Birzer’s Best of 2017, Part I

As you all happily know, Timelord has announced his top albums of 2017 already.  When he did, I was a bit surprised.  Wait, is it that time of year already?  What about albums that come out in December?  The more I thought about it, the more I thought Timelord was absolutely right to announce his top picks.  Not much is going to happen this month, and, even if something does come out, it will be hard to measure against what already exists.  Should something come out and shake up my list, I will, of course, be happy.  For any thing that could possibly shake up this list would have to be really, really good.

And, as you also happily know, Tad Wert took a unique perspective on his top picks, focusing on the live releases of the year rather than on the studio releases.  Bravo!

Unlike 2012-2016, this is the first year that I found actually easy when ranking.  That is, picking and ranking has been relatively easy.  As some of the other progarchists have said over the past half decade, so much prog had come out in any previous years that it felt like “taking a sip from the fire hose.”

This year, 2017, just feels different.  The quality definitely outdid the quantity.

Before starting rankings, though, I would be dead wrong not to mention two critical things.

Jerry Ewing
Our Fearless Leader, Jerry Ewing.

First, God bless, Jerry Ewing, and his glorious PROG magazine.  For a time there, we all thought the ship was gone, our captain lost at sea in a corporate hurricane of insanity and avarice.  Then, Ewing emerged—and stronger than ever.  Congratulations, Jerry.  Long may you lead our little platoon of prog-loving weirdos.

Second, may God bless, Tim Hall (Kaylr).  I never actually met Tim, but I really appreciated his views on everything.  He was always intelligent and prudent, and our loss is heaven’s gain.  Tim, if you can, please say hello to Hendrix, Morrison, Emerson, Lake, Squire, and all of the other greats of the last half century.  And, say hi to my dad, my grandparents, and my daughter, Cecilia Rose, as well.  Someday, brother, someday. . .

On to the show!


Anathema OptimistNo. 10.  Anathema, THE OPTIMIST.  As I was sorely disappointed with FALLING SATELLITES, I presumed that Anathema could only get better.  The Optimist is a fetching piece of story telling.  While I don’t think it’s musically anywhere near the level of craftsmenship as revealed on WE’RE HERE BECAUSE WE’RE HERE and WEATHER SYSTEMS, the story makes it light years better than the unimaginative FALLING SATELLITES.  The urgency that so defines the best of Anathema shines through in every note of THE OPTIMIST.

Forever ComesNo. 9.  Bjorn Riis, FOREVER COMES TO AN END.  Whether it’s one of his solo albums or his AIRBAG albums, I find Riis ever intriguing and ever innovative.  Few musicians can reach to the existential depths—lyrically as well as musically—that Riis so naturally achieves.  I know absolutely nothing about the man personally—except his country of origin—but through his music, I feel like I very well know his soul and mind.  Some critics have claimed Riis to be a David Gilmour clone, but I think Riis has reached heights and depths Gilmour never dared.

mts from bemNo. 8.  My Tricksy Spirit, MY TRICKSY SPIRIT.  Over the past decade or so, I’ve learned NEVER to underestimate the opinion of Bad Elephant Music’s founder, David Elliott—on any issue, whatsoever. The man knows his music.  That he gave us My Tricksy Spirit this year is one of his finest achievements.  I had never heard of the band when this first showed up in my inbox.  Then, I hit play, and I was instantly transported into that realm of music that exists somewhere between the spheres of Venus and Mars.  Is it prog?  Is it world music?  Is it electronica?  Is it psychedelic? Who cares! This is just gorgeous, breath-taking stuff.  I can lose myself in this album, over and over again.  I have no idea what the lyrics mean, and I’m guessing that I might not want to know.  Regardless, the words perfectly fit the notes.  I’m eager to see where this band goes next.  In 2017, at least in my mind, they went from unknown to absolutely necessary.  If I had to make a comparison, I would say this is Mazzy Star for 2017, but I’m not doing either band justice.

THE SOURCENo. 7.  Ayreon, THE SOURCE.  When I asked my oldest son what he wanted for Christmas, he eagerly replied, “Anything that Arjen Lucassen has released.”  He and I geeked out several times in 2017 listening to THE SOURCE, the latest in Lucassen’s multi-release science fiction saga that began with a blind minstrel in Arthurian England.  Every time Lucassen releases something, I feel like a kid again.  I have to study all of the liner notes, the artwork, and the lyrics, and, then, I have the joy of having it all play together in that wild space known as my imagination.  Long may you write, play, and produce, Lucassen!  My only complaint is that he doesn’t sing enough on his album.  I love his voice, maybe more than he does!

TheTangentNo. 6.  The Tangent, THE SLOW RUST OF MEMORY.  Admittedly, I’m an Andy Tillison fanboy, and I have been for a decade and a half.  I love everything the man does.  He’s the best rebel and cultural critic in the rock world today.  I will admit, though, I think Tillison is at his best when he’s making a cultural statement rather than a political one.  As much as I love 2017’s THE SLOW RUST OF MEMORY, I still prefer Tillison’s previous THE TANGENT albums, which I think are cleverer.  I have no problem with a band getting political, but I think there are better and more artful ways to critique culture and the world than through political lyrics.  Tillison is pure genius, but that genius manifests itself best when telling a story, such as he did on LE SACRE DU TRAVAIL.


Part II. . .  coming soon to a website near you.

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