by Frank Urbaniak
I always enjoy reading best of lists for progressive music. To see how the music I listened to resonated with other listeners, to agree or disagree with the finalists, to discover a gem that might not have hit my radar, it’s a great time of the year, especially with the strength of the music in 2012.
Let me start by saying that I list both my good list and not so good list, which may ruffle a few feathers if those releases were on your good list. However, having played drums since the age of 8, and still trying to play along with these amazing musicians via headphones today, I have profound respect for the challenges and extraordinary effort it takes artists to produce an album today. There are few dedicated musicians, especially in progressive music, due to the need for other sources of income to support themselves and their families. If you have ever sat through recording sessions, it is painful, tedious, boring and demanding. And we really don’t appreciate how good these musicians are today, the hours of practice, the days of writing, to produce this body of work we pick through for our best of lists.
Top 7 Releases of the Year
Echolyn- The Windows CD. Beautiful production, brilliant harmonies, outstanding attention to detail by a band who has been at it for 16 years and keeps getting better.
Big Big Train-English Electric 1. High expectations, and the band did not disappoint. Another great production,, with a larger soundstage and bigger sound, continuing the brass but adding some fiddle/violin and strings, recorder, banjo and a dense chorus of vocals. Tied with Echolyn for most ear time in 2012.
Anglagard-Viljans Oga. Superb musicians take a bit of Crimson, the Scandinavian influences, folk, classical and progressive elements and blend them into a unique offering. Only their third release in 20 years (!), the band has had a rocky past and has restructured since the release of this CD, with the departure of Mattias Olson and the addition of a new drummer and keyboard player.
IZZ-Crush of Night. Strong composition and consistent performance make for another great IZZ CD that has held up great since release. Love the mix of male and female vocals.
Gazpacho-March of Ghosts. Not quite up to Tick Tock and Night, but a beautiful soothing release. Wish they could tune the production a bit as the mix gets messy in the louder sections.
Glass Hammer-Perilous. I still like IF better, and the drums are kind of muddy/muffled, but the music is a progressive feast. I could do without the similarities to Anderson in both style and lyrics-(we dance, we sing, the river, I could see the truth and at once we raced from darkness to light) make the similarities to Yes a bit unnerving in a few sections.
Sylvan-Sceneries. Maybe because it was released in spring, and there are some beautiful dramatic moments, but I have enjoyed this CD all year.
Flower Kings-Banks of Eden. These guys are so good and produce so much music between FK, Agents of Mercy, Karmakanic, Transatlantic that it might hurt their overall ranking.
Neal Morse-Momentum. This one grew on me.
Mystery-The World Is A Game. The mix gets a bit muddy as the CD progresses but a strong release.
Best Revisitation of the Past
Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited II. Listed separately because I think the focus of this list should be on new music, not on the past and there has been lots of good debate on this one online, with a few why bothers, many excited fans. Music developed as a form of communication, and we are wired to absorb every detail, every nuance, so when the classics are reworked you miss a cymbal crash, a vocal inflection, a keyboard because it is mixed slightly different. This one overcomes much of that, adds to a few songs (The Lamia, Can Utility), loses me on a few (Nad’s voice is harsh on disc 2, Ripples doesn’t do it) but is a great effort and I hope it generates more interest in progressive music, his tour sells out and he is richly rewarded for his overall body of work. These guys are not getting younger (none of us are), so they need to strike while the iron is hot.
Big Big Train and Echolyn. Intelligent thoughtful lyrics that demonstrate an incredible amount of hard work and love of their craft by the composers. One pastoral, one more personal, each band has generated lyrical moments that remain bouncing around in my head after each listen.
“You speak to me across our living time where words hang on and on. They hold me still, in the moonlit charge.”
“I always hitch my name to the wrong star, but I prefer my stars once they’ve fallen”.
“She’d love to fly but the sky don’t care. She’d love to fly but the sky won’t hold her.”
“All you see is set out before you
all you need is walking beside you.”
“So many times I’ve walked alone here Carried with the breeze
And many more have walked beside me Carried with the breeze”.
Sometimes you stop and realize that hours have gone by with that soundbite playing in your head-a great thing!
Best CD That I Am Not Sure Is Progressive
Anathema-Weather Systems. Yes it is lighter, maybe Coldplay/Snow Patrol-like but I love the first two tracks and the production is consistent throughout. It fills a nice niche in my musical moods.
Consistently Good, Don’t Review Just Listen
Sigur Ros. Every CD has some of the saddest, most beautiful moments I have ever heard and the new one is no exception.
Best New Band I Never Heard Of A Year Ago
I And Thou-Speak. Beautiful CD, soothing and uplifting. Jason Hart has done a great job here in capturing the spirit of Wind and Wuthering and Tony Bank’s work while adding his own stamp to the music. While it is clear he is not used to being the front man , his voice is perfect for the songs, and I look forward to future releases.
Dream The Electric Sleep-Lost and Gone Forever. Recommended by George Roldan, the Rosfest promoter, this 3 piece band will be filling the Sunday ‘prog church’ slot at Rosfest this year. Influences are the usual suspects-Genesis, KC, Radiohead, Rush, Pink Floyd, LAGF is a high energy, dense production from Matt Page, a professor at the University of Kentucky, a drummer and bassist. Canary is one of my favorite tunes of the year.
Best Cover and Package
Kompendium. Still trying to catch the excitement on the music, but you have to give this one an A for effort and for the beautiful oversized cover. It reminds me of the days when you listened while reading lyrics and looking at the cover art. (Now I often don’t even know the names of the songs).
Echolyn-Speaking in Lamp Black. If Paul McCartney had a progressive streak.
Edison’s Children-Million Miles Away (wish I had a time machine).
BBT-Hedgerow. On a personal note, we lost our beautiful golden retriever a week before this was released, and it is only now I can listen without a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. Who knew hearing someone calling a dog/dog barking could make me such a wimpy emotional guy?
Ones That I Just Don’t Get
IO Earth-split the crowd at Rosfest. Some loved it, others like me tired of the clap your hands stuff and somewhat repetitious pattern to the songs.
Squackett-Disappointing release for artists with such a great body of past work. Lyrics left me cold, no compelling reason to play again.
Hasse Froberg (TFK) solo-CD sounds like Journey and the posturing was similar live.
Best Live Performance and DVD
Steve Wilson, NYC. Just wish I could have sat down for this show. The back doesn’t like 3 hours of standing in one spot anymore but the performance was great and Nick Beggs blew me away on bass.
Best Solo Performance Live
Jon Anderson, Newton NJ. His voice sounded great and he was a true troubadour bringing life to old songs and those never performed live before from Olias of Sunhillow.
Best Live Concert/Festival
Rosfest. Easy vote-I only go to one each year. A great production every year, with a rare opportunity to see so many excellent bands from across the pond. This year both IQ and Karmakanic were standouts. This will be my 8th year and I am already looking forward to Riverside and TFK.
Eagerly Anticipated Releases for 2013
Big Big Train English Electric II
Steve Wilson-The Raven That Refused to Sing
Lifelines-previews sound great
Happy Holidays To All.
Frank Urbaniak is the co-owner of a successful retail technology consulting practice, living in the hinterlands of NJ. He has played drums since the age of 8 and followed progressive music since the age of 18 when he first heard The Yes Album in college. He is the father of two daughters who think his music is weird, and his wife agrees with them.
[Ed. note: I’m exceedingly happy to state: Frank will become a full-time progarchist, as time and life allow. Yes!]