My post-christmas indulgence….
It has been a funny sort of year where for me the definition of what could be called prog has diluted down further to something noisy with a small ‘p’. Many critics favourites gave us the best of the year in the form of some great artists many of which seem to have as much in common with progressive rock as a turkey dominos pizza has with a Christmas dinner. It passes as food for the one who ordered it but it tastes like shit with cranberry sauce.
As such this third wave of Prog that really took shape from the mid-nineties onwards has slowly morphed into something increasingly distant from its recent origins and unrecognisable from the 70’s progenitors or dinosaurs, depending on your viewpoint or how old you were when you bought your first Emerson, Lake and Palmer or if you think the Rick Wakeman needs to start wearing a cape again…
A lot of it has to do with metal and alternative rock in all its forms that has lost its way over the past decade or more and has clung on tightly to the coat-tails of prog for a lifeline. Many of the top bands of the past year would shun the title of prog anyway and frequently do unless there is an award to be had.
Ironically some bands that would claim to be prog or wear the title with some kudos are missing from a lot of lists this year, and this needs to be addressed. So in the name of balance here are the best of what I think of as prog rock from 2018. Before you scream at me about what is prog anyway, please put it in writing to my agent….
Get on with it….
Starting with one band who accomplish as much within the prog bracket as anyone, combining jazz, pop, funk and EDM into something that still feels true to the template, The Tangent….
Yes, the outspoken, fantastically eccentric Andy Tillison and his talented cohorts known as The Tangent proved once more that there was still plenty in the fuel tank with their accomplished 10th studio album in which the run time of a song nearing 20 mins is still the best way to compose music, capable of taking the listener on a journey. A more rounded experience of songs germinated through the rare occurrence of being in the same room during their 2017 tour, ‘Proxy’ delights in its diverse nature and isn’t afraid to poke a finger in the eye of modern politics or throw shapes in the Balearic haze of Ibiza. It all amounted to a brief sojourn in the BBC charts.
Next up is the former Beardfish leader who’s solo career continues to astound under the Gungfly guises… also known as Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly
The talent this guy has in his little pinkie is greater than many modern musicians and perversely the recognition in the wider world is non-existent. Sjöblom should be talking about his desert island disks on the radio or appearing on the Jules Holland show or hit the charts in the numbers that Steven Wilson is capable of.
His latest opus ‘Friendship’ is an emotion and melodic journey which sees long time friends Diamant and Diamant and Zackrisson in a supporting role. Encapsulating the prog ethic with a broad sonic palette and juggling it with real, fundamental, core feelings is the rarest of gems alone but there are sublime hooks here too which makes this a standout album from 2018.
My next contender for album of the year is from a TV soap producer who we’ve waited patiently to return to tell us about the end of the world…its Phideaux’s ‘Infernal’
Completing the journey that started with ‘The Great Leap’ back in 2005, Infernal was mooted for release as far back as 2013. Five years later and finally the dark, apocalyptic trilogy of albums is complete. Was it worth the wait? Hell yes, you bet it was, and hell is most appropriate.
Never compromising or deviating from the plan, Phideaux has produced some of his finest work to date. Once more he proudly works on his art like some kind of musical Banksy, mysterious, allegorical and visually striking, yet elusive within the genre. The epic quality shines throughout and never more so on the closing of the second disk with ‘From Hydrogen to Love’, neatly wrapping up many threads.
Another American prog artist who remains as invisible to many of the prog reviews of the year is the ridiculously brilliant Evership with the follow up to their eponymous debut with ‘Evership 2′
The majesty and epic experience that is Evership is astonishing and yet this latest release from the Nashville based prog rock group lead by the outstanding Shane Atkinson and the supersonic vocal talents of Beau West has remained largely unnoticed. Sporting a half hour, multi-segment monster, this band show their vast range of sounds that delicately tap the influences of Kansas, Queen and Rush. Evership 2 can rock hard as well as make the hairs stand up in the delicate classical infused passages. Plus they have a band logo that is worthy of a patch on your denim jacket. My personal favourite release of 2018.
Enough to be getting on with…
The plan was for a top three, but typical of prog the ending was a bit longer than planned. But there it is, 4 of the best of the year and worthy of inclusion in any top 10. These are wonderful examples of progressive rock, diligently crafted and designed to stir the soul and the imagination, and each one of these entries I have included are successful at that.