The music press at this time of year produce their 'Best of...' lists for the past 12 months, so I thought I'd look back over 2011 and pick through what I've been listening to.
So what's been exciting and entertaining me musically this year? Well, it's been an interesting and slightly eclectic year, one in which I've got hold of a large amount of music, new and old. But here's my pick of this year's releases.
My love of Scandinavian Progressive music has developed over the year, chiefly driven by the many projects of the prolific Roine Stolt, but elsewhere too. Highlights for me have been 'The Black Forest' by Agents of Mercy, 'Mammoth' by Beardfish, and 'In a Perfect World' by Karmakanic, but for me the outstanding album in this area was 'Rites at Dawn' by Wobbler, a wonderful evocation of the early 1970s with great musicianship reminiscent in places of Yes in their heyday.
2011 was the year I discovered Bandcamp, and was introduced to some great mood music by the likes of Umber, Janes Scenic Drive, The Echelon Effect and Lowercase Noises. Perhaps the most prolific was that of Earlyguard who produced on a monthly basis wonderful minimalist ambient soundscapes with the ability to transport you to quiet and mysterious places.
Although I have a tendency towards Progressive music, I am also partial to a bit of blues too. This year gave us a new release from blues hobo Seasick Steve with the aptly-titled 'You Can't Teach an Old Dog New Tricks', and fresh material from one of the hardest working guitarists in rock Joe Bonamassa, who produced his own 'Dust Bowl', and a second album with Black Country Communion. Both were strong examples of hard-driving blues rock that brought a great deal of joy.
From the Progressive Metal stable came new recordings from Symphony X, with 'Iconoclast' - a dystopian vision of a machine-dominated future, and from Dream Theater, their first recording without the considerable talents of Mike Portnoy on drums following his departure from the band at the end of 2010. His shoes were tough ones to fill, but Mike Mangini rose to the challenge and the band produced a great recording somewhat reminiscent for me of 'Scenes from a Memory'.
On the quieter side of the Progressive spectrum I have enjoyed the work of Lunatic Soul, a side project of the man behind Riverside, Mariusz Duda, who released their third collection, 'Impressions' towards the end of the year; Anathema's reworking of some of their earlier material in a much mellower style in 'Falling Deeper'; and the latest offering from Blackfield, 'Welcome to My DNA'. Blackfield are one of the many musical outings of Steven Wilson, the leading light behind Porcupine Tree, who as well as this release from Blackfield also completed his second solo album, 'Grace for Drowning'.
Veterans of the progressive music world Yes produced their first collection of new material in 10 years this year: my thoughts on 'Fly From Here' can be found here, and there was also 'The King of Limbs' from Radiohead, reminiscent for me of 'Kid A' in many places; and 'Beyond the Shrouded Horizon' from former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. But there were new discoveries too in the guise of Matt Stevens, a talented and versatile guitarist who as well as producing his third solo album, 'Relic' this year, also managed to release 'If it carries on like this we are moving to Morecambe' with his band The Fierce and the Dead; and from a band by the name of 'Majestic' who produced and album of epic prog called 'Labyrinth', available FREE here.
Albums I never got around to this year, that have featured in some of the seasonal listings, included 'Heritage' by Opeth, 'A Grounding in Numbers ' by Van der Graaf Generator, and '50 words for Snow' by Kate Bush. Maybe next year... Anything else I may have missed?