2015, a musical review

Hello Prog Pickers, happy 2016, where the hell did last year go?

It feels a bit bittersweet really sitting here and compiling this, as I am writing this the same day that I heard that David Bowie died, and I am sure that by the time I am writing next years review that Blackstar will be up there amongst the releases of 2016.

Time to reflect on a year full of personal changes and successes as well as the loss of a close friend that hit me hard.

Throughout the highs and lows and in-between bits that make up life in the 21st century music has been one of my constant companions, and trying to whittle down the best (in my humble opinion) albums of the last twelve months is no easy business, with such a slew of strong releases from new names and existing bands, trying to get this list into shape has been like trying to herd cats, and there have been some great albums by artists like Steven Wilson, Guapo, District 97, Dave Sturt, John Hackett, Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Tim Bowness and Guy Garvey that didn’t make the cut, not to mention releases by artists like Bruce Soord and Arcade Messiah that I haven’t even heard yet.

The only criteria for this list is that the album had to be a new release from the last year, so the wonderful 5.1 Yes remasters, the 5.1 Jethro Tull boxes, Esoterics excellent Anthony Phillips reissues, King Crimsons Thrak box and the Steve Hackett Premonitions set and David Bowies Five Years (1969-1973) all fall by the wayside.

Maybe when I get to the point where in one year I’ve listened to more new old music than new music I may redefine the criteria, but as the joy of experiencing new music is one of lifes pleasures I hope that year is a long way off.

So, this here list is it A) chronological? No. B) Alphabetical? No. C) All my own personal opinion? Totally and irrefutably.

So any typos, artists missing or albums you think should have been included, that’s all the authors fault!

Lets dive in and see what 2015 left me with…

tregeagle

 

Napier’s Bones

Tregeagles Choice

www.napiersbones.bandcamp.com

A new name to me, UK prog duo Napiers Bones released their second album, and Nathan Jon Tillett and Gordon Midgley have a definite vision of storytelling, that fits comfortably in the classic prog mould.

With its roots in Cornish Folklore, the album has lots in common with folk rock operas like Fairport Conventions Babbacombe Lee or Peter Bellamys The Transports whilst neatly slotting into the prog storytelling genre occupied by artists like Ayreon or Rick Wakeman.

The mood from start to finish mirrors the story as it mixes it blends of folk themes, with some fantastical musical highs as it runs the gamut of classical prog, heavier guitar based tracks, and beautiful piece of guitar soloing over some of the most atmospheric keyboards I have heard for a long time. This is musical double hander as the story drives the music, and the songs are more performed rather than sung. I think that this epic performance would work wonders as a musical.

The way the music, the story and the vocals pull you into the record are a testament to the vision of Napiers Bones, and both Tillet and Midgley should rightly be proud of this musical achievement.

.raging silence

This Raging Silence: Isotopes and Endoscopes

www.thisragingsilence.com

Bristol based progressive quartet, This Raging Silence released their debut album earlier this year, and the 6 epic tracks on here are just sublime to listen to.

Formed by Jeff Cox, John Tyrer, Dave Appleford and Garry Davies the sound is very much towards the darker end of the prog sound as heavy riffs and driving bass flow through the album. In fact this album is beautifully performed as whole, the mood changes deftly and intricately and the way the band bounce off each other throughout is a delight to listen to. Sitting at the more atmospheric and darker end of the prog spectrum, this is a rare old treat and an album that anyone who gives houseroom to Porcupine Tree, District 97 or Trojanhorse will enjoy.

magnet

The Fierce and the Dead: Magnet

Bad Elephant Music

www.badelephant.co.uk

I know it’s an EP but there are more musical ideas crammed onto these 4 tracks than some bands have in a lifetime and astonishingly it’s been two years since experimental instrumental noiseniks The Fierce and the Dead released the acclaimed Spooky Action album, having seen them live several times in that period, the new music here on the Magnet EP shows how far they have travelled and evolved musically since then.

Magnet in Your Face is just short of two minutes worth of intense guitar duels hooked on a mighty riff that takes your breath away and as an introduction almost leaps out and says ‘Hello, did you miss us??’ the four piece of Kevin Feazey, Matt Stevens, Steve Cleaton and Stuart Marshall never stand still, they’re sound is continuously evolving over every release, whilst remaining true to their ethos. The interplay between all four members here is key to their success, they are in the truest form a group, there is no one dominant member, and that’s what makes this music work so well, they know each other so well that they can bounce off each other and drive the music on. There is no ego here, there is only art. If you haven’t joined the Fierce and the Dead cult yet, then you need to buy Magnet, its pull is irresistible.

halotora

Halo Tora: Omni/One

www.halotora.com

Another band I hadn’t heard of before this year this is Halo Toras debut album, and having heard good things about them from other friends I was intrigued as to what they would sound like. They have worked hard on the road and as a result their debut is as strong a piece of atmospheric post prog that I have had the pleasure to listen to.

The band, Chris Alexander (guitar/vocals) Ian McCall (guitar/vocals) Mark Young (bass) Chris McKeown (drums) and Ryan Connery (keyboards) use all the musical tools and skill at their disposable to intricately layer dense and subtle musical soundscapes, which like on Permanent revolution build and build as their vocals and guitars intertwine. This is a fantastically well-written debut album, and works on so many levels from the music, the lyrics and the deft interplay between the band.

dodson and fogg

Dodson & Fogg: Warning Signs

http://wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com/dodson-and-fogg-cds.html

Warning Signs, is one man musical revolutions Chris Wades strongest musical statement to date, hinting at a very different approach, gone are the striking paintings and images that normally adorn the albums, instead the cover is a moody photo of Chris, showing for the first time on the album cover the man behind the music. The songs are more intimate and feel more like a singer/songwriter album of the early 70’s, than a psychedelic project.

More personal and with a wonderful production, that sounds like Chris is singing in your front room and the album is imbued with warmth and charm, from the Beatle esque title track to the wonderfully guitar heavy Following the Man, with its great lyrics and chord driven sound its another wonderful slice of 70’s rock, with a great solo, reminding us how great a guitarist Chris is. This is an exciting and interesting slight change of direction for Chris, and adds so much more to the Dodson and Fogg sound, being a superb example of the singer songwriter genre.

sanguine hum

Sanguine Hum: Now We Have Light

Esoteric Records EANTCD21042

www.esotericrecordings.com

Third album in and Sanguine Hum are continuing to fulfil their musical promise that last studio album the Weight of the World delivered, and not only that they have delivered us a genuine contemporary prog magnum opus in the process.

Now We Have Light, with it’s startlingly eye-catching artwork that is intrinsic to the story is a double album of majestic proportions.

Running the whole gamut of classic prog, via rock, jazz and some beautifully layered sounds, amazing vocal harmonies, and intense musical sections like on Bubble Trouble that will blow your mind, this is an astonishing album.

From the introduction of Desolation Song, nicely setting the musical scene, and carried through tracks like Getting Warmer, and the brilliantly titled ‘Shit!’ the Hum are a musical powerhouse, welding their influences together to create a coherent, immersive whole.

Add in the driving rock and funk of Cat Factory with it’s array of real synths, and superb musical interplay with a propelling bass and a great big crunchy riff is an instrumental highlight, whilst the sublime End of the Line carries through the narrative into the centrepiece of Disc 2, the 5 part Spanning the Eternal Abyss, which pulls in so many musical styles, and weaves them together beautifully, that by the time that Settle Down with its great synth work has finished, you are blown away by the power of Sanguine Hum.

This multi-layered and exciting record proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Sanguine Hum are one of the best progressive bands on the planet.

71R0HHLaiqL._SY355_

Lonely Robot: Please Come Home

www.insideoutmusic.com

This is John Mitchells latest musical project, having contributed to Frost*, Arena, It Bites and many other projects over the years Johns talents as a guitarist, vocalist and producer are undisputed. This album reaffirms the stamp of quality that John brings to any album he works on, and is a fantastic piece of work from the opening instrumental power of Airlock, featuring the unique talents of Jem Godfrey to the closing The Red Balloon; this is a powerful album of amazing musical moments and haunting beauty. Dealing with alienation, loneliness and the human condition the lyrics are never short of genius, and the music is atmospheric, haunting and elegiac throughout.

As albums go this is a stunningly original record, with some majestic songwriting from John Mitchell, and like all great producers he knows how to cherry pick the best collaborators to bring something of themselves to his album, and still maintain his overall identity.

Grand Tour

Grand Tour Heavy on the Beach

www.grandtourmusic.org

This wonderfully evocative concept album is the culmination of years of work from former Abel Ganz man Hew Montgomery, and is based around his fascination with all things Cold War and Nuclear, and seems unnervingly contemporary with the challenges the world is facing today with a resurgent Russia and the rise of Islamic State. Joined by the vocal talents of Joe Cairney, and Mark Spalding on guitar and Bruce Levick on drums, this is a band of no mean talent, and this album delivers the goods time after time.

With swathes of vast Floydian keyboard work, and real epic movements, this is a slice of classic concept prog, with wonderfully direct lyrics from Cairney that reference the beach time after time, and with motifs that crop up throughout the album, this is a piece of art that has to be listened to all the way through.

Like all the best concepts from Dark Side of the Moon, to Le Sacre du Travail, this isn’t an album to dip into. It’s all or nothing, and with the devastatingly powerful instrumental Little Boy and the Fat Man, referencing the two nuclear devices that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the two part track The Grand Tour which almost bookends the album, and the superb title track that is classic prog given a contemporary twist, this album is magnificent in every sense of the word.

The hard work that Hew has put into this pays off magnificently and I would say this is his crowning musical achievement so far.

psb

Public Service Broadcasting The Race for Space

www.publicservicebroadcasting.net

English musical duo Public Service Broadcastings raison D’Etre is creating musical soundscapes based around old film footage. Taking as their concept for album number 2 is the Space Race between the USSR and the USA and their starting point is setting John F Kennedy’s speech about The Race for Space to haunting choral music, (with motifs that reoccur throughout the album) and ending with the last manned moon landing.

The artwork for this album is wonderful, two different covers on either side of the record showing either the American or the Russian perspective, and a beautiful booklet in the vinyl edition, which I had to have.

From the driving Sputnik, the jazz funk of Gagarin and then the haunting tribute to the astronauts killed in the Apollo 1 disaster (Fire in the Cockpit) and the celebration of Valentina Tereshkova who became the first woman in space (Valentina, with guest vocals from the Smoke Fairies) and the elegiac closing Tomorrow (when Apollo 17 became the last manned flight to leave the Moon), this album sets itself as referencing a specific period in time, when, with space flight anything seemed possible.

The beauty of Public Service Broadcasting is their use of archive recordings, and matching the music to the mood to evoke a golden era of interstellar travel when everything seemed possible, and it’s 43 minutes plus brings that period back to life and reminds us musically of a time when we spent looking at the stars in optimism, instead of gazing down at our feet.

The Dead Astronaut

The Dead Astronaut

www.thedeadastronautuk.bandcamp.com

Hi-Fiction Science guitarist and songwriter James McKeown recently released his latest solo album under the sobriquet The Dead Astronaut, a hauntingly beautiful and occasionally uncomfortably personal record, it s a triumph of the songwriting craft.

From it’s haunting and sparse artwork by highly regarded designer Carl Glover, to the musical contents, the album is as different from Hi Fiction Science as is possible to get, and has a loose narrative written around some highly personal and emotional issues experienced by James.

With a small core of collaborators, including HFS band mates Aidan Searle and Jeff Green and guitarist Paul Bradley, one of the sounds that is at the heart of this record, and believe me, this is a record that is full of heart and soul, is the cello of Charlotte Nicholls, which, when coupled with the emotionally raw and confessional style of songs that James presents here, adds so much to the texture and the tone of the record, and yes, I am talking about a record as I opted for the vinyl edition, which is a pure immersive experience to listen to.

The word bleak comes up again and again when describing the themes on this album, and this shouldn’t ever put you off, there is beauty in this darkness, and whilst James is pouring out his heart, the production and the music adds warmth, almost like the song is giving him a big hug as he’s singing it.

This album has a very English sound to it, and the pared back sound allows the songs to breath and the lyrics to shine, it’s like the difference between early Pink Floyd records and Syd Barrett solo records.

You can hear the humanity and the raw emotions on display throughout this album, and again you can feel it, through the music, the lyrics and the sparse packaging, this isn’t an album that can be ignored.

Once it’s in your heart and in your head it takes over the room you are listening to it, and it’s one of those albums that demands your attention, and rewards your listening time and time again.

wearekin

We Are Kin: Pandora

Bad Elephant Music

www.badelephant.co.uk

Every so often a record drops through the door (or in this case on email) from a label who are kind enough to let us review their latest offerings, and you know nothing of the band, nothing of what to expect from the album, and you put it on with a sense of anticipation, and excitement (as I still get a massive buzz from hearing new music, and hope I always do) and then as you immerse yourself in the record, and listen to it, you find you’ve found the sort of record that stays with you forever.

This is one of those records. I listened to it once, then again, and again, and again each time getting more and more out of it.

Manchester based band We are Kin (Dan Zambas and Gary Boast, now fleshed out by newer members Lee Braddock, Lauren Smith and Adam McCann) are purveyors of the sort of atmospheric prog rock that grows layer on layer, subtly and intelligently. Pandora is a very specific sound and style, and the overall concept is that of artificial intelligence, and its uses, and this is what drives the sound along, with original vocalist Hannah Cotterill in fine form on opener Home Sweet Home, and the music here has space to breathe and grow. Nothing is forced, nothing jars, everything ebbs and flows like a good story or album should do. As Soul builds and builds to a magnificent climax, then we head deep into concept territory as Scottish poet Alex Dunedin guests on the impassioned and exceptional The Speech, which leads into the magnificent The Hard Decision, whilst Zambas vocals shine throughout the album, especially on The Weight of the World, whilst the closing Breathe Out is as fine a piece of music as you are likely to hear anywhere this year.

This record from start to finish, from concept to execution, and from production to performance is as close to perfection as you are going to get. The music, the lyrics, the story all flows together and it transcend genre and sound to become something timeless and original and new. If I were to nominate a record that sums up 2015 for me, this would be it, it’s become part of the fabric of my musical life and a record that I can’t recommend enough to everyone.

slatter

Tom Slatter: Fit The Fourth

Bad Elephant Music

www.badelephant.co.uk

Tom Slatter is a unique beast in the world of contemporary music, in that he doesn’t, in any way sound like anyone else, or fit neatly into a pigeonhole or pre-determined genre. This makes my job a little harder, but his music a lot more exciting.

This is Tom’s fourth full-length release, and his first under the wings (or trunk) of the Bad Elephant boys, whose musical taste is set to eclectic, and whose first vision is do we like it? And then, if we like it, someone else will!

Tom is considered steam punk prog, and is probably the only one in that genre, he’s one on his own this lad, not just a multi-instrumentalist, but also a weaver or worlds and teller of tales, Toms narrative comes from the dark nights round the campfire where you would try to scare each other, or weave more fantastically intricate stories into your narrative. The brilliant opener Some of the Creatures have Broken the Locks on the door to Lab 558 sets the imagination racing with just the title, and the post apocalyptic science fiction story that evolves is reminiscent of early Doctor Who or Quatermass, and sets the tone for the rest of this darkly compelling album. Seven bells John is to the fore on The Steam Engine Murders and the trial of Seven-Bells, which is gothic noir, mixed with music hall and penny dreadfuls, With his mix of Victoriana, steam punk, prog and narrative drive, this is a wonderful album that deserves to be listened to and appreciated, as a record unlike any other you’ll hear this year.

transgression

Theo Travis Double Talk: Transgression

Esoteric Antenna EANTCD1052

www.esotericrecordings.com

British saxophonist, flautist and clarinettist Travis is the go to man for many artists including and this new album produced by Steven Wilson, showcases why Travis is the premier jazz rock saxophonist of his generation. With his taut band Mike Outram (guitar) Pete Whittaker (organ) and Nic France, Transgression showcases the versatility of the man himself, with a mixture of new material and reinterpretations of classic pieces (like Robert Wyatt & Phillip Catherine’s Maryam). The line between the type of jazz that Travis is proficient at, and progressive rock is a very fine one, and this crosses those borders with style and aplomb. A particular highlight and stand out track here is the reworking of Travis and Tangent main man Andy Tillison’s co-write (and title track of 2006 Tangent album) A Place in the Queue, with the subtle reworking of Travis sax, the organ of Pete Whittaker and the deft and intricate interplay between the band, it takes the original and goes somewhere new and exciting with it, and I have no doubt that Andy Tillison would approve. Elsewhere the co-write with Dave Sturt the fantastic Everything I Feared, and the epic title track that showcases the best of Theo Travis and his tight band, his versatility, his power and his dextrous musical performances are a joy to behold. I find, as I am getting a little older I am starting to really get into the grooves and the places that well played sax jazz takes you, and this album is wonderful. In fact I would go so far to say its probably more progressive than most of the progressive releases I have heard all year.

ostinato

Stephen W Tayler: Ostinato

Esoteric Antenna EANCT1054

www.esotericrecordings.com

Not a name many will be familiar with, however Stephen W Tayler is a versatile and talented producer, engineer, sound designer and mixer who has worked with such talents as Peter Gabriel, Underworld, Howard Jones, Rush and most recently Kate Bush (on her latest records and her recent live performances).

Here, his musical vision unfolds through an intense, exciting and beautiful journey, mixing the minimalism of Terry Riley or Phillip Glass with the electronica of John Foxx or Tangerine Dream. With powerful metronomic rhythms, subtle and haunting electronics and distorted electronic voices, the album starts with the powerful trance like Euro Star (reminiscent of the more ambient stylings of Rob Duggan), whilst the percussive power of Peripherique is an astonishing musical tour de force, the driving percussion, the electronic sounds, the pulsing beat throughout, propel the track into your mind, and it’s not hard to imagine chilling out to this in a club scene.

Drawing on his 40 years of experience in the music industry and experience working with many great artists, this album is full of beautiful sonic sounds, and the tracks insinuate themselves into your head and take you on a musical journey, the pulsating Metro is like taking a ride on the ubiquitous train, whilst the wonderful final track The Boy Who Said Yes features a sample of the 13 year old Stephen W Tayler performing Breet/Weills Der Jasager, and works beautifully in the context of the album.

This is a refreshing, exciting and absorbing piece of contemporary electronica.

Gavin Harrison

Gavin Harrison: Cheating the Polygraph

www.gavharrison.com

The effect of Gavin Harrison’s rather spectacular new album is an astonishing, intelligent reinterpretation of Porcupine Tree songs, and whilst the song remains the same, the sound really doesn’t.

Instead of the sonic experimentations and haunting undertones that you get from a great Steven Wilson song, this is the pinnacle of the art of reinvention (and one other artists can learns from) because Harrison (who I assume everyone knows – if not, he’s one of the finest drummers in the world today, heir apparent to Bill Brufords jazz prog throne) and collaborator Lawrence Cottle have skilfully and adeptly produced a damn fine jazz album. And man, does it swing!

This covers the whole gamut from Porcupine Tree’s mighty back catalogue, and the skilful swing driven funk adaptation of The Pills I’m Taking (from Fear of Blank Planets Anaesthetize suite) is mighty to hear, and takes the track so far from the original, that you do have to jump back and listen and compare. It’s like the Baz Luhrman Romeo and Juliet film, the original source material is there, you just have to dig a little deeper to find it.

The sinewy bass drives the inspired combination of Lightbulb Suns Hatesong with Deadwings Halo, and it’s like the two were meant to be together, as the sinister undertones and the brass mix together to create a piece that could have fallen off a 1970’s film noir soundtrack, and then the funk kicks in. With a skilful jazz orchestra and of course Harrisons taut powerful drumming underpinning the whole affair, it allows Cottle and Harrison to go out there in reinterpreting and rearranging these classic songs, as trumpet, trombone and sax duel with each other as familiar riffs appear and sneak off into the ether, as the full band kicks in with some mighty power, and of course Harrisons glorious drumming and some amazing bass work.

This is a covers album like no other, and with the way these Porcupine Tree songs have been remained and so expertly dissected and reassembled, it is one of the most progressive releases (and the most enjoyable) you’ll hear so far this year!

tangent1

The Tangent A Spark in the Aether

www.thetangent.org

On this epic release Andy has swapped the realism of Le Sacre du Travail for escapism, and the sometimes-introverted imagery of Le Sacre for what can only be described as a full on prog rock album, with the emphasis firmly on rock.
Instead of the view from the windscreen, this is far more the view from the widescreen.
Starting with the wonderful title track with its mammoth keyboard riff, and lyrics looking at the current state of the prog scene (in rude health currently) the lyrical theme of this (and several other songs) is a musical equivalent of those TV documentaries that revisits communities after a period of time to see where they are now, and is revisited as a coda on the album as a gargantuan keyboard based musical celebration, with the wonderfully catchy chorus rounding the record off.
This revisitation of themes from The Music that Died Alone is continued on the unashamedly prog Codpieces and Capes, covering musical bases from Yes to Tull and all points in betweens, it reflects on themes originally riffed on during Suppers Off, about the fact that there are many fantastic bands including the Tangent who are out there still making relevant albums, whilst 5.1 reissues get more sales and coverage.
This opening quartet is closed off by the epically Floydian Aftereugene, with its epic slow build, and then a barely muttered “careful with that sax, Eugene”, before Theo Travis is let loose on his Saxes in a manic jazz explosion.
The centrepiece of the album, the 21 minutes plus The Celluloid Road, is an Andy Tillison Disk drive-through that takes us travelling through mythical America as seen on the big screen. Really letting loose and rarely letting up it covers more genres than your average HMV, with the band firing on all cylinders as the Tangent V8 drives us coast to coast, and finishes in the brilliantly funky pounding rock of San Francisco.
As evocative as the movies and shows that are name checked it makes me want to go on a stateside road trip, with Andy as my tour guide. This album is big, bold, and loud and demands to be played live.

Hope you enjoyed my list and a big thank you to all the artists and creative types who helped brighten up 2015 with some amazing records, concerts and videos, here’s to 2016.

Me

 

On a Roll – 2015 Prog In Review

So you’re watching a baseball game. The pitcher for one of the teams has yet to give up a hit. In fact, he’s retired every batter that he’s faced, giving up not so much as a walk. And even as the game stretches into the latter innings, he’s not getting tired. He’s struck out six batters in a row and is just completely shutting down the opposition in a manner reminiscent of the way noted Rush fan Randy Johnson used to do. You look at that guy and think “man, he’s on a roll.”

Maybe it’s a team that has won a number of games in a row. Maybe it’s a business leader who has led his company into the stratosphere with one popular product offering after another.

Or maybe you are a fan of prog rock. In fact, you probably are just that if you’re reading this. You look back a few years ago, at 2012, and realize it was a good year, producing a number of excellent albums, including Echolyn’s “Windowpane” album, Glass Hammer’s incredible Perilous, and Gazpacho’s March of Ghosts (highly underrated if you ask me). Then 2013 comes along, and you think, “what an amazing year,” as your album collection grows with releases such as Ayreon’s The Theory if Everything, The Tangent’s magnum opus Le Sacre Du Travail, and Haken’s outstanding The Mountain. There is no letup at all in 2014, more new releases, many of them are “must haves”, such as IQ’s The Road of Bones and Cosmograf’s Capacitor among them. And now, here we are in 2015, and you’ve been deluged with more incredible music in what has been yet another great year in prog. And you think, “man, prog on a roll!”

Indeed it is.

Each December for the last several years, we at Progarchy have gushed about the abundance of great prog music coming out and the health of the current prog scene. We are getting to be like a broken record. But can you blame us? And would you rather it be different, like the early 90’s or so when the prog light was a dimly flickering candle?

What else can I say? Well, I can start talking about the albums.

Album of the Year:

In a year of stellar releases, my hands down album of the year with a bullet is Riverside’s utterly brilliant Love, Fear, and The Time Machine. I simply cannot overstate how much I love this album, or how good it is. Riverside has tamed much of their heavy metal side, moving in more melodic direction – while still retaining the dynamism and overall sound Riverside-coverthat is unmistakably Riverside. While the album still has some of their trademark moodiness, the darkness has been replaced with a mature, tempered, and realistic optimism that grows throughout. This album was quite a leap for Riverside in terms of direction, and yet they pulled it off flawlessly.

Other Notables:

Most others have put Steven Wilson’s Hand Cannot Erase at the top of their album of the year charts. I can’t do that, and I’m probably not quite asSteven_Wilson_Hand_Cannot_Erase_cover

much of a Wilson fan as most of the hardcore proggers are today. That being said, this was a pretty good album for me, if a bit depressing in subject matter. But musically, Wilson and his band are firing on all cylinders. Home Invasion/Regret #9 stands out as my favorite track on the album, although you really have to listen to the whole thing to get the gist.

One of my new discoveries this year was Nad Sylvan, and his excellent solo album Courting the Widow. Sylvan’s album builds on the album_coverclassic/symphronic prog sound of an earlier era, and yet sounds fresh and modern. It works especially well since Sylvan’s natural singing voice seems to be a perfect mix of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, making it no mystery as to why Steve Hackett selected him as a touring vocalist. Standout tracks on this album include the title track, Echoes of Ekwabet, and the excellent epic, To Turn The Other Side.

Gazpacho didn’t wait long after their release of Demon in 2014, coming back this year with an equally strange album Molok. Like its predecessor,

artworks-000129814894-5f07ie-t500x500

this album is very strange – but don’t mistake that for a lack of quality. All the Gazpacho trademarks are there, the meticulous subtlety, the unusual structures that take time to reveal themselves, and the thin veneer of simple riffs on top with a staggering complexity underneath. Conceptually, this album is not easy to explain, and it’s best to read the band’s explanation put up on their Facebook page. It’s hard to pick out a favorite track since the album has to be taken as a whole … although Molok Rising provides a strong and satisfying end to the album.

Everything Arjen Anthony Luccassen touches turns to awesome, and The Diary by his project with Anneke van Giersbergen, The Gentle Storm. This Gentle Stormwas really two albums in one, a heavy version (Storm) with all the songs “metaled up” by Arjen, and a lighter version (Gentle) which relied more heavily on acoustic instruments and folky sounds. Both are excellent and it’s tough to pick on. Shores of India seems to work best in the Gentle form, while The Storm, appropriately, seems to work best in the Storm version.

I’m going to go slightly off script here into the realms of heavy metal, because my list would not be complete without a mention of Iron Maiden’s stunning album, The Book of Souls. Why am I only slightly off script? book of soulsBecause this album is the proggiest thing Iron Maiden has ever done, even though it retains their previous heavy metal elements. While this album is excellent from start to finish, the boys of Maiden are at their strongest here when they are on their proggiest – the 10 minutes plus title, track, the 13 minutes plus The Red and the Black, and the closing, 18 minute epic, Empire of the Clouds. For the shorter, more familiar Maiden, Speed of Light is a particularly strong track. I’ve always defended the members and the music of Iron Maiden as being more intelligent and thoughtful than that of their heavy metal peers, and this album is the best evidence yet of that. This is truly a crowning achievement on an amazing career.

Moving back into prog-proper territory, Andy Tillison and his band The Tangent followed up 2013’s outstanding Le Sacre Du Travail with an equallytangent1 excellent release, A Spark in the Aether. One of the things that really comes through on this album (and makes it so excellent) is that is sounds like Tillison was having tongs of fun in making it. The joy really shines through on one of my favorite tracks, Codpieces and Capes, a celebration of prog’s glorious past. Even better is The Celluloid Road, Andy’s insightful look at America through the lens provided in film, i.e. movies that is. It’s the highlight of an album full of highlights. Oh, and speaking of America …

Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue:

This year was an exceptional year for prog from this side of the Atlantic, Echolyn Coverbetter than I can remember in some time. For one, Echolyn returned with I Heard You Listening, which more or less picks up where they left off in 2012. There were no bad tracks on the album, but Messenger of All’s Right, Different Days, and All This Time We’re Given were especially strong.

District 97 returned with their eclectic and somewhat heavy brand of prog, bringing us In Vaults. The early part of this release starts out sounding similar to their previous release, Trouble With Machines, but gradually District-97-In-Vaults-e1433201699982evolves into new territory. I absolutely love the leadoff track, Snow Country, and am also partial to A Lottery and On Paper. The playing is top notch throughout. But what I like best about this album is the outstanding vocal performance of Leslie Hunt, who continues to make a strong case for the title of First Lady of Prog. Whether it’s her breathy jazz phrasing, her power vocals, or something in between, she hits it perfect every time.

Our favorite boys from Joisey, 3rd Degree, came out Ones and Zeros: Vol. 1. 3rdegreeI’m hoping that the Vol. 1 part of the title is an implicit stating that there will be a Vol. 2, because I definitely want more of this. A concept album that explores our relationship to technology (the digital world in particular), the lyrics are both clever and insightful. This one will be interesting to come back to five or ten years hence to examine the lyrics/concept in the context of how times will change.

The Ted Leonard era of Spock’s Beard continued apace with The Oblivion Spocksbeard_theoblivionparticle_coverParticle. I won’t mince words here – I think Leonard is the best vocalist Spock’s Beard has ever had, and I love where they are going with him at the mike. Bennett Built a Time Machine is an excellent track, and I love Minion as well (would have liked the move Minions to have worked a little prog into their soundtrack with this one …). They musicianship is as stellar as ever, and combined with Leonard’s voice, the Beard sounds as good as ever to these ears.

One final entry here is Dave Kerzner’s New World. Now technically, this david-kerzner-new-world-deluxealbum was initially released in 2014, but after many had already compiled their year-end best-of lists. It didn’t seem fair to me that such a fine album wouldn’t make the cut simply because of the timing of its release. So I’m going to include it here as a 2015 release and put it on my list – and on the merits it most definitely belongs.

And no, I haven’t forgot about Glass Hammer’s highly acclaimed Breaking of the World. But I must confess I haven’t gotten around to listening to this one yet. So much prog, so little time.

So another great year is almost in the books. What will 2016 bring? Well, if current trends continue, it’s going to be a pretty good year. For one, we will probably get the DVD of The Theater Equation, and I’m very much looking forward to that. Let’s just hope things stay where they’re at – on a roll.

Top 22 Albums of 2015

Just like last year, I have done two Top 10 lists: one of the most proggy albums I listened to, and one of the not-as-proggy hard rock/heavy metal things I listened to (although there is obviously overlap here, since some albums could go on either list: e.g., the new Iron Maiden, Winery Dogs, Toto, or ELO). These lists contain the music I listened to the most during the year; i.e., it is an objective chronicle of the greatest number of hours I spent listening to music: I loved these albums so much that I returned to them again and again. This year, I add an 11th album to each of my Top 10 lists: on each list, I place in first position an album left over from 2014 that I listened to heavily in January 2015; these leftover listens (Dave Kerzner and Distorted Harmony) deserve to be on my Top 10 lists, because the lists are objective measures of the number of hours I spent listening to music during the year. Plus, like Spinal Tap, I think I need to go to 11; after all, my favorite genre is prog metal (as you can tell from the heavily metallic flavor of my personal predilections for 2015). Note the order of the Top 10 lists below simply follows the order of the calendar months. The lists therefore record in order, month-by-month, the albums I listened to the most. By the way, each album rates a five-star ranking. I won’t waste any time reviewing them here. All you need to know is that they have achieved supreme excellence. Don’t miss any of them. My heart says they are the best of 2015.

Top 22 Albums of 2015:

Top 11 Prog Albums of 2015


Top 11 Rock Albums of 2015