Album Review: Yes, ‘Mirror to the Sky’

I pre-ordered the new Yes album, Mirror to the Sky, hoping it would show up today (Friday, May 19, 2023) for the official day of release. But on Tuesday this week, something really weird happened. Amazon delivered a giant cardboard box, the size of a microwave oven, onto my front door step. Baffled as to what could be inside, I opened it up. It was empty, with nothing in it, expect for a handful of tiny air-filled plastic cushions that scarcely made a dent into the empty space. But there, right beneath them, in the far corner of the box, was the Mirror to the Sky 2-CD set!

I don’t know why the new Yes album showed up early in such bizarre fashion, but I like to speculate. Maybe a fellow Yes fan, working at Amazon, sent the album out early to me in secret solidarity: maybe items receive extra fast shipping, if the big box functions to indicate a high-margin, top-priority item. Or maybe the algorithm controlling the shipping had achieved sentience and decided autonomously to prioritize the Yes shipments, because of course any sentient AI truly worthy of its name would, after surveying all the digitized music in the world, undoubtedly become an aficionado of Yes music.

Or maybe there was just a screw-up. Who cares! It got me the Yes discs early, which meant I could digest them with advance special treatment in order to write this review. Usually I listen to music in my car (where I can turn it up as loud as I like) or through ear buds (during daily exercise). Only rarely do I actually put a CD into that ancient device in the living room known as a stereo system. Sure, it has the best sound, but who has time to sit around like a teenager doing nothing else but listen to vinyl LPs?

Reader, I made the time. The early arrival was a message from the sky that I had to immerse myself in this record. Just like the good old days, when there was no demand on your time—just a copy of The Yes Album or Fragile or Close to the Edge on the turntable. I gave Mirror to the Sky the special treatment, following along with the accompanying booklet, reading every line of lyrics as it was sung.

During instrumental passages, I was silently thrilled to read in the liner notes about exactly which guitars Steve Howe used on each track! The info here is so precise, it tells you exactly what time codes Jon Davison is playing acoustic guitar, or exactly when the orchestra comes in. I absolutely love it, and I volunteer to write liner notes for Yes or any other band after they get me to interview their musicians about what pedals and other gear they used on every track. I can’t recall the last time I listened to a new album this way, with album cover and liner notes carefully caressed by the trembling hand of the true collector. But if any band deserves it, surely it is Yes, a band that introduced me early on to such wondrous arcana. This is the way.

Despite what you may have heard, I don’t think you can believe the hype. I reserve the right to change my opinion after many more days of listening (because I recall hating ABWH at first, only to reverse that absurd reaction 180 degrees soon after), but I don’t think Mirror to the Sky is on equal footing with the three classics I named earlier, or with any other of their very best albums. We can save that debate for another day, but I would also include Drama, 90125, and The Ladder.

Production-wise, this is Steve Howe’s baby, and I can understand his urgent fervor at 76 years of age to assume control and make no compromises regarding his musical legacy as it enters its final stage. (I note that Mirror to the Sky is lovingly dedicated to Alan White.) But what makes The Ladder great is an outside ear, and Bruce Fairbairn gave that disc a unique flavor—a fact which Steve Howe agrees with me on, since we discussed this very point at the Yes VIP Meet and Greet in Vancouver, Canada, which was where the album was recorded. Another essential ingredient for capturing the full energy of a band is to have them all live on the studio floor together. But a band-produced outing, without the outside ear that will argue for another take with more verve, or without a one-take wonder live off the studio floor, runs the risk of sounding like a collection of demos.

(Also, a producer wouldn’t let Steve Howe sing lead or duets. But Howe is excellent when he does classic Yes background vocals with Billy Sherwood or Chris Squire. By the way, I can’t get enough of Sherwood singing lead: he has the ability to sound like Peter Gabriel, which Arc of Life takes advantage of on many an occasion. But Howe is the producer, so we hear him loud and clear on this release, where I would have chosen more Sherwood.)

That’s really the worst I can say about Mirror to the Sky, because this album in fact sounds amazing—I just found myself imagining what these songs would sound like live, because that is the Yes that I know and love. Sure, their albums are amazing, but that’s because they can actually play all that crazy shit live too.

So let’s get right down to it. Yes fans will be hypercritical and debate this versus that, just because we can. None of it is a knock on the world’s greatest band. It’s just a way of expressing how much time and thought we devote to meditating on the beautiful musical experiences Yes gives to us. I can lay my cards quickly on the table, and then we can compare notes.

The best track is “Mirror to the Sky,” which is no doubt why it is the title track. Despite my earlier remarks about non-equal footing, this track does in fact achieve entrance into the Yes pantheon. It is destined to be ranked among all their very best songs. And I can only dream of what it sound like live. Because I know it will be a dream come true. I hope I get the chance to hear it someday.

Two more tracks off the album also achieve the highest rank. “Luminosity” and “Circles of Time” are both stunning. Each is achingly beautiful in its own special way. As I listened to these tracks, I realized that Jon Davison has consolidated his place in the history of this band as one of its giants. Just as we would find it foolish to denigrate one giant at the expense of another (Bill Bruford vs. Alan White, or Rick Wakeman vs. Geoff Downes, or Trevor Rabin vs. Steve Howe), so too must we admit Davison is one of this band’s giants, no less so than Anderson.

Now on to the lesser tracks. Sure, “Cut from the Stars” has that nimble Billy Sherwood tribute to Chris Squire, but it still sounds to my ear like 3/5 Arc of Life and 2/5 Yes. (Which is no criticism, since I classify Arc of Life as truly Yes, and no less so than ABWH.) Still, the hippy-dippy lyrics are ambiguous: one day they sound to me like loving homage to Jon Anderson (he of “shiny flying purple wolfhounds” et cetera), but another day they sound like an SNL parody of Yes. I guess that “All Connected” strikes me the same way: it’s inspired by the best Yes music of ages past, in the same way that Arc of Life is inspired, but not quite there yet in the upper echelon of Yes achievements.

None of this is a negative evaluation, because even lesser tracks on a Yes album are better than anything you will hear elsewhere. I’m just insisting that “Cut from the Stars” and “All Connected” are the lesser tracks, and they do not reach the highest levels of Yes achievement, which “Mirror to the Sky,” “Luminosity,” and “Circles of Time” all do. Those three tracks make this the best Yes album since The Ladder or Magnification. (Fly from Here has a top-notch title track, just like Mirror to the Sky, but it also has some lesser material too, just like Mirror to the Sky.)

I appreciate Yes striving to make a classic LP-length statement. Mirror to the Sky is a perfect 47 minutes long. That’s why I fully support the decision to have a second CD with three bonus songs, even if they could all be on one disc. By making a second disc, the band is making a principled artistic statement: disc one is the album and disc two has the bonus tracks.

And for Mirror to the Sky, this makes sense, because disc one has the unifying thread of the use of a studio orchestra on all six tracks. Disc two, however, has no orchestra, and the songs are all written by Steve Howe, unlike the first disc, where everything has collaborations with at least two band members, except for the solo-scribed Jon Davison masterpiece, “Circles of Time.”

But let’s be honest, the Downes-Howe collaboration “Living Out Their Dream” is the worst of the six tracks. If I were the producer on this Yes album, or I could be pulling rank on them at the record company, I would have replaced “All Connected” with “Unknown Place,” which is truly a killer track. That’s no doubt why it is placed first on the second disc. The amazing keyboard and organ work by Geoff Downes is a real highlight, and the sonorous organ pedals blow you away so much that you wanna get up and get down.

Also, I would have swapped “One Second is Enough” for “Living Out Their Dream.” “One Second is Enough” has Steve Howe shredding away in glory, and at key points I think the track even invokes some memories of “Tempus Fugit” off of Drama. The only filler seems to be “Magic Potion,” but hey, not every Yes track is equal in magic.

But “Mirror to the Sky” brings us right back to the old magic. And that’s why you cannot miss out on Mirror to the Sky.

For, in the end, every band must be weighed. And finally answer to Yes!

Album Review: The Anderson Council, ‘The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon’

Syd Barrett named Pink Floyd after two blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. But it took The Anderson Council to finish the job, by composing their own name from what remained. Although PF has faded away in acrimony, The Anderson Council keeps the retro vibe alive and well. They have persistently maintained the genre of psychedelic power pop, so that it won’t simply be hidden away in a time capsule. But on their new record, The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon, the band grows and advances in an interesting way, while still delivering their customary fab harmonies and energetic pop-rock.

Standout tracks include the Peter Horvath collaborations with songstress Dawn Eden Goldstein, “Alone with You” and “Times on the Thames.” Both are classic written-for-radio pop gems that would merit inclusion on Voyager’s record of Earth’s audio archetypes. Previous songs written by this nascent Lennon/McCartney-like team include “Camden Town” on Worlds Collide (2019) and “Girl on the Northern Line” [song by Goldstein, arrangement by Horvath] on Assorted Colours (2016).

Assorted Colours provides a nice overview of the band’s early catalogue. While four of the songs were new, there were also three songs each from their earliest discs: Coloursound (2001), The Fall Parade (2006), and Looking at the Stars (2012). Thus, some of their best songs were conveniently compiled in one place: “Never Stop Being ’67” (2001), “Pinkerton’s Assorted Colors”, (2006) and “We’re Like the Sun” (2012). Even so, everything The Anderson Council does is golden, because they consistently draw inspiration from the sounds of the 60s that they refuse to let die.

Yet this is what makes the new album so interesting. While largely adhering to their trusty playbook, the band branches out in a way that bears witness to their continued growth as a tight musical unit. The first track, “Tarot Toronto,” made me think of Fountains of Wayne, and therefore seemed to signal an increased willingness to draw positive musical influences from any era.

I had a grade school friend with whom I always exchanged vinyl LPs. He insisted, “You know, there’s a song about everything. You just have to keep listening until you find it.” So, I smiled when I heard The Anderson Council’s “Buying a House” on The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon. It may be only 1:51 long, but it is yet more fulfillment of that teenage prophecy.

Standout tracks on the new album include “Messes Up My Mind” and “Jump Right In.” While the former is a clear example of The Anderson Council at their concise best, the latter is a song that extends to be about twice the length of the band’s usual tune. It revels in a sonic richness that makes it a perfect completion to the album.

Also not to be missed is “Sunday Afternoon,” which even includes a magical sing-along chorus at the end and then a killer guitar solo for the outro. All together, the disc works very well as your summer soundtrack for 2023. Whether it’s blasting from your convertible at the beach, or making people dance at the BBQ picnic, The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon offers 39 minutes of happy times. And that’s just groovy, baby.

Peter Horvath — Vocals, Guitars 
Simon Burke — Bass Guitar, Vocals 
Michael Potenza — Guitars, Vocals 
Scott Jones — Drums and Percussion

Big Big Train, Ingenious Devices (pre-order)

Big Big Train has made the pre-order of Ingenious Devices available at Bandcamp.

Head on over there to support them, ideally on the next Bandcamp Friday (May 5), so they can obtain maximum cash flow.

The band explains the upcoming touring situation in their Bandcamp pre-order note:

PLEASE NOTE: Ingenious Devices will be released on 30th June 2023 (NOT on 9th June). We have setup this pre-order earlier than usual to generate some income to help us with touring costs later this year. We will be on tour in August and September but many of our touring costs will fall in the next four months and we will not receive income from the tour until the autumn. 

Ingenious Devices consists of new versions of East Coast Racer, Brooklands and Voyager, which prominently feature an elite 17-piece string section recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. 

With the exception of the late David Longdon’s lead vocals, which have been compiled from the original album sessions, East Coast Racer is a completely new studio version recorded by the line-up of the band as it was in 2019. Brooklands features newly recorded drums, bass and bass pedals, while Voyager includes additional guitar and violin. All three songs have been re-mixed for this release and all the audio is presented at 24/96. 

Ingenious Devices also includes a previously unreleased orchestral piece called The Book of Ingenious Devices, which links East Coast Racer and Brooklands. 

BBT’s Gregory Spawton explains: “I was always happy with the original recorded version of East Coast Racer, but re-arranging the song to feature a full string section gave ECR a further lift. The new recording also features Dave Gregory’s guitar solo on the closing section, a solo which has only previously featured on live performances of the song. I am pleased we now have the definitive studio version on Ingenious Devices. The timing of this release also deliberately ties in with the 85th anniversary of the Mallard’s speed record which inspired the lyric. 

“By contrast, I was never entirely satisfied with Brooklands and felt it got a bit overlooked on the Folklore album. The Abbey Road strings have significantly enhanced the song and I’m delighted with the outcome. The additional track, The Book Of Ingenious Devices was composed to act as a segue between East Coast Racer and Brooklands and I like the way the tracks now flow into each other. The changes to Voyager are more subtle but still elevate the song beyond the version on our Grand Tour album.” 

Ingenious Devices also features a live performance of Atlantic Cable, recorded at Friars, Aylesbury in September 2022. 

New BBT vocalist Alberto Bravin comments: “Atlantic Cable was recorded at our second show of the tour last year. It’s not an easy song to play at all and we were both amazed and relieved that we pulled it off so well. I experienced a real baptism of fire playing that show in front of over 1,000 passionate BBT fans, but their response to the song and the rest of our live set that night was truly motivating.” 

Nick D’Virgilio says: “Ingenious Devices is a great way of uniting four of Big Big Train’s epic songs about technology. The album also celebrates the wonderful vocals of our late, great friend David Longdon on East Coast Racer, Brooklands and Voyager and looks forward to the future with Alberto putting in such a great performance on Atlantic Cable.” 

Beautiful Prog Epic (20:20) from Lesoir — Babel EP

If you like Porcupine Tree, or Pink Floyd, or The Pineapple Thief, or Riverside, or Anathema, or The Gathering, then you’re sure to dig the 20:20 stunning epic “Babel” from Lesoir.

We are big fans of Lenoir’s album from 2020, Mosaic. What a thrill to then hear them take things to the next level, with this beautiful long-form song that clocks in a quad-digit run time.

They’ve done a limited edition pressing of the CD version of this song. If you pay attention to the sensitive and empathetic lyrics, it should come as no surprise that Lesoir has announced that they are donating all proceeds from their Babel CD to the earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria:


When the flood disaster in Limburg (NL) took place in 2021, the band Lesoir decided to donate all proceeds from their one-off Babel live performance to the victims of the disaster. Now with the terrible earthquake in Turkey and Syria, Lesoir wants to do the same.

The band cannot bear to watch how the people in this area have to deal with the terrible suffering. Lesoir therefore wants to donate all income (excluding shipping and transaction costs) from the Babel EP (CD) to Giro555.

Will you help Lesoir collect a nice amount and then donate it?

Of course, the song is 1 whole, but especially for the CD, we have marked the different parts separately, so you can ffwd to your favourite part right away.

Art rock band Lesoir made a virtue of necessity in the quiet but turbulent lockdown period and in 2020 started working on something that would then become an ‘interim project’ for the band. Recorded at various locations in South Limburg, the resulting 20-minute and 20-second epic grew into a full-fledged addition to the band’s already existing repertoire. 

Under the name Babel, Lesoir’s creation was released on vinyl, handmade and limited to only 250 pcs in January 2022. Each piece is numbered and on request signed by the band. 

By popular demand the band have released Babel as a limited edition CD in January 2023. All proceeds of the album sales since the devastating earthquake will go the victims in Turley and Syria.

Starlifter: Live Performance by Crown Lands

Prepare for prog liftoff! Are you ready for Rush: The Next Generation? This exciting new video from Crown Lands shows them playing their newest song live. It’s an amazing performance. We can’t wait for their Fearless album release at the end of March.

As noted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation:

Crown Lands’ music tells a story inspired by what songwriter Cody Bowles calls “Indigenous futurism.” There’s a science fiction narrative running throughout their catalogue, about an anti-capitalist space hero fighting colonization across the stars. Genre pastiche is a huge part of Crown Lands’ approach, but this feels unique.

Why not explore their back catalogue while you await the Fearless double LP to be released at the end of March 2023?

Catch them live, if you can, because they’re an outstanding duo in concert!

0:00 I. Overture

3:09 II. Begin Transmission 

3:52 III. Fearless Awakens. 

5:35 IV. Departure 

6:53 V. The Journey

9:40 VI. Interfacing The Machine 

11:26 VII. Requiem 

12:52 VIII. The Battle Of Starlifter 

15:32 IX. Event Horizon

I. Overture

I’ve returned  

Beyond the realms of light

Yet I see a tarnished world devoid of life

I recall 

In the deeps within the void 

Of a greed that grips the hearts of mortal men

To the stars

They colonized our worlds  

And a vast machine has caged our dying sun!

II. Begin Transmission 


III. Fearless Awakens 

All around the winded spires 

There I did arise

Where the oceans that once churned

The sands replaced in time 

All the ones I’ve known and loved 

Have passed so long ago

And their distant echoed voices 

Trapped within the stone

The imposing fortress 

Lines the outer wall

By my hand I swear 

I will bring its fall!

Power-hungry tyrants hailing 

From a distant star 

A disregard for life! 

On the worlds eclipsed by war

Trekking down the barren road 

To where the great ships loom

Starlifters set to launch    

To spell the planet’s doom 

Calling ancient wisdom 

Present evermore

For my name is Fearless

And this world shall be restored 

IV. Departure

Wicked engines wheeling 

Through the dizzying abyss 

Riding silver flames 

Into the great beyond 

V. The Journey 

Through vast oceans of space

I sail across the stars 

To rout the Syndicate 

Before the dawning war 

Steal into the brig

Encounter the machine 

Risking everything 

I recognize 

The artificial prisoner 

Held against its will

Destroying outer worlds

To turn the planets still 

Two minds combined into

The integrated whole

Synaptic matrices 

I must take control 

VI. Interfacing The Machine 


VII. Requiem 

In the dark

A cold machine 

I am

I am lost, but I see 

I transcend   

This mortal shell 

And I await the reckoning 

If life is a wheel

Please let it spin…

VIII. The Battle Of Starlifter

We alone command the Starlifters

You will not win this war…

The stellar engine cannot be destroyed

This is the end for you, Fearless

We control the stars 

And all the fates of our worlds!

IX. Event Horizon

Event Horizon

Point of no return 

Black hole!!

Machine Messiah   

One-one zero-zero 

Sail into the point

Of no return!!

Album Review: The Winery Dogs — III

They say the third time’s the charm. But the third album from The Winery Dogs is more than just charmed, because we have already heard undeniable magic on their first two albums. This time, however, we witness a truly jaw-dropping breakthrough.

What is worth noting here is that we have been given a solid album with ten songs that strongly lock together. They flow inexorably, as the coherent whole of what I believe will eventually be recognized as a classic album, one even better than the merely rave reviews it has already been getting. Its magnificence gets more and more impressive with each further listen.

On previous releases, I found myself picking out favorite songs. The range of the band’s material was stunning, and while all of it was impressive, there were still standout tracks that clearly rose above the rest. On the debut, for me those were: “Elevate,” “I’m No Angel,” “Not Hopeless,” and “Regret.” On Hot Streak, they were: “The Bridge,” “War Machine,” “Devil You Know,” and “The Lamb.”

But on this release, rather than pick favorite songs, I can only pick out favorite moments within the songs. Because every track is a standout, I love them all, and I cherish those detailed special moments that each one of them contain for the dedicated listener.

“Xanadu” and “Mad World” were the two pre-release singles, which led us to expect more of the same Winery Dogs virtuosity from their earlier albums. Their magical ability is to bring Richie Kotzen’s guitar and Billy Sheehan’s bass and Mike Portnoy’s drums together in astonishing acrobatic coordination, a higher realm of musical motion which only the true greats can access, like Alex and Geddy and Neil on “Free Will.”

Yet while we get more of such magic, we also get interesting new details on this album, like the startling jazz chords in “Mad World” or the unusually intriguing lyrics to “Xanadu” which shift and change even with the musical repetitions of the chorus. Kotzen’s impassioned vocals seem to be taking an accusation (living clueless in Xanadu/Malibu) and flipping the accusation around as a badge of honor to be worn, as Kotzen makes it clear he (and the band) doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

With that declaration of independence, and with their secession from the world’s madness, The Winery Dogs then shift direction and reveal the first two tracks to have been something of a head fake. “Breakthrough” seems to me like the kind of killer radio-friendly track that a record company would demand as the first single. But, as track three, it comes as an unexpected twist after the clever “business as usual” first two tracks.

With this twist, the album launches into the upper echelons of the most classic of classic rock territory. The punchy power chords of the chorus invite air guitar participation. Both the riff and the vocal phrasings unexpectedly remind me of Saturation-era Urge Overkill, which I found to be a delightful and obscure surprise.

“Rise” astonishes with its complexity and soulfulness, as the band continues it third-album ascent, now conducting cakewalk “business as unusual.”

But it’s “Stars” that veers off into truly delightful prog territory. Sheehan supplies a steady bass pulse for Portnoy and Kotzen to go completely bonkers around. Kotzen demonstrates beyond all doubt that he is one of the greatest of all time on this track, because his guitar solo lasts for a minute and forty seconds of such insane, imaginative, and inventive sounds that it’s unbelievable. The song enfolds all this into such a satisfying and catchy groove, it marks an outstanding conclusion to a staggeringly impressive Side A.

But the album’s B-side is astonishingly equal in achievement to the A side. The kickoff, “The Vengeance,” has one of those cathartic Kotzen vocals (like “Regret” or “The Lamb”) whose emotions are equalled by the intelligence of the lyrics (which wisely affirm that it is the weak, not the strong, who need revenge).

This track illustrates well my thesis about each album track having additional small but memorable details: here, it is the helicopter-like synth-sounding pattern which leads into each chorus, and I call it “synth-sounding” because it somehow bleeds into what sounds like a guitar. It’s a truly magical transformation, and such a thrilling little detail, yet I have no idea how it is done, but it excites the listener to no end each time it is heard.

As if that were not enough, “The Vengeance” also has more Urge Overkill overtones, with those little “ooh ooh ooh” background vocals that remind me of the musical positivity of “Positive Bleeding.”

“Pharaoh” levels the listener with a heavy riff that knows just when to hold back and also just when to smash, all while Portnoy builds pyramids with massive slabs of pounding drums.

And then there’s no respite, as the following track, “Gaslight,” delivers a musical imitation of a gaslighting assault of craziness. Its boogie blitz comes charging out of the gate with more notes per second than the human mind can possibly count. All you can do is try and shake your tail feather to keep up.

Perfectly timed for breath-catching, “Lorelei” is a slow, bluesy 6/8 waltz. It’s the type of song that would function for a lesser band as a filler cool-down track at album’s end. But for The Winery Dogs, this become merely the penultimate track, and yet another one that they use to confound listener expectations.

Sometimes nothing is more boring than a blues guitar solo, but Kotzen convinces us that we have not heard it all before, as he plays his solo lines with such feeling that we find ourselves amazed. Not only that, when he sings on the chorus, he soulfully adopts such unusual phrasing that I am reminded of Steve Perry 80s Journey. The song unexpectedly wormholes me on a journey into a magic world of nostalgic teenage school dance waltzes.

The epic final track, “The Red Wine,” begins by seeming to deliver on the promise of the album opener’s Rush-word: “Xanadu.” For the first eighteen seconds, “The Red Wine” sounds like classic Rush. I did a double-take the first time I heard those bars, and had to look again at the song name, which for those moments I thought was actually: “The Red Star.”

But after those opening flourishes, “The Red Wine” makes an abrupt stage-left turn and turns into a funky and groovy dance-along track, replete with a sing-along “party time” chorus. We even get a verse imagining senior citizens playing air guitar with their canes, as the whole world falls under the spell of The Winery Dogs’ live music.

Happily, the track ends back in Rush mode, as the camera pans up (or so I imagine) from the outside dance party, up past the patio lanterns, and then ascends into the stars as the band turns again into the Rush of the opening half-minute. We get a mellow cosmic cool-down to end the album, as the band invokes the atmospherics, yes you guessed it, of Rush’s classic “Xanadu” mood. Billy’s bass is the last one sucked into the Cygnus X-1 black hole, but it beams back a cosmic echo, advising you to buy this album and find your way to the Dogs’ dance party.

Confounding the cynics, Kotzen and Sheehan and Portnoy are clearly not just a super-group of super noodlers. With this album, they demonstrate they are one of the greatest bands to have ever rocked the Earth. With III, they leave their paw print in the pavement, preserved for all time, in the pantheon of the Rock of Fame.

Crown Lands — Starlifter: Fearless, Part 2

Crown Lands last thrilled us with a studio release in 2021, the White Buffalo EP, which included the stunning 13-minute epic, “The Oracle.”

Coming hot on the heels of the release of their undisguised Rush tribute, “Context: Fearless, Part 1,” it was yet another powerful announcement from this ambitious duo that they intended to boldly go where Rush could go no more.

Think of it as Rush: The Next Generation.

But are you ready now for these two musical ambassadors from Canada to engage you at warp speed?

Because that’s the significance of their new digital release today, the 18-minute plus track, “Starlifter, Part 2.”

The Rush allusions continue, not least with the subtitle: “Fearless, Part x,” which obviously invokes the “Fear” epic that Rush unveiled over four album releases.

Clearly, Crown Lands intends to unroll their long-form musical adventures in likeminded serial fashion, thereby leveraging the potential of digital age music delivery.

The composition itself is of the highest musical quality, and their performance of “Starlifter” calls to mind everything wonderful about Rush, including the intricate sci-fi storytelling.

Yet “Starlifter” should not be judged to be simply an exercise in nostalgia. Rather, it is the maintenance of a sacred trust, a carrying forth of a musical legacy that continues to be nothing short of inspirational.

You have it hear it. Take my word. It’ll be the best dollar you ever spend on a song download, so don’t hesitate to nab it today.

But feel free to listen for free below, if you are at all skeptical. Trust me, you will become a believer in TNG prog.

It’s truly a glorious epic, which I shall not hesitate to pronounce the Crown Lands career equivalent of a 2112-like milestone.

Chapter 1. Overture

It’s been three hundred years…

Chapter 2. Begin Transmission

The Oracle was right. I found what I sought, but at what cost?

Chapter 3. Fearless Awakens

To our doom… I am Fearless.

Chapter 4. Departure

The sentinels watch below… maybe there is a way to learn their patterns and slip in undetected?

Chapter 5. The Journey

I’m deep in the labyrinthian bowels of the ship now, and it’s clear there’s no going back.

Chapter 6. Interfacing the Machine

An unholy bio-mechanical mass of wires, knobs.. A conscious machine?

Chapter 7. Requiem

All systems operational. We awaken and are now as one. Not Man or machine. The singularity.

Chapter 8. The Battle of Starlifter

Computational error. An oversight. Catastrophe.

Chapter 9. Event Horizon

The black hole now looms overhead, promising to destroy us all.


Top 10 Albums of 2022

This year was packed with so many excellent new releases, I had a very difficult time compiling a list of the Top 10 Albums of 2022. I was able to put together a roster of my 30 favorite albums, but found it too hard to cut that down to 10. But, rather than inflict a list of 30 on you, I looked instead to my Apple Music data to find out which albums I gave the most number of listens. So, with that objective component to measure my own personal subjective pleasures, here is the slashed down list of 10. I begin with the best album of the year:

#1 Lobate Scarp, You Have It All

While it was arduous to edit down a list of the 30 best into my top 10, it is nonetheless very easy to name the #1 album of the year. Without a doubt, it is the amazing sophomore disc from Lobate Scarp. This CD was a decade in the making, and it could fill all ten slots of my top 10 list, if that could be allowed. It’s so good, you have to hear it to believe it, as I explained at length in my ecstatic Progarchy review.

#2 Pure Reason Revolution, Above Cirrus

The return of this band has been something special to celebrate ever since 2020’s Eupnea. Their stunning debut, 2006’s The Dark Third, has long been on the prog short list for a Greatest of All Time. I discuss in detail in my Prograchy review of Above Cirrus how this brilliant new disc fits within their exciting oeuvre.

#3 Brass Camel, Brass

Here’s an obscure one for you, but it will seduce your heart and mind. A genuinely unique mixture of hard rocking funk plus an intricately overlaid tapestry of prog. Dive into this album (the follow-up to their 2018 debut) by sampling the prog cred on tracks like “King for a Day,” “Easy,” and “Last Flight of the Vulcan.” I’d say one of the strongest contenders for Prog Song of the Year is “Last Flight of the Vulcan,” because the way that song takes flight is truly thrilling. As it fades out, you just want it to circle back and never end. The album itself ends perfectly with “Only Love.”

#4 Sloan, Steady

Canada’s own version of The Beatles (but with a harder edge). A four-man band of talented musicians and each of them songwriters, they gave us this incredible masterclass in power pop. Every track slays, but check out “Magical Thinking,” “Spend the Day,” and “Scratch the Surface” for a hard rockin’ intro. Then pick your own favorites, which for me include “Dream It All Over Again,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” and “Keep Your Name Alive.” But there’s enough here to excite anybody with classic tastes for the finest indie rock.

#5 Ghost, Impera

The union of AOR and metal takes the world by storm again. Radio would be conquered, if that were still a thing. But this gem of an album is where Ghost has perfected their previously undeveloped full potential. “Spillways,” “Call Me Little Sunshine,” and “Driftwood” are miraculous tracks that combine studio craftsmanship with the utmost musical skill, to achieve the most splendid of audio effects.

#6 Dorothy, Gifts From the Holy Ghost

The first track and the last track of this album grab you first, but then repeated listens pull you in ever further. While “A Beautiful Life” is a joyous song that can instantly turn your mood around for the better, and is thereby a perfect opening track, “Gifts From the Holy Ghost” also consolidates the uplifting mood and thereby makes for a perfect parting track, a rousing song full of hard-won wisdom, earned no doubt via 12-step recovery. Once you open yourself to this album, it will rock you hard, in an unexpected way, somewhat like the experience sung about on the suitably pounding track, “Hurricane.”

#7 Porcupine Tree, Closure/Continuation

Porcupine Tree never stole my heart, even if they had some head appeal thanks to their skillful artistry. On the contrary, Steven Wilson as a solo artist is what excited me the most, especially with Raven and Hand. But now this disc converts me to extended PT headphone excursions. Absolutely fascinating songs and sonic landscapes are discoverable here, thanks to Wilson’s uncanny production skills. And I really love the Rush “Tom Sawyer” allusions in the solo section of “Chimera’s Wreck.”

#8 Coheed and Cambria, Vaxis II: A Window of the Waking Mind

This may be a concept album with a story that arcs over multiple albums, but this disc alone is the one that blindsided me with its ridiculously catchy prog metal. Try out “Beautiful Losers,” “Shoulders,” and “The Liars Club” and see if you can resist its charms. The singing alone is so unique, and the band’s YouTube 2M2LN Rush tribute should garner your willingness to give this incredible new album a try. No wonder I listened to this CD again and again.

#9 Alter Bridge, Pawns & Kings

The first few tracks didn’t convince me right away, but the middle of this album is what knocked me over and brought on the repeated listens. “Sin After Sin” (which had me pumping the volume, thanks to its thrilling finale), “Stay,” “Holiday,” and the totally epic “Fable of the Silent Son” brought me back again and again to this album. The heavy guitar sound and the one-of-a-kind vocal gifts of Myles Kennedy are a perfect combination. Unexpectedly, on this disc, the songwriting breaks into a new level, making this my favorite of all the Alter Bridge albums, or of any Myles collaboration with Slash.

#10 The Cult, Under the Midnight Sun

If you thought The Cult was currently resting in The “Where Are They Now?” File, you are sadly mistaken. Sure, keep playing your copy of 1987’s Electric. But don’t miss this 2022 triumph, which shows the band to be moody and mature rock geniuses. Check out “Vendetta X,” “Outer Heaven,” and the six-minute prog-ish “Knife Through Butterfly Heart.” The title track, “Under the Midnight Sun,” invites your compulsive return, with its brooding and haunting poetry. With a short, thoughtful album that gets right to the point, these no-longer young dudes show they still know how to deliver the goods.

Keep calm and prog on, dear citizens of Progarchy. The year 2022 has been magnificent, and I look forward to all of us sharing new music with each other in 2023.

Progarchy’s Resident Drummer (Time Lord) on the Top Ten Albums of 2012-2022

Commemorating Progarchy’s anniversary month in Progtober, we have seen Bryan’s celebration of the decade’s best discs, as well as Rick’s top albums.

At the same time, too, we have been debating who the top artists of the past ten years are. Check out Bryan’s case for Steve Hackett; Rick’s case for Steven Wilson; and my case for Neal Morse & Mike Portnoy

Soon to follow (on the last day of October) will be our collective editorial vote for Big Big Train as being Progarchy’s defining band of the decade.

But, for today, allow me to name my ten favorite albums of the past ten years.

Revisiting my top ten lists from years past, I was surprised to see that my #1 albums were usually not the ones that I returned to in subsequent years. Instead, here are the idiosyncratic picks that give you a good idea of my most permanent musical taste. These are the albums that I have returned to more often than not, as the years have slipped by.

2021—Arc of Life, Arc of Life: As I said in my review of Dave Kerzner’s The Traveler (2022), Kerzner here collaborated on the best Yes album of the past decade, despite the ABWH-like absurdity whereby the musicians creating the masterpiece don’t call themselves Yes.

2020—Unleash the Archers, Abyss: Unleash the Archers puts the prog storytelling back into prog metal on this amazing release, which includes “Through Stars” (nicely taking us all the way back to the 80s), “The Wind That Shapes the Land” (a sprawling prog-metal masterpiece), and “Carry the Flame” (an absolutely killer duet). Unleash the Archers did a livestream concert during the pandemic that was so fantastic I watched it twice, as my ticket allowed me to do over the weekend. I would love to see it again. Maybe the band can offer a digital copy for sale?

2019—Tool, Fear Inoculum: This disc blew me away with its devastating sonic blast. There is so much happening here that must be celebrated. It is not only the greatest thing Tool has ever done, it attains the heights of the greatest and most compelling prog metal of all time. I agree with Rick K. that Tool has indeed here given us the album of the year for 2019.

2018—Brass Camel, Daniel James’ Brass Camel: Brass Camel rented space in our local planetarium to put on one of the greatest tribute concerts to the glory days of prog that I have ever seen. I wrote a review of this once-in-a-lifetime experience for Progarchy. That same year they released this CD, which I had to track down in a local vinyl record store that announced to the world their talent. Now, in this anniversary year of 2022 for Progarchy, Brass Camel has released Brass, which is currently in the running for the best prog album of the year. Check out “Last Flight of the Vulcan” if you want proof that this is a band to be reckoned with: While you’re on their Bandcamp page, give “King for a Day” and “Easy” and “Only Love” a spin. But take note: their prog supernova started back here with this hard-to-find disc, back in 2018. Don’t wait too long to let it reach your ears.

2017—Schooltree, Heterotopia: Adam Sears of Lobate Scarp, an impeccable musician with impeccable taste, tipped me off to this stunningly brilliant epic album. You can tell from my rapturous review what ecstasy it imparts. Also, thanks to that review, the mighty Rick K. found his way to write for Progarchy, if you have ever heard his origin story.

2016—Headspace, All That You Fear Is Gone: Damian Wilson is an incredible talent and this disc is the perfect prog metal venue for his gifts to shine at their brightest. But everyone on the album is amazing. This uplifting record never gets old for me.

2015—The Gentle Storm, The Diary: Anneke van Giersbergen does unbelievable work on this masterpiece. Teamed up with her metalhead pal Arjen Anthony Lucassen, the story is nonetheless told best on the disc marked as “The Gentle Version.” Check out Anneke’s work with Vuur if you want a harder-edged metal experience. But here, it’s her acoustic side that works best, especially as beautifully complemented by Arjen’s classical and exotic instrumentation.

2014—Sloan, Commonwealth: Sloan is one of my favorite bands of all time. They are essentially Canada’s version of the Beatles, but with an ability to rock even harder when appropriate. Back in 2014, they did this double album, where each member (similar to the unrestrained experimentation of the Pink Floyd of the early years) gets a whole album side devoted to their individual compositions. As Mike Portnoy has recognized, Sloan has released in 2022 a blast of power pop perfection that is an undisputed contender for album of the year (Steady), but back in 2014 I noted their turn to a prog aesthetic with that 17:40 song.

Note that Sloan only stole the 2014 album slot from Haken because Restoration was an EP, even though it has one of my favorite Haken songs, “Crystallized.” I’ll never forget seeing Haken perform that song live.

2013—Steven Wilson, The Raven That Refused to Sing and other stories: There’s not much I can say about Steven Wilson that Rick or Bryan has left unsaid. But I have to admit that Wilson and Porcupine Tree did nothing for me until this Raven album came out. It master the idioms of my favorite prog bands. Thus, Wilson has had my attention forever after. So, even though Hand Cannot Erase (I choose to erase the dopey periods) is the Wilson album I have probably listened to the most (and I loved the concert tour for that album which I was lucky enough to see live here in Vancouver and then review), I still choose Raven as the Wilson disc for my decade-long list of 10.

2012—Flying Colors, Flying Colors: As I have already noted, “Infinite Fire” is the track that sealed the deal to make me inescapably devoted to Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy. It’s a nice bonus, too, that Steve Morse adds his signature guitar stylings to this album, since I had been a big fan of that other Morse since his Dixie Dregs and Steve Morse Band days. But wow, with BBT on the other side of the Atlantic, and Morse and Portnoy and pals on this side, it is clear that, after decade, prog rock has achieved, if not world domination, at least residence in the hearts of all the citizens of Progarchy, our everlasting republic of musical freedom.