Most of us have some sort of superstitions. Maybe we believe in a lucky number, carry a lucky rabbit’s foot (the rabbit might disagree about the luck associated with the foot), or have a pre-game ritual for our favorite sports team. On the flip side, we may harbor some superstitions about bad luck. Walking under a ladder, opening an umbrella indoors, having a black cat cross your path … those superstitions are prevalent as well.
For me, I always had a thing – negative that is – about the number 17. For some reason it just felt like an unlucky number. Whenever there was an occurrence of something not to my liking, any association with the number 17 was immediately seized upon. So, it was with a little trepidation that I approached 2017, including in terms of music. Boy, was I wrong, and boy, was I glad to be. Superstition status: shattered.
Once again, for the umpteenth year in a row, it was a great year in music, particularly in the genre of progressive rock that brings us all to this site. Once again, it was a year where the number of great releases exceeded the amount of time available to listen to all of them – as the wide variety of picks in the year-end lists on this site demonstrates. So, without further adieu, her is my own list.
One of my favorites for this year, if not the favorite, was Fractured by Lunatic Soul. Once again, The Duda (Mariusz, that is) has come through with a thoroughly excellent work. Hearing there would be a heavy reliance on electronic sounds prior the album’s release gave me a bit of a pause, but one that was quickly put to bed upon hearing the finished product. In the creation of Fractured, Duda has once again demonstrated the skill of a master progger. In particular, Duda has created something here that was both unmistakably Lunatic Soul, and yet something that sounded nothing like anything else he’s done before. There isn’t a bad track on the album, but the mini-epic A Thousand Shards of Heaven would get my vote for favorite if I was forced to submit one.
Two years ago, I missed round one of Lonely Robot. In ’17, I corrected that error, and picked up The Big Dream (as well as the previous Lonely Robot, Please Come Home). Both the songwriting and the production on this album are fantastic. The brain of Lonely Robot, John Mitchell, cites Trevor Rabin as one of his big influences, and you can see that here, albeit with Mitchell’s own unique twist. I found the acoustic, melancholy-laced In Floral Green to be one of the highlights of the album, along with the follow up track, Everglow.
Through the vehicle of Cosmograf, Robin Armstrong continues to stake his claim as England’s foremost existentialist. Following up last year’s Camus/X-Files laced The Unreasonable Silence, Armstrong returned this year with The Hay Man Dreams. Conceptually, the album deals with the untimely death of a farm laborer and the hay-man (scarecrow) erected by his wife as his effigy. The hay man spends his days contemplating, dreaming, longing, yet rooted to a single spot in the ground. Musically, this album has more rough edges than more recent Cosmograf releases, but that is good thing, especially with the effect to which it is put here. I’m not going to list standout tracks here though – this album needs to be listened to in full.
It was a banner year for Big Big Train, with not one, but two excellent releases. The first of these was Grimspound, which included some incredible tracks such as Experimental Gentleman and The Ivy Gate. The second was (no pun intended) The Second Brightest Star, which included its own gems in the form of its title track as well as The London Sequence. Solid releases, the both of them.
Glass Hammer gave us an album this year of what they considered leftovers. But to my tastes, the tracks on Untold Tales are good enough to stand as a main course by themselves. This album included an excellent mini-epic Identity Principle, an incredible remake of Argent’s Hold Your Head Up, and the wonderfully acoustic, atmospheric A Grain of Sand. The album even found them channeling their inner Black Sabbath with Troll, which might be the heaviest thing Glass Hammer has ever done. And despite the disparate origins of the songs, this album holds together quite nicely.
Dave Kerzner’s sophomore effort, Static, was a big leap from an already excellent debut album. Wow, and what a leap it was. From the opening Prelude, to the bluesy Reckless, to the final, epic track, The Carnival of Modern Life, Static is an album that is pitch and note perfect from beginning to end. Although there are some clear influences from the classic prog era of the past, Kerzner makes the sounds his own and adds plenty of originality to go with some biting commentary on modern life. This one is not to be missed.
Damenek was a new discovery for me this year, and their album, On Track, made them a welcome one. Veteran of The Tangent Guy Manning is the mastermind behind Damenek, and his talents are put to excellent use here. Musically, this album covers a lot of bases, but I loved the jazz-tinged sections the most. However, influences from classic prog, funk/R&B, and world music can also be found within, and yet they are all tastefully combined into something greater than the sum of their individual parts. The musicianship is nothing less than spectacular as well, making this album my runaway winner in the “rookie of the year” category.
So, wrapping things up, 2017 was actually a pretty good year. No superstitions necessary, just good music. On to 2018!