Bryan’s Best of 2020

Looking back at 2020, it’s hard to believe that we lost Neil Peart at the beginning of the year. That loss hit me pretty hard, since Rush’s music has been central to my life from an early age. I talk more about that in my tribute to Peart: https://progarchy.com/2020/01/12/neil-peart-a-misfits-hero/. I start off my year-end review list with a reminder of the loss of Neil because it seems like a fitting way to remember 2020. Peart’s loss represents what so many people have lost this year, whether it be family members and friends due to the virus or jobs lost due to draconian forced business closures that haven’t actually accomplished anything in slowing the viral spread. Not to mention the emotional distress that physical separation is causing many people.

Another thing we lost this year was live music from our favorite bands. Big Big Train had their first North American tour planned for late spring this year. Canceled. Devin Townsend was in the middle of a glorious North American tour with Haken when everything blew up. Canceled. Obviously this list could be expanded to every band that tours. Losing live music makes it even more difficult for bands in a niche genre to spread their music to more people.

But enough lamenting. We still got a lot of great music this year. The following list is in no particular order apart from my number one album at the end. I include both new albums and live records.

Haken – Virus
I was a little surprised that I was the only person over at the Dutch Progressive Rock Page to include this one in my top ten list for their annual list. Maybe people were really sensitive about the name of the album, but it was clear that the album was written and completed before the novel coronavirus was a known entity. The music is fantastic. It’s probably their heaviest album to date, but it still has some of their calmer moments. It’s Haken through-and-through, and it makes a wonderful companion to 2018’s Vector. We also get to hear some more about our old nemesis, the cockroach king. It’s pretty cool how they worked in some of those themes. Fantastic album that should’ve received more attention than it did. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2020/07/23/haken-goes-viral-virus-album-review-haken_official/

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The Flower Kings – Islands – Album Review

The Flower Kings – Islands – Inside Out Music, October 30, 2020
Tracks: 
CD 1 – 1. Racing With Blinders On (4:24), 2. From The Ground (4:02), 3. Black Swan (5:53), 4. Morning News (4:01) 5. Broken (6:38) 6. Goodbye Outrage (2:19), 7. Journeyman (1:43), 8. Tangerine (3:51), 9. Solaris (9:10), 10.  Heart Of The Valley (4:18), 11. Man In A Two Peace Suit (3:21)
CD 2 – 1. All I Need Is Love (5:48), 2. A New Species (5:45), 3. Northern Lights (5:43), 4. Hidden Angles (0:50), 5. Serpentine (3:52), 6. Looking For Answers (4:30), 7. Telescope (4:41), 8. Fool’s Gold (3:11), 9. Between Hope & Fear (4:29), 10. Islands (4:12) 

In an effort to find some sort of silver lining in this ridiculously crappy year, I’ll point out that there have been a lot of great releases in the progressive rock world in 2020. The Flower Kings’ upcoming album, Islands, probably wouldn’t have been released this year if the year had unfolded as normal. With many countries in lockdown and bands unable to tour, numerous musicians have found themselves with, as Styx once put it, too much time on their hands.

Multinational band The Flower Kings chose to make the best of their extra free time and use the Internet to their advantage, recording their new album from homes in Sweden, Austria, California, Denmark, and Italy. Fittingly, the album emphasizes the many forms of isolation we experience in 2020 – beyond just the physical. Thus the title Islands

I’m not an expert on The Flower Kings’ discography, but I generally like their music and appreciate the profound impact they have had on the rebirth of classic progressive rock starting in the 1990s. I didn’t particularly enjoy last year’s Waiting for Miracles. It was a little too political for my taste. The artwork alone was a bit obnoxious – an elephant standing on a house of cards while being hypnotized and surrounded by a bunch of oranges… that’s about as subtle as a political cartoon.

Roger Dean’s artwork for Islands, on the other hand, is fantastic. It’s too bad he hasn’t been doing their artwork all along, because it really fits their music. The lyrics “Upside down between earth and sky” from the track “Between Hope & Fear” are particularly reflected in the album art. Islands in particular has a lot of nods to Yes, which has probably always been in their music. Jonas Reingold’s bass stands out to me as being particularly Yes-like on this record. 

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