Best of 2014, Part III: Welcome to the Mask Machine

Second Nature
Best album cover of the year.

In a world of true justice, Flying Colors would be blaring from every car stereo tuned to album rock radio across North America.  Not only does SECOND NATURE have the single best album cover of the year, but the album is absolutely riveting.  It’s not quite prog, though, as with the best of AOR, it contains great prog elements.  Everything fits perfectly here.  The lyrics are solid, the vocals are superior.  The final two songs—Peaceful Harbor and Cosmic Symphony (sort of a gospel prog)—alone are worth the entire album.  But, the entire album is, thankfully, worth the entire album.  For me, every time I listen to this album, I’m transported back to 1985.  This would have sounded great next to Power Windows.  And, unquestionably, Peaceful Harbor would easily outdo almost any contemporary worship song should churches look for some good new music.

A dark Narnia.
A dark Narnia.

Largely unsung in the press, Mike Kershaw offers a rare noir beauty, a kind of moody deepness rare in almost all popular art, on 2014’s major release, ICE AGE.  Kershaw’s music reminds me quite a bit of another profound prog act, Fractal Mirror.  Each looks to the Bauhaus of the early 80s, progging it up, making it relevant in the modern age.  Kershaw offers us a rather dark Narnia.

Cailyn is pure class.
Cailyn is pure class.

One of America’s greatest gems is Cailyn Lloyd, though too few Americans know of her.  In every way, Cailyn is a wonder.  She arranges and writes her own music, plays all of her own instruments, and records and engineers her albums.  Her specialty—bringing classical music and blues (think Stevie Ray Vaughn)—to the rock world.  Reading this, you might first think of ELP.  And, there’s a connection.  But, whereas ELP was always “over the top,” Cailyn is as tasteful as tasteful can be.  Her latest release, VOYAGER, is a must own for any lover of music, whatever the genre.

Motherland.  Nothing to do with Natalie Merchant, however.
Motherland. Nothing to do with Natalie Merchant, however.

America’s newest and coolest immigrant, Simon Godfrey, has taken up residence in the City of Brotherly Love.  For whatever reason, though, Philadelphia seems to have made him even more English, especially in his unrelenting wit.  Godfrey’s latest, MOTHERLAND, is more in the “singer-songwriter” camp than prog, but it matters not.  His voice drips with conviction, and this very warm album will enliven the soul of any listener.  The best song of a great album is “The Inaccurate Man.”

city of the sun
Renaissance inspired?

America is doing quite well in 2014.  Everyone’s favorite Kerry Kompost (FB name) is back with Heliopolis and the new album, CITY OF THE SUN, a stunning work of art that has taken several years to make.  And, the time was well worth it.  Of all prog releases this year, this is one of the two or three most unapologetically prog in the traditional sense.  Quite heavy and eccentric, it builds and builds throughout the album, taking the listener on a psychedelic ride.  Mix Black Sabbath, The Doors, and King Crimson, and you start to get a sense of what Heliopolis is.  Whether Heliopolis takes its name—band and/or album title—from the famous Renaissance poem of the same name or not, I’m not sure.  But, I do know that these guys have delivered something well worth adoring.

Matt
No, it’s not a Smith’s album.

Nothing Matt Stevens does is unimportant in our world.  His vocal-less music carries more voice  and speaks more humanely than almost anything else in the music world.  The man loves his guitar, and he love beauty, and he loves harmony.  LUCID takes Matt’s voice a step further.  He’s also had a King Crimson/Leo Kottke strain to him, but this album is even more Matt than Matt.  It’s so incredible that no words I could employ right now could do justice to it.  And, speaking of justice, Matt has received some huge accolades.  But, he deserves so many more.

Haken-Restoration
A masterful EP.

Who would have thought an EP would make it into a best of list?  Well, Galahad already has.  Now, it’s Haken’s turn.  Unlike Galahad, though, Haken gives us three brand new songs with RESTORATION.  I have to thank my great Facebook friend, Richard Thresh, for first introducing me to Haken.  Chris Morrissey has already reviewed the EP here at progarchy, and I agree with every word.  So, no need for me to blather more.

The sequel to MARCH OF PROGRESS.
The sequel to MARCH OF PROGRESS.

Finally, for part III of my best of, the band that Richard and I were discussing when he brought up Haken: Threshold.  I really, really like these guys, though I’m generally not quite as metal as all of what’s to be found on their latest album, FOR THE JOURNEY.  It’s as dark in its metal as MARCH OF PROGRESS was driving.  There’s a lot in common between the two albums, especially thematically.  Each deals with the fragility of life and social stability.  The two albums seem to me to be two sides of the same thing, much in the way that it’s rather natural to listen to HEMISPHERES after listening to FAREWELL TO KINGS.  If you like prog metal, it doesn’t get better than Threshold or Haken.

And, soon to come. . . Part IV.

One thought on “Best of 2014, Part III: Welcome to the Mask Machine

  1. Pingback: Hit By a White Car: The Best 8 ALBUMS of 2014 | Progarchy: Pointing toward Proghalla

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