Well prog pickers, it has been another stunning year of music in the progsphere and as the slogan on one of my tee-shirt reads, “So much prog: so little time”. How true is that! Reviewing prog rock is probably one of the most complicated but ultimately rewarding jobs on the planet. It is never easy to assess any prog album simply on one take or at face value. It takes time to appreciate the months and often years of work which go into making this kind of music.
There are without doubt many albums I have missed this year, many of which have appeared in others’ picks of the years. Hopefully, I will get around to hearing them in due course, but already, 2013 is promising to be another incredible year of new music. It has been a hard task picking 12 but ultimately, these are the albums which rocked my world this year and hopefully, yours too.
12. Moments – IO Earth. This is the second album by the Birmingham band whose brand of hauntingly atmospheric prog continues to delight and confound in equal measures. It is moody and magnificent with some highly original passages and virtuoso playing.
11. Crimes and Reasons – Steve Thorne. A sublime collection of varied and thoughtful songs featuring a stellar cast of artists such as Tony Levin and Nick D’Virgilio brought to you by the very under-rated Mr Thorne, who writes, plays and has one of the most haunting voices in prog.
10. 20/20 – Saga. An excellent new offering by the Canadian quintet and heralded the return of their iconic singer Michael Sadler. The album played to all their strengths musically with lots of twists and turns, guitarist Ian Crichton in fine form and full of references to past songs. The next one promises to be even better and I am so hoping they will be back to entertain us again in the UK sometime soon.
9. A Life Within A Day – Squackett. It might not have been what some were expecting, ie a Yes/Genesis hybrid, but Messrs Squire and Hackett sounded as though they were having fun making the music, which ranges from full-on rockers like Stormchaser to the most delicate ballads, such as the gorgeous Can’t Stop The Rain.
8. First In A Field Of One – Alan Reed. The first solo album from the former Pallas front man and despite being relatively short in length, the songs are all exceptionally crafted and Reed does not hold back on raw emotion and pain, especially on those which describe the musical parting of the ways.
7. Beneath the Waves – Kompendium. This glorious project undertaken by Magenta main man Rob Reed features an all-star cast to assist him telling a Celtic tale of love, loss and redemption. The combination of Celtic, prog, opera and New Age is irresistible and should ultimately appeal to a much wider audience outside of prog. Steve Balsamo’s singing in particular is immense.
6 and 5. Battle Scars/ Beyond The Realms of Euphoria – Galahad. Absolutely impossible to separate the two offerings this year from a band whose bass player Neil Pepper died of cancer last year but appears on both albums. Although veterans of the prog circuit, they dared to be different for both by introducing ambient dance elements through keyboard player Dean Baker. Battle Scars is the rockier of the two while Euphoria is full of lovely prog moments including passages which make you think Queen, Muse and Rachmaninov.
4. All the World’s A Game – Mystery. What a stunningly lush and dreamy album from the Canadian band which now has the omnipresent Nick D’Virgilio now on drums. The combination of Michel St-Pere on guitar and keyboards and that spine-tingling voice of Benoit David are a little bit of prog heaven. At last the voice has returned to where it truly belongs. Roll on next year when they will be one of the biggest attractions at the UK’s Celebr8.2 festival.
3. Clockwork Angels – Rush. Though probably the most hyped album of the year, it lived up to all its pre-publicity promise. The Toronto trio are an unstoppable juggernaut here with a sound and energy like no other this year. The quality of both the songs and the musicianship are matchless and in The Garden, they have delivered possibly one of the greatest prog rock songs of all time.
2. Map of the Past – It Bites. The album of the year for the first six months of 2012, this is a prog pop album of exceptional quality with some strong songs, big themes and an immaculate production. It still retains a freshness and vigour many dozens of times of playing later.
1.English Electric Pt 1 – Big Big Train. Where to start? Nothing could have prepared me for the magnitude and scale of this beautiful album. It has such a vibrant inner life, listening to it is like being a character in Alice Through The Looking Glass as they transport you to some extraordinary places – the countryside, my home city, a Midlands town in a different era and even hell itself. The arrangements, the playing and production are faultless. Heaven knows how they can top this next year with Pt 2. But they will, for sure.
[Progarchy readers, with apologies, I can’t get wordpress to accept media this morning. I will add some images to this piece later–Brad, ed.]