2017, another great year for prog passionistas!

Jargon 2
From Athens with love – Jargon of Verbal Delirium

 

2017 – what a year it has been for prog. Against the backdrop of some highly perplexing and disturbing events across the world’s stage, but, to quote the title of Paul Stump’s excellent assessment of prog, The Music’s All That Matters.

On a personal note, it has been a particularly challenging year, having early on developed a stress-related condition due to pressures presented by a previous employer, which led to an emergency operation and a month’s recuperation.  This was coupled with seeing a parent being subsumed in the clutches of dementia. However, equilibrium was restored in the latter part, thanks to the kindness, belief and support of many people both inside and outside the prog bubble.

Though prevailing conditions resulted in me missing several high profile happenings, including HRH Prog in March, 2017 has continued to astound and astonish with the quality of the music being produced, and also the wonderful community of people. This is the tribe that cherishes and follows prog in individual capacities from the fans and supporters, to the writers, the promoters, the merchandise sellers, the record label owners and of course, the artistes themselves, most of whom make scant financial returns on their considerable investments of time and energy. As was originally stated, the music is all that matters.

Without further ado, here are the highlights, and some of the lowlights, which made 2017 another great year for us prog passionistas.

Top Albums:

1) The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery – The Tangent. As one of prog’s most outspoken savants, Andy Tillison brings profound political and social commentary into the narrative of this musically outstanding album. This is a clarion call to wake up and see how our perceptions of the world are being manipulated. Some stellar musicianship peaks on Dr Livingstone (I Presume), co-written by his brilliant fellow Tangential collaborator Luke Machin. Thoughtful, profound with hints of jazz and dance-trance, it also features some extraordinary hard hitting artwork by DC Comics cartoonist, Mark Buckingham.

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Where do we go from here?… The best album of 2017

What another cracking year for music in the Prog world.

Am I still able to say that –‘ Prog’? Some people are too cool to want to associate themselves with it.
And yet there have been some fine releases in 2017 that are proudly ‘Prog’, with a capital ‘P’.
Not least the excellent ‘From Silence to Somewhere’ from Wobbler and the Tangent’s ‘The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery’.  I know that there will be many lists out there soon enough-  ‘My favourite top 10 of the year’ and ‘here’s a picture of all my vinyl’,  posts are imminent across the web and social media.

To that end I have really narrowed the best of the year to one release.. and it really is one of the most outstanding albums in a rich and varied career to date.

It’s no secret that last year there was much gnashing of teeth (mine were gnashed)  and lamentation at the announcement that Beardfish were disbanding, in fact there is a little torch still lit in a hope that someday they will reform.

However on the strength of ‘On her Journey to the Sun’Rikard Sjöblom has stepped out of the shadow of his former band and produced a triumphant body of work that highlights his impressive skills and craftsmanship, both in composition and performance.

Rikard-Sjoblom

It would be remiss of me to not refer to the outlet that Sjöblom worked under for this release. Using the Gungfly project, his mission statement for the style of music was laid out. Previous Gungly albums have been eclectic, self-reflecting and unafraid of what genre they are associated with. In a break from some of this though, Sjöblom has made an album that captures the spirit of prog with a fresh, vitality that even the diehards that renounce prog and all its perceived crustiness, would struggle to deny.

RikardSJOBLOM
Amazing cover…A striking release all round..

Don’t just take my word for it, critically the mainstream press in the UK – namely the Guardian, recognised the album as one of their best for 2017 and placed it alongside the likes of Richard Dawson, Drake and Paramore. What they thought of it is the reason it stands out. On her Journey to the sun may be prog but it has a pop sensibility about it. See Steven Wilson also this year for attempting this. But rather than follow Wilson’s plan to emulate his heroes of Talk Talk and Gabriel, Sjöblom keeps them more subtle in the delivery. The fantastic  Polymixia combines the level of epic complexity you would expect from Sjoblom, and mixes it skilfully with a funk groove-clavi section that comes straight out of classic Stevie Wonder

 

What is joyful about the album is the superb voice of Sjöblom. His delicate ethereal falsetto combines with passionate soulfulness and sometimes a grittiness that packs a punch. Adding to this is the weirdly bonkers, sometimes trippy vibe that inhabits this album as it does a lot of his work, especially the Beardfish prime albums. It’s this level of sophistication that sets this above his peers and keeps the album spinning on and on…

2017: The Year of Big Big Train

Hello Progarchists!  I’m back. . . though a little later than I had meant to be.

For those two of you (ha) who you have been waiting eagerly to know my favorite album of 2017, I give you not one album.  Oh no, not one. . . but two albums and two EPs: Grimspound; Second Brightest Star; London Song; and the Merry Christmas EP.

All by one band, of course.  And not just any band, but an extraordinary band.  The best prog band in the world (tied with Glass Hammer, at least to my ears and soul), the band that reveals every.single.thing.that.is.good.in.prog, Big Big Train.

Grimspound 2017
Best album of 2017, 1.1, Grimspound.  Art by Sarah Ewing.

Greg, David, Dave, Nick, Rachel, Rikard, Andy, Danny, and, that 9th BBTer, Rob—congratulations.  Whatever other hells happened in the world in 2017, 2017 will always be, to me, the “Year of Big Big Train.”  You overwhelmed us not with quantity, but with quality.  And, dare I say it: with love.

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Kruekutt’s 2017 Favorites: New Albums & Videos

by Rick Krueger

After the jump are the new albums and videos from 2017 that grabbed me on first or second listen, then compelled repeated plays.  I’m not gonna rank them except for my Top Favorite, which I’ll save for the very end.  The others are listed alphabetically by artist. (Old school style, that is — last names first where necessary!)  Links to the ones I’ve previously reviewed are embedded in the album titles.

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

Having previously (in the last couple days) shared my 20 “Honorable Mentions” and the first half of my TOP TWENTY ( numbers 20 through 11) I come now to the pay-off.  The following ten albums are, obviously my favorite discs, but also I submit, The Best 10 Progressive Albums of 2017.  Making no apologies for my penchant of melody over rhythm, of consonance over dissonance, I have selected ten works that are heavily laden with beauty and harmony rather than experimentation and edginess (hey! while my friends were listening to the Rolling Stones I was chilling to The Moody Blues)

THE TOP TWENTY:  # # 10 through 1

10)  COMEDY OF ERRORS/House of the Mind

comedyOFerrors

After their great 2015 release SPIRIT, this Glasgow band returns with their crowning achievement.  HOUSE OF THE MIND surpasses their prior releases with a mixture of large-scale symphonic fervor and slower and delicate textured emotionalism. The band is tight and Joe Cairney’s vocals are a real highlight. My favorite tracks are the two longer songs ‘House of the Mind’ and ‘Wandering Jacomus.’  Some of the best new prog is coming from Scotland and Comedy of Errors is perhaps the best of the best.  A+

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

Rick’s Retroarchy: Favorite 2017 Reissues

by Rick Krueger

I still have a few more albums to listen to before finalizing my favorite new releases of 2017.  To warm up, here are the reissues from this past year that:

  1. I absolutely had to buy, and
  2. That grabbed me on first listen (whether I’d previously owned a copy or not) and didn’t let go through repeated plays.  Except for my “top favorite” at the end of the post, I haven’t ranked ’em — in my opinion, they’re all equally worth your time.

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

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

20)  MONARCH TRAIL/Sand

MonarchTRAIL

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

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Birzer’s Best of 2017, Part II

Continued from Part I: https://progarchy.com/2017/12/05/birzers-best-of-2017-part-i/

Hay ManNo. 5.  Cosmograf, HAY MAN DREAMS.  I’m pretty much a shoo-in for purchasing every thing Robin Armstrong—master of all things chronometry—does.  I love the angst and the seriousness he brings to each and every note and lyric.  Spirited without being gushy, and thoughtful without being pedantic.  I also love how entrepreneurial he is in his approach to music—finding the best musician to fit each part he’s written.  Whatever Armstrong does, he always achieves something serious and meaningful.  The HAY-MAN DREAMS is no different.  As with everything Armstrong does, there is gravitas.

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

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

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

“Honorable Mentions”

40) SACRED APE/Sacred Ape

sacredape

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Birzer’s Best of 2017, Part I

As you all happily know, Timelord has announced his top albums of 2017 already.  When he did, I was a bit surprised.  Wait, is it that time of year already?  What about albums that come out in December?  The more I thought about it, the more I thought Timelord was absolutely right to announce his top picks.  Not much is going to happen this month, and, even if something does come out, it will be hard to measure against what already exists.  Should something come out and shake up my list, I will, of course, be happy.  For any thing that could possibly shake up this list would have to be really, really good.

And, as you also happily know, Tad Wert took a unique perspective on his top picks, focusing on the live releases of the year rather than on the studio releases.  Bravo!

Unlike 2012-2016, this is the first year that I found actually easy when ranking.  That is, picking and ranking has been relatively easy.  As some of the other progarchists have said over the past half decade, so much prog had come out in any previous years that it felt like “taking a sip from the fire hose.”

This year, 2017, just feels different.  The quality definitely outdid the quantity.

Before starting rankings, though, I would be dead wrong not to mention two critical things.

Jerry Ewing
Our Fearless Leader, Jerry Ewing.

First, God bless, Jerry Ewing, and his glorious PROG magazine.  For a time there, we all thought the ship was gone, our captain lost at sea in a corporate hurricane of insanity and avarice.  Then, Ewing emerged—and stronger than ever.  Congratulations, Jerry.  Long may you lead our little platoon of prog-loving weirdos.

Second, may God bless, Tim Hall (Kaylr).  I never actually met Tim, but I really appreciated his views on everything.  He was always intelligent and prudent, and our loss is heaven’s gain.  Tim, if you can, please say hello to Hendrix, Morrison, Emerson, Lake, Squire, and all of the other greats of the last half century.  And, say hi to my dad, my grandparents, and my daughter, Cecilia Rose, as well.  Someday, brother, someday. . .

On to the show!

Continue reading “Birzer’s Best of 2017, Part I”