aal

Animals As Leaders : The Joy Of Motion

It was lovely to see a plethora of great instrumental albums released of the course of the year (and to discover many others that had been released last year too) and see them get recognition. Alison Balsom’s trumpet is soulful and vital in her homage to the classical works inspired by the French capital Paris, and Bill Frisell’s jazz arrangements of 60s surf and space pop tunes for his Guitar in the Space Age retain their awe and wonder at the possibilities of space travel and surfer dudes that created them. They just come with a twist of Bill’s own sparse playing as well. Lindsey Stirling meanwhile continued to prove the rule that Saturday night talent shows can unearth actual talent with several collaborations and her own album Shatter Me, a fusion of her violin, dubstep, and pop. Sounds odd, works brilliantly, even for four year olds. And then there seems to be a continuing rise in instrumental guitar albums which means that we’re not waiting with baited breath the new Joe Satriani or Steve Vai album any more. The phase of omnipresent shredding in the late eighties rightly blew itself out in its excitement and fretboard wizardry but that’s not to say that highly proficient guitar players ceased to exist. This year Alek Darson’s Panopticon and Polyphia’s Muse were highly impressive with the latter’s Champagne an insanely infectious and upbeat treat. However....

My favourite album of the year by quite some distance is Animals As Leaders’ album The Joy Of Motion. It has been such a good year for instrumental albums perhaps its appropriate that this is my favourite. The first album was more a demo for lead guitarist Tosin Abasi while the second saw AAL expand to a trio and learn how to write material as a band. With Matt Garstka installed as new drummer before writing began, this album has all the trademarks of a band that really works as one blending ideas & not being tied down by a lack of technique or pre-set boundaries. The shyness at the disco feel that covered second album Weightless has gone completely. In its place is an album of 12 genre-bending songs with nary a weakling to be seen. It’s disappointing to see AAL labelled as Djent, Tech-metal, or even Progressive Metal on the basis that they play 8 string guitars and drums. There are elements of that sure, but alongside Fusion, Funk, Rock, Jazz and more besides. This is a serious piece of work and if you’re even vaguely into playing a guitar, this is mandatory listening.