Having previously (in the last couple days) shared my 20 “Honorable Mentions” and the first half of my TOP TWENTY ( numbers 20 through 11) I come now to the pay-off. The following ten albums are, obviously my favorite discs, but also I submit, The Best 10 Progressive Albums of 2017. Making no apologies for my penchant of melody over rhythm, of consonance over dissonance, I have selected ten works that are heavily laden with beauty and harmony rather than experimentation and edginess (hey! while my friends were listening to the Rolling Stones I was chilling to The Moody Blues)
THE TOP TWENTY: # # 10 through 1
10) COMEDY OF ERRORS/House of the Mind
After their great 2015 release SPIRIT, this Glasgow band returns with their crowning achievement. HOUSE OF THE MIND surpasses their prior releases with a mixture of large-scale symphonic fervor and slower and delicate textured emotionalism. The band is tight and Joe Cairney’s vocals are a real highlight. My favorite tracks are the two longer songs ‘House of the Mind’ and ‘Wandering Jacomus.’ Some of the best new prog is coming from Scotland and Comedy of Errors is perhaps the best of the best. A+
9) THE EMERALD DAWN/Visions
This is another of my wonderful “finds of the year,” as I had not heard of this band until recently. My discovery needs to be yours as well as this lush and rich collection of haunting delight will take you to the intersection of classical British pastoral rock, neo folk revival, and chamber prog. Think of The Enid with the Strawbs sprinkled on top with an undercoating of early Renaissance. The saxophone work of Ally Carder and the cello of Jayjay Quick are the perfect garnish to this aural banquet. The last track ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ is my favorite.
8) DRIFTING SUN/Twilight
As could be stated for many (if not most) of my picks this year: What stunningly beautiful cover art. Progressive rock over the decades has been blessed with sight was well as sound. This British band first caught my ear with their 2015 release TRIP THE LIGHT FANTASTIC, which I very favorably reviewed. This release maintains that quality of song-writing and delivery. The opening track ‘Twilight’ has some great Gilmourian soaring “axe,” and a nice introduction to this neo-prog album. My favorite tracks are the “Gentle Giant-ish” ‘Soldiers’ and the brilliant 8 minute closer ‘Remain.’
This Polish art-rock collective and classical ensemble of prog inspired moody and elegiac soundscapes should be listed and rated even higher on my list for 2017. This is a work of art, a true masterpiece…in a year of other stellar releases. This is spacey, ambient, concerto-like, experimental, drone, but most of all…radiantly bewitching. The 16 minute closer, ‘Solaris’ is my favorite track. Tell your friends about these Polish purveyors of Prog Perfection! A+
6) KAIPA/Children of The Sounds
This is my most joyous and “feel-good” album in this mix of Top Ten. From the “Alice in Wonderland” meets “The Secret Garden” cover art to the delivery of Kaipa’s expected brand of rich and colorful magic-music of Sweden’s mythical past, the disc gives smile after smile as the warmth grows in the listeners chest. Jonas Reingold’s bass is rich and dark and the perfect counterpoint to Aleena Gibson’s fairy-like soprano. If you like the Flower Kings you will love this album. ‘On The Edge of New Horizons’ is one of the best epic-length tracks of the year.
These next “Top Five” albums are all so wonderful that any one of them at the right time could be my favorite. But, for now:
5) WOBBLER/From Silence to Somewhere
Now that Beardfish is no more, Wobbler has become one of my favorite prog bands from the Continent. The very thing that causes some critics to be less than fawning (not me: I fawn over these guys), i.e. their use of classic prog “tropes” from Genesis and the other early 70’s legends, is why I find them so delightful and appealing. There is no piracy or clone-work afoot in their music. Rather, these Norwegians have given us, in this their fourth album, a robust and loving homage to the spirit and the flavor of the past while still delivering fresh and innovating themes with stellar musicianship. I love this album and think it should be in your musical collection. This is the genius of Stravinsky sauteed with the catchiness, color, and warmth of Tchaikovsky. The title track alone is magisterial and worth the price of admission.
4) DISCIPLINE/Captives of the Wine Dark Sea
What do you get when you take the “sound” and “vibe” (sort of, sideways) of Queen, the Beatles, folk-rock, honky-tonk piano runs, and cowbell…and infuse them with one of the greatest vocalists singing in this genre (the protean Matthew Parmenter)? I give you my favorite album of the y—- er, wait, no….letting the supernal sound of this incredibly great album distract me…sorry. Did I mention my favorite guitar player, Chris Herin is “dope” on these tracks!!! His gut-moving playing on tracks 5 & 6 are inspiring and moving. Again, ALL the tracks are my favorite, but who can gainsay the Rock/Jazz fusion running through the final epic song (14:30) ‘Burn The Fire Upon The Rocks.’ A+ Highly and Strongly recommended.
3) BIG BIG TRAIN/Grimspound
What can I say about BBT that hasn’t been already said (and by my fellow Progarchists, way better)? This release is sublime and human. This music roots a listener, who possesses a heart and mind, to the ground of family, home, tradition, and that consciousness of the “democracy of the dead.” For most of the early year this was my numero uno. Still, # 3 is trinitarian at the least.
2) BAROCK PROJECT/Detachment
More striking cover art for the eyes. Since the early 70’s, and discovering Goblin, I have had a love affair with Italian popular music–from PFM, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, and Le Orme, all the way to my favorite soundtrack composer Il Maestro Ennio Morricone. And now I have a whole new Italian universe of second wave and neo-prog bands to delight my love for a good Rossini styled melody “progged” up to “11.” Barock Project is the finest Italian band currently playing this music of the “spheres,” a rapturous Paradiso score for the Ballet at the Empyrean. For my full review of this album that is ALMOST NUMBER ONE see my review here a Progarchy on October 30th: Barock Project: DETACHMENT (Album of the Year?)
WATSON’s NUMBER ONE PROG ALBUM OF 2017
1) RICKARD SJOBLOM’S GUNGFLY/On Her Journey to the Sun
By way of disclaimer: Beardfish (R.I.P.) was one of my favorite bands of the last decade. They were as important to the scene as Marillion, Flower Kings, and Glass Hammer, in my opinion. And as Jeff Lynne was to ELO, Rikard Sjoblom was to Beardfish. Here he unfolds his compositional skills, his multi-instrumental chops, and his crystal clear (with nary an accent to this Kansas boy’s ears) voice. For my money, Sjoblom has the best voice in prog (sorry Mr. Longdon). The best songs are the opening epic ‘Of the Orb’ with its spacious and spacey synth/keys and soaring guitar runs. Also the 12 minute track 10 ‘The River of Sadness’ has such a killer chorus that I’ve been humming it for weeks now. The complex and fusion like instrumental ‘Polymixia’ is also a gem. ‘He Held an Axe’ is a darker, starker, more heavily rocked story song that really resonates. And, I am convinced that the song ‘Keith (The Son of Sun)’ is a beautiful tribute to Keith Emerson. This is not a perfect album but rather an album that is so near perfect that it has to be Number One. This masterpiece is what makes progressive music so wonderful.
Set Mellotron to 11