Birzer’s Best of 2017, Part II

Continued from Part I:

Hay ManNo. 5.  Cosmograf, HAY MAN DREAMS.  I’m pretty much a shoo-in for purchasing every thing Robin Armstrong—master of all things chronometry—does.  I love the angst and the seriousness he brings to each and every note and lyric.  Spirited without being gushy, and thoughtful without being pedantic.  I also love how entrepreneurial he is in his approach to music—finding the best musician to fit each part he’s written.  Whatever Armstrong does, he always achieves something serious and meaningful.  The HAY-MAN DREAMS is no different.  As with everything Armstrong does, there is gravitas.

Glass Hammer UntoldNo. 4.  Glass Hammer, UNTOLD TALES.  This one came out of the blue for me.  And, it’s somewhat humorous, given the circumstances.  Even when the band does something it regards as less than magisterial, it’s still magisterial.  I’m not sure Babb, Schendel, and co. are capable of producing anything less than perfection.  Even this release—a compilation of “b-sides” over the years—makes it easily into the top five best albums of the year.  This disk is not just a gift for Glass Hammer fans, it’s a prog delight.  Frankly, though it’s purely Glass Hammer, it feels like the band’s version of FRAGILE in terms of its flow.  From over-the-top keyboard swirls to cinematic moodiness to heavy Canuck prog to psychedelic rock covers to Lovecraftian horror, UNTOLD TALES just soars.  Put it in the cd tray, sit back, and be moved by all that is best in the American prog scene.  Even the “scraps” from Glass Hammer’s table make for an epicurean feast.

wastelandNo. 3.  Newsflypaperhunting, WASTELANDS.  When most folks in the prog world think of Poland, they immediately think of Riverside.  When I think of Poland and prog, I think NFPH.  What a gift to the world this band is.  Moody, moody, and then some more moody.  And, did I mention moody?  With that unique NFPH moodiness comes gothic textures, psychic wanderings, and mellotronic dreams of infinity.  Lecturing recently on Poland in the early modern period (in western history), I reminded my students that God made Poland to remind the rest of us what honor and perseverance are.  Everything that I know of Poland resides in this band.  Think noble resistance, love unbounded, and creativity centrically moored to its Creator and you might just barely glimpse the stunning-ness that is NFPH.

StaticNo. 2.  Dave Kerzner, STATIC.  When I first heard Sound of Contact, I’m pretty sure I audibly sighed.  I immediately wrote a close friend of mine from back in our high school debate days.  “Ron, you won’t believe it.  I just heard the album Genesis should’ve made after ABACAB.”  I knew instantly that I liked this music.  As I started digging into it and discovering that much of it was written by an American named Dave Kerzner, I was pretty excited.  Once I saw that name for the first time, I kept seeing and seeing it—on other releases, across the web, and in PROG.

Maybe I went a little wonky, but I purchased both versions of NEW WORLD on disk and download, and, then, NEW WORLD LIVE and NEW WORLD LIVE EXTENDED.  Man, I wanted it all.

When Kerzner announced STATIC on one of the pay-before-its-released sites, Kickstarter, I pledged immediately.  And, let me just state, that of all of the Kickstarter type/pre-pay before-you-get-it programs, Kerzner has done it best.  And, I’ve done this with Marillion and a number of other bands.  Nobody, and I mean nobody, does this as well as Kerzner.  Not only did he give us constant and interesting updates, but he treated those of us who supported him like royalty.  Amen.  I felt like I was there throughout the process.  During the waiting period, I kept thinking that Kerzner is like that really great physician who takes the time to explain to you EVERYTHING that is wrong, why it’s wrong, and what you need to do to fix it.  Except, rather than giving you bad news about your fifty-year old body at the end of an hour, Kerzner gives you some gorgeous art.

Ok, I’m rambling, but I have to ramble a bit more.  When STATIC arrived, I was neither overwhelmed nor underwhelmed.  I liked what I heard but I was pretty sure on the first listen that this was a much less interesting album than NEW WORLD.  Then, one of those unexplainable things happened that only happens all too rarely to those of us who overdose on prog.  I just kept hitting play again and again as soon as the album finished.  With each listen, I heard more complexity, more nuance, more genius, more brilliance, more gloriousness, more cutting cultural commentary, and more hope, and, in turn, I found myself with much more faith and charity.

Holy schnikees, STATIC is the real deal. 

This isn’t warmed-over 70s style prog.  This isn’t predictable and comfortable.  This is real and tangible and difficult.  There’s real anger here, and there’s real dread, and there’s real pathos, and there’s real pleading, and there’s real frustration, and there’s real hope. Let me just state, this is the real deal.  Thank you, Dave.  Sometime around September, I was afraid the prog world might be getting a little too static, and then along came STATIC to give me it all again, to remind me of the joy of discovering a MOVING PICTURES or a SPIRIT OF EDEN or a LEX REX or a THE UNDERFALL YARD for the very first time.

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

There’s something fundamentally primal and yet deeply complex about Kerzner’s STATIC.  It just never stops giving.  While I love the whole album, the finest moments for me—and what make this a prog classic for the ages—comes with tracks seven and eight, “Quiet Storm” and “Dirty Soap Box”—the kind of segue that once put Rush on the map.  “A quiet storm rising. . . .”  Oh, sheesh, there are no words to describe these eight minutes of insane sanity, bridging the two parts of the album just so very perfectly, so exactly right.  Do I hold my breath, or do I breath like I never will again?  Each time I hear this album, I’m really not sure.


Part III, coming soon to a website near you.


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