Capsule reviews of what I’ve listened to since the last installment follow the jump. Albums are reviewed in descending order on my Personal Proggyness Perception (PPP) scale, scored from 0 to 10.
Haken just released a music video for new song “The Good Doctor” off upcoming album, Vector. If this song is anything to go by, Vector will be another re-styling of Haken’s unique sound. This particular song sees the band go from Muse-like sounds to Meshuggah-esque blasts, all in about 3 minutes. The result is obviously 100% Haken.
Speaking of Muse… they also have an album coming out later this year: Simulation Theory. They have released several music videos so far, and it seems like the band have moved in a more synth-pop direction, especially compared to the hard-rock bombast of 2015’s Drones. The guitar seems especially lacking in this most recent song:
Inspired by Brad’s fascinating and very New Wave-ish post “My 49 Favorite Pop Albums”, I decided to try my hand at listing the same. One difficulty, it turns out, is defining “pop”. Brad didn’t list Radiohead’s “OK Computer” (one of my Top 10 pop/rock albums) because he figured it was too proggy, which is hard to disagree with. But I have it in my list, and also included a couple more albums that are certainly in the realm of prog: “Queen II”, “Point of Know Return”, and “A Momentary Lapse of Reason”. But, on the whole, I think most everything here fits on the “pop” spectrum, even if it veers into rocky territory (Muse, Journey, Soundgarden) on occasion.
Also, I could have easily included several more albums by Sinatra and Torme, and I feel a bit guilty to not have anything by, say, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughn, Rosemary Clooney, or Nat King Cole. But I’ve tried to capture a certain breadth chronologically while being true to what I like and return to. And that is a key criteria: all of these are albums I revisit and never tire of. Finally, it might be surprising that the only artist who shows up here three times is Seal. But no Beatles? Rolling Stones? Simon and Garfunkel? Lady GaGa? Go figure!
Frank Sinatra: IN THE WEE SMALL HOURS (1955)
Frank Sinatra: SONGS FOR SWINGIN’ LOVERS! (1956)
Mel Tormé: IT’S A BLUE WORLD (1956)
Roy Orbison: IN DREAMS (1963)
Mel Tormé: THAT’S ALL (1965)
Van Morrison: MOONDANCE (1970)
Elton John: ELTON JOHN (1970)
Queen: QUEEN II (1974)
Queen: NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1975)
Kansas: POINT OF KNOW RETURN (1977)
Electric Light Orchestra: OUT OF THE BLUE (1977)
Journey: ESCAPE (1981)
ABBA: THE VISITORS (1981)
Asia: ASIA (1982)
The Police: SYNCHRONICITY (1983)
Big Country: THE CROSSING (1983)
Mr. Mister: WELCOME TO THE REAL WORLD (1985)
John Fogerty: CENTERFIELD (1985)
The Moody Blues: THE OTHER SIDE OF LIFE (1986)
Sting: NOTHING LIKE THE SUN (1987)
Pink Floyd: A MOMENTARY LAPSE OF REASON (1987)
Sam Phillips: THE INDESCRIBABLE WOW (1988)
Kate Bush: THE SENSUAL WORLD (1989)
Van Morrison: AVALON SUNSET (1989)
The Choir: CIRCLE SLIDE (1990)
George Michael: LISTEN WITHOUT PREJUDICE, VOL. 1 (1990)
U2: ACHTUNG BABY (1991)
Seal: SEAL (1991)
Tori Amos: LITTLE EARTHQUAKES (1992)
Maria McKee: YOU GOTTA SIN TO GET SAVED (1993)
Chris Isaak: SAN FRANCISCO DAYS (1993)
The Cranberries: EVERYONE ELSE IS DOING IT, SO WHY CAN’T WE? (1993)
Sarah McLachlan: FUMBLING TOWARDS ECSTASY (1993)
Seal: SEAL (1994)
Portishead: DUMMY (1994)
Soundgarden: SUPERUNKNOWN (1994)
Jeff Buckley: GRACE (1994)
Jars of Clay: JARS OF CLAY (1995)
The Mavericks: MUSIC FOR ALL OCCASIONS (1995)
Duncan Sheik: DUNCAN SHEIK (1996)
Radiohead: OK COMPUTER (1997)
Seal: HUMAN BEING (1998)
Burlap to Cashmere: ANYBODY OUT THERE? (1998)
Moby: PLAY (1999)
Martin Sexton: LIVE WIDE OPEN (2002)
Muse: BLACK HOLES AND REVELATIONS (2006)
Brandi Carlile: THE STORY (2007)
A Fine Frenzy: ONE CELL IN THE SEA (2007)
Sia: SOME PEOPLE HAVE REAL PROBLEMS (2008)
Sara Bareilles: KALEIDOSCOPE HEART (2010)
Lake Street Dive: BAD SELF PORTRAITS (2014)
Kevin Max: BROKEN TEMPLES (2015)
Muse, B-Sides and Rarities, 2012
Tracks: Disc 1: 1. Coma 2. Jimmy Kane 3. Agitated 4. Twin 5. Host 6. Forced In 7. Do We Need This 8. Pink Ego Box 9. Con-Science 10. Ashamed 11. Yes Please 12. Recess 13. Sober (The Saint Remix) 14. Nishe 15. Nature I 16. Execution Commentary 17. Map Of Your Head 18. Piano Thing 19. Sunburn (Timo Maas Sunstroke Remix) 20. New Born (Paul Oakenfold Perfecto Remix) Disc 2: 1. Shrinking Universe 2. Spiral Static 3. Hyper Chondriac Music 4. Screenager (Live) 5. The Gallery 6. Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want 7. Futurism 8. Shine 9. Cant Take My Eyes Off You 10. Dead Star 11. In Your World 12. The Groove 13. Eternally Missed 14. Fury 15. Crying Shame 16. Easily 17. Glorious 18. Neutron Star Collision (Love Is Forever) 19. Prague 20. Resistance (Tiesto Remix)
Muse is such a brilliant band that it is hard to imagine them creating anything that isn’t wonderful. Even the controversial (for die-hard fans, at least) The 2nd Law has grown on me – after all, it is a concept album. It should come as no surprise, then, that an album of rare songs and B-sides from Muse is excellent. I didn’t even know this collection of songs existed until our loving founder shared them with us last week. After listening to them, I’m amazed at the sheer number of songs – 40 of them across two discs. What’s even more amazing is the number of songs here that I had never even heard before.
While there are a few remixes, such as “Sober,” “Sunburn” (both originally from Showbiz), “New Born” (Origin of Symmetry), and “Resistance,” as well as a live version of “Screenager,” the vast majority of these songs are rarely heard tunes that never featured on an official album. The first disc largely reminded me of their earlier, more progressive sound, as found on Origin of Symmetry. There are a few others that don’t strike me as being like Muse at all, particularly a few of the remixes. They have a bit of a Dubstep sound that grates on me – I really hate the contemporary party scene and the music that accompanies it. I’m not sure why they decided to have these songs remixed like this, but it is only a few selections from this whole album.
“Neutron Star Collision (Love is Forever)” is definitely my favorite song from the album. It has all the makings of some of the strongest songs in the band’s catalog. Sadly, this song was made for one of those dog-crap awful Twilight movies. The less said about that the better – it is still a great song.
Many of the other songs strike me as being worthy of inclusion on albums such as Origin of Symmetry, Absolution, and Black Holes and Revelations. These songs aren’t as politically motivated as their more widely regarded work, but I believe they stand well with songs like “Hyper Music,” “Falling Away with You,” “Blackout,” “Butterflies and Hurricanes,” and many other overlooked Muse songs. “Piano Thing” (track 18 from disc 1) finds Matt Bellamy at his absolute best on the piano. I wish the band would include interludes like this in their music a lot more than they do. His piano work takes their music to a whole other level.
So, who should check out this collection of B-Sides and Rarities? Certainly any big fan of Muse and definitely fans of their Origin of Symmetry sound. If you can’t tell, that’s my favorite album by them, and it is probably why I find this collection of songs so appealing. I’m amazed that even the songs that few people hear by this band are of such a high quality. This collection could easily stand up against other similar bands’ best albums.
I believe Muse’s song, “Aftermath,” off of Drones, is the best song from 2015. It is hopeful yet realistic, and it is masterfully done. Check out the official video released a few months ago.
2015 turned out to be another fantastic year for prog, as well as metal. Last year, I made a top 10 list, but this year, there has been far too much great music in prog, metal, and rock to narrow it down to 10 albums. Apart from my top 4, there will be no particular order for the rest of my picks. Most of this will be prog, but there is some straight up metal here as well.
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Neal Morse and company have made another outstanding album. “Alive Again” might be one of the top 10 best long progressive songs ever made. It is remarkably beautiful. Mike Portnoy’s drumming is exceptional, as always, and, like last year, this isn’t the last we shall hear of him on this list.
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
The Oblivion Particle is my first introduction to Spock’s Beard, and I am heartily impressed. Ted Leonard’s vocals really round out the band. “Bennett Built a Time Machine” is my personal favorite from the record.
Stryper – Fallen
I’m brand new to Stryper, and after listening to their last two albums, I’m flabbergasted. Their new music is better than their original stuff from the 80s. The drummer has grown incredibly, and Michael Sweet’s vocals soar to the heavens. The best thing – Stryper hasn’t given up on their values. They blast metal to honor God.
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
I was pleasantly surprised by this album. The music has just the right amount of complexity, with a few pop hooks here and there for good measure. The song “Lonely Robot” should be a radio staple, but rock radio sucks.
LEAH – Kings and Queens
The reigning queen of prog metal released a masterpiece this year. A long masterpiece. Her combination of metal with celtic influences works amazingly well. She creates a wonderful sound that no one else really tries to duplicate. Originality abounds.
Dave Kerzner – New World (Deluxe Edition)
The deluxe edition came out this year, so it counts as 2015. Plus, I overlooked the album last year since it came out in December, and for that I sincerely apologize to Dave. This album brilliantly revives classic elements of Pink Floyd, and Kerzner’s voice is eerily reminiscent of David Gilmour’s. This is an album meant to last.
The Winery Dogs – Hot Streak
Wow! AC/DC meets Mike Portnoy! Richie Kotzen’s voice has grown on me, as has the “Dog’s” music. From the virtuosity of the first track, “Oblivion,” to the hard rock bombast of “Captain Love,” Hot Streak is a fantastic album. Billy Sheehan’s bass balances Portnoy’s drums and Kotzen’s guitars beautifully. The quiet piece, “Fire,” is a nice change up, as well.
Next to None – A Light in the Dark
I saw these guys live in concert with Haken this spring, and I was impressed. For teenagers, these guys have serious chops. Max Portnoy stands out though, as he has clearly inherited his father’s raw talent. Check out my review of the album and interview with Max – https://progarchy.com/2015/07/20/metal-mondays-interview-with-max-portnoy-of-next-to-none/
Metal Allegiance – Metal Allegiance
You could call this a supergroup for thrash, although it seems anything with Mike Portnoy in it could be called a supergroup. His double bass thrash drumming is a nice change for him. The abundant guest performances from bands such as Testament, Anthrax, and many other groups really round out their sound. Normally I don’t like thrash because of the lyrics, but the lyrics here are great. The combination of guests makes this album one of the greatest thrash albums ever made.
Disturbed – Immortalized
This isn’t prog in any sense of the word, but Disturbed’s first album since 2010 is a return to form for the band. They didn’t want to make an album again unless it was really good, and they delivered on that desire. Immortalized is one of the best album’s they have made, with only one song that I don’t like. Their cover of “The Sound of Silence” is better than the original, in my opinion.
Flying Colors: Live at the Z7
The live Blu-ray is one of the best live shows I have seen. The music is played flawlessly, and the production for sound is excellent. It was filmed in 4K and you can choose from two sound choices – front row or sound board. Well played, FC, well played. Oh ya, more Mike Portnoy, too.
Rush – R40 Live
This needs no explanation. Long live Rush.
Steve Hackett – Wolflight
Another great solo effort from one of the greatest guitarists ever. I have such a great respect for Steve Hackett and his dedication to his craft and the genre. Of all the 70s prog giants, Hackett is probably the best ally to the newer prog artists and musicians.
4. Muse – Drones
Another fantastic album from Muse, and a dystopic concept album at that. I’m convinced that Matt Bellamy has the best voice in the business, plus he’s a god on the guitar. Chris Wolstenholme’s bass is underrated, as well. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2015/08/11/back-to-basics-muses-drones/
3. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.
A year ago, I couldn’t stand Steven Wilson. Now I’m a fan. Go figure. Hand. Cannot. Erase. is simply brilliant. The story telling is at an extremely high level, and this album, while rather depressing, is so addicting to listen to. Wilson is an incredibly important figure in progressive rock.
2. Vanden Plas – Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld Path 2
Combined with part 1, these two albums are a masterpiece. I’m still deciphering what the story is about, but I am thoroughly enjoying it. These guys have been going strong for a long time, and they have only gotten better with age. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2015/11/18/vanden-plas-another-stroke-of-genius/
1. The Tangent – A Spark in the Aether
Yeehaw, this is a great album! Holy crap, I don’t know how Andy Tillison does it! He is a master of cultural criticism, and while I don’t agree with him politically, I do respect him immensely. This album is well worth your time.
Like I said, a great year for rock of all kinds. As I promised, Mike Portnoy features prominently in my list, just like last year. He certainly deserves it since he is one of the hardest working men in the business. His “Hello Kitty” drum video for Loudwire was an instant classic.
Best prog book of the year goes to Progarchy’s very own Brad Birzer for his excellent book on Neil Peart, a man of letters. Well worth your time.
Get it at Amazon here.
The new Kansas documentary, Miracles out of Nowhere, is excellent. While it only goes through Point of Know Return, it is an excellent look at the band, from the band members themselves, as well as Brian May and Garth Brooks. It was great to see that the band members don’t hate each other. In fact, they genuinely seem to like each other. If at all possible, order it from the band because it comes with a bonus disc featuring the band reminiscing and a few other features – http://www.kansasmerch.toursync.com
Check out Carl Olson’s fantastic review of the documentary: https://progarchy.com/2015/08/19/miracles-and-music-out-of-kansas/
One final documentary/live concert that is worthy of any “best of” list is Roger Waters’ movie, The Wall. It combines a live concert from his recent tour with short scenes that examine the meaning of the album for him. The concert itself is outstanding – better than his 1990 The Wall concert in Berlin, performed after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The music is basically indistinguishable from the album. A worthy look at one of the best and most important albums ever made.
Sorry if I have bored you with my list, but I am nothing if not thorough. I’m just amazed by the quality of music that has been released the last few years, and I eagerly look forward to what the coming year has in store. New Dream Theater coming in January. And who knows what Mike Portnoy will release. Such excitement. Merry Christmas everybody, and prog on into 2016.
Muse, “Drones” (Warner Music)
Tracks: 1. Dead Inside (4:24), 2. [Drill Sergeant] (0:21), 3. Psycho (5:17), 4. Mercy (3:52), 5. Reapers (6:00), 6. The Handler (4:34), 7. [JFK] (0:55), 8. Defector (4:33), 9. Revolt (4:06), 10. Aftermath (5:48), 11. The Globalist (10:07), 12. Drones (2:52)
Muse have returned to their heavier, progressive roots with their latest album, “Drones.” After venturing into pop rock and dubsteppy techno pop garbage on 2012’s “The 2nd Law,” the three piece, made up of Matt Bellamy on guitars, vocals, and keyboards, Chris Wolstenholme on bass, and Dominic Howard on drums, decided that they wanted to hit number 1 on the US charts. To accomplish this, they turned to veteran AC/DC producer, Robert John Lange. It worked, and “Drones” became the band’s first #1 album in the US.
Now, you wouldn’t really expect a concept album to go to the top of the charts in this day and age, but that is exactly what happened. “Drones” is indeed a full fledged concept album about a dystopic society controlled by a government that dictates its citizens’ every move. Thus the title, “Drones.” The funniest part about all this is that the majority of people listening to this don’t even realize that it is prog, much less know what prog is. Some reviews I have read claim that the concept doesn’t really work, but I disagree. I think it works just fine, and it is incredibly applicable to today’s changing governmental policies in the West.
The story begins with despair and rage against a government that won’t allow its people to think. In the middle, we see the main character(s) (there really isn’t a character like in “2112,” but there is first person, implying a character) attempting to defect and revolt. In “Aftermath,” that character wishes everything were over. The album ends with survivors of the destruction (caused by the revolt) learning to live in the new world they have created.
The jewel of this album is the song, “Aftermath.” This song is to 2015 what Flying Colors’ “Peaceful Harbor” was to 2014. Muse really nailed it with this song – it is incredibly beautiful. The guitar work combined with haunting vocals and orchestra make this one of the top songs of the year. “The Globalist,” Muse’s longest song to date, is quite progressive, merging from quiet to a heavier rock towards the end. The album ends perfectly with Bellamy singing a sort of a cappella hymn (he sings several different parts that are overlaid). It is stunning.
The second half of “Drones” is much stronger musically and lyrically than the first half, although “Mercy” and “Reapers” are excellent tracks, with the latter having enough time signature changes to make even the most ADD prog fans happy. However, the poor lyrics in the chorus of “Pyscho” are offensive and sophomoric. The short “[Drill Sergeant]” intro to the song is rather annoying as well, creating more of a distraction. The re-emergence of the drill sergeant in the song itself also draws away from the music. The short JFK speech later in the album works, however (despite my great distaste for the President as both a politician and a human being).
Another misstep for this album is the packaging. I decided to pony up and buy the cd, thinking it would come in a nice jewel case. Instead, it came in a cardboard sleeve, which I found to be quite lame, particularly from such a major record label like Warner. However, the booklet has artwork for each individual song, and it is quite stunning. The artwork really adds depth to each song. I’m sure the vinyl package is probably pretty nice.
Despite the few minor missteps in “Drones,” Muse created one of the best albums of their career with their most recent output. The fact that it is one of their most successful gives me hope for a possible growing popularity of prog, although I assume most people are ignoring the best songs in favor of the more radio friendly “Dead Inside” or other such pieces. “Aftermath” and “The Globalist” are transcendently awesome in a way most people might gloss over. The balance of hard rock, piano, keyboards, classical music, and Chris’s awesome bass riffs (the dude is a beast) make this an incredibly enjoyable album to listen to, faults and all. It is definitely one of the top releases of 2015, across any genre.