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Best Of 2014 - 2015 Englandashes

ARTIST: Best Of 2014
ALBUM: Englandashes
YEAR: 2015


My starting point in looking back over 2014 begins with a recent discussion topic concerning new and old. Well in terms of AOR, to me it's quite simple; it is the sound of the most important instrument found in AOR being keyboards. If you listen to the likes of Roadmaster, Shelter, Shooting Star, Aviary or Airborne, and yes, some are more pomp, but nevertheless it is the authenticity of the sound, largely due to the input of the keyboards that is frankly missing from the likes of many recent so called AOR albums so I am referring to anything released from the usual suspects. Is it that simple? have modern groups just seem to gloss over this most important ingredient, in this time of computer assisted recording how hard is to master this essential element, yes even duplicate it.

Ok, moving on, just like the performance of the England football team in the World Cup, and the recent form of the English cricket captain (well still in charge in the test match form) I have by my own admission failed to perform, in terms of the number of contributions at least, others may feel in more ways. But life gets in the way and all that's associated with it, even my mileage on the roads of Rushden took a hiding over recent months, but that could also be due to a nasty batch of sciatica or just a factor of getting older.

Anyway on a more cheery note, I turn to music, what never lets you down, which I have had quite a happy year. Big reason for this is the use of my iPod, which seems to be constantly in my ears, now I love shopping, washing up, walking and with wearing it during my working day it has given me even more time to enjoy music and able to give some initial difficult albums a chance to shine, just like the old days when I first started collecting. Such albums which are way outside the 2014 time zone, but have had a large influence in my musical year are the likes of Midlake with 'Antiphon', Public Service Broadcasting debut album, 'Inform-Educate-Entertain', Omnium Gatherum's brutal and highly melodic 'Beyond' the debut from Sixx Am (article pending), a couple by Matt Berry albums, all of The Feeling's back catalogue. Plus my usual theme of finding new light from previously inaccurate assumptions, like Pearl Jam, The Black Crowes, Jane's Addiction together with the whole of any other of Perry Farrell's projects, Skillet, Dire Straits, Fleetwood Mac, and due to Fozzy, the excellent Stuck Mojo, which produced my song of the year with 'Reborn'.

Concert wise, well the excellent performances of The Feeling, The Gentleman, The Quireboys which was my first pure acoustic concert and was not even bored for one minute!, the entertaining Limehouse Lizzy and a double helping of Canterbury but the stand out gig of the year was Anathema at the Camden Koko, standing near the front for a couple of hours after a train journey to London. I was like Lazarus! struck down with agonizing sciatica earlier in the week, but this was not going to stop me, I was enthralled by their brilliance. I found myself providing lead and backing vocals with a thousand plus, to which is my best song of all time, 'Untouchable Part1', which just shades Queen's 'March of the Black Queen'. I have already got my ticket for the 20th anniversary show in April 2015.

Back to 2014, well I am pleased to report a lot more than the normal near misses in terms of reaching my top ten. When putting together my list, the first half pretty much picked themselves, however the bottom half had a number of albums jostling for places. In the final weeks, it became similar to a football relegation zone (being a Wolves supporter I am used to this) entering the last throws of the season. So who didn't make it, or had to be content with making my 24 man squad. Well the extreme nature of Machine Head and Arch Enemy, both of whom failed previously to have much impact in my listening, to a less brutal degree the thoroughly entertaining Deathstars and Fozzy, just check out the super melodic 'Unstoppable' and their cover of Abba's 'S.O.S', to the AOR of Gotthard, then to the likes of Vanishing Point (who were so close) and Neonfly (again article in progress, you can see a pattern forming here) who's 'Strangers In Paradise' album become the somewhat surprising source for a couple of the best AOR songs this year, being 'Better Angels' and ' Rose In Bloom', so it was only at the eleventh hour I decided not to include, only on the terms of the number of times played. Again take the perennially choices of Within Temptation and Sonata Arctica, and to the independence of The Pineapple Thief, Poets of The Fall, Circa Zero and Band of Skulls, wow!, I seem to have mentioned more band names than in a single column of Wimpwire.

Before I turn to my top ten, one last mention of the loss of Phillip Hughes, who unfortunately left the crease way too early, this one event on a cricket ground in Australia, I feel will not leave or should it not, the consciousness of cricket and all sports for a very long innings. Music wise, well who else, but the great Jimi Jamison.

1 - Anathema - Distant Satellites
So no real surprises to find this band landing at the top. It seems I am not alone because finally after 20 years there is a physical ground swell of opinion that Anathema is indeed a special band. I am the first to admit, on listening to this initially I was a touched confused, even disappointed. I struggled with the drum beat of the opening 'The Lost Song Part 1', it felt like wearing a left shoe on your right foot, but after time, my understanding and appreciation of this album grew, and from those initial seeds it grew into an imposing sunflower. It's an album where song titles are unimportant, the whole album flows as one unstoppable force. As I reached my mid-forties, Anathema over the last 5 years have been an important factor, so life does begin at 40. They have joined the likes of Queen, Ronnie James Dio, Marcie Free and Journey in my own rock 'n' roll hall of fame.

2- Canterbury - Dark Days
Sounds like some obscure prog folk band from the early 70's, wrong, my daughter, Nadine being the influence here, (I am so thankful she has an intelligent view on music, no One Direction in my home), initially to accompany here to London to watch these guys, I did the required research and spent time with this album and more importantly my interest in the album continued well after the concert and in fact right up to December 2014, when I attended their final gig before sadly deciding to break up after 3 albums. Another article in waiting, but a UK band of four young guys from Surrey, who seem to be classed as indie rock, which only really quarantines their possible appeal. Great tunes from a great rock band is a better explanation, even a UK version of The Killers, meaning they are able to write songs and not the same one over and over again, they don't follow the same template. They constantly mix it up, different hooks; I particularly like the dual vocals of Mike Sparks and Luke Prebble. Favourite tracks? well try 'Think It Over' or 'Keep It Moving', and compare that to what has been selected for the Brit Awards.

3 - Gazpacho - Demon
My soundtrack to all those film noir TV series that seem to be popping up from various corners of Europe, with Mammon and the excellent Salamander being two of note. I can enjoy watching the programmes by reading the subtitles and listening to music at the same time, and most of the music centre on those Norwegians. The album which only has four tracks (the limited edition does have five), is quite haunting in places, but provided my favourite lyric of 'I lost it down a rabbit hole' which by itself is pretty, well odd, but is the pivotal moment to the track, 'I've Been Walking', the accordion playing that pops up through the album is excellent, this has accompanied me more than once working in the office late into the evening. Who needs company when you have Gazpacho.

4 - The Gentlemen - Departures
Another rock n roll casualty this year was the demise of The Gentlemen, already included in one of my few articles this year, which I'm afraid, was largely ignored. Frequently reappearing In my musical head for most of the year and I find it annoying that the UK rock scene just seems to be based on FM and Ten, when in relativity the UK has so much more to offer, it's just sometimes you need to take a step off the well-trodden path to discover The Gentlemen, Canterbury and Euphoria Audio. Really you would have more fun and I feel more entertaining than blokes trying to look mean, in trench coats visiting a country park.

5 - Edguy - Space Police
Those crazy Germans, these guys provided the best performance of these season, even eclipsing the 7 -1 demolition of Brazil, what fun! This time Tobias and the boys nailed it, to the epic 'The Eternal Wayfarer' which is an incredible mix of Iron Maiden and Deep Purple in one song, to the cover of Falco's 'Rock Me Amadeus' cover, to the frankly trekkie feel of the title track. Overall this is probably better than the excellent 'Mandrake'; way back in 2001, yes it is that good.

6 - The Afghan Whigs - Do To The Beast
My number 6 see the return of The Afghan Whigs, when I say return well for me at least it was the discovery, having not heard any of their music. Well this group was once on the Sub pop label, so that automatically rules out any mention on an AOR site. Brought solely on the basis of hearing the track 'The Lottery', this album has pitched its tent in my brain and stayed there. And it's not an unwelcome stay; in fact I have been working back through their history. Each song seems to be ready to jump off the abyss, but the group managed always to rescue the tune and probably along with Anathema one of the most varied and interesting albums of the year. Again even the group did their best to make the song 'The Lottery' less melodic, but adding some rough corners and feedback, but they failed; in fact they only managed to enhanced the quality.

7 - H.E.A.T - Tearing Down The Walls
After seeing a number of end of year polls, where these guys blitz the opposition, I did try to make a conscious effect not to include this album. But listening to it again towards the end of the year I had to admit it is an excellent melodic rock album. This group just get better and better, although on release I didn't take to the first single, being 'A Shot Of Redemption', yes I can understand what they were trying to do, explore, and who can blame them, but look what happen to Def Leppard when they wandered into unexplored genres chasing the dollar. This years 'Downtown' was provided twofold by the likes of 'Eye To Eye' and the sheer brilliance of 'Point Of No Return', I can't honesty argue with their inclusion, AOR may finally break through.

8 - In Flames - Siren Charms
Always a bonafide favourite of mine, but no way would I had expected them to release an album this good. Yep, hard core supporters probably hate it, but these guys are far from teenagers any more. These Swedes are just naturally progressing, and provides one of the most consistent albums of their career, while there is no song like the epic 'Take This Life' from 'Come Clarity' released in 2006, but it does have the likes of 'In Plain View' and 'Rusted Nail' so they come pretty damn close, so sod it, I am not going to aged gracefully either.

9 - Night By Night - NXN
Yes, two AOR albums (although that definition may be broader than some people think it is), and one by a UK group, whatever next. Ok, more melodic rock but it's one that finally lived up to the hype. Track rise fairly impressive, each one adds something to the album until you reach 'Everywhere Tonight', which must contain the best hook of the year, I never seemed to get tired listening to this tune. It has the feel that it has been swiped off an obscure Canadian AOR album; it just has that pedigree to it. Enjoy this album because if it is anything like the past for British bands, you will be hard pushed to hear a follow up very soon, please don't let that be the case.

10 - Arion - Last Of Us
I spent a similar amount of time listening to this as I did over Xmas watching all of the Game of Thrones episodes. Actually quite similar really, majestic, historic, wave upon wave of exciting action and great fun. This just pushed out Neonfly and Vanishing Point on goals scored, such was the quality in 2014. Not that well marketed or even possible to buy at a reasonable price, but those more hardened record buyers were well satisfied it they pursued this offering. This group provided neo classical story telling of the highest order. Excellent musicianship with melodic attributes abundant in each song, the melody hot enough to forged a thousand swords. Pick a slice, maybe something like 'Seven' and 'Lost' or the ballad wonder of 'You're My Melody', now where did I leave my dragons?

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#1 | gdazegod on January 24 2015 07:37:45
I really should gve that NXN album a write up. I have it, and I do like it..
#2 | Eric on January 24 2015 15:14:23
As always, interesting choices Chris!
#3 | Nick C on January 25 2015 03:41:44
Been listening to the Night by Night on Youtube after reading about it above ....sounds pretty good, so I thought it was worth taking a punt on it.
#4 | Nick C on January 31 2015 20:14:06
Well - thanks for the heads up on the NxN ...arrived a couple of days back and I'm loving it - contains a lot of what I like about AOR/Melrock and DOESN'T tick the endless cliché boxes in my book so dats good!
#5 | englandashes on January 31 2015 22:18:34
Many thanks Nick, that is great to hear, and I totally agree with you, it isn't one of those endless manufactured releases, just has something different about it.
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