelry of Korpiklaani, the epic tales told by Amorphis, Týr and Ensiferum, and in many cases the weaving of traditional folk instrumentation into modern sounding heavy metal. This last attribute is one of the bedrock features of Swiss Celtic-metallers Eluveitie and while their discography has had ups and downs, this latest release is absolutely solid from soup to bottom. They are one of very few bands from whom I can put up with the injection of death vocals, since the balance with the soaring clean vocals is perfectly struck. The band are incredible, and when the choruses kick in with the harmonies and the penny whistles and the hurdy-gurdies all giving it ten-nowt the hairs fair stand up on the back of my wossnames. Inspired. Top track: "Ambiramus"
It is a truth universally acknowledged that George Lynch is the George Lynchest George Lynch who ever George Lynched. Now I can’t prove that, but it is a medical fact. This was the first album to go on the 2019 list, back in March of that year (which feels like a decade ago), and it’s never been out of rotation since. The band line-up is basically Dokken with Don Dokken removed (good start) and replaced with one of the various singers from Lynch Mob’s varied history, Robert Mason. It doesn’t sound anything like a Dokken rehash though – the production is roomy and modern, the songs are riff- and groove-oriented and the whole thing sounds fresh as a daisy. George Lynch, man. George goddamn Lynch. Total leg-end. Top track: "Alive Today"
So… you remember that George Lynch fella I was talking about? He’s a busy lad. (Lad! He’s 65!) That The End Machine project mentioned before could sort of be called a supergroup, if one felt so inclined, but supergroup is a label that can certainly be applied to KXM. As mentioned in 2017 they comprise Ray Luzier of Korn (K) on drums, Doug Pinnick of King’s X (X) on bass and vocals and George Lynch of Lynch Mob (M) on guitar. This is their third album and their best yet. It’s heavy and packed with riffs, as you would expect, and Doug’s voice is in splendid form for a chap who’s going to be 70 this year. (In fact Ray is the baby of the band, at 49!) For me one of the things that keeps KXM fresh is that each member has a unique sound that you don’t find elsewhere. Of Doug, that should be no surprise. His is one of the most legendary rock voices with which we as a listening mass have ever been graced. Similarly, George’s guitar playing is simply in a class of its own. There is just no-one like him. You can hear two notes – one, even – and you know it’s Lynch. And Luzier’s drumming is so so tight and snappy that I was even driven to listen to some Korn for a bit. (Not much, don’t really like them.) Get some KXM down you, then go and get all of it. Three rocking crackers for your lockdown collection. Top track: "Mind Swamp"
Well, there’s a lot going on in here. So much in fact that Mika released it in two halves, but I’m treating it as one double album. Mika’s retro shredwave project Night Overdrive romped home with the top prize last year and many of those synthwave-influenced sounds have bled through into this project, but now we are back in the land of Mr. Fastfinger rather than Mika Tyyskä (they are of course one and the same), and that means that the fingers must go faster. And crikey, do they. In fact, if you have 20 minutes spare check out this video of Mika’s live trio playing four of the songs off this album, live to a backing track (click-track and synths presumably). I had that playing while writing this entry and I had to keep stopping and switching to the video and winding back to see Mika smashing out those amazing fast phrases. This is an hour of joyous guitar music that should raise the spirits and perhaps even a smile or two. Bloody lovely. Top track: “Mystery”
(NB: I’m vaguely aware that there are allegations of some rather unsplendid behaviour against singer Maynard James Keenan. I have no comment on that, and I knew nothing about it when I got into this album, so I’m just going to talk about the album on its own merits. If that gives you the icks, I completely understand, just skip ahead to the next one. We do not endorse unsplendidness.) Tool are a funny one. Up until 2006, you couldn’t throw a prog fan in a semi-crowded room without someone piping up “HEY, I’m trying to listen to Lateralus here!” And after that, well you know – the same thing but with 10,000 Days. During all of this, I tried with them several times and failed. It wasn’t the prog, the shifting time signatures, the vaguely disturbing imagery… I really don’t know what it was, but they just didn’t click for me. That is, until 2019’s Fear Inoculum. This album grabbed me right away, and I have no idea what it was that changed in the 13 years between it and its predecessor. Me? Indubitably. But I’ve gone back to those earlier albums and given them another go, and they still leave me cold. Curious. Top track: "Invincible"
Over on their bandcamp site Aussie five-piece outfit Voyager tag themselves as “epic electro progressive power pop metal”, which is quite the genre name. It is also astoundingly accurate. Daniel Estrin’s voice is unlike any other I’ve heard in metal, and I mean that in a good way. The ultra-clean vocals aren’t the only thing that sets Voyager apart from the herd though, old Dan’s pretty nippy on that thar keytar and the twin guitar attack and tight AF rhythm section that are necessary for this kind of music absolutely smash it out of the park and hold it together at the same time. I’ve had a lot of caffeine. This is great. Top track: “Colours”
A long time ago, when all this was trees, some friends of mine liked to gather and smoke herbal cigarettes and listen to music and not do much else. It was a splendid way to spend an evening, I gather. Some of the music they listened to was quite psychedelic in nature, as I believe befits such pastimes, and one of the beat-combos they would frequently listen to was Ozric Tentacles (often referred to as “Tantric Obstacles” or “Ostrich Testicles” haha) as their long-form instrumental psycho-rock was, I am told, great for “spacing out” to, whatever that may be. One friend of mine spoke very highly of the guitarist and main writer, John Ozric, as not only was he an absolute wizard on the guitar, he also happened to play our favourite guitar at the time, the Ibanez Jem (specifically the JEM777VBK). And bloody right he was too – at least about the playing. Sadly not the name. John Ozric is in fact Ed Wynne, as any Ozrics fan will know, and he has been the mainstay of the band since 1983. The Tentacles are still going strong, but it was last year that Ed put out a solo album, which this is, and it’s… well it’s amazing, and frankly it sounds just like an Obstacles album to me. Groovy. Top track: “Glass Staircase“
And the winner is…
I’ve been yelling from the rooftops about this since I heard it, waaaaayyyyyyyyy back in April 2019. Thomas McRocklin appeared in last year’s list when he suddenly reappeared after many years with a 6-track instrumental rock EP that had a great fresh feel to it. I dug it, and hoped for more. Well, listener, I got it.
In early 2019 Tommy started showing up on Instagram a whole bunch with little promo videos and an excellently British sense of humour, and I thought “Oh great, last year’s EP wasn’t just a flash in the pan, he’s properly back on the scene” and a couple of weeks later he posted about an album being out. Listener, I clicked so fast my mouse exploded and minutes later I was listening to this sublime, spacious, catchy, soothing, 80s-influenced yet also ultramodern-sounding album, from McRocklin & Hutch.
This has never been out of rotation in the last year. It’s epic. Tom & Tim have birthed a whole new subgenre here: Shredwave. The wonderful commingling (yes that is a word, look it up) of 80s nostalgia genre synthwave (see also retrowave and vaporwave) and shred guitar. It is a marriage made in The Good Place, and every track on here is a total delight. Tommy’s chops have never been in question, and Hutch’s keys and backing provide the perfect soundscape for stellar guitar lines and cracking hooks throughout. The production is awesome too – the synthwave/retrowave values are upheld throughout but it’s not slavishly 80s. Yes there are big synth drums, and plenty of reverb washes all over the place, but there’s a lovely clarity and spaciousness to the sound that gives all the melody lines room to breathe, stretch, and kick their Adidas off and run around a bit.
I could probably sit here and crack off about this album all day long, but you’ve slogged through over 3000 words to get this far, so Imma shut my keyboard-hole and give you a video so you can get an idea of what the holy bastard I’m on about.
Maybe you love every second of it like I do, maybe you don’t, and that’s fair enough. I will defend your right to be wrong with every breath in my wossname. But there it is – from the moment I heard this I knew it would be Album of the Year 2019.
Top tracks: "Animals", "One of Them", "Jugaar"
Turkey of the Year
Jesus. Effing. Crisps.
Dream Theater cranked out another loaf of whatever it is you call that noise these days, and wrist-gnawingly boring as it is, it had absolutely no chance of beating the Swedish Meatball (he doesn’t like donuts, by the way) to the punch.
I’m going to be 100% honest with you, I’m giving this the Turkey of the Year award, and I haven’t even heard all of it. I can’t. I just can’t. Please, don’t ask. It’s so bad. So bad. So so so SO bad.