Watson’s Best Prog Albums of 2017: Part 3 — TOP TWENTY # # 10 — 1

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+

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Watson’s Best Prog Albums of 2017: Part 2 — TOP TWENTY # # 20 — 11

Every album on this Top Twenty list is a standout. They are all worthy of your purchase (in hard-copy, not just streaming service).  The discs in the bottom half of the TOP 20 are not any less worthy than # # 10 through 1, rather, they just did not move me with as much excitement and passion as the ones I will be posting later.  Many of these albums were at one time in my TOP TEN but gradually slipped to this lower tier as the year wore on and as I continued to listen and pour over these works of art.  Enough blather. Here are my TOP TWENTY bottom half (in descending order):



This is the second effort under the moniker “Monarch Trail” for Canadian keys wizard and composer Ken Baird. As much as I enjoyed 2014’s “Skye” this second album surpasses it on all counts.  This has a pleasant “British pastoral sound” that hearkens back, for me, to the joys of first hearing Barclay James Harvest (with Woolly on the keys). This is beautiful and relaxing without being twee or saccharine. My favorite tracks are ‘Back to the Start’ and the 25 minute closer–the self-titled ‘Sand.’

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Watson’s Best Prog Albums of 2017: Part 1 — The “Honorable Mentions”

This year has seen a bonanza of quality progressive music. I have probably listened to more great albums this calendar go-round then in any recent year. This list is, of course, totally subjective and based on my own predispositions towards symphonic, orchestral, and melody-hooked prog.  There was such a plethora of wonderfully creative work in 2017 that I am increasing the list from the usual Top Ten or Top Twenty to a whopping 40 best.

And though ## 40 – – 21 are being categorized as only “honorable mentions” they still deserve your attention.  All of the following releases are so good that on any given day (just not today) they might well “crack the ceiling” and wind up on my official TOP TWENTY (coming later this week).   And now, in descending order from number 40 to number 21 are this years:

“Honorable Mentions”

40) SACRED APE/Sacred Ape


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Barock Project: DETACHMENT (Album of the Year?)

DETACHMENT by Barock Project                                                                                              Track List:                                                                                                                                              1. Driving Rain 1:03
2. Promises 5:05
3. Happy to see you 7:37
4. One day 7:23
5. Secret therapy 5:37
6. Broken (feat. Peter Jones) 9:10
7. Old Ghosts 4:07
8. Alone (feat. Peter Jones) 3:14
9. Rescue Me 4:55
10. Twenty years 6:06
11. Waiting 5:43
12. A New tomorrow 7:39
13. Spies 7:23                                                                                                                                credits                                                                                                                                        released March 20, 2017
Barock Project:
Luca Zabbini – piano, keyboards, acoustic guitars, lead vocals
Eric Ombelli – drums
Marco Mazzuoccolo – electric guitars
Francesco Caliendo – electric bass
Peter Jones – Lead vocal on “Broken” and “Alone”

This masterpiece of music was released back in March and I now regret greatly not listening to it and reviewing it then. My rave review might have caused more of you to get it into your regular prog listening rotation a bit earlier. It should be on all end of the year BEST OF 2017 lists.

Their 2015 album ‘Skyline’ was my 15th favorite album of the year, but DETACHMENT is in the running for the top tier of three of four that are the finest 2017 releases.  They have “upped their game” by giving us a near-masterpiece of symphonic progressive beauty.

While loving all flavors of prog (and near/pseudo prog) from Zappa & The Residents to Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre, I have to admit that I’m a sucker for melody.  My favorites have always been bands such as Camel, The Moody Blues, Barclay James Harvest, and Renaissance. Barock Project has given us an album chocked full of stunningly well played and layered symphonic songs that make the lover of beatific tunes glad to be alive.

In my own rating system of “letter grades” (familiar to the American high school student) every song on the disc rates an “A” (exemplary) or “A+” (with tracks 11 & 12: ‘Waiting’ and ‘A New Tomorrow’ rated even higher!)  The album, running about 75 minutes, flows so perfectly from track to track that it makes an extremely enjoyable listening experience that never even hints at overstaying its welcome. Usually a shorter record (45 to 50 minutes in length) is seen as “tighter” and more cohesive. But with DETACHMENT the listener is kept asking from track to track “is this song going to be even better than the last one, which was better than the one before that?”  Indeed, most of the songs, as ‘singles’ would justify the full purchase price of the album.

‘Driving Rain’ has a light and delicate piano melody by Luca Zabbini which opens the album and leads to a rhythmic keys-driven ‘Promises’ that evokes the best of the synth-tape looped sound of classic electronica. There’s almost a 1970’s Styx (another band not unfamiliar to melody loving music mavens) “vibe” for a few second until the song morphs into a more prog metal sound.

‘Happy To See You’ uses electronic swells and grand piano along with a good blend of strings to build to an epic and catchy number that even has a great “Hammond” riff.  The 7-minute ‘One Day’ is another stirring and anthemic epic that with its own symphonic run reminds the listener of the boldness of early Renaissance (Scheherazade or Ashes are Burning) sans Annie.  ‘Secret Therapy’ (track 5) melds sounds of (almost) Oriental, Medieval, and Folk melodies into a whirling hybrid of harmony that is almost pop-prog (which is good) ala ELO.

Two tracks (‘Broken’ and ‘Alone’) feature the guest artistry (wizardry) of Peter Jones on keyboards and vocals.  ‘Broken’ at 9 minutes is so well-crafted that it might well be “song of the year.” It’s Genesis brilliant and worth the price of the album.  Track 11, ‘Waiting’ has a Lunatic Soul flavor in its initial opening moments but soon is galloping along with maybe the most glorious and uplifting piano melody on the disc.

You need to go to Bandcamp or YouTube and listen to DETACHMENT. You will thank me and you will purchase for yourself either a hard-copy physical CD or a download.

When a band mixes and melds the complex melody genius of The Beatles and Jethro Tull, with the commercial pop appeal of Asia and ELO, all the while refusing to sacrifice top-notch jazz, fusion, and prog metal riffs and runs, a listener realizes with pure delight that he/she is in the aural presence of masters.  Barock Project are Italy’s new maestros and one of the brightest lights in our current prog night sky of sound. This lush and gorgeous waterfall of music will indeed “detach” you from the dry and dusty day-to-day and paint your brain and soul with color, texture, and joy.  DETACHMENT is near perfect album that is simply one of the finest musical experiences of 2017.  A must buy!

Bandcamp link: https://barockproject.bandcamp.com/

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Review: Lonely Desert by FOREST FIELD

As the Forest Field website states clearly “Forest Field is not a band. Forest Field is a project.” In the way that the famed Alan Parsons Project was able to use various and rotating musicians and performers over the “bands'” discography while always availing itself of its founders and creators Parsons and Eric Wolfson, so too the album Lonely Desert is the brainchild of  Chinawhite guitarist Peter Cox.  Cox plays all the instruments on this 9 track album while he is joined by Phil Vincent who very admirably handles the vocals. Lonely Desert is the fifth release from this Dutch project that bills itself as melodic rock, new age/ambient, and progressive. I wish I had heard of this musical endeavor earlier on as they are quite good and I really like this album. It is a bit of a concept album based loosely on Frank Herbert‘s DUNE, but the listener need not know that classic to enjoy the listening experience.

Before some track by track comments it needs be said that this not your “classical” prog of the early founding 70’s nor even the second wave iteration. There is more classic rock afoot here than Yes, Genesis, or Spock’s Beard.  Forest Field is more of Thin Lizzy meets Judas Priest with Boston stirred in…infused with very tasty mellotron and synth additives. But that is not a bad thing as the music is too good to let restrictive descriptors keep ones ears shut.

The jacket art sure is prog friendly! The Blekkmark Design Studio provides a suitably Sci-Fi/Fantasy portrait in pleasing hues of purple, violet, and blue. 10/10 for the cover.

Track 1: Valley of Pain (7:10) This song has a neo prog feel, almost Frost* like. This has solid drumming (also by Cox) and a very catchy rock arrangement.  There is also the first, of an album-full  guitar solo by Cox.  I like it. There is a familiar feeling to the melody. At 4:45 there is a down tempo change where the synths predominate.  Then at 5:40 the chorus comes back. But it is catchy. 7/10

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Prog? In the EYE of the Behearer

Founding members Brandon Smith (drums) and Lisa Bella Donna (keys, guitar, voices) are joined with new members Michael Sliclen (bass) and John Finley (guitars) in the Columbus, Ohio band: Eye. Their November 2016 five track album, “Vision and Ageless Light,” is a Laser’s Edge release which is also available at Amazon.com.

A droning electronic synth with some tinkling bell noises starts of the first 40 seconds of the opening track ‘Book of The Dead’ (3:34) until joined by some synth strings. The tune sort of meanders around on a two to four note theme that is somber and quirky…until at the 2-minute mark there’s a loud KING CRIMSON-ish crescendo of drums and more synths. This is followed by some nice runs of analogue sounding effects that made me think of Klaus Schulze and “Timewind.” This cool opening song ends with some bird noises.

The dueling riffage between the organ and axe at the end of track 2, ‘Kill the Slavemaster’ (6:04) caps off a rollicking and galloping “desert” rocker that is loaded with stoner vocals, synth horns and a section with enough chimes and keys to verge into Jazz fusion. This is a beautiful example of “throwback” (i.e. retro) psych/sludge that brings to mind newer bands such as Purson, Orchid, Kadaver, or Uncle Acid. There is a kinship between this type of protégé of Sabbath and harder prog.

‘Searching’ (5:29) with its hard-rock opening continues the Black Sabbath vibe (minus Iommi) with its chugging and relentless guitar & bass propelling it along in a way that made me think of an “amped up” Steppenwolf. The song ends with a few seconds of outer space beeps and bleeps effects noises.

As a big Lovecraft fan (the author more so than the band) I was predisposed to like track four on its title alone: ‘Dweller of the Twilight Void’ (4:01).  And though it wasn’t quite what I thought it might be it was still a strong offering. The nice slow guitar at the start is joined by the harmonizing of Brandon, Lisa, and Michael in a mournful dirge like vocal. At the end of the piece the nice use of Lisa’s mellotron and synths deliver a spacey “prog folk” meets “Forbidden Planet.”

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Though the first four tracks might have a dearth of some of the classic components many proggers look for in their music, the final track with its epic length of 27 minutes should win Eye some bona fides points. ‘As Sure as the Sun’ (27:11) starts with a brief soft acoustic guitar with a babbling brook of water that almost brings to mind Rush and 2112 (you know the section). This bubbly and dreamy opening is joined at 2:45 with some soundtrack “cue” music heavily topped with mellotron and synths. The whole album is infused with tasty shredding by John Finley, and he really shines on this closing monster of a track. With the changes in tempo and the mixture of vocals, the song images early Nektar and early King Crimson before it shape-shifts off to honor some more of the bands’ 70s heroes. For what it’s worth I heard what made me think of Robin Armstrong’s Cosmograf at 10:30.

Vision And Ageless Light

Derivative or homage? I think the latter. This is like early Pink Floyd meeting Blue Cheer with a seltzer of Anekdoten shot on the top. If you like Krautrock and the burgeoning revival of sludge/psych prog of the many bands that I’ve mentioned, I really think you should give Eye your ear. “Vision and Ageless Light” can be streamed at Bandcamp, and the group can be followed at Facebook. I find the album very enjoyable, playful, and worth listening to again.  7/10

Eye Facebook page

Eye Bandcamp page


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Some Good News from Ukraine: My “mash note” to Antony Kalugin’s SPEKTRA

You older readers might remember and understand. Back when dinosaurs walked the earth we sometimes bought our vinyl in smaller stores that did not have turn-table listening stations. How many times did we either “score” or “strike-out” when, not knowing anything about the music, we took a gamble and just bought the lp for the cool art on the cardboard jacket?  My average was way better than 50%

But when it comes to prog,  we expect the art to be, well, “proggy.”  When I was perusing some online albums to listen to recently, this artwork really grabbed my attention.  The album is light-years better than the art. The art is great. What a find. This will be a rave review.

Continue reading “Some Good News from Ukraine: My “mash note” to Antony Kalugin’s SPEKTRA”

My Very Own “Late-to-the Party Best of 2016”

Our good friend and fellow Progarchist Time Lord posted a great 31 December addition which he called “Late to the Party—Best of 2016.”  He so perfectly expressed what all music lovers who make year-end lists encounter…too much great music and not enough time (or money). I too would add to my list the following albums which I hastily, but fervently, listened to in the last two days of calendar year 2016. They are all added to my “Honorable Mention” list:

FRACTAL MIRROR: Slow Burn 1 (Stellar musicianship, and the kind of project that makes you feel not just better after listening to it, but smarter.)

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Firth of Fifth Friday

In my recent “Best of 2016” Prog albums I gave an “honorable mention” to one Gustavo Santhiago for his instrumental endeavor Animam.”   I called it “stunningly beautiful” because that’s exactly what it is. You can read more about this 17-year old (I know? right?) Brazilian composer at his own website: http://gustavosanthiago.wixsite.com/gsanthiago  but I wanted to post this clip of his playing ‘Firth of Fifth.’

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Another “Best Of 2016” List

Here are my favorite prog rock albums of 2016.  Some albums are not on the list simply because I did not get a chance to hear them.  Some made my “honorable mention” list but were just a hare’s breath away from cracking the “Top Ten.”  Musical appreciation is both subjective and ephemeral at times.

HONORABLE MENTION (i.e. good enough that you should listen to these works and purchase them as well):  In no particular order:

Neal Morse Band: The Similitude of a Dream (every Morse endeavor could be on a Top-Ten list)

Haken: Affinity

Gustavo Santhiago: Animam (stunningly beautiful)

The Man from Ravcon: The Puzzle Master

Iamthemorning: Lighthouse

Frequency Drift: Last

Hawkwind: The Machine Stops (c’mon!!!  It’s Hawkwind 🙂 )

Opeth: Sorceress

Dream Theater: The Astonishing (for the single-minded audacity of releasing a Nibelungen-length endurance contest in the face of certain critical rejection, and, great moments of music as well)

My Favorite Prog albums of 2016, AKA “Watson’s TOP TEN”:

Cosmograf | The Unreasonable Silence #10

10. COSMOGRAF: The Unreasonable Silence (Robin Armstrong’s fifth studio release continues his record for crafting intelligent and thought-provoking masterpieces of speculative musical concepts. Smart and enriching!)

Big Big Train | Folklore #9

9.  BIG BIG TRAIN: Folklore (Another penultimate “British pastoral-prog” gem from a band that can do no wrong. The problem [which isn’t really a problem] is that it has to be “penultimate” compared to the greatest-of-great albums in their discography “English Electric Full Power.” While every track is “bottled faire” my favorite is ‘The Transit of Venus Across the Sun.’

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8. STEVEN WILSON: 4 1/2 (Yes, it’s an EP and had I moved it to a special EP-only category it would have been #1 and I then would have had room for another worthy addition on this list…BUT…this collection of songs is just so darn good, and I listened to this disc so many times in 2016, that it earns a spot with these other longer works.  The songs ‘Happiness III’ and ‘Don’t Hate Me’ are my favorites. Achingly beautiful!

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7. THE DEAR HUNTER: Act V Hymns With the Devil In Confessional (Incredible that only last year in 2015 the auteur genius behind The Dear Hunter, Casey Crescenzo scored a huge success in prog-land with “Act IV Rebirth in Reprise.” In fact Act IV came in at #4 in my Top Ten of 2015 [one ahead of Steven Wilson’s ‘Hand, Cannot, Erase’]  Again, we find a perfect melding of dream-pop & power-prog stirred up in a stew of vaudevillian show-tune melodies, Queen/Muse-like anthemic oratorios, with a dash of steam-punk attitude. Probably the most fun of any album on this list. I’m not sure I can even pick a favorite song…they’re all that good.  Maybe my favorite is track 4 ‘Mr. Usher [on his way to town]’ because it takes a ‘swinging’ rat-pack, retro-cocktail hour jazz number [which could have been sung by Seth McFarland or Harry Connick Jr.] and progifies it so much you can’t wipe the grin off your face.

Image result for tiles pretending to run #6

6. TILES: Pretending 2 Run (This four man band from Detroit has turned in one of the most fully-realized and ambitious concept albums of the year. Produced with crispness and audio fidelity by Terry Brown [he, of Rush fame] and assisted on several tracks by Moog-Maestro Adam Holzman and Drum-guru Mike Portnoy, this neo-proggish double record bathes the listener in swirly Vangelis like loops and synth creations that enhance the catchy melodies and sing-along choruses. For most of the year this album was riding at #1 on my prospective list–it’s just that good. I love the artwork in the digi-pack as well as the choral additions by The Renaissance Group & Con Spiritu. Ian Anderson even adds a tasty flute accompaniment on track 1 of disc 2.  My favorite song, and maybe my favorite prog song of the year, is ‘Fait Accompli’  My 2016 would have been less rich by far had I not purchased this moving and heroic work of art!

Glass Hammer | Valkyrie #5

5. GLASS HAMMER: Valkyrie (As EVERYONE here/there/and everywhere seems to have trumpeted–THIS IS GLASS HAMMER’S MAGNUM OPUS.  And they’re correct. This is a tour de force and easily my favorite GH work. Every song is 10/10 and some are 11/10…my favorite track might well be ‘Rapturo’ wherein during the 6:12 of its run time one approaches a sonic empyrean bliss.  Susie sings like a seraph, Babb’s base has never sounded better, and the band delivers a classic for the ages.

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4. MARILLION: F.E.A.R. (This is at times a difficult album to listen to because the subject matter and gravitas of “H’s” vocals are very intense and weighted with anger, frustration, and sorrow. This is Marillion’s finest album in years and just barely edges out Glass Hammer for the #4 spot. Interestingly, not all the songs are perfect [like on “Valkyrie”] and the album is uneven.  But there’s enough Rothery beauty and Mark Kelly sub-strata that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  And then part IV of ‘The New Kings Suite’ comes along and I have to pick myself up from off the floor. Indeed, part IV ‘Why is Nothing Ever True’ is better then best and I give it 13/10…easily the best song on the album.  These guys have been together, enriching our lives, for so long…it’s just a warm and happy feeling that they can still make music this darn good.

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3. ERIK NORLANDER: Surreal (other than Steven Wilson’s 4 1/2, this is the album I listened to the most during the past year. I am a sucker for melody and love instrumental pieces more than most songs with vocals.  Between Norlander’s keyboard wizardry and Alastair Greene’s crazy axe-riffing, I was head-bobbing (but in a ‘Prog way’) the entire 57 minutes. If you like your instro-prog and are a fan of Wakeman-like keyboard legerdemain, buy this album.  This is better than California sunshine, air, and orange juice for a massive vitamin D “hit.”   Smiling all the way.

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2. AIRBAG: Disconnected (This is a very intelligent, nuanced, and elegant collection of songs that is the perfect antidote to “bombastic” and overwrought prog and prog stereotypes. If you are a fan [and you should be] of Steven Wilson, Porcupine Tree, or Riverside, you will love this album. At times melancholic but always reflective and centering. Scents of Floyd, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream and Piotr Grudzinski waft about leaving the listener in an aural dream with the perfect soundtrack/score of simple pleasures.

AND NOW, my FAVORITE (and I think the “BEST”) PROG ALBUM of 2016:

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1. CYRIL: Paralyzed (Lush, full throated melodies and harmonies, hooks galore, tight musicianship, this 6-man German band has given the entire prog community an almost perfect melding of progressive playing [tinged with both classical and jazz motifs, as well as fusion-esque runs] with pop sensibilities–the gorgeous melodies and toe-tapping rhythms make this the one album that you will simply replay over and over during the course of a day. Uplifting and feel-good music for the soul and spirit. Every track is perfect but my favorites are ‘Rainbow’ with a really neat Spanish-tinged/Flamenco classical guitar intro, as well as the 18-minute Prog Epic ‘Secret Place Part One.’  If you can only buy one more album, make it “Paralyzed” by CYRIL.  At the last few notes fade away on track 7 you will feel as if you’ve been transported into Reepicheep’s little canoe and you’re about to enter Aslan’s country.

Thank you 2016. My ears are happy. Thank you Progarchy. Thank you Dr. B….and…

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