Album & Single Reviews

Published on December 10th, 2016 | by Mike Ainscoe


Mike’s Ainscoe’s 2016 Album and Song Round Up


Until late in the year, Katatonia were sitting comfortably ahead of the pack in the race for the highly anticipated Mike Ainscoe Album Of The Year title with their ‘Fall Of Hearts’  album. One that provided a superb introduction to the darkly progressive Swedes until Jim Moray appeared with a belter in the early Autumn that absolutely nailed it not so much as album of the year, but surely his own personal triumph.  The top five are set pretty much in place but the rest in no particular order. Yes, a few albums released by Inside Out – the prog specialists, so not too surprising, but thanks to Freddy Palmer, PR man from my favourite label for keeping  us  supplied with great new music, updates and the chance to interview and gig with their artists. Parish notices and shameless promotion over, without further ado, we have…

sb1JIM MORAY :  ‘Upcetera’  (Niag Records)

A late arrival in 2016 and an instant hit. Always inventive – his award winning and ground-breaking debut ‘Sweet England’ in 2004 set the bar remarkably high, but ‘Upcetera’ clears it with room to spare. Traditional songs with sweeping arrangements go hand in hand with original songs done in a more straightforward yet simply astounding fashion. Might be hyperbole, but utterly fabulous and flawless.


sb2KATATONIA :  ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ (Peaceville)

Discovery band of the year and another band from Sweden who seems to be spilling forth conveyor belt style. On the same page as Opeth and Pain Of Salvation; dark and bleak where moments of power and melody collide. Had me and other friends scurrying to investigate the back catalogue, but you always remember your first.


sb3SAM CARTER :  ‘How The City Sings’ (Captain Records)

Jim Moray’s buddy in the loud guitar folk rock of False Lights also made an impact this year with a storming new solo album. Inspired by his time in London, it combines reflective acoustic guitar pieces as is has been his  signature so far, but with the addition of a few songs which detonate in  a most un-folk-like way. All very ‘Judas’ Dylan but an exhilarating release. 


sb4JOHN WESLEY :  ‘a place you’ll never be’ (Inside Out)

Shameful that people haven’t heard more of the man known as Wes. Seeing him play in the   touring versions of Porcupine Tree, Bigelf, and Sound Of Contact as well as being a pal of Marillion is no excuse for missing his solo catalogue. Not only having rectified that, ‘a way you’ll never be’ goes a step further in showcasing a harder edged and no holes barred  style in a real bolt from the blue.


sb5SPIRITUAL BEGGARS :  ‘Sunrise To Sundown’ (Inside Out)

A release  from Inside Out that doesn’t fit their usual prog rock profile so may have been slightly overlooked . One of a couple of retro styled melodic hard rock / blues albums that really hit the spot this year.  The Hammond organ stylings of Per Wiberg colour  the Beggars material with a more ‘purple’ hue; close your eyes and it could be vintage 1972 – nowt wrong with that in my book.


sb6DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT : ‘Transcience’ (Inside Out)

A musician whose creative output and fertile mind finally came to fruition after trying so hard for so long to see what the fuss was about.  Big songs and  grandiose arrangements and a great cover design – ‘Transcience’ is the DTP album to grab if you’ve ever been undecided. Slightly reined in from his ‘Ziltoid’ excesses, but not too much, it’s an accessible blast of melodic prog metal.


sb7FAUSTUS :  ‘Death And Other Animals’ (Westpark Music)

The promise of doing something a bit different (“prog…”  so Saul Rose told me in Bolton earlier in the year) saw their third album having a much thicker sound amidst the collection of folk songs from their  Halsway Manor residency. Folkily intense and musically top  class with a dash of humour and ‘One More Day’ which still reminds me of the Who, a comparison they maybe don’t mind.


sb9MARTYN JOSEPH  : ‘Sanctuary – acoustic’ (Pipe Records)

The solo acoustic version of his 2016 album sees him stripping back the songs to how he performs them live – just the voice, the guitar and the passion and delivery of a songwriter who’s a genuine craftsman.  Probably better than the original album and with some class songs which have been well road tested before recording, solo with just the guitar is what he does best.


sb8SCORPION CHILD  : ‘Acid Roulette’ (Nuclear Blast)

THE top Nuclear Blast release for me this year – second album of bluesy psych rock and a frontman in Aryn Jonathan Black who is a fusion of all rock’s great frontmen – you name them there’s a bit in there.  Add some ‘heavy keys’ to the rock guitar rock and ‘Acid Roulette’ is a heady swirling mix with an ‘if it ain’t broken, why fix it?’ philosophy.


sb11RADIOHEAD  :  ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’  (XL Recordings)

Hardly a case of  ‘underground music uncovered’ from the band who wrote the book on doing things differently.  A more cinematic set this time round and fuelled by Thom Yorke’s relationship breakdown and an  album which is perhaps not quite as dark as anticipated although with healthy portions of melancholy and pathos. They remain a big draw amongst the those who like something allegedly more intellectual or profound but as Frank Turner said there’s “no such things as rock stars, just people who play music.”


sb10AIRBAG : ‘Disconnected’  (Karisma Records)

Great slabs of melodic progressiveness   with lengthy instrumental passages and some blinding guitar. The trail leads  back to 2013’s ‘Greatest Show On Earth’ – forming a perfect pairing for anyone who hankers after something which matches the Floyd at their peak; the sort of music that David Gilmour really should be doing.



THE PINEAPPLE THIEF : ‘Your Wilderness’ (KScope)

DREAM THE ELECTRIC SLEEP : ‘Beneath The Dark Wide Sky (Omn Label Services)

HAKEN : ‘Affinity’  (Inside Out)

BLAIR DUNLOP : ‘Gilded’  (Gilded Wings Records)

WILL VARLEY : ‘Kingsdown Sundown’ (Smugglers Records) 


  1. JIM MORAY ‘The Flying Cloud’
  2. JIM MORAY ‘Sounds Of Earth’
  3. KATATONIA ‘Serein’
  4. MARILLION ‘The Leavers pt v: One Tonight’
  5. O’HOOLEY & TIDOW ‘ The Needle & The Hand’

The top three songs  from the top two albums. Jim Moray clearly needs knighting for his services to music. After whittling things down from the whole album to five then four sings, it boiled down to a choice between two songs from the top album of the year. ‘Sounds Of Earth’ a more acoustic approach showcasing his guitar skills and having seen him stand alone and play it live – wow.  The tale of an intergalactic  time capsule  has vied with ‘The Flying Cloud’;  another epic arrangement of innumerable verses of sea shantying backed by  an unerringly and exquisitely played Viola Da Gamba of Liam Byrne. A truly astonishing and outstanding album that Blackadders’ Baldrick would have called “a magnificent octopus”.  ‘The Flying Cloud’ just edging it but I might change my mind….

‘Serein’ represents the ultimate in power and melody in harmony from Katatonia – one song it’s hard not to play again at the flick of the CD scanner as soon as  it ends, probably at the expense of the whole album and despite it being a more straightforward piece – simple is best.  Inspired  little guitar runs sit alongside lyrics of melancholy and desolation. Totally different from Jim’s work but all three are lyrical meisterworks.

Marillion – well, a new album in ‘F.E.A.R’ which many, including the band themselves  have been drooling over; to be fair, probably their most consistent for years with less of those sort songs you play not much more once. The choice moment  is one part of the lengthy ‘The Leavers’ suite and is THE moment for communal singing in concert although IMHO, they missed a massive trick by not playing it live. It has a seasonal feel with the simple piano motif and keyboard simulated brass  so a late November gig at their spiritual home in Manchester Academy (a long story) would have been bob on for an emotional coming together of what they call ‘the family’.

And finally, Belinda & Heidi make an appearance with the standout (for me) track from ‘Shadows’. After  toying with some drinking themed songs on the lighter yet still insightful and quietly  potent ‘Summat’s Brewin’ album, they got back in their stride with a set of songs packed with  dark undertones, strong women and elephants. However, the one that emerged  was one that Guy Garvey would be proud of and whose sparse  and   intimate rendition upped  their songwriting status no end.

About the Author

Mike's mellowed in his old age, discovering the delights of traditional folk and acoustic music and the constant stream of new music coming through his passion as a gig-goer, music photographer and writer. With favourite artists and favourite songs which change daily, even hourly, he adds another spoke to the Sonic Bandwagon wheel of fortune.

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