Bryan’s Best of 2021

We’ve come to the end of another year, and what a horrible year it has been. Really the only positive thing I can think of from this year is the music. In addition to all the non-music nonsense that has gone on this year, we lost from legends in the prog world, none hurting more than the tragic and completely unexpected death of David Longdon. That one will hurt for a long time.

I usually write my best of lists in no particular order, with my top pick(s) at the end. So without further ado…

Robby Steinhard Not in Kansas AnymoreRobby Steinhardt – Not In Kansas Anymore

Robby Steinhardt was another prog legend we lost unexpectedly earlier this year. He hadn’t been active in music for quite some time, but that was about to change as he was finishing up his first solo album and had plans for a tour. Sadly the latter was not to be, but we did end up getting his solo album in the fall. It’s a great record, and it shows what a key player he was in Kansas. His vocals are stellar, and his violin playing is second to none. This record has a bit of the magic that I think Kansas lacks without Steinhardt. There are more musical influences at work than just Kansas on this record. It’s not a solid 10/10 throughout, but it is a very good record. Check out my review and my tribute to Robby.

Devin Townsend Galactic QuarantineDevin Townsend – Devolution Series #2 – Galactic Quarantine

Devin Townsend has been a busy bee this year. In addition to working on three new records this year, he released two minor releases of live material. The first is an acoustic album (see my glowing review) from a show he did in Leeds in 2019. It’s a raw and emotional take on his music. The Galactic Quarantine album is one of his live-streamed albums from 2020 with the musicians playing live on green screens across the world. The music is blisteringly great, with a surprising amount of Strapping Young Lad material played. Devin humorously engages with his virtual audience, which makes the music come to life a bit more. This has been one I’ve returned to quite a bit this year. Perhaps an unorthodox release, but it would make a really good entrance point for the uninitiated to the heavier side of Devin’s music. Check out my review.

8250379_e4a1fc34c7Soen – Imperial

It turns out we never reviewed Soen’s latest album, which was released in January. The Swedish prog-metal supergroup can do no wrong. Their songs are catchy, memorable, and thoughtful. They can be both heavy and contemplative, and in my book they rank in the upper echelon of progressive metal. This record has been on repeat all year.

Atravan - The Grey LineAtravan – The Grey Line

Sticking with the progressive metal theme, Atravan was a pleasant surprise at the beginning of the year. This is the first Iranian band we’ve ever reviewed here at Progarchy, and they’re fantastic. I’m so glad the band reached out to us. They make metal in the vein of Riverside – heavy, spacey, wall of sound. Definitely a band that deserves recognition, although I worry what too much recognition could do for them with the repressive Iranian regime. Check out my review.

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Almost 50 Years In, Kansas Still Carries On

kansas_point-of-know-return_2cdRecently legendary prog band Kansas released their latest live album, Point of Know Return Live & Beyond. The album features performances taken from various shows during their 2019 and 2020 fortieth anniversary tour of Point of Know Return, one of the finest albums in rock history.

I’ve seen Kansas live only once, and that was back around 2008 or so. It was a free show at my town’s annual week-long Independence Day festival. The lineup featured Steve Walsh on keyboards and vocals, Phil Ehart on drums, Rich Williams on guitar, David Ragsdale on violin, and Billy Greer on bass and vocals. I enjoyed the show, and in fact that show launched me into Kansas’ music. But there was no denying that at the point Walsh’s voice was long past its prime, and it was no surprise when he decided to retire from Kansas in 2014. 

Kansas’ new lineup formed, and they have since taken the world by storm with their 2016 album The Prelude Implicit and 2020’s The Absence of Presence. Their recent live lineup (as heard on this live record) features Ronnie Platt on vocals. His voice has its own sound, but he’s absolutely phenomenal singing this music, kind of like Nad Sylvan singing for Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited shows. The band’s rendition of “Nobody’s Home” sounds almost identical to the original record.

Combine Platt’s voice with the winning combo of Phil Ehart on drums, Rich Williams and Zak Rizvi on guitars, David Ragsdale on violin, Billy Greer on bass, and Tom Brislin on keyboards, and you’ve got an unstoppable prog rock powerhouse. The energy levels on this live record remind me of the energy Kansas had in the 70s. I imagine Platt isn’t dancing like a maniac at the keyboards the way Walsh used to, but the audio has that same intensity. 

In addition to playing all of Point of Know Return, the band include a few newer tracks as well as some other hits and deep cuts. It’s great to hear “Song For America” and “People of the South Wind” (Monlith is an underrated album). “Two Cents Worth” was a surprise, but it’s cool to hear that blues element that appeared in Kansas’ early work. From beginning to end this live record is a must-listen. I’m so glad the band continues to carry on and bring this music to old and new fans. Kerry Livgren’s lyrics are some of the best out there, and they deserve to be heard for years to come. 

Order the album: https://kansas.lnk.to/PointofKnowReturn-LiveBeyond

CD1
1. Cold Grey Morning
2. Two Cents Worth
3. The Wall
4. Song for America
5. Summer
6. Musicatto
7. Taking in the View
8. Miracles Out of Nowhere

CD2
1. Point of Know Return
2. Paradox
3. The Spider
4. Portrait (He Knew)
5. Closet Chronicles
6. Lightning’s Hand
7. Dust in the Wind
8. Sparks of the Tempest
9. Nobody’s Home
10. Hopelessly Human
11. Carry On Wayward Son
12. People of the South Wind
13.Refugee
14. Lonely Wind

https://youtu.be/D3S-1p18_So