2015: It Was The Best Of Prog…..

2015 continued the trend of the past few years of providing tremendous offerings for lovers of prog.

For starters, Best Reissue:

Minstrel in GalleryThe number of exciting and revelatory reissues of prog classics is growing at an exponential rate. The best one of 2015 is La Grande Edition of Jethro Tull’s Minstrel In The Gallery. Ian Anderson was at his peak, songwriting-wise, at this point in his career, and this lavish set (including a new 5.1 surround mix) does one of the band’s best albums true justice.

 

 

And now for some new music:

Heart Is A Monster8. Failure: The Heart Is A Monster

A great Seattle band of the ‘90s that never received the acclaim it was due. They have reunited 20 years later. They are all older and much wiser, and it shows in their music. It’s still tough, melodic, and full of energy, while exhibiting a confidence and ease that is very gratifying.

 

 

Night of Demon7.Gazpacho: Night Of The Demon

A very nice live set that provides a good sample of Gazpacho’s output. The band is incredibly tight while performing some demanding pieces. This is an excellent introduction to a band whose music is often enigmatic.

 

 

 

deluxen6. Dave Kerzner: New World

Technically, this is a 2014 release, but the expanded double album came out this year, so I’m including it in this list. Strong Pink Floyd/Genesis influences which Kerzner uses to springboard into new territory. This is a concept album with an intriguing storyline – a stranded astronaut has to make it back to civilization on a planet. This is the most “classically prog” rock I’ve heard in a long time, and it’s tremendously appealing.

 

La Strada5. Kevin Keller: La Strada

Kevin Keller is a classical pianist and composer who loves Rush in general and Neil Peart in particular. His compositions are melodic yet challenging, and his production values are top-notch. His latest album is the perfect accompaniment to a relaxed Sunday afternoon.

 

 

 

Lonely Robot4. Lonely Robot: Please Come Home

Before 2015, I knew nothing of John Mitchell; this year I immersed myself in his work, listening to Frost*, It Bites, and above all his solo project Lonely Robot. This is prog with a pop orientation that never disappoints. He is an incredibly talented guitarist and vocalist, and I hope this is the first of many Lonely Robot albums.

 

3. Glass Hammer: The Breaking Of The World

Wow. Ode To Echo was an amazing album, and “The Breaking Of The World” tops it. Carl Groves is the best vocalist they’ve ever had, and he’s no slouch in the lyrics department. His voice works perfectly with Susie Bogdanowicz, as you can experience on their other fine release of 2015, “Double Live”. On this album, the band is fire, powered by Steve Babb’s endlessly inventive bass and Fred Schendel’s keyboards.

Neal Morse Grand Experiment2. Neal Morse Band: The Grand Experiment

Neal Morse continues his streak as one of the most prolific artists in prog, and this time he offers up a true group effort, with all the band members sharing songwriting credit. “New Jerusalem” may be the best short-form song he’s ever been involved in, while “Alive Again” ranks up there with his finest epics. The band tore down the house when they performed these songs live; here’s hoping this is more than a one-time experiment.

Riverside Love, Fear, etc.1.Riverside: Love, Fear, and the Time Machine

For their sixth full-length album, Riverside has tightened up their sound to deliver their best set of songs ever. Mariusz Duda marries the ambience of his Lunatic Soul project to a definite ‘80s sound – Discard Your Fear would be right at home on a Tears For Fears album, while Duda’s bass work has Peter Hook’s influence all over it – and the result is the most beautiful album I’ve heard in years. I listen to it two or three times in a row, I put it aside for a while, and I bring it back out. I have yet to tire of it. Be sure to read Erik Heter’s excellent and illuminating interview of Duda.

Intelligently Designed Prog

Lonely Robot

I’m a little late to the party, but John Mitchell’s solo project, Lonely Robot: Please Come Home has taken over my sound system the past couple of weeks, and I have to spread the good word about this extraordinary album.

John Mitchell is getting close to Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy for earning the award for participating in the most groups: he is a guitarist for Arena, he’s played in Frost*, he’s been in It Bites for almost a decade, and he put together the prog supergroup, Kino (hat tip to Progarchist Frank Urbaniak for that info). However, according to Mr. Mitchell in an interview in Prog Magazine (Issue #54, March, 2015), Lonely Robot has been “the most refreshing thing I’ve ever done.” Freed from any preconceived expectations based on a particular group’s history, Mitchell has crafted an album that excels on multiple levels.

While not a full-blown concept album, Mitchell has stated in his series of video blogs that Please Come Home has a unifying theme: how can life on earth in all of its glorious diversity have sprung from nothing? Whether we are the result of primordial alien seeding or a divine architect is left to the listener to decide, but Mitchell’s musings are fascinating. “God vs. Man” is a neat little history of the human race, from building a fire, to building a city, to building armies, to building rockets:

So then you build a rocket, and you point towards the sky

No end to the ambition and no cause to wonder why

You start the search celestial to find the one who made

For reckoning the architect will stand across your way

Of course, as far as I’m concerned, the lyrics could be Shakespearean and the album would be worthless without the music to support them. In this department, Mitchell delivers – in spades. From the cinematic opening track, “Airlock”, to the delicate and emotional closer, “The Red Balloon”, Please Come Home is a collection of songs that will satisfy the most discriminating connoisseur of prog. In addition to having phenomenal chops on guitar, Mitchell’s vocals are outstanding – soulful with a little Peter Gabriel rasp to them. There are also a couple of duets that are heartbreakingly beautiful: “Why Do We Stay?” with Heather Findley, and “Oubliette” with Kim Seviour. “Oubliette” is my nomination for song of the year, with its catchy chorus and snaking lead guitar line. “Are We Copies?” is the current single, (video below), which laments the failure of humanity to live up to its enormous potential. The next track, “Humans Being”, is a comforting response:

Oh don’t be so hard on yourself, so hard on yourself

All we have done, and all of the people we’ve been

Take this flag and wave it again, just wave it again

All we have done, and all of the things we have seen

We’re only humans being

Mitchell has gathered a stellar group of supporting artists for Please Come Home: the aforementioned vocalists, as well as Jem Godfrey, Peter Cox, Steve Hogarth, Nik Kershaw, Nick Beggs, and Craig Blundell. I hope this album is the first of many from Lonely Robot; American prog fans should embrace the music of John Mitchell – he is a top-tier talent who deserves to explode worldwide.