Earlier this year, I questioned whether or not 2018 was going to be a poor year for prog. It seemed like the the progressive rock community took a few months to stop and take a collective breath… but that was only the breath before the plunge. The second half of the year saw many excellent new releases. The following are some of my favorites from 2018, in no particular order (my top two at the bottom of this list are tied for first place).
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:
Mike Kershaw – What Lies Beneath (Bad Elephant Music, 2016)
Tracks: Gunning for the Gods (9:30), In Floods the Light (4:20), Dice (4:42), The City Revealed (6:53), Two Eyes (4:20), Wounds (4:45), Another Disguise (5:23), The City of My Dreams (7:04)
I’ve been following Mike Kershaw’s work for a few albums now, and I’m truly impressed with how he has grown as an artist over the past few years. His earlier music, while displaying excellent insightful lyrical content, wasn’t the easiest music to get into. It required a lot of effort on the part of the listener, although that effort was rewarded. What Lies Beneath, however, finds Kershaw at his best to date. Fans of Fractal Mirror will find this music remarkably familiar, yet more upbeat than FM’s music. Featuring a diverse, yet progressive sound, Kershaw’s music sounds fresh and unique.
The similarities between Kershaw and Fractal Mirror exist because FM contributed to this album, much as they did on Kershaw’s previous EP, Departure. In addition to providing lead vocals, backing vocals, and playing keyboards, Kershaw collaborated with quite a number of people on this album:
- Gareth Cole – electric and acoustic guitars, piano
- Leopold Blue-Sky – bass, pedal steel, keys, drums
- Leo Koperdraat – guitar, keys, backing vocals
- Tom Slatter – vocals (track 6), acoustic guitar
- Frank Urbaniak – drums
- Rohan Jordan-Shah – drums
- Joshua Leibowitz – drums
- Marco Vàsquez – keys
- Allyson Blue-Sky – backing vocals
- Stuart Stephens – backing vocals
- Clare Stephens – backing vocals
These collaborations have brought a breath of fresh air and diversity to Kershaw’s wonderful lyrics. This spark of energy shines clear in every aspect of the music, including Kershaw’s vocals. While I believe he still underestimates his vocal abilities, this album showcases his best vocal work to date. One of the best examples of this is on the upbeat track, “Two Eyes,” one of my favorites from the album. The lyrics to this song find the narrator searching through old family photos trying to figure out where he came from in order to find his purpose in life. The drums, courtesy of Urbaniak, set a wonderful rhythm for the song.
“Wounds” features lead vocals from Tom Slatter, whose voice reminds me of Andy John Bradford. Kershaw’s backing vocals work perfectly here, and the change up adds a nice variety to the music. Kershaw’s keyboard solo in the middle of the song is a great high point, as well, bringing back some of the sounds of his earlier albums.
While often keyboard oriented, What Lies Beneath does have its more rock-oriented elements. Throughout the album, the bass guitar keeps a steady, yet complex, flow. Excellent guitar work appears throughout, with some of the best coming at the end of the album with “Another Disguise” and “The City of My Dreams.” The instrumentation is solid throughout, although these songs are definitely lyric oriented.
“The City of My Dreams” builds wonderfully through both the music and the lyrics, and they meld together perfectly, with Kershaw’s vocals taking the spotlight towards the middle. Kershaw ends the album by contemplating on the passage of time through a city, yet it is so much more than that. The beauty of Kershaw’s lyrics is their depth – the more you listen, the more you get out of the music. Indeed, Kershaw is one of the most thought provoking lyricists of the last few years, and he is someone deserving of attention.
This album marks a wonderful step forward for Kershaw, and any fans of Fractal Mirror (whose recent album was also magnificent) should particularly take notice. Fans of prog in general should also take note, for Kershaw’s lyrics continue to impress. Now, with excellent musical collaborations, these lyrics can be appreciated by a more diverse crowd.
Don’t miss James Turner’s interview with Mike Kershaw: https://progarchy.com/2016/08/28/what-lies-beneath-bad-elephant-special-part-2-an-interview-with-mike-kershaw/
Hello Progarchists, welcome back to the second part of my look at the current releases from our friends over at the naughty pachyderm, today I have a review and an interview with Mike Kershaw.
Self taught singer songwriter Mike Kershaw has been working solo for several years now putting out releases that have got better and better, and more acclaim with each release, and his latest album What Lies Beneath (the follow up to 2014s critically acclaimed Ice Age) is Mikes first full length album since signing to Bad Elephant, and Mike was kind enough to chat to me about the album, before we hear from the man himself, lets see what I thought of What Lies Beneath.
This is the second release that Mike has made using guest musicians, and like the previous EP (Departure) signposts a new direction of Mikes working, instead of being fully solo, he has opened the doors and invited in a list of talented musical collaborators and label mates, including the inimitable Tom Slatter, who adds his unique sound to Wounds, whilst Leopold Blu-Sky of Unto Us adds his bass,guitars,keys and drum programming to the mix as well as producing the record, Gareth Cole plays guitar on the album whilst Fractal Mirrors Frank L Urbaniak drums on a few tracks and Leo Koperdraat co-wrote and guests on Two Eyes.
Hey everyone, my apologies for taking so long to get episode 7 recorded. Still, I hope you enjoy it–over two hours of prog and New Wave. This episode features new songs from Big Big Train, Frost*, Mike Kershaw, Airbag, and Ayreon.
In addition, songs from Neal Morse, The Tangent, Salander, The Reasoning, New Model Army, New Order, Foo Fighters, Catherine Wheel, Echo and the Bunnymen, and The Cure.
Ok, I think I’m finally starting to get a little more comfortable with the mic. At least, I’m hoping. . . .
Lots of great tracks today. Music from [Headspace], Mike Kershaw, Kinetic Element, Third Voice, Notice Grace, Cosmograf, Glass Hammer, Yes, Signal to Noise Ratio, Kevin McCormick, Tears for Fears, Sixpence None the Richer, Theaudience.
Having had a chance to listen to a stream (a review copy from the fine folks B/W/R PR) of the new Steven Wilson, I’m very glad to write that it’s profound and good and true and wonderful. I wasn’t so taken with the last album (the RAVEN one), though I thought the first two solo albums quite astounding. And, I pulled out my Chicago DVD show of Porcupine Tree. Sheesh, when Wilson wants to be, he’s incredible. The last solo album I thought a poor mimicry of the work of that ever-wonderful genius, Andy Tillison.
This new album pays homage to late 1970s Rush, but it does so in a way that honors Rush. All to the good.
As the Grammy’s are happening as I write this, I remember how utterly disappointed I was with Wilson a few years ago when he tweeted how sad he was not to have won a Grammy. I responded in my own tweet: “Dear Lord, you are so much better than that!” Or something akin to this.
I meant it.
A Grammy is an albatrossian weight, not a mark or a sign of anything other than bland, tapioca conformity on a corporate scale.
Not watching the Grammy’s, I can happily report that I’m listening to the brand new, deluxe version of Galahad’s EMPIRES NEVER LAST. Let me offer another “sheesh.” What a great album, made even better through remixing and editing. Glorious.
Yesterday, my family and I devoured the new Neal Morse, THE GRAND EXPERIMENT. We are all rather smitten.
Today, I listened to all of Dave Kerzner’s NEW WORLD (deluxe edition) as I made Sunday evening pizza. Again, I’m a rather happy fan.
I also read Bryan Morey’s insightful review of Mike Kershaw’s latest EP, DEPARTURE, featuring lots of FRACTAL MIRROR talent. This got me to thinking about Greg Spawton and his ability to form communities–not only around himself immediately in BBT, but also through the internet. Kershaw, Urbaniak, Kull. . . what a crazy bunch of proggers we all are. And, that Morey. He’s a natural.
And, now, I patiently await the arrival of the new Glass Hammer.
I’m sorry–what awards show is going on tonight? Yeah, I’ve got much better things to listen to, thank you very much.