The Raven That Refused to Sing and other stories (Best of 2013 — Part 9)

Coming in the #9 slot (in alphabetical order) on my Best of 2013 list is the masterpiece from:

Steven Wilson

Also known as “Mr. Prog” — but that title for Mr. Wilson is currently up for debate here at

My two cents: A title like “Mr. Prog” should only be bestowed based on an objective standard of measurement: e.g., the sheer quantity of artistic output in a year; i.e., count up all the releases, the remixes, the live gigs, the collaborations, etc. Then, whoever has the biggest total, is “Mr. Prog” — whether you like his stuff the best or not.

Well, I haven’t done the math, so somebody else can tell me who the winner of the title is. (Maybe we will have to make a shortlist: Steven, Neal, Mike, et al.)

By the way, the winner of the math for each year should be called “Mr. Prog” for that year. So it should be an annual award, and not a one-time decision.

And then, if a long-term pattern does emerge (e.g., we have the same “Mr. Prog” year-after-year), that individual can be designated (after years of distinguished service to prog) as “The Godfather of Prog.”

Now that we have that out of the way, let me talk about “The Raven That Refused to Sing and other stories.

I don’t get it when people talk about this album as “cold,” or whatever. Go put on a sweater!

I don’t know what you’re talking about! Because this is the first album by Steven Wilson that has really elicited a deep emotional response from me.

All his previous work has received intellectual engagement from me, and I have noted and admired it all. But this magnificent Wilson disc is the first one that causes my heart to leap at the musical excitement that it generates.

Right from the beginning, “Luminol” elicits a response of joy. As in: Omigosh! Is that Chris Squire running around my living room playing bass? It sure sounds like it! Woo-hoo. We’re having a prog party! Hey, here he comes again…

And the album does not let up from there. It’s just layer after layer of beauty and complexity. For me, this album stands out from all of Wilson’s other work as going above and beyond, as a truly distinguished musical masterpiece.

After all, it ends with the title track, “The Raven That Refused to Sing,” which is simply the most gorgeous and moving song on the album. It possesses a rare quality of unusual beauty that transcends mere musical virtuosity (which is the usual stock-in-trade of prog), and rightly marks this album with the distinction of being an inspired, otherworldly product. How fitting that this gift of the Muses is memorialized in the album title!

Let me end on a controversial note. Brad has slagged this album as “The Tangent lite,” a remark which I shall myself reinterpret as a compliment: i.e., where The Tangent’s “Le Sacre du Travail” may err with the defect of pretentious satirical excess, Steven Wilson’s “The Raven That Refused to Sing” achieves the right aesthetic balance of the golden mean (a sober restraint that some may mistake for “coldness”).

Perhaps the comparison is also apt in other ways. Wilson’s “sad sack” vocals in the past have prevented me from placing his releases in the annual Top Ten upper echelons. I have a similar obstacle with The Tangent presently; the vocals are too histrionic, à la Roger Waters, for my taste. But now, with “The Raven That Refused to Sing,” I find that Wilson’s vocals have been honed to work to perfection, especially on the haunting final track of this distinguished work.

In conclusion, then, because The Tangent is Big Big Train’s evil twin, I must place The Tangent on my Best of 2013 list… but only in the mirror universe.

In this universe, the award goes to Steven Wilson’s “The Raven That Refused to Sing.”


Hey, I may be wrong about all this. I will have to keep listening to all these fine 2013 albums for years to come! Perhaps minds will change. In any event, the conversation at Progarchy will continue. After all, de gustibus est disputandum:

Perhaps the most persistent error in aesthetics is that contained in the Latin tag that de gustibus non est disputandum— that there is no disputing tastes. On the contrary, tastes are the things that are most vigorously disputed, precisely because this is the one area of human life where dispute is the whole point of it. As Kant argued, in matters of aesthetic judgement we are “suitors for agreement” with our fellows; we are inviting others to endorse our preferences and also exposing those preferences to criticism. And when we debate the point we do not merely rest our judgement in a bare “I like it” or “It looks fine to me”; we search our moral horizons for the considerations that can be brought to judgement’s aid. Just consider the debates over modernism in architecture. When Le Corbusier proposed his solution to the problem of Paris, which was to demolish the city and replace it with a park of scattered glass towers and raised walkways, with the proletariat neatly stacked in their boxes and encouraged to take restorative walks from time to time on the trampled grass below, he was expressing a judgement of taste. But he was not just saying, “I like it that way.” He was telling us that that is how it ought to be: he was conveying a vision of human life and its fulfilment, and proposing the forms that gave the best and most lucid expression to that vision. And it is because the city council of Paris was rightly repelled by that vision, on grounds as much moral and spiritual as purely formal, that Le Corbusier’s aesthetic was rejected and Paris saved.

Likewise, when I dispute with my leftist friends about the Dutch and Danish windmills— windmills whose blank and spectral faces are now beginning to stare across my native English woods and fields—we don’t just exchange likes and dislikes, as though discussing the rival merits of Cuban and Dominican cigars. We discuss the visual transformation of the countryside, the disruption, as I see it, of a long established experience of home, and what this means in the life of the farmer, and the presence, as my leftist friends see it, of the real symbols of modern life, which now stand on the horizon of the farmer’s world, summoning him to the realities which he has avoided for far too long. By disputing tastes in this way we are not just striving for agreement. We are working our way towards a consensual solution to long term problems of settlement: we are discovering the terms on which we might live side by side in a shared environment, and how that environment should look in order that we can put down roots in it. Conceived in this way aesthetic judgement is the primary form of environmental reasoning: it is the way in which human beings incorporate into their present decisions the long-term environmental impact of what they do.

Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep (Best of 2013 — Part 8)

Coming in the #8 slot (in alphabetical order) on my Best of 2013 list is this year’s perfect slice of prog from:

Spock’s Beard

This one completely caught me by surprise. I was not prepared for how awesome it is!

I was not expecting “Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep” to be soooooo good. I was not expecting to like it so much!

No Neal? No Nick? Wow, I was not expecting this to be one of the year’s best.

But holy smokes! I feel like this is the Beard’s best album ever!!

(Time will tell if I persist in that judgment. But so far my enthusiasm has not waned!)

I really love this disc a lot. Everything works here! All the tracks are amazing.

(And I have seen this album on a lot of Top Ten lists, so I know I am not alone in the republic of Progarchy with my enjoyment of this fantastic album.)

Congratulations, gentlemen! You have gone above and beyond, showing us all what true excellence in prog is.

Dimensionaut (Best of 2013 — Part 7)

Coming in the #7 slot (in alphabetical order) on my Best of 2013 list is the incredible debut from:

Sound of Contact

I have written earlier about this amazing release at these links:

The Spiritual Vision of Dimensionaut

Return of the Giant Progweed

The Sound of Sound of Contact

Let’s bring the prog back!

Overcoming the Monster (Best of 2013 — Part 6)

Coming in the #6 slot (in alphabetical order) on my Best of 2013 list is the awesome band with the awful name:


This new album defies categorization. It is brilliant and endlessly fascinating.

I want give a big thanks to Brad for everything he does to spread the word about excellence in prog.

Case in point: this album, “Overcoming the Monster,” which he drew to our attention back in June.

Now, I know that there are lots of fans of this disc to be found among the Progarchists here at Progarchy.

So, I can be brief, since I know that many of you have listened and can agree with me wholeheartedly:

“Overcoming the Monster” is one of the very best of 2013.


Ride the Void (Best of 2013 — Part 5)

Coming in the #5 slot (in alphabetical order) on my Best of 2013 list is the band that released an exceptionally fine metal album this year:

Holy Grail

This truly excellent metal album became a favorite of mine early on in 2013. I’m not sure, but I believe Brad circulated an Electronic Press Kit sent by the band to early in 2013 and that was how I first heard of “Ride the Void.” But then it was finally a recommendation from a student that sent me over to iTunes to actually investigate further and to listen to the track previews.

Giving the tunes a superficial and abbreviated first listen, I only downloaded four tracks: “Archeus” (a brief instrumental intro); “Dark Passenger” (the announced single); “Sleep of Virtue” (a track that instantly sounded amazing to my ears); and “Rains of Sorrow” (the album’s epic metal ballad finale). Nothing immediately grabbed me and stood out as I previewed the other tracks, and so I only downloaded these four.

Well, after a week, I was completely hooked and totally won over by the excellence of this unusually fine metal. So I downloaded the rest of the album. Eventually, after repeated listens, I knew this would be on my Top Ten for the year. The guitar work was so amazing that, despite the heavy metal cliches in the lyrics’ subject matter, I had to acknowledge that here was a work of musical skill that stood out within the genre as being above and beyond all expectations.

The hardest tracks for me to get into were three with death growl vocals, since I find that whole style of singing to be completely ridiculous. Cookie monster vocals is my preferred term for this sort of silliness that mars otherwise enjoyable music. But nevertheless over time I was still won over to these three tracks because the instrumental work in them is so superb and because the cookie monster vocals are used only sparingly for dramatic effect at appropriate points in the songs: “Bestia Triumphans,” “Crosswinds,” and “The Great Artifice.” The first one (“Bestia Triumphans”) was the easiest one for me to get to like, because that track has some epic prog metal time shifts and a bombastic dramatic context that suitably situates the vocal silliness. The latter two tracks (“Crosswinds” and “The Great Artifice”) have first-class guitar work, and so in the right mood I can listen to the whole album, but sometimes I still resort to a playlist that omits these tracks (my two least favorite and only because of the unwelcome vocal interjections).

Over time, in addition to “Sleep of Virtue” and “Rains of Sorrow” which immediately struck me as upper-echelon metal, “Too Decayed to Wait” became a stand-out favorite of mine because of its remarkably catchy guitar work. But really there are so many fine moments on all the tracks here that once you digest the album as a whole you simply to need to endorse the whole project as one of the very best of the year 2013.

Let me close out my review now with some links to YouTube commentary by some band members on almost all of the album’s tracks:

1. Archeus: This is the overture to the album. Its relative restraint allows you to be nicely ambushed by all the metal excellence that follows.

2. Bestia Triumphans: Ignore the cookie monster vocals when they intrude and then you can enjoy the innovative prog metal composition and the interesting musical shifts in this elaborately dramatic piece.

3. Dark Passenger: This single has a classic-sounding heavy metal gallop to it and could therefore be considered the “poppiest” of the songs; but really it is simply classic, new wave British heavy metal of the Judas Priest variety. The genre-bound lyrics take up a Rosemary’s Baby theme to sing of the titular passenger. Ignore that silliness and simply enjoy some really sweet solos and harmonized lead work. The band acknowledges that with this “horse metal” they are deploying leads over the chorus in deliberate homage to 70s metal. I love the way the song ends in such an exciting way.

4. Bleeding Stone: A very heavy track for Holy Grail that’s a bit of a nod to Slayer and also Black Sabbath. It’s got a triply feel, and a tough swashbuckler pirate vibe. Apparently it is a leftover from their last album.

5. Ride the Void: The title track that some band members feel might be their best yet. Perhaps you will hear the nods to Amon Amarth, Megadeth, and Thin Lizzy. Not my favorite track but still undeniably great musical work.

6. Too Decayed to Wait: Really effective time shifts and superb guitar work make this a fave. If I only have time to listen to one cut, this is always it.

7. Crosswinds: Funky metal cookie monster. But great guitar work.

8. Take It to the Grave: Unbelievably, this track was almost cut from the album. But it has such awesome guitar switchoffs, that it is easily one of the very best tracks. So very enjoyable. Top notch. Deserves an award for its outstanding guitar playing; it certainly does not deserve to be cut!

9. Sleep of Virtue: Everything works in this track to perfection. It would be the one track I would play to try and get someone to give the band a further listen. Astoundingly good.

10. Silence the Scream: Genre-bound lyrical subject matter is about a roadie as the perfect serial killer. Ignore that silliness and instead enjoy the “proggy riff” with “happy” and “poppy” melodies that contrast with the dark lyrical content.

11. The Great Artifice: Perhaps the thrashiest song. Suitably heavy drums and an awesome guitar solo section.

12. Wake Me When It’s Over: Classical guitar training on display here in an acoustic guitar palate cleanser before the epic finale. Really nice time fluctuations.

13. Rains of Sorrow: The band steps beyond everything that could keep them pigeonholed and narrowly genre-bound and does an epic metal ballad that succeeds wildly on every level. Truly exceptional and a fitting conclusion to this year’s standout pure metal album.

If you want more bonus band videos, here’s guitarist Alex Lee doing a yo-yo tutorial, and here’s a bit on the excellent Holy Grail album cover artwork for “Ride the Void.”

I’m not the-list-kind-of-guy but…

…nevertheless I have done my homework and now will present my list of the best albums from this absolutely fantastic year of prog! 🙂 I mean 2012 and 2013 have been excellent years both of them but 2013 has been special. I think we can agree on that even though our personal lists may differ a bit. Not to be spoiling too much, but the number one was a no-brainer really, but then it was extremely hard to distinguish between albums 2 to 6. These are five albums that actually can interchange their positions depending on what kind of day it is for me. 🙂 This is how it all ended up today at least. So off we go!

10. Camelias Garden – You Have A Chance

You Have A Chance

Lovely debut album by this Italian band. Folky prog a bit in the vein of Harmonium.

9. Spock’s Beard – Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep


Well, who would have thought that my favourite SB-album would be the one without both Neal and Nick? But so it is!

8. Haken – The Mountain


Rawk’n’rawl and some real quirkiness in a fine mix! Will always remember sitting in Mr Ian Greatorex’s listening room with high end stereo equipment, giving this a first listen…with a Big Big Beer in my hand.

7. Lifesigns – Lifesigns

Lifesigns CD (2)

After feeling it was a bit “meh” to start with this lush album has grown and grown. Some really beautiful songs here!

6. The Tangent – Le Sacre du Travail

tangent 2013 cover

Mr Andy Tillison’s magnum opus to date! Greatness! And with Gavin on drums and Jonas on bass, what can possibly go wrong?

5. Cosmograf – The Man Left In Space


Superb album by Robin Armstrong’s brainchild, comsograf! It’s one of those you just have to listen to from beginning to end totally undisturbed. 

4. Moon Safari – Himlabacken Vol. 1

Himlabacken Vol. 1

I can’t resist this band’s music! It always makes me so very happy and warm inside! Lovely peeps in the band as well!

3. The Flower Kings – Desolation Rose

"Pure Flower Kings, pure prog and Kingly epic."

Best TFK album since Space Revolver I dare say. So glad they’re back and sounding so fresch and on their toes again!

2. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing

Raven That Refused to Sing

What can I say? It’s a gorgeous album!

1. Big Big Train – English Electric: Full Power

Progarchy Best Packaging, 2013: Big Big Train, English Electric Full Power.

Well, nobody’s probably really surprised about this being my number one of 2013. 😀 It’s a stunner and will be for many years to come! It’s the best album of any genre for me this year. Without competition.

So…that’s it folks. Outside my list of Top 10 you can find some that are very fine albums and would have made any Top 10 from any other year before 2012. Vienna Circle – Silhouette Moon, Days Between Stations – In Extremis, Johannes Luley – Tales From The Sheepfather’s Grove and Shinebacks fine album Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed (added 20130103) are examples of albums bubbling just beneath position number 10. Then we find albums that I haven’t found the time, motivation or curiousness to listen to more than very casually at the best. Riverside, Airbag, Fish, Nemo, Maschine etc are among those bands or artists that I haven’t given proper attention as of yet.

Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year everyone!

PS. Best prog-related and most fun and interesting experience of the year: Big Big Weekend 14-15 September in Winchester and Southampton!

The Mountain (Best of 2013 — Part 4)

Coming in the #4 slot (in alphabetical order) on my Best of 2013 list is a band that this year really made me sit up and take notice:


This is prog metal that is so transcendent, and so obviously far above the average genre offering, that I was truly shocked by the staggering magnitude of the excellence on display in this album release.

Kind of like an awesome mountain.

Behold the majesty! How beautiful.

How spectacular!

The first track, “The Path,” pierces right to the heart with its stunningly beautiful theme. (It resurfaces in very satisfying ways later on.)

Continuing on from there, the entire album is non-stop upper-echelon prog.

I want to give a big special thanks to my Progarchy friends, for alerting me to this amazing album, by posting the hilarious “Cockroach King” video back in September.

Perhaps my favorite track is “Pareidolia“; I agree with Thaddeus Wert that this track is sheer perfection.

(But then again, “Falling Back to Earth” is totally epic; and at 11:51 it wins the battle of the prog clock.)

I am pleased to see this album make it onto so many Top Ten lists among all the progarchists. Justice! What more need I say?

Perhaps I should close with a public service announcement, by noting the correct pronunciation of the band’s name. According to the band, it rhymes with bacon. As for the meaning of the name:

There’s no meaning, really. It came from kind of alcohol-fueled gatherings between me and my friend and we thought it’d be a nice name purely from the sound of it. There’s no deep meaning behind it.

How disappointing. But there are conflicting accounts; apparently the name is “actually the name of a fictional character” they once invented.

Well, if I could give the band a piece of advice — now that they have proven themselves to be top-rank masters of prog — I would say that they need to change their story on this, pronto.

Run this past the publicist: Why not officially decide that the band name refers to model Rianne ten Haken? (After all, there is rock precedent for using models’ names for purposes of euphony; I adduce, as my prime example, Nash Kato’s inspired use of Laetitia Casta’s sonorous appellation in “Octoroon.”)

But even more importantly, there has to be an immediate and non-negotiable change in the correct pronunciation of the band’s name:


Rhymes with rockin’.

Dream Theater (Best of 2013 — Part 3)

Coming in the #3 slot (in alphabetical order) on my Best of 2013 list is this self-titled splendor:

Dream Theater

Back in August, we got excited when we first heard the preview of “The Enemy Inside” (which has gone on to receive a Grammy nomination).

Then, in September, the band treated us to a full album stream.

My favorite tracks include the glorious “Along for the Ride” and the amazing “The Looking Glass” and the scintillating “Surrender to Reason“…

But let’s be real. Whatever track you are listening to at the moment becomes your favorite!

This is a powerfully good album. Surely everyone who knows and loves Rush can recognize the unmistakable musical excellence at work here.

What a thrill to hear Dream Theater at the top of their game, showing us their very best!

Exactly the sort of prog metal that I like best is found here on this upper-echelon release.

Congratulations, gentlemen.

With your musical panorama, you have given us what prog gives best.

Namely, the bigger picture.

NOW What?! (Best of 2013 — Part 2)

Moving right along, right after Big Big Train at #1, we come to the #2 slot (in alphabetical order) on my Best of 2013 list:

Deep Purple.

With the release of NOW What?! the band caught me by surprise. (Note that the first word of the album title is in “all caps,” which I think is particularly hilarious. But a lot of reviewers have missed out on that nice little tonal detail.) And what a fine surprise this album is.

I wasn’t expecting the album to be so good! In fact, I remember downloading it and listening to the first three tracks (“A Simple Song,” “Weirdistan,” and “Out of Hand”) thinking, “WHOA,” this is not too bad at all… and then, WHAM! Suddenly the next two tracks (“Hell to Pay,” and “Body Line”) totally blew me away. Why? Well, because it seemed as if the instrumental breaks were actually escalating in intensity as the album progressed. The wild organ freak-outs and the insanely great guitar playing were — yes! — veering off into prog-class warp drive territory.

And then, the unmistakably epic tracks “Above and Beyond” and “Uncommon Man” sealed the deal, with their instrumental and compositional prowess. Note that both of these tracks are fittingly dedicated to rock god Jon Lord, the Deep Purple founding member and super-talented classical composer who died in 2012. The latter track (“Uncommon Man”) invokes Aaron Copland’s classical epic, “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which progarchists will recall has also been previously transmuted into prog excellence by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.

Let it be noticed by one and all: Steve Morse serves up some sweeeeeeeeet guitar work on this album. “Apres Vous” and “All the Time in the World” keep the album orbiting in the stratosphere of excellence.

Indeed, Flying Colors made it into my Top Ten list last year, instantly passing the prog litmus test with flying colors. So, I was sad that the supergroup had no studio album in 2013. (Hence I am looking forward to what will surely be one of the highlights of 2014.)

But this new Deep Purple album has both surprised and more than satisfied me in the meantime, by giving me many unexpected 2013 moments of Steve Morse guitar bliss. His synergy with Don Airey’s organ virtuosity on NOW What?! should make all prog-lovers sit up and take notice. The whole disc is a joy to listen to.

NOW What?! offers classic hard rock with the perfect twist; namely, prog-class musical virtuosity.

English Electric Part Two (Best of 2013 — Part 1) is an awesome music site because we have a contrarian community here with truly excellent taste in music. I love reading everyone’s 2013 lists! It’s a real thrill to share this site with so many thoughtful people. One of the things I especially enjoy is how individual personalities really shine through in the Top Ten lists. And yet we also have some common rallying points. For example: witness the huge love for Big Big Train on this Web site.

So far we have had superb year-end reflections from Alison HendersonKevin WilliamsThaddeus WertCraig FarhamRussell Clarke, Brad Birzer (in two parts), Erik Heter, John Deasey, and James Turner.

Today, I am going to start my year-end reflections. Like last year, I will spread it out over many days. (Just trying to keep it epic and proggy here, eh?)

But, this year I will also do a couple of things differently. First of all, I am not going to do a Top Ten. In the spirit of Spinal Tap-like excess, and in celebration of the release this year of the riff-tastic 13Black Sabbath’s fine return to form, I am going to do a Top Thirteen list. (And, after all, it is also the year 2013.)

So, I am going to do my Top Thirteen list in alphabetical order for the first Ten. Then, the last three will be three bonus additions, given out of alphabetical order. (I will explain my rationale further when I get to the final three.)

However, I want to start off my Top Thirteen list with a bit of a dissenting argument. And this argument accompanies the band that I deliberately have coming up first alphabetically into my Part 1 position… namely, Big Big Train.

Notice that I am putting their English Electric Part Two on my list. That’s because I absolutely cannot endorse English Electric Full Power with a Top Ten slot.

I vehemently object to the idea that a prog band can rip apart their two preceding albums and then assemble them into an alternate playlist, mixing in some new bonus tracks, and calling this playlist the final product. What ever happened to the prog ideal that a concept album was a carefully-sequenced work of art that was meant to be digested uninterrupted as an organic whole?

Perhaps that ideal was often more musical B.S. than reality on the artist’s side. But still, on the listener’s side, even if the alleged epic unity was half-baked and overly pretentious, at least it encouraged artists to strive toward that ideal nonetheless, and to encourage listeners to critique the music with those highest of aspirations as setting the bar of judgment of success whenever hearing the approximate realization of the ideal.

So, where are we with prog now in the twenty-first century, if one of the absolutely upper-echelon prog bands is caught up in the technological whirlwind that encourages musical projects to be released in less-than-finished form as mere works in progress?

Well, I am never going to be able to accept the reconfiguration of track order when it comes to excellent prog music. This is because, as I get to know the albums, I become deeply immersed and I internalize every detail. One of the very greatest things when listening to a beloved album is, as one track ends, anticipating — in the brief moment of silence — the beginning sounds of the imminent next track.

J’accuse! By monkeying with the track order of English Electric Parts One and Two, Big Big Train has done violence to the intimate musical memories that are forged as the listener forges a bond with the prog cycle of unfolding experience!

For me, Full Power is not the glorious final form of the magnificent English Electric achievement. I mean, get serious: how can it be? Let me quickly annihilate the thesis: Full Power begins with “Make Some Noise,” which is a great song, but it is a stand-alone single. If you try and argue that it is the indispensable overture to a final-form epic, I will laugh in your face. Get real. It is a B-side, a bonus track, a novelty song. It’s not the unmistakeable “Theme to English Electric.”

Therefore, I say English Electric Part One was the Best of 2012. And English Electric Part Two is the Best of 2013.

But admit it, people: Full Power is an imposter of an album.

Make Some Noise is, yes, a really nice EP of bonus tracks mixed into a short highlights playlist for English Electric fans. But Full Power is as much a playlist as Make Some Noise! How could it possibly be the best form of Parts One and Two?

Okay, wait a minute. Maybe some of you are going nuts at this point. Maybe both you and the band will want to demonstrate to me how Full Power most certainly does work better as an overall track order for the English Electric musical vision.

But you know what? I don’t care. Even if the band were to agree with you.

Because you’d still be wrong about prog in general, even if you might be right about this album. (Honestly, I stopping listening to Full Power after a while because it was just doing too much violence to my already-established, deeply internalized, fond musical memories of Big Big Train’s work. So, maybe you could argue I didn’t give it enough of a chance. But really! Why should I have to?)

But, to conclude, I have saved my main point for last…

I have read a number of people on this site celebrating how 2013 has been such a great year for prog. So much great prog music. More than we have time to listen to. How wonderful. Yada yada yada.

But you know what, people? It is exactly this sort of situation that creeps me out. Look where technology has brought us — a surfeit of prog to tickle our ears in 2013! Now, on the one hand, my immediate reaction to that is joy and excitement. Kid in a candy store, right? But, on the other hand, on further reflection, what does that situation say about prog?

That it has become a commodity!

Which is truly a great danger to the health of the art form, in my opinion. Because, if prog is becoming a generic “commodity,” and you can easily (and without too much effort) get your “fix” of it almost anywhere, then the art form is flattening out, and entering into a decadent phase.

The only hope we have, then, to resist the commodification of prog, is to adhere to critical standards, and to unfurl our annual Top Ten lists as setting the very standards by which we must judge the true upper-echelon achievements as showing best how to resist the commodification of prog.

Therefore, by placing English Electric Part Two on my list — and not English Electric Full Power — I am saying that at all costs we must resist the “playist-ification” — the commoditization — of prog!

I can endorse only fully formed artistic statements as worthy of upper-echelon rank. And if the artists themselves laugh and say that there is no such thing… well, then you know what? They are giving up on one of the key ideals of prog. If you want to do concept albums themselves as time-delayed, track-order improv… well, good luck with that. This ain’t jazz! What new sensibility are you bringing to bear here? Commoditization!

Hey artist, you can go remix Vapor Trails, or go slice up English Electric, if you like… but you know what? I might still enjoy it. But it’s not you at your best. And we fans must refuse to give our critical endorsement to any kind of playlist mentality. Otherwise we may as well go back to Top Forty land.

So, there you have it. Has it really been been prog’s luckiest year ever? Think again…

I say we will always remember that 2013 was when the great Big Big Train gave us an illustration of the greatest danger facing prog: its commodification. (Now, let the debate begin!)

More of my Top Thirteen will soon follow, in celebration of this un/lucky year…

It was the best of prog, it was the worst of prog.