Weekend Roundup 2: DIY Britprog

One indication of the absolute glut of recorded music available today: more of what I’ve whimsically labelled “DIY (for Do It Yourself, a la Peter Gabriel) Britprog” is available than ever. With Prog Magazine providing a megaphone and Big Big Train’s international impact paving the way, countless musicians from England have brushed up their chops, dusted off their home recording setups, and churned out self-released albums by the bushel in the past decade. Even as the chances of market penetration narrow in the age of Spotify and live lockdowns, an astonishing number of artists seem compelled to keep plowing the furrows first tilled by Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis and their sundry heirs. The sheer amount of “meh” music that’s resulted notwithstanding, three recent releases (and a teaser of more to come) indicate there’s still enough fertile soil in that ground to keep yielding fresh harvests.

First up: Tiger Moth Tales’ The Whispering of the World from late 2020, for which TMT mainman Peter Jones stripped down both his writing and his usual instrumentation. Working with producers Robert Reed and Andrew Lawson, Jones eschewed multi-sectional tunesmithery and one-man-bandship in favor of a song cycle for voice, piano and string quartet. The result works like gangbusters! From the vigorous, propulsive opener “Taking the Dawn” through melancholy mini-epics like the title track, “Quiet Night” and “Waving, Drowning” to the grave, sweeping pop of “Blackbird” (no, not THAT one, but arguably as affecting) and the closer “Lost to the Years”, every track feels unpretentious, fresh and heartfelt. The semi-classical sonics mesh effortlessly with the compelling songcraft; Jones’ sensitive singing and lush piano playing weaves in and around the light and shade of the strings. Even better, the music proves the right medium for the lyrical message, as Jones narrates a cathartic passage through (in his words) “special or significant moments . . . coming to terms with both losing those close to us and our own mortality and place in the universe.” Sound a bit heavy? Well, yeah — but paired with Jones’ solo Quiet Room Session, The Whispering of the World is a sentimental journey well worth taking. Sample it for yourself, then order it on Bandcamp.

Continue reading “Weekend Roundup 2: DIY Britprog”

The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!

As always seems to be the case, there’s tons of great music coming out between now and Black Friday, November 27. Below, the merest sampling of upcoming releases in prog and other genres below, with purchase links to Progarchy’s favorite online store Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

Out now:

Simon Collins, Becoming Human: after 3 solo albums and Sound of Contact’s acclaimed Dimensionaut, Phil Collins’ oldest son returns on vocals. keys and drums; his new effort encompasses rock, pop, prog, electronica and industrial genres. Plus an existential inquiry into the meaning of life! Available on CD from Frontiers Records.

John Petrucci, Terminal Velocity: the Dream Theater guitarist reunites with Mike Portnoy on drums for his second solo set of instrumentals. Plus Dave LaRue of the Dixie Dregs and Flying Colors on bass. Expect lotsa notes! Available on CD or 2 LP from Sound Mind Records/The Orchard.

The Pineapple Thief, Versions of the Truth: Hot on the heels of their first US tour, Bruce Soord and Gavin Harrison helm TPT’s latest collection of brooding, stylized alt/art rock, honing in on the post-truth society’s impact on people and relationships. Available on CD, BluRay (with bonus track plus alternate, hi-res and surround mixes), LP or boxset (2 CDs/DVD/BluRay) – plus there’s a t-shirt!

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Alone Together: Sjöblom spearheads a thoroughly groovy collection on vocals, guitar and organ, with Petter and Rasmus Diamant jumping in on drums and bass. Heartfelt portraits of daily life and love that yield extended, organic instrumental jams and exude optimism in the midst of ongoing isolation. Available on CD and LP (black or deep blood red vinyl).

[Upcoming releases follow the jump …]

Continue reading “The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!”

Some Neglected Music of 2017, Part I

By neglected, I don’t mean by the world.  I mean, by me.

In a few other posts, I have had the privilege of listing my top albums, in the order I loved them.  My 2017 list goes, from no. 10 to no. 1: Anathema, The Optimist; Bjorn Riis, Forever Comes to an End; My Tricksy Spirit; Ayreon, The Source; The Tangent, The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery; Cosmograf, Hay-Man Dreams; Glass Hammer, Untold Tales; Newspaperflyhunting, Wastelands; Dave Kerzner, Static; and Big Big Train, everything released in 2017!

There are, however, a number of great releases from the year that I simply did not have time to grasp fully or immerse myself in the way I think necessary to review properly.  None of this, however, should suggest–to my mind, at least–even a kind of lesser quality or second-hand citizenship in the world of Prog, or in the republican anarchy that is progarchy.

For what it’s worth, I thought each of the following extraordinary as well, and, I hope, when Kronos allows, time to embrace each in the way it deserves.

***

lifesigns cardingtonLifesigns, Cardington.  I think John Young is a treasure of a musician and composer, and I’m honored to travel this world at the same time as he.  Intelligence radiates from everything the man does, and, even better, it’s an intelligence utterly in the service of good things.  The first Lifesigns was a shock of joy to me.  This one as well, though I’ve just not had the time to dive into it.

When I listen to Lifesigns, I actually think of Young and the band as the anti-Radiohead guys.  Imagine the darkness of Radiohead and then do exactly the opposite, in terms of melody and lyrics.  And, you might arrive at Lifesigns. My favorite track on this new release is nine-plus minute “Different.”

Continue reading “Some Neglected Music of 2017, Part I”

Progarchy Radio Episode 2

Getting far more comfortable with this, though I still have a relatively steep learning curve.  A huge thanks to my somewhat co-host, Veronica Rose Birzer (age 4).

Playlist: Neal Morse Band, Lifesigns, Love Spit Love, Mew

Galahad [transition between these two songs could’ve been smoother!], Frost*, Matt Stevens

Steve Hackett (x2), Kevin McCormick

Enjoy!

 

prog7

Lifesigns: Entering 2016

---

Festive Greetings to all of our Friends !

We hope that you have all had a great festive season and are now looking forward to the New Year. This is perhaps the ideal moment to reflect on the year that has nearly run its course. We hope that 2015 has been a kind year for each of you, but more importantly that 2016 is going to be even better.

The first thing that we as a band would like to do is thank each and every one of you. Your support and encouragement is what has really made this a stand out year for all of us in the band. Whether it has been by attending gigs, buying merch or commenting on social media  you have encouraged and supported us at every twist and turn. You have helped spread the word far and wide, and we hope that you will continue to do so in 2016.

It was also so fantastic to be able to meet so many of you personally during the course of the year and to convey that thanks in person.

In a year of many, many highlights I wanted to reflect on a few of them, but also to look forward to what is to come in 2016.

---
---

1.  Lifesigns – Under The Bridge DVD Shoot

2015 got off to a real flyer. Thanks to  your support through our Crowd Funding Campaign  at Pledge Music we were able to put a dream into action. We were very aware that there were many people who wanted to partake in the Lifesigns Live experience but who were unable to attend any of the live shows. UTB will be a way of helping Lifesigns play live all over the world. On the 22nd and 23rd January we were able to record shows that are now the core of the DVD. It was a magical couple of evenings and I think all that were there will remember it for a few years to come.

 

2.  A Studio of our very own

In September 2015 we were fortunate to be able to take on a studio of our very own in Liscombe Park Studios. It had already become a home from home for us with much of the first album being recorded there..This is a huge investment for us but one we felt was all part of the Big Plan and an opportunity we could not miss. It has already paid dividends with the majority of the vision and sound mixing for the DVD being completed in the studio. We look forward to using our new HQ in the New Year.

 

3.  Cruise To The Edge

In November we were delighted to be asked to perform as part of the CTTE extravaganza  onboard the Norweigan Pearl. There was also  a great opportunity to perform for the first time to the general public in the US as we opened the CTTE Pre-Party in Miami.

We had a fantastic time playing for everyone and it gave us an opportunity to meet some of our many US friends. It also gave us a chance to meet some of our heroes such as Caravan’s Pye Hastings who we can safely say enjoyed his first Lifesigns experience.

 

4.  Release of Live Under The Bridge DVD

November also saw the culmination of a true labour of love in the release of our Live in London, Under The Bridge DVD (inc 2 audio CD’s). As previously mentioned thanks to your generosity and support through crowd funding, what had begun in January finally saw the light of day. With wonderful artwork once again from Brett Wilde we are proud to have delivered a product that is everything that we wanted it to be. It took a lot of hard work and dedication, and lots of lessons were learnt along the way. If you are reading this and either have not as yet got a copy, or need additional copies, they can be obtained through the website at http://www.lifesigns.me/shop

All pre-order pledge copies have been delivered so if you are still waiting please let us know.

 

5.  Lexington, London

What a way to end the year ! The last date of our winter tour and it was great to be performing in front of so many of our friends. It turned out to be possibly one of our most enjoyable performances….so far.

---
---

Having looked back on a few top moments from 2015 we would like to look forward and to some of the moments in 2016 that are already filling us with much anticipation.

 

1.  Ramblin Man Festival

Following on from an excellent inaugural festival last year, we have been invited to perform at this years festival. The festival takes place on 23rd July in Maidstone and we will be playing the Prog stage. On stage at approx 15:00. This promises to be a great event with some excellent bands across several stages

 

2.  Cropredy Festival

We are delighted to have been invited to perform at the Internationally renowned Cropredy Festival on August 12th. This is an incredible opportunity to bring Lifesigns music to a wider audience.It will be our biggest gig to date playing to 20,000 plus people.

 

3.  Trading Boundaries

Probably one of the best venues in the UK. We are delighted to have been invited to perform at Trading Boundaries once again this year on 17th June. This intimate venue offers the music lover a chance to combine listening to some wonderful progressive music whilst also enjoying an excellent meal (optional). We look forward to seeing many of you at the Trading Boundaries in June.

 

4.  New CD

Possibly one of the most important events for Lifesigns in 2016 will be the opportunity to record our second album in our very own studio. This will give us the chance to develop and record some of the tracks that appeared on the live DVD plus some additional previously unheard material. Once again we hope to fund this through the same crowd funding process as we used for the live DVD, but more about this in the new year.

 

5.  On tour with Marillion

Lifesigns are proud to announce that they will be supporting the mighty Marillion on their upcoming German tour (2016). Dates as detailed below:
14th July  Munich Muffathalle
15th July  Erfurt Gewerkschaftshaus
16th July  Wertheim Burg
18th July  Stuttgart LKA Longhorn
19th July  Berlin Huxleys neue Welt

See you there !!

---
---

News From the Merch Desk

We now have in stock a range of T-Shirts and other merchandise, including the beautiful new Brett Wilde Designed Under the Bridge DVD T-Shirt a multi-coloured design that really does his artwork proud.

In addition the Live in London, Under The Bridge DVD/CD’s Package is also available from the Merch section of the Lifesigns website. A labour of love from the boys and one of which we are very proud. After all the work the end product has achieved everything that we wanted it to both visually and acoustically. Please continue to support us by recommending it to your friends. Its a great way to get into the Lifesigns Live Experience.

www.lifesigns.me/shop

We will also have the T-Shirt, DVD/CD’s and a range of other band related goodies at any of our Live shows for your perusal. Thank you for your continued support it really helps in our efforts to achieve our goals.

---
---

For Your Diary

 

2016

17th January             Talking Heads, Southampton                               Information/Tickets

22nd January            King Tuts, Glasgow                                             Information/Tickets

23rd January             Bannermans Bar, Edinburgh                                Information/Tickets

24th January             Robin 2, Bilston                                                  Information/Tickets

17th June                 Trading Boundaries, Uckfield                                Information/Tickets

23rd July                  Ramblin Man Festival                                          Information/Tickets

14th July                 (With Marillion)  Munich Muffathalle                       Information/Tickets

15th July                 (With Marillion)  Erfurt Gewerkschaftshaus             Information/Tickets

16th July                 (With Marillion)  Wertheim Burg                             Information/Tickets

18th July                 (With Marillion)  Stuttgart LKA Longhorn                Information/Tickets

19th July                 (With Marillion)  Berlin Huxleys neue Welt             Information/Tickets

23rd July                 Ramblin Man Festival                                          Information/Tickets

12th August            Cropredy Festival                                                Information/Tickets

---

    Lifesigns would like to thank you for your wonderful support in 2015 and we look forward to        continuing our journey together in 2016.

 

Wishing You All A Happy and Peaceful New Year !

---

Minstrel’s Ghost: Funds for Art Needed

Blake
Blake Carpenter, international man of mystery and, in at least one parallel earth, Mr. Malfoy.

One of my favorite bands, Minstrel’s Ghost, is launching a fund-raising campaign to finance their next album (writeup below).  In the Middle Ages and Early Modern period of western civilization, every great artist had a patron.  Such a system is long gone, but we know have the chance to offer such help in a democratic age.  We all know that major labels have one foot in the grave.  Such fundraising is the hope of excellence of art in this world.

So far, progarchy has encouraged the funding of Leah (success!) and Lifesigns (in process).  Let’s offer the same for Minstrel’s Ghost.

Here’s what I received from Blake (leader of MG)

****

Who is The Minstrel’s Ghost?

The Minstrel’s Ghost is a melodic rock/progressive band featuring Blake Carpenter (writer, singer, keyboards and guitars), Troy James Martin (bassist and singer), Mike Troupe (drummer and singer) and Jartse Tuominen (lead guitars). If you love Pink Floyd, The Alan Parsons Project, Asia, Saga and the like then you will love us too. We do not try to sound like anyone else but the influences can be heard in our music. From the jazzy drums and rippling bass to the fluid guitar leads, sweeping keyboard riffs and story telling vocals our music takes you on a journey from beginning to end.

What is this all about?

This campaign is to raise funds for our third album and a movie to accompany it. The album is a take on the life of Jack the Ripper, a kind of back story if you will. A little creative license applied and we see how difficult growing up in the late 19th century is for a young boy. The harsh realities of prostitution, brutality and shocking loss leave young Jack struggling to cope. How will he deal with it all? We are planning on making a silent film using the music from the album as the story teller.

This has been in the head of Blake, the writer of the album, for a long time. The vision of making a movie instead of a couple of videos to accompany an album came when he was looking through old Victorian images on the web and trying to put a story line together with pictures.  There is a story to be told here, this is about Jack but it could be about anyone who suffers hardship and tragedy at a young age. We all handle our pain in different ways and that, at least to some extent, defines us, no matter where or when we live.

Why we need you…..

Making this movie is a big deal for us! We are still a young band trying to make our way into a much larger family of melodic, progressive bands. We hope that this movie will help us reach more of those whom we know would love our music. Please know that what ever we do it will always be about the stories inside the music and giving you the opportunity to laugh or cry, smile or frown and take something away from the music and story that will help you through your day, week, or life.

What We Need & What You Get

We have some things already in place and are using the barter system to get portions of the production done but we still need some equipment and perhaps some licenses to use public areas for filming. This fundraiser is also for CD and DVD manufacture as well as artwork for the whole project.
We are looking for $15,000 to secure:

  • camera and lighting rentals
  • a video editing machine
  • any licenses we may need for filming in public places
  • any potential extras needed for the film such as wood, paint and other building materials for sets
  • paid actors (if we need to as most are included in the bartering)
  • feeding actors and crew
  • all artwork for the CD and DVD (not your typical insert, a full sized newspaper)
  • CD and DVD manufacturing
  • Photo shoot for the artwork
For your contribution you can get:
  • posters
  • t-shirts
  • Signed copies of both CD and DVD from all members of the band
  • your name in lights at the beginning or the end of the movie
  • and much more

If the goal is not reached, we will do what we can with the funds raised and work out other arrangements for the perks we are not able to fulfill. We will work with you personally on all substitute perks if it comes to that – but let’s make sure it doesn’t come to that!

Risks & Challenges

We have been down this road before, just like so many other bands and artists so we know all too well that things happen that can get in the way of a happy ending. We also know that we have you, our friends and fans to join us in jumping over any hurdles we may come across. That said, we will be sure to make this happens in some way, shape or form for everyone to enjoy.

Other Ways You Can Help

We know that some people just can’t contribute, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help:

SHARE, SHARE, SHARE, SHARE!!!!!!!!!! Tell your friends, use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and all the other outlets you can to let everyone know about this project. Don’t forget music forums you may be a member of, please, if you can, print up a few flyers and throw them up around town. Don’t forget that there are tools right here on this page that you can use to share this project and help it reach as many people as it can.

Don’t forget to sign up for the The Minstrel’s Chronicle our (almost) monthly newsletter atminstrelsghost.com

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-minstrel-s-ghost-jack-a-different-tale-cd-dvd

Pledge for Lifesigns

Dear progarchists,

I received a very kind (every note from John is kind!) note from John Young yesterday.  He and his band, Lifesigns, have decided to raise money for their forthcoming CD/DVD.  I can’t encourage this enough.  Why?

1.  These are great, great guys, and their music is equally great.  Melodic prog–gorgeous compositions and equally gorgeous vocals.  Viva, Lifesigns!

2.  Every one of us knows how quickly the music market is changing and has been over the past two decades.  The explosion of the internet has undermined record companies.  This, to my mind, is ultimately a good.  Good riddance to corporatizing music.  But, it also means that we as fans and consumers must support the music we love in every way possible.  I will go as far as to claim we have a duty to make the new world work and work well.

3.  Forgive me for being a historian, but I can’t help but note that the greatest art of western civilization prior to the 19th century was through a patron.  Sculpture, painting, and music all came from a charitable aristocrat.  That world has long gone.  As the western world democratized–prior to being corporatized in the early 20th century–art came from subscription.  The corporate may rule much of the western world (blech!), but it most certainly does NOT have to rule us.

4.  progarchy has proudly thrown whatever influence it has toward supporting the present and future of metal, Leah McHenry, and she was able to raise $50,000 for your forthcoming album.  We’ve done much the same for Andy Tillison, though he is, thankfully backed by a good label.  Again, very proudly.

5.  I would like us to do the same for John and co.  Lifesigns is more than worth supporting.  So, please go to the link below, click it, and give what you can.  http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/lifesignsdvd

Sincerely,

Brad Birzer

P.S.  To make all of this even more glorious, Lifesigns will donate a portion of what they raise to “Save the Children.”  Win, win.

The first album was nothing short of glorious.  Let's help make the next release equally so.
The first album was nothing short of glorious. Let’s help make the next release equally so.

*****

John Young

here from Lifesigns, please excuse the generic letter but we need your help.

We hope you enjoyed our first album, and we are pleased to announce that we are looking at further writing and recording in the months to come.

We decided the best way forward is crowdfunding. As such YOU become our record company and give us the freedom to make the music we believe in, unhindered by industry opinions and trends.  To this end it is vital that we work with the friends and fans who appreciate our efforts.

You can pre-order anything from the download to the DVD/CD. Should you wish you can even become an executive producer the choice is yours.

It should be quite a ride:-)

To pre-order/pledge for our new DVD please feel free to join us

here:http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/lifesignsdvd

kindest wishes
Lifesigns

John Young, Frosty Beedle, Steve Rispin, Jon Poole and Niko Tsonev.

You are no. 6.
You are no. 6.

I’m not the-list-kind-of-guy but…

…nevertheless I have done my homework and now will present my list of the best albums from this absolutely fantastic year of prog! 🙂 I mean 2012 and 2013 have been excellent years both of them but 2013 has been special. I think we can agree on that even though our personal lists may differ a bit. Not to be spoiling too much, but the number one was a no-brainer really, but then it was extremely hard to distinguish between albums 2 to 6. These are five albums that actually can interchange their positions depending on what kind of day it is for me. 🙂 This is how it all ended up today at least. So off we go!

10. Camelias Garden – You Have A Chance

You Have A Chance

Lovely debut album by this Italian band. Folky prog a bit in the vein of Harmonium.

9. Spock’s Beard – Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep

sb

Well, who would have thought that my favourite SB-album would be the one without both Neal and Nick? But so it is!

8. Haken – The Mountain

haken1

Rawk’n’rawl and some real quirkiness in a fine mix! Will always remember sitting in Mr Ian Greatorex’s listening room with high end stereo equipment, giving this a first listen…with a Big Big Beer in my hand.

7. Lifesigns – Lifesigns

Lifesigns CD (2)

After feeling it was a bit “meh” to start with this lush album has grown and grown. Some really beautiful songs here!

6. The Tangent – Le Sacre du Travail

tangent 2013 cover

Mr Andy Tillison’s magnum opus to date! Greatness! And with Gavin on drums and Jonas on bass, what can possibly go wrong?

5. Cosmograf – The Man Left In Space

cosmograf

Superb album by Robin Armstrong’s brainchild, comsograf! It’s one of those you just have to listen to from beginning to end totally undisturbed. 

4. Moon Safari – Himlabacken Vol. 1

Himlabacken Vol. 1

I can’t resist this band’s music! It always makes me so very happy and warm inside! Lovely peeps in the band as well!

3. The Flower Kings – Desolation Rose

"Pure Flower Kings, pure prog and Kingly epic."

Best TFK album since Space Revolver I dare say. So glad they’re back and sounding so fresch and on their toes again!

2. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing

Raven That Refused to Sing

What can I say? It’s a gorgeous album!

1. Big Big Train – English Electric: Full Power

Progarchy Best Packaging, 2013: Big Big Train, English Electric Full Power.

Well, nobody’s probably really surprised about this being my number one of 2013. 😀 It’s a stunner and will be for many years to come! It’s the best album of any genre for me this year. Without competition.

So…that’s it folks. Outside my list of Top 10 you can find some that are very fine albums and would have made any Top 10 from any other year before 2012. Vienna Circle – Silhouette Moon, Days Between Stations – In Extremis, Johannes Luley – Tales From The Sheepfather’s Grove and Shinebacks fine album Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed (added 20130103) are examples of albums bubbling just beneath position number 10. Then we find albums that I haven’t found the time, motivation or curiousness to listen to more than very casually at the best. Riverside, Airbag, Fish, Nemo, Maschine etc are among those bands or artists that I haven’t given proper attention as of yet.

Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year everyone!

PS. Best prog-related and most fun and interesting experience of the year: Big Big Weekend 14-15 September in Winchester and Southampton!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sIveLBgVl8

My Review of 2013

2013, what a superb year for prog music, there have been dozens of fantastic albums released across the whole gamut, from classic English prog, to experimental rock music, and returns of several prog legends with fantastic new albums and new bands making waves and moving the genre on.
This is what I consider to be the albums that have been the strongest this year, and ones which I have kept coming back to over and over again, the musicality, the performances, the songwriting, the production, the sound is different from album to album, the topics wide ranging and when you listen to these albums back to back, they are all fresh, vibrant and new.
This is my sound of 2013, and these are albums that will stay with me, long after 2013 is but a memory.

Kingbathmat: Overcoming the Monster

Following on from last years superb Truth Button, Kingbathmat returned in triumph, on their most assured album to date, Overcoming the Monster is all about dealing with psychological obstacles, which is reflected in the brilliantly observant lyrics, and the superb cover art as well.
Masters of making an album, rather than just one track, the full force of Kingbathmats impressive musical arsenal is unleashed and untamed over these 6 fantastic tracks, with luscious harmonies reminiscent of Yes in their heyday, with tracks like the driving Parasomnia and the musical finale, the epic riff driven full on space rock masterpiece that is Kubrick Moon, with its superb guitar and keyboard work, and the interplay between all 4 members of the band is a joy to listen to as the track reaches its epic conclusion after 11 plus minutes of sheer musical abandon.

Lifesigns by Lifesigns

Keyboard player John Young, bassist Nick Beggs and Martin ‘Frosty’ Beedle have combined their not inconsiderable talents, and present 5 amazing tracks as the Lifesigns project.
With guests of the calibre of Steve Hackett, Thijs Van Leer, Robin Boult and Jakko Jakszyk Lifesigns fits nicely in the English progressive tradition, with inventive performances, quality musicianship, (the interplay between Beggs fluid bass playing and Youngs superb keyboard playing is a particular delight, while Beedle builds on and adds to a tradition of inventive percussion started by Bill Bruford and others) and instead of imitating or following a pre-ordained idea of what progressive rock should be, this is showing what it is.
Intelligent mature well crafted songs, atmospheric and ambient soundscapes created by the band, where Youngs emotive vocals weave over, and the beauty of the album from the superb Lighthouse to the closing 11 minutes worth of Carousel, Lifesigns is the sound of three talented musicians having the time of their life, not compromising, and delivering the album they were born to make.

Thieves Kitchen-One for Sorrow Two for Joy

The trio of Amy Darby, Phil Mercy and Thomas Johnson have moved from being a live band to a studio project, and in the process have moved organically away from Thieves Kitchens original prog roots, into something more prog folk, with some fantastic vocals from Amy, whilst Phil’s versatility as a guitarist shows all over this album from the brilliant The Weaver, the two epics in which the album hangs, Germander Speedwell and the closing Of Sparks and Spires, whilst Thomas is as inventive a keyboard player as any on the current scene. This is a well-performed, well-produced album, which is made to be listened as a whole. There’s no dipping in or out of songs here and this is a superb musical meeting point of songs and lyrics and performance, and a high point in Thieves Kitchens story so far.

Ravens & Lullabies: Gordon Giltrap & Oliver Wakeman

Two musical powerhouses in their respective fields, guitar maestro Giltrap and keyboard supreme Oliver Wakeman combine their considerable talents on this magnificent concept album on Esoteric.
With Giltraps effortlessly beautiful playing and Wakemans beautifully fluid keyboards, any album with one of them on is a joy; with them both together you’re getting a masterclass in collaborative performances.
With Olivers vocalist of choice the incomparable Paul Manzi on board (seeing Oliver and Paul perform together sends shivers down your spine) and with Wakeman and Giltrap trading licks, exchanging riffs and building things of beauty around each others talents, has to be heard to be believed.
This album is a thing of great power and great beauty and is one which you’ll find you keep returning to again and again, and each time you’ll discover something new, one of the best albums either man has put their name to, and this is one of those collaborations you hope continues.

John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest: North

The first new studio album from John Lees BJH since 1999’s Nexus, this is a superb continuation of the BJH sound, and a triumphant musical return for one of the most underrated bands of the progressive scene, this is classic BJH at its finest.
However in an album full of strong tracks like the digital single Unreservedly Yours, The highlights of this superb album, which as the name suggests draws on the Northern roots of the band, reflecting beautifully and evocatively on where they came from, is the epic and beautiful title track, which brings the landscape and area home to anyone from the North, especially if they are so far from home, that and its beautiful finale At the End of the Day, a wonderful musical end with words from a poem by Northern poet Ammon Wrigley, these two tracks close a magnificent and wonderful album, with grace, beauty and pathos
This deserves to be acclaimed as a great album from John Lees Barclay James Harvest, building on the fine musical tradition and heritage that BJH have, whilst giving their sound a contemporary feel.

Manning: The Root, the Leaf & The Bone

This is Guys 14th album, and he shows no sign of slowing up, with a magnificent concept all about change and time passing, brilliantly executed and realised, with superb pieces like the opening title track, the dramatic Forge with its fantastic percussive sound, and the lyrical themes running through the album about what has been lost to progress.
The core Manning band are a stunningly tight group, and guest musicians like Chloe Hetherington and Marek Arnold enhance the magic of Guys music.
This is a brilliant folk tinged work that shows Guys songwriting to be top notch and is another triumph for Manning.

The Tangent – Le Sacre Du Travail
L’Etagere Du Travail

After a break of 2 yrs Andy Tillison and the Tangent return with not one, but two stunning new albums.
The main treat is the new studio album proper Le Sacre Du Travail, which translates as the Rite of Work. Influenced strongly by Stravinskys Rite of Spring, this is a contemporary progressive symphony for modern times, with Andy thinking big about things that don’t necessarily fascinate other songwriters, the music itself is written and should be listened to as a complete symphony, like Andy says, progressive music should take you on a journey, and Le Sacre does that, from the opening of Coming up on the Hour (overture) the 22 minute epic Morning Journey and Arrival, its musical dexterity, with wryly observant and sympathetic lyrics, pulling you into the piece, and its counterpart the leading to the conclusion of the symphony, Evening TV, with its cyclical ending of ‘it all starts again’. This is one of the finest examples of a rock sinfonia I have ever heard.
The companion piece of an album as well L’Etagere Du Travail, the Shelf of Work, a 10 track supplementary disc of outtakes and alternate mixes available only from the Tangents website, from the older material the remix Dansant Du Paris is the Tangent go pop, with a fantastic sax break and clever remix, and a different version of the brilliant Ethernet. There are also 5 extra tracks on here, the brilliant Monsanto, the contemplative lost in Ledston, however the stand out track here is the fantastic Suppers Off, an amazing piece of work, from the free festivals of the 70’s to the corporate greed of today via questions about why people have stopped making things and only want to make money, this is a musical angry young man statement, with big questions about musical recycling, and how come big bands remaster stuff all the time, and people lap it up.
To create a masterpiece like Le Sacre is achievement enough, but to then follow it up with a companion album including Suppers Off which would be a significant track by anyone’s standards is an astonishing record by any musician, but to do it in one year as a simultaneous release reminds us why Andy Tillison is one of the most important voices on the prog scene.

Shineback: Rise up Forgotten Return Destroyed

This debut release by Tinyfish frontman Simon Godfrey with lyrics from Robert Ramsay, this is a step away from the Tinyfish sound.
Drawing on a diverse range of genres and sounds, this tells the story of Dora who videos her dreams and is drawn into a dark journey into her own past uncovering dark secrets.
Danny Claires vocals work so well on the album in the musical blog interludes, telling part of Dora’s story, whilst musically the genres flip from the driving electro rock of Is this the Dream? The synth driven Bedlam days that mixes techno and garage sounds, with some great keyboard work.
Godfrey has pulled together an amazing story and the electro emphasised music taking his muse in a totally different direction from anything he’s done before.
His own insomnia is drawn on throughout the album adding to the story, particularly on the mood changing piano driven Faultlines, his vocals being sublime throughout the album, whilst the title track is 10 minutes plus of musical brilliance.
This is a superb debut for a talented musician stepping out from the music he’s known for, into a left field musical future. The fact that this succeeds so well is testament to Godfreys talent and vision, and his choice of collaborators (including Matt Stevens, Dec Burke, Henry Rogers). This is fantastic.

The Fierce and the Dead: Spooky Action

The Fierce and the Dead is this intense, powerful, exciting groove monster.
The 11 new tracks that make up this mighty album all take you different places, and into unexpected territories, from the opening groove of Part 4, the driving intensity of the single Ark underpinned by a monster bass riff, and powerful percussion sound, whilst the twin guitars trade riffs and licks of an almost industrial nature, it’s a mighty blend of light and shade.
There are hints of jazz, of rock, of prog, of allsorts running through this album, and plenty of sounds coming through that you wouldn’t expect a guitar to be able to make, the fantastic Lets start a Cult with its stabs of brass and epic finish, the funk stomp of I like it, I’m into it, with its great drum beats and dirty bass and guitar sound, and a that killer riff, this is the sound of a band operating at full capacity.
Kev Feazey plays his bass like a third guitar, whilst the guitar sparring of Matt Stevens and Steve Cleaton is exemplorary, both being mighty guitarists, whilst the drums of Stuart Marshall underpin everything and build to the mighty sound of the Fierce and the Dead.
This is experimental, this is exciting, this is everything that is good about instrumental rock, new, fresh and an album you will keep returning to, time and time again as there is so much depth to these tracks that you pick something new up every time you listen.

Sanguine Hum: The Weight of the World

Oxfords Sanguine Hum took their debut, Diving Bell as their starting point, and pushed their music even further creatively and musically, creating as they do so, one of the most interesting, exciting and unpredictable albums I have heard all year.
From the musical tour de force that is the epic title track, clocking in at well over 15 minutes, and not one minute of which is wasted, there are hints of electronica running throughout the album, pulsing through the fantastic Cognoscenti, providing an exciting counterpoint to the beautifully melodic guitars and the driving percussion, whilst Day of Release provides one of the many musical highpoints, with hints of early OMD and Joffs vocal melody providing a sublime contrast.
From the start not a moment is wasted, not a foot is put wrong, and there is beauty throughout the album, in the music, the lyrics, the spaces between the notes.
This is an album like albums are supposed to be made, running almost seamlessly from start to finish.
I would argue that they are one of the few truly progressive bands out there, not copying, but creating, not imitating, but innovating.

Conundrum in Deed – Gentlemen

This is London based quartet Conundrum In Deeds debut album and is classic jazz prog rock, with their sound being enhanced by the fact that instead of different keyboard sounds, its just Sadlers piano adding to the rock, sound, and from the opening Falling leaves, right through to the closing title track, the music entrances you, draws you in and takes you on a journey.
With the lyrics as important (if not more so) than the music, songs like the beautifully mellow Strangers in Sympathy, the driving funk bass driven Love in the Age of Technology, the brilliant Holy Flowers, and the majestic Rise/Church Bells with its stunning bass/piano interplay.
Conundrum in Deed are the finished article, a superb band with something new to say, echoing the sounds of yesterday, reminiscent of bands like Caravan and others of that ilk from the Canterbury Scene.

Big Big Train – English Electric Full Power

A monumental collection by anyone standards, this is strange as it may seem, my first introduction to Big Big Train, and what an introduction.
This is English Electric parts One and Two, and the EP Make some Noise, in a lavish hardback book with some beautiful new pictures, stories behind the songs, and is a weighty package suitable for one of the greatest musical projects its been my pleasure to listen to.
From the opener of Make some Noise, and into the albums proper, the expansive sound, the powerful musicianship, the intelligent and well observed lyrics, this is a complete musical package.
Tracks like Uncle Jack, the haunting and poignant A boy in darkness, the English sound of Hedgerow and Keeper of Abbeys, and the frankly brilliant East Coast Racer make this a double album to get lost in, you don’t listen to one or two songs, you clear the decks, turn off the phone or internet, put the album on and sit down, let it wash over you, as you absorb its beauty, its strength, its power.
This is a magical work and one, which in 20 years time will be looked on as a significant musical achievement.

There are loads more albums that could have made this list, and some honourable mentions must go out to Chris Wade, whose been so prolific this year (three Dodson & Fogg albums, and one prog instrumental one) that it has been hard to choose between them, the musical maturity and progression from Derring Do, to The Call, via the Sounds of Day and Night have been exciting to listen to, and fascinating to see where Chris is going to take his musical talent next, I predict even bigger things for him in 2014.
Haze’s fantastic Last Battle saw their triumphant return, and what was nearly a goodbye has become a new beginning for them.
Jump just get better and better, and like a fine wine keep on maturing, and their stunning Black Pilgrim takes familiar themes and weaves their musical magic round them.
If I’ve missed out some other big releases like the Steven Wilson album, or the new Magenta album then it’s because sadly I’ve not heard them yet!
2013 will go down in Prog history as a superb year, and I am already excited about the prospect of 2014, so I shall end by wishing you all Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.