Ok, so I’m taking a bit to get through my best of 2016. It was a GOOD year. Certainly not when it came to violence or politics, but music. It soothes my upset soul. Thank you, fellow proggers.
One quick note before I dive into part III.
I must mention an album (two parter) that brought immense joy to me this year: the soundtrack of STRANGER THINGS. I’ve had the opportunity to sing the praises of this glorious 8-part nostalgia trip of a Netflix series elsewhere, and I’m terrible at trying to describe and review electronic music. Regardless, this soundtrack captures the mystery of the series just perfectly. I’ve seen the series three times, and I’ve listened to the two-CD soundtrack a million more. Few things will define 2016 as much as this series did.
Ok, back to regular programming. . .
The Pineapple Thief, OUR WILDERNESS. I would doubt if anyone doubts the audiophiliac qualities of Bruce Soord. Soord possesses two of the best musical ears in the world today. He is, simply put, a master of sound. The problem is that Soord often seems lost in personal direction of his albums. When he goes for the pop album (TIGHTLY UNWOUND), he’s a master. When he goes for the art album (WHAT WE HAVE MADE), he’s a master. When he attempts to bridge the two, however, he loses his effectiveness. OUR WILDERNESS sees the most successful attempt on Soord’s part to bridge pop with art. It is a gorgeous album, lush and voluptuous. What is particular striking is that the balance that Soord so very much wants comes from his drummer on this album, Gavin Harrison. I must admit, I’m also very happy I bought the oversize deluxe edition of the album. The art work and packaging is a thing of wonder.
Of the albums that had constant rotation during the second half of 2016, none played as often in the Birzer house as Frost*’s latest, FALLING SATELLITES. Granted, we Birzers have a strange love for all things Frost*. Ever since the band released THE PHILADELPHIA EXPERIMENT, the opening diddy, “We are Frost*, How do you do?” has become the Birzer family theme song. “We are Birzer, How do you do?” And, then, the family belts out every single Frost* tune with as much enthusiasm as we do with THE SOUND OF MUSIC. FALLING SATELLITES is an extraordinary return for the band. The playfulness—for the most part—of the first two albums is gone, but none of the wonderful intensity is missing in the least. This is an urgent album. Urgent describes the pace, the tunes, and the lyrics. If Godfrey wants my attention, he has it! Some proggers found much to dislike in some of the dub-step-like aspects of the album, but I found them loveably quirky and perfectly in keeping with the album as a whole. Though I’m only rating album one of 2016 specifically, I can state with certainty, that FALLING SATELLITES would be in the top five of my 2016 picks.
Riverside. Just the title of the band evokes sympathy this year after one of this mainstays of third-wave prog unexpectedly and tragically lost one of its four members, Piotr Grudziński. Rest in Peace, Piotr. Despite this loss, Riverside released two rather stunning packages of music this year—a release and remastered and repackaged version of last year’s LOVE FEAR AND THE TIME MACHINE as well as a two-disk compilation of b-sides and new music, EYE OF THE SOUNDSCAPE. Piotr, I assume, must be very proud. This is a band that has made its mark—a rather deep one—and will continue to do so. Granted, I’m a huge fan of the Polish, but this just makes me love the people even more.
Airbag, DISCONNECTED. When it comes to Pink Floyd-esque bands, only Dave Kerzner rivals Airbag. Kerzner, however, echoes the melodic side of Gilmour, while Airbag channels the moodiness of Waters. “Here I am, a self-made predatory man.” So begins this wonderful album. As with Floyd, Airbag never leaves its listeners unhappy, at least on the intellectual side of things. I love Airbag’s lyrics—the paranoia, the individuality, and the rage against conformity (of all types). They also write their music to fit the lyrics just perfectly. If you want an intellectual prog experience, you’ll find nothing better than DISCONNECTED. Existential to the nth degree. Long may they rage.
Karmakanic, DOT. I must admit, I’m never quite sure what to make of Karmakanic. I love the first two albums, but I don’t play them as often as I might. There’s almost too much of a 70’s classic rock sound in much of what the band writes for me to play them in constant rotation. I tend to think of Karmakanic as our 2016 version of Boston. Whether this is fair or not, I’m not sure. And, yet, I think the world of Reingold as a bass player. “Extraordinary” would be an inadequate descriptive of his playing. He ranks at the level of Geddy Lee and Tony Levin. On this latest release, DOT, Reingold wisely brought in Andy Tillison to make this album something truly special. Tillison’s tastes are exactly the right foil for Reingold’s enthusiasms. This album, then, happily comes across as a joint venture. Not quite Karmakanic and not quite The Tangent. Just right!
Just one more part, Part IV, left. Coming soon to a web-enabled device near you. . .