Sitting at the prog bus stop – 2014 in review

Here we are again.

Actually it seems like just a year ago when I was thinking ‘here we are again.’ And you’re probably thinking the same thing at this point.

‘Best of’ posts seem to be a tradition at this point in time, when we also celebrate our planet returning to the same point (galactic orbit notwithstanding, naturally…) as it was 365-and-a-bit days ago. Hurrah! We’re back! Now, where did we leave our keys?

Johannes Kepler – the only man this year to publish a positive review of ‘Heaven and Earth’.

Of course if Johannes Kepler (pictured to the left, apparently pre-empting a delicious Chinese main course by snaffling a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer) was to try to build a predictive model of the prog releases even a year into the future he would probably end up a bit stumped, and would look stupid for even trying. So that’s why we don’t try to model prog – most of us look stupid enough without the ignominy of a failed ‘Theory Of Everything™’ on our CVs too.

Anyway, I digress, as is my wont.

Musically 2014 has been an interesting year. Mostly because it has been quite different from 2013.

“Well, colour me surprised, Mr. Clarke, that’s generally how the space-time continuum works!” I hear you shriek. But please set your Interweb keyboard warrior fury aside for a moment or two, and let me finish my epistle before you judge me too harshly.

My 2014 has felt pretty lacking when it comes to stand-out, arse-kicking, blindingly-brilliant music. Maybe we peaked in 2013. I mean, 2013 was pretty amazing for a number of reasons, not least:

  • Big Big Train released their insta-classic ‘English Electric:Full Power’ double album, making me homesick once again.
  • Haken’s ‘The Mountain’ rocked my world.
  • Thieves’ Kitchen’s ‘Of Sparks and Spires’ didn’t help with the homesickness thing, thanks very much indeed.
  • Spock’s Beard finally returned to form with the absolutely stonking ‘Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep.’
  • Scott and I  made a trip back to the mother country (that’s England – keep up, everyone) for The Big Big Weekend (Saturday and Sunday are here in glorious TechniPanaColourVision,) where we forged new friendships, ate curry and drank beer.

Now the above may be a small list, numerically-speaking, but each of those items was a Very Very Big Deal to me. In comparison 2014 really hasn’t lived up to the standards of 2013. How could it possibly?

There have been a few albums by artists whose back catalogues I have a lot of time for, but that this year have failed to set me on fire:

  • Gazacho’s “Demon” didn’t have the longevity I thought it would, which is a shame – it’s a nice enough album, but not something to draw me back time and again. If I am honest, I think my trajectory and theirs have diverging somewhat since Night.
  • Cosmograf’s “Capacitor” worked well for the first few spins in rapid succession, but then I think I over-listened to it. It takes (me at least) a lot of work to get the most out of it so I have to ration my exposure now. I go back once a month for a fix, but because of that, it hasn’t been entwined with my life this year. Perhaps that’s for the best – caviar gets boring when you eat it for every meal.
  • North Atlantic Oscillation’s “The Third Day” left me pretty cold. I loved 2012’s “Fog Electric”, and Sam Healy’s 2013 “Sand” was a damn fine album too. But TTD now sound like they have been re-treading the same ground over, and over, and over again. And again. And over again.
  • Anathema’s Distant Satellites started well but then fell apart. For my ears, the music certainly lived up to the band’s name.
  • I chose to completely bypass Yes’ “Heaven and Earth” for a number of reasons, not least of which is my refusal to continue to be serially disappointed by a band’s output for three entire decades. So I have finally given up watching that particular slow motion car crash.

Combine all of the above with a very busy and sometimes fraught year at work and home, and it adds up to make me feel that things just aren’t what they used to be.

But like Climate Change there are peaks and troughs. Are we in a trough in 2014? Was I just looking the other way while all the cool stuff happened? Maybe I was at the shops.

Looking forward my personal highlights for 2015 will be Big Big Train releasing the Real World DVD and playing live at King’s Place in August (and yep, we will be there!)

We have new material from Phideaux, Spock’s Beard and Haken among others, which I am also very excited about. The list is not endless, but it’s promising. Fingers crossed…

Anyway, back to the year in question. 2014. What has floated my boat?

IQ – The Road Of Bones

This album is absolutely the best thing to come out of 2014.

It’s still as fresh as it was when I first heard it, and it’s still a firm favourite on my car media player. In fact, it’s rarely not being played. I have played it to death, and yet it still lives! It is absolutely the pinnacle of IQ’s output. You may recall I quite liked it and said as much a while back. If you haven’t heard it, you should really, really hear it. And of course, buy the bonus CD.

Uphill Work – Missing Opportunities

This album was a real surprise find for me. A very late arrival to my ears, once again the Progstreaming site came up trumps while I was browsing during a quiet moment earlier this month.

Uphill Work are a Moscow-based group formed in 2002. I’d never heard of them – it’s discoveries like this that make me very happy The Interwebs, and sites like Progstreaming, exist.

This album’s an absolute bloody gem – quirky, interesting, humourous, very droll lyrically, and a great vocal approach.

Listen to it (and buy it!) on Uphill Work’s Bandcamp page.

Dave Kerzner – New World

Another December find, this is a musical feast. I don’t identify as a Pink Floyd fan at all, and a lot of parallels have been drawn between this release and the Pink Floyd sound, and yes, they’re definitely there. The big difference for me is that I like this album and I haven’t liked any PF albums. So I guess I win!

This album keeps pumping from start to finish – every track delivers something different, and it’s all good, every last bit of it. Recommended!

Listen to it, and get it, here!

In Summary – It’s Me, Not You…

Three keepers in a year, the first of which was released in May, and the other two which I was introduced to in December. That’s a big gap! I would have despaired if IQ had been the only transcendent release in the year. So for that number to treble in the space of a week or two, well I consider that excellent luck! Thanks goodness for happy accidents.

All that aside I actually don’t really believe in the good musical year/bad musical year thing.

You make your own good year/bad year.

What floats your boat sinks others’, and vice versa.

You get out what you put into it.

OK, I will stop sounding like your grandmother now.

I’m sure I missed a bunch of other good musical stuff while I was doing other non-musical stuff. Such is life, and I’m also sure that if it’s that good I’ll discover it next year.

Anyways, it’s Boxing Day here in New Zealand.

12:02 pm.

That’s Beer O’Clock.

Cheers and Happy 2015!


2 thoughts on “Sitting at the prog bus stop – 2014 in review

  1. Pingback: Tiger Moth Tales’ “Cocoon” – Synth-Driven Prog At Its Absolute Best | Progarchy: Pointing toward Proghalla

  2. Russell I tend to agree with you about 2014. I’ve heard a lot of decent albums but not much stands out to me but then I like the darker side of Prog.
    I haven’t heard Road of Bones as I’m not a great IQ fan but have just ordered it as it seems so well regarded
    I’m looking forward to Steven Wilsons new album



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