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:
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.
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. . .
Let me just state from the outset that I love that Chris had the gumption to post his favorites albums of the year already. We’re not even in December, Chris! Love it.
So, just as an experiment, I checked my player’s settings and calculated the albums I listened to the most. While I can’t claim this to be a fair statement of what I think the best of the year was–after all, some albums, such as Glass Hammer’s UNTOLD TALES. It’s only had a month to compete against some albums that have had 11 months. Still, it’s a marker.
Additionally, because my player calculates the number of plays for the year total, it registers all albums in my collections, not just those that came out in 2017. So, by the number, folks, by the numbers—the ten most played albums in the Birzer house for the last 11 months.
Review of Bjorn Riis, LULLABIES IN A CAR CRASH (Karisma Records, 2014). 52 minutes. Six songs: A New Day; Stay Calm; Disappear; Out of Reach; The Chase; Lullaby in a Car Crash.
Without a doubt, my favorite Porcupine Tree song is “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here.” If you could take the best of that 12 minute song—its moodiness, its psychedelic atmosphere, its thundering bass and guitar, its surrealism—and expand it to 52 minutes in length, you’d have Riis’s solo album, LULLABIES IN A CAR CRASH.
Of course, you might also find yourself with a slightly less depressing version of Pink Floyd’s ANIMALS or THE FINAL CUT or a less religious and more nordic version of Talk Talk’s SPIRIT OF EDEN.
Whatever you’d have, you’d be listening to and holding something of intensity, struggle, and beauty. LULLABIES couldn’t be any moodier, frankly. In fact, if you’re feeling the holiday blues at all, don’t come near this album. If, however, you’re in a good state of mind, in a darkened room, wearing your state-of-the-art headphones, and sipping a vodka-tonic, then you’re a blessed listener. It won’t get better than this.
Indeed, this is the perfect early 1980s album, the type of album that you could (and probably will, even if you’re now in your 40s) listen to again and again and again, trying to immerse yourself in the very Riis-Hollis-Waters-Wilson atmosphere: thick, claustrophobic, and all-pervasive.
No one can avoid comparing Riis’s work here or with Airbag to Floyd and PT. Yet, there’s something distinctively Riis-ian, too. This is no mere cover band. By no means. In large part, Riis brings three critical things to each of his albums: 1) a haunting vocal style; 2) the uncanny ability to allow his music to flow, organically, as did Mark Hollis; and 3) an outrageously fine sense of audiophilia.
Of course, has there been a misfire from any Scandinavian prog release since Roine Stolt’s mind-bogglingly good THE FLOWER KING? Not that I know of.
Airbag lead guitarist and main song writer Bjørn Riis is releasing his debut solo album, “Lullabies in a Car Crash”. The album is very much a personal statement, with lyrics dealing with fear of abandonment, alienation and loss. It’s also homage to many of Bjørn’s musical influences.
Bjørn is one of the founding members, the lead guitarist and main songwriter of the highly successful Norwegian band Airbag. Their three releases have all received great reviews worldwide and all become favourites among fans all over the globe.
“Lullabies in a Car Crash” feature six songs with a coherent and thematical composition. Bjørn’s soulful guitar playing and low-key vocals creates a rich listening experience. Although Bjørn as a guitarist have developed his own sound with a unique tone and his own technique over the years, the playing and tone are reminiscent of David Gilmour, Steven Rothery and Steven Wilson. As a singer this is the first time he takes the lead, normally doing the backing vocals in Airbag. His singing style is in the area of the mellow vocals of Tim Bowness and Nick Drake.
In addition to playing with Airbag, Bjørn is a highly respected guitarist within the guitar community, where he has a huge fan base. His guitar page “Gilmourish.com” has, with more than 40 million hits in total and an average of 150000 hits every week, become a centre for gear and music discussions online.
“Lullabies in a Car Crash” feature Airbag’s Henrik Fossum on drums and Asle Tostrup providing loops and effects. Long-time Airbag collaborator Vegard Sleipnes has co-produced the album together with Bjørn. The album is mastered by Jamie Gomez (Orgone Studio).