I’ve been keeping an “Album Of The Year” list going back to 1977 or so, before which I didn’t own or properly listen to any music of note. Since then, there has usually been one album every year that stood above the others, or, if I’m lucky, an album that I’d truly cherish for years to come.
Over the last 10 years, I’ve been fortunate to have encountered a few such albums: “Everything Must Go” by Steely Dan, “Everybody Loves A Happy Ending” by Tears For Fears, “Milliontown” by Frost*, “English Electric Part 1” by Big Big Train, and “The Tall Ships” by It Bites. Unfortunately, there have been a few years where I’ve had to pretty much force myself to pick an album that might not otherwise top a “best of” list, simply because nothing really spoke to me that year…let’s not list those, eh?
For 2013, I can list three albums that meets at least one of two criteria: Will I want to listen to these again in 2014 and/or will it be an album I treasure for a lifetime.
“English Electric Full Power” – Big Big Train
Yes, nearly half of this album was the Album Of The Year for many in 2012 (including myself), and I’m not sure “English Electric 2” would have topped my AotY list by itself – it’d have been a strong #2 for sure – but to hear the new tracks from “Full Power” arranged among the revised tracklisting for this, the band’s final statement for this project, makes this an album that easily meet both criteria noted above.
Despite “English Electric” not being a concept album in a story sense, I do struggle a bit with how the leadoff track, “Make Some Noise,” fits in with the rest of the album, but having been that kid they sing about, I simply imagine how carefree life was in the summers of my youth, being able to play music with friends, before true responsibility knocked.
I can’t really add any meaningful superlatives to my appreciation of this album that haven’t been said time and again by others. Suffice to say: It’s magnificent.
“Dream Theater” – Dream Theater
Despite my glowing review of “The Enemy Inside,” the first single from Dream Theater’s self-titled album, I began to think that if I was in for an album-length assault in the vein of that track, this wouldn’t be a standout album for me. It’s obvious that I hadn’t learned to listen to an entire album before judging it, because this album stands out as one of their finest and a fine successor to “A Dramatic Turn Of Events.”
With the talent stockpiled in this band – especially now with a drummer in Mike Mangini possessing the technique and training on par with Jordan Rudess – it would have been easy for Dream Theater to overplay in every time signature for 75 minutes straight, but what we get instead is an incredibly balanced effort that keeps the technical playing mostly in check, letting the music breathe.
If I have any gripes – and this may be my problem – it’s that while each section of “Illumination Theory” is fantastic on its own (how about the section with the strings!), I was hoping the end of the track would reprise the themes from the beginning. Otherwise, it feels to me as if they took us out on a journey and didn’t quite bring us back (of course, that’s well within their rights as artists). Yes, I do hear the reference to one of the early guitar riffs later in the track, but somehow the end didn’t “tie the room together.” 🙂
However, I reserve the right to be wrong here, so fellow progheads, I’m counting on you to set me straight if I’m missing something! In any case, don’t miss this album.
“Reaching Places High Above” – Persona Grata
Just as Big Big Train’s “English Electric 1” was a late-in-the-year find for me in 2012, this release from Bratislava’s Persona Grata (nice rhyme there) was that way this year. This six-song effort features three prog tunes in the vein of Dream Theater, plus a three-track instrumental arc in the middle that takes you on a thematic journey paralleling the titles of the tunes.
Beyond the writing, singing and playing on this album, I was most impressed with their attention to the arrangements. Of the many prog albums that I gave a spins to this year, “Reaching Places High Above” grabbed me from the first listen.
Finally, if I have a single of the year award to bestow, it’s for “Pale Blue Dot” by Sound Of Contact, part of a fine overall album. I dare you not to have Simon Collins’ melodies from the verses and chorus stuck in your head for days on end. Great track!
Of course, there are many more albums out there likely deserving inclusion on my list, but these three (and Sound Of Contact) will be the ones that I’ll be spinning for years on end. Since our community of proggers is a tight-knit one that includes both artists and fans in a way that I doubt most other genres do, artists should note that I’m often a “late bloomer” with many albums, whether because it was completely off or under my radar, so don’t be surprised if I someday anoint your album as AotY that was released years before, like I did with “Once Around The World” by It Bites; it “only” took me some 20 years to learn who they were!
Another brilliant year for progressive rock, to be sure!