Looking at some of the other ‘Best of 2012’ posts here, you have to wonder how some of the other Progarchists do it. That is, how do they find the time to listen to and fully absorb that much music (and particularly prog)? Not to be snobby or anything, but listening to prog is not a passive thing, it takes an active effort by the listener to fully “get it”. And yet when I read through these posts, I can conclude that my fellow Progarchists are A) listening to a lot of prog, and B) “getting it.” With the other obligations they have in their lives – families, careers, other hobbies, other blogs – it would seem like it would take a superhuman effort to fully absorb all of that music. And yet clearly they do just that.
Alas, I think I’ve figured out their secret – most, if not all of the other Prograrchists are in possession of an ERTEM – short for “Einsteinian Relativistic Time Expansion Machine.” In short, the ERTEM is a machine about the size of a booth or a very small room. A person may enter his ERTEM, shut the door, and emerge in what appears to be only a few minutes to an outside observer. But aaaah, inside the ERTEM, time expands, and the occupant therein can spend several hours of “inside time.” Thus, the Progarchist may receive a new CD or a new album in digital format, step inside his ERTEM, and indulge in hours of listening pleasure, until they fully “grok” (apologies to Robert Heinlein) their most recent prog purchase. They may even be smuggling their laptops in their to write some of their long, detailed, and typically excellent reviews – the type that usually send me lurching toward my computer to make yet another purchase.
So fellow Progarchists, could you tell me how to obtain my own ERTEM? I could really use it, as I too am a very busy guy who loves prog rock and would like to listen to as much of it as possible. I have tried to figure out how to build my own ERTEM, but have had no luck so far, even after thumbing through my college physics textbook numerous times. Furthermore, while I am certain that a flux capacitor is somehow involved, my efforts to obtain one have thus far been in vain. Discount Electronics at Lakeline Mall doesn’t even carry them. Rest assured though, if you can tell me how to build or obtain my own ERTEM, not only will I listen to more prog, but I will write many, many more reviews here, and detailed ones at that. Pinky swear. Not only that, but it will allow me to catch up on the music of the last 12 years or so, as we are living through what I have termed the Second Golden Age of Prog- an age where the music has the quality equal to that of the first, but in which the quantity seems to be infinitely greater.
All of this is a longhand way of saying that I don’t have 10 or 12 or however many albums from 2012 to rank. But nevertheless, I do have a lot of thoughts about various prog music that has blessed us with its presence in 2012, and man, was there some great stuff or what?
Being a longtime Rush fan, finally getting to hear the long anticipated Clockwork Angels was a real treat. While many other bands would have run out of creative juice this late in their career, Rush shows no sign of running out of (what was termed by Jack Black as) rocket sauce. Instead, Rush this year put out what might be its best album since Moving Pictures– a true tour de force. A concept album on one level that tells a story, on a deeper level the lyrical themes seem to impart a lot of wisdom that drummer/lyricist Neal Peart has obtained over the years. The songs stand well on their own, but work together nicely to form the whole. And of course, the musicianship is, as always, top notch.
Speaking of concept albums, I was introduced to Arjen Anthony Lucassen this year, in particular Lost in the New Real. This is also a fantastic concept album. The concept is laid out pretty clearly in the liner notes, where Mr. Lucassen notes how much technology has changed in his own lifetime and then uses his lyrics to postulate what might be found by his avatar, Mr. L, if he were to be transported instantly into a distant future. The distant future is one full of wonders – cancer is cured, longevity has increased dramatically, and new music can be instantly created and tailored to an individual’s whims. And yet, this wondrous new future is dystopian to its core, and in the end, Mr. L concludes he wants no part of it. You could say this is a parable of “be careful what you wish for, as you just might get it.” Indeed it is something for all of us to think about in our own time, as we live lives of luxury, convenience, and comfort that were unimaginable a century ago, and yet much of society seems more dissatisfied than ever. Is it a lack of gratitude? Has the technology stripped us of our souls, or do we just not appreciate what we have? There’s more than a little food for though here – there is a whole feast.
Many readers of this site might think Progarchy is just a bunch of Big Big Train fanboys. Irrespective of whether or not that’s the case, the fact of the matter is that English Electric, Part 1 is just that good. This is one of the freshest new albums to come out in a long time, and it is chock full of great songs and great musical moments. Many of the other Progarchists seem to have an affinity for Hedgerow as their favorite song on the album, and I will not do anything to dissuade them of their preference. For me however, Uncle Jack is the piece that really gets into my bloodstream. I’m a sucker for a good vocal arrangement, and Uncle Jack has one toward its latter parts that is absolutely sublime. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult that one was to arrange, record, mix, and produce, which only makes it that much better. The Great Rebreather and A Boy In Darkness are other favorites of mine, but every track here is great. If you haven’t yet heard it, do yourself a favor and get a copy. Your ears will be extremely happy with you.
Speak by I and Thou has to be considered one of the best, if not the best album by newcomers. My first listen of this album simply knocked my socks off. It has a touch of ELP, another touch of Selling-era Genesis, and a whole bunch of original sounds. And I Awaken is a personal favorite on this album, with Go or Go Ahead being a close runner-up (in no small part due to the presence of Marillion’s Steve Hogarth). This album has that great quality of making you want to listen to it again and again, while also making you anticipate what they will do next.
A few others I will mention that I have listened to but not fully sunk my teeth into yet are Banks of Eden by The Flower Kings and Crush of Night by IZZ. I’ve had a couple of listens to each of these albums, and while I don’t have the grasp on either of them to write a good, fully detailed review, I can say without reservation they are both very good. IZZ is new to me, and it’s clear that some exploration of their back catalog is in order. As for Banks of Eden, I can’t say if it’s as good as the other Flower Kings release of mine, Space Revolver, but give me a few more spins before I have to decide, ok?
And then there are those releases I have missed, mostly for the above-referenced lack of time – mainly Gazpacho’s March of Ghosts, Glass Hammer’s Perilous, Echolyn’s latest, and the return of Anglagard. I’ll be playing catch-up come January 2013 – unless I can get one of the other Progarchists to let me in on the secret to obtaining/building my own ERTEM. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?