Jordan Reyne – The Annihilation Sequence
I had no idea that Jordan Reyne existed until this year. Thankfully, some members of the Thursday Night Is Music Night listening club on Facebook were around to set me right (thanks Bruce and Scott). I’ve still got a great deal of back catalogue to investigate, but it’s this, Reyne’s most recent release, that has really grabbed my attention.
Reyne has a distinctive and unusual sound, borne of marrying the fuzzed-up crunch of industrial music with highly melodic celtic folk. That may not sound like a marriage made in heaven, but it makes for compelling results: music that sounds contemporary, yet at the same time sounds like it’s been around forever. Reyne’s close-miced vocals are so intimate that her voice feels almost like the voice inside your head, and given the nature of her lyrics (mortality, sex, the end of days, you know how it is) listening can sometimes feel like a complicated event ;-). Her music is filmic yet deeply personal; dark, yet oddly uplifting; driving yet ethereal – a mass of contradictions, in other words. But a more beautiful and compelling set of contradictions you’re going to struggle to find.
Favourite tracks: The Player, The Gentleman, Bite (The Hand That Feeds)
 Enrico Pinna – The Dream Of The Whale
Karnataka‘s much-lauded guitarist Enrico Pinna has made solo albums before, albeit largely in the jazz realm. His own interest in other musical forms and his years in Karnataka have inspired him to make a rather different album this time around. It’s become the case that solo albums by guitarists are things to approach with caution – all too often they’re just an excuse for endless firework displays of virtuosity, the guitarist – having forgotten to pack the tunes – making up for a lack of songwriting ability by just blazing away for 40-plus minutes, blissfully ignorant of the fact that, usually, a blazing guitar solo is all the more effective because it’s not surrounded by other blazing solos. One of the nicest things about this album is that Pinna is not guilty of this cardinal sin: indeed, this album has more in common with the spacious soundscapings of Mike Oldfield and lyrical playing of Mark Knopfler and David Gilmour than it does the typical ‘guitar hero’ solo album.
Over one 40-minute track (yes, one track: as Pinna explains, he wanted the album to stand as a single musical statement, not a collection of short snippets), Pinna marries his extraordinary playing to a fine sense of musical drama. The sections of the suite flow together like the oceans that inspired them, intercut with suitably nautical sound effects. There are lush acoustic sections, soaring Gilmour-esque soloing, some chunky riffing here and there – even a playful African-influenced section that will practically have you levitating with delight the first time you hear it. Crafted with evident care, this is a lush, intensely atmospheric album featuring some emotive and frankly astonishing playing – Pinna deserves attention from a much wider audience for it. If you like some fine guitar playing (and who doesn’t?) or are a big fan of, say, David Gilmour, Steve Hackett, Steve Rothery, Andy Latimer or Mark Knopfler, you’re going to like this. A lot.
Favourite tracks: Well, it’s just one track. So, the whole thing, really :-).
 Mr. So & So – Truths, Lies And Half-Lies
Mr. So & So have been around since the very early 90s, although they spent much of the 2000s in limbo, having temporarily split around 1999. It’s a relief to have them back: although classified as progressive rock, the label almost seems a disservice to them, as what they do is very far removed from the sound of the 70s progressive giants or the all-too-often imitative so-called “new wave” of progressive artists that arrived in more recent years. Possessed of a keen ear for melody and a knack for sing-along choruses and finely-tuned harmony vocals, Mr. So & So epitomise progressive rock at its most accessible and enticing.
Their return to active duty has already seen them turn in a particularly fine concept album (yep: one tick in the progressive rock box ;-)), Sugarstealer, which I think is probably still their finest hour; that said, this, the follow-up to that album, sees the band raise the bar in various ways. For a start it’s almost certainly their best sounding album: where sometimes their albums haven’t reflected the full power and energy of the band’s live sound, this record reproduces it in style, giving the formidable rhythm section and Dave Foster’s spectacular guitars the weight and punch that they’ve seldom had in the studio previously. There are also some superb individual performances, particularly Foster’s superb soloing (intricate without ever being overly showy), the fine-tuned vocal interplay of bassist Shaun McGowan and Charlotte Evans and new arrival Andy Rigler on keyboards. The songs themselves are as simultaneously epic and instantly memorable as ever: frankly, if you’ve not fallen in love with them by the time the fantastic one-two punch of opening tracks Paperchase and Apophis are over, I’ll be amazed. In an increasingly crowded progressive rock scene, the So & Sos still stand head and shoulders over the majority of an increasing number of cannibalistic and self-referencing acts, and this is one of their finest hours.
Favourite tracks: Paperchase, Apophis, Please
 Bruce Soord/Jonas Renske – The Wisdom Of Crowds
As a long-term fan of The Pineapple Thief, I always pay strict attention to what Pineapple Chief Bruce Soord is up to, so when it was announced that he’d been busily working away on a project with Katatonia vocalist Jonas Renske on an collaborative album of new material, my curiosity was piqued. I’d liked what I’d heard of Katatonia: a band that clearly operates in the metal domain, but, much like Opeth, have a foot in the progressive domain; I also knew Renske had a fine, versatile voice, so I was keen to see what they’d got up to the studio. I had a feeling it would be good, and – guess what? – it is.
In some ways this album is a little like The Pineapple Thief’s dark twin. Whilst both bands have their rockier moments, the difference here is a subtle one of mood and intent, combined with Renske’s darker vocal tone. Whilst The Thief (as fans affectionately call them) deal more in bittersweet introspection, the Wisdom Of Crowds project is tougher, grimmer… almost like a Pineapple Thief from an alternate timeline who’ve seen tougher times. Whilst there are undoubted similarities in sound – Soord’s immediately identifiable guitar playing chief among them – Wisdom Of Crowds very much has its own sound and feel. The performances are tight and plainly heartfelt, Renske is excellent throughout, even exploring some new vocal territory to great effect, and there’s a strong temptation to press play again as soon as the record’s over, which I take as a very good sign. This is no substitute for The Thief; but it’s a strong debut and I definitely hope that we’re not kept waiting too long for the follow-up. No pressure, Bruce!
Favourite tracks: Pleasure, Frozen North, Pretend
 Riverside – Shrine Of New Generation Slaves
Although I was aware of their existence and had enjoyed the few tracks I had heard, not to mention being very much enamoured with frontman Mariusz Duda‘s solo albums under the name Lunatic Soul, it was only really with the arrival of this, Riverside’s fifth album, that I found myself paying strict attention. Based on this and what back catalogue I’ve heard since picking it up, it’s evident that I’ve been missing out on a very special band. They’re clearly influenced a great deal by Steven Wilson‘s work in and out of Porcupine Tree, but whilst there are clear similarities at times, Riverside’s music never feels like a slavish homage. Like Porcupine Tree, they manage tight metallic riffing alongside gentle acoustic sections and spacey, Floydian atmospherics; and, also like Porcupine Tree, the subject matter is often dark and unflinching – but the band’s muse is very much their own, and judging by the reaction to this album, Riverside have turned in what could well be their finest work to date.
Based around the theme of unfulfilled dreams and the day-to-day slog of people trapped in jobs that they don’t enjoy, this album manages to be both dramatic and affecting; mixing up the usual Riverside drama with a universal theme that really struck a chord with me. From its sardonic, humorous but ultimately sobering examination of celebrity culture (Celebrity Touch) to the grim, unending treadmills of modern life (New Generation Slave, Deprived (Irretrievably Lost Imagination), and the epic Escalator Shrine, among others), this is a superb album with musical and lyrical surprises around every corner. If you’re an afficionado of Porcupine Tree or latter-day Pink Floyd and haven’t bought this yet, I have a feeling that you’d really enjoy it :-).
Favourite tracks: The Depth Of Self-Delusion, Deprived (Irretrievably Lost Imagination), Escalator Shrine