David Bentley’s Album of the Year picks
Our official ‘Album of the Year‘ list will be published tomorrow, chosen by Andy, but in the meantime David reminds us of the albums he’s reviewed and picks his favourite.
Circumstances dictated that I only reviewed four albums this year so all of them come into contention.
First off was Nightwish’s (Finland) ninth studio album in their 24-year career, ‘Human: II: Nature’. Usually I would expect the symphonic metallers to win my vote for album of the year; they are after all my favourite band and they have been able to do what no other metal band has, to my knowledge, namely win the hearts and minds of non-metal music fans, like me, and in droves.
But in retrospect this album was perhaps slightly too ambitious. It seemed at times as if they were trying to prove their technical mastery, to push the envelope as far as possible, many of the tracks being performed at a very rapid and staccato pace, both musically and lyrically. And I’m not sure what the wholly orchestra instrumental second disc, as nice as it is, was all about.
Moreover, I notice that while Nightwish have established themselves as the most reacted – to of all bands on YouTube those reaction videos are still mainly of songs and lengthy opuses from previous albums. There has been little pick-up yet on the new ones from this album.
But even so, it is capable of brilliance, like this homage to the scientist Eugene Shoemaker. You won’t hear anything quite like this from any other band simply because I don’t think there is one capable of doing it.
When ‘Airy met Fairy (Iceland/Luxembourg) are at the other end of the scale from the marshalled noise of Nightwish. Minimalist, largely acoustic, gentle trip-hop tunes flitter around like the aurora borealis, replete with melancholia. In ‘Esprit de Corps’, their second album, they brought it all together, wonderfully. And yet at the same time, if you dig deep, they are singing about some serious subjects here, from the loneliness of the long-distance Christmas dinner cooker to the madness of our digital age.
Das Body’s (Norway) debut album ‘Peregrine’ was reviewed only a week or so ago. What I didn’t know at the time is that they had set up their own label this year, which is why it took so long to record and release. It’s a complex piece of work, more so than I expected, tackling a wide variety of subjects and in several different styles. But it has common ingredients in the snappy interplay between synths and guitars, a tight rhythm section, and in Ellie Linden’s vocals, which evoke the image of singers as diverse as Polly Scattergood, Debbie Harry and Courtney Love. It’s amazing to see so much confidence and stage presence in someone so young.
The anticipation of seeing this played live is palpable. So much so that I’m putting in a link to a ‘live’ show (complete with – in the spirit of the age – a ‘fake audience’) which took place in November just before the album release date. The ‘Peregrine’ songs start around 9:40. If you can’t watch it all go to ‘Better Half’ at 34.30 and batten down the hatches.
But for all the worthiness of these contenders I have to hand my Best Album accolade to Siv Jakobsen (Norway), for the simple reason that ‘A Temporary Soothing’ completely blindsided me. I thought I had pigeonholed Siv into a category of introspective melancholic ballad chanteuse par excellence but the widely different styles, arrangements and instrumentation she uses on this album knocked me out.
No individual song sounds like another. The work is a labour of love which took her a long time to make and during a period when various tours in Asia and North America were called off at very short notice, which would have aggravated her propensity to anxiety and further dented her delicate ego.
I said at the time, “If this album doesn’t turn Siv Jakobsen into the international star she should be I’ll swim a fjord, in winter, naked.” I’m staying true to my word, though hardly relishing the thought. (And I can’t swim!)
I’ll just leave you with this, probably the best track on a superior album.