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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Existential Genius: Cosmograf’s HAY MAN DREAMS

Cosmograf, THE HAY MAN DREAMS (Cosmograf Music, 2017).  

Professor Birzer’s grade: A.

hay man

Having grown up on Great Plains of North America, surrounded by grazing horses, big skies, and farms, that guy that hangs out on a big kind of crucifix in the fields of wheat was always, to me, a “Scarecrow.”

And, that really, really scary Batman villain, Dr. Jonathan Crane, is also a “Scarecrow.”  He’s creepy in Bruce Timm’s animated Batman, but he’s downright demonic in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.

When I first saw the title of Robin Armstrong’s latest Cosmograf masterpiece (and, yes, this IS a masterpiece) HAY-MAN DREAMS, I had no clue what the album would be about.  After all, Armstrong loves existential themes of isolation, alienation, and timelessness.  When I first saw the title, I just assumed the album would be about a farmer who cultivates hay.  Maybe some lonely old guy who couldn’t figure out the modern world.  I knew that Armstrong would do something wild with it, but I didn’t know what.  Hay man?

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2016 – A Year of Joy and Sadness

To say 2016 was a turbulent year would be an understatement.  For good and bad, the events of 2016 are going to ripple for years, if not decades to come.

Fortunately, one area in which 2016 was not a turning point was in the trend of excellent prog releases, which kept coming without any letup from 2015 … or 2014 … or 2013 … you get the picture.  Like those years, 2016 saw a bumper crop of excellent releases, and in a few cases, saw bands hitting new highs.  Truly, this was one area where we can be unequivocally thankful for what 2016 brought.

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Bryan’s Best of 2016

2016 has been a pretty horrible year: terrorism, deaths of way too many musical heroes, the recent loss of Prog magazine and the total screwing of all Team Rock employees, personal inability to find a job… Yeah, this year has sucked.

Thankfully, despite these trials, progressive rock has continued to be the most creative and innovative genre in the music business. I always enjoy writing a “best of” list, mainly because it gives me a chance to look over the best music of the year. We prog fans really are spoiled.

Like last year, my 2016 list will be pretty big, and the order is completely arbitrary. I have a numbered top 4, but my top 3 picks for this year are essentially tied for first place. Without further ado, my favorite albums of 2016:

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The Best Prog of 2016, Part I

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The best album of 2016: Glass Hammer’s VALKYRIE

What a year.  I would guess that when historians look back to 2016, they will see it as a year of extreme violence and angry populism.  Sadly, both the violence and the politics revealed themselves from time to time in the prog world, but not detrimentally so.

Life, dignity, and art remain, however, no matter what the politicians scream.  And, praise the Lord we have good music to heal so many hurts of this broken world.

Glass Hammer, VALKYRIE.  Not just the best GH album, but one of the greatest rock albums ever made.  Susie has never sounded better, and GH has gone well beyond their comfort level to explore a full-blown novel in this terribly moving story.  This album strikes that perfect—and all too elusive—via media, balancing beauty and innovation.  VALKYRIE is, undoubtedly, my favorite album of the year.

In the next several spots, I have to wrestle with myself.  Frankly, any ranking after VALKYRIE, would change day by day and, perhaps, even hour by hour.  So, I offer the following loves.

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