Watson’s Best Prog Albums of 2017: Part 2 — TOP TWENTY # # 20 — 11

Every album on this Top Twenty list is a standout. They are all worthy of your purchase (in hard-copy, not just streaming service).  The discs in the bottom half of the TOP 20 are not any less worthy than # # 10 through 1, rather, they just did not move me with as much excitement and passion as the ones I will be posting later.  Many of these albums were at one time in my TOP TEN but gradually slipped to this lower tier as the year wore on and as I continued to listen and pour over these works of art.  Enough blather. Here are my TOP TWENTY bottom half (in descending order):

20)  MONARCH TRAIL/Sand

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This is the second effort under the moniker “Monarch Trail” for Canadian keys wizard and composer Ken Baird. As much as I enjoyed 2014’s “Skye” this second album surpasses it on all counts.  This has a pleasant “British pastoral sound” that hearkens back, for me, to the joys of first hearing Barclay James Harvest (with Woolly on the keys). This is beautiful and relaxing without being twee or saccharine. My favorite tracks are ‘Back to the Start’ and the 25 minute closer–the self-titled ‘Sand.’

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Existential Genius: Cosmograf’s HAY MAN DREAMS

Cosmograf, THE HAY MAN DREAMS (Cosmograf Music, 2017).  

Professor Birzer’s grade: A.

hay man

Having grown up on Great Plains of North America, surrounded by grazing horses, big skies, and farms, that guy that hangs out on a big kind of crucifix in the fields of wheat was always, to me, a “Scarecrow.”

And, that really, really scary Batman villain, Dr. Jonathan Crane, is also a “Scarecrow.”  He’s creepy in Bruce Timm’s animated Batman, but he’s downright demonic in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.

When I first saw the title of Robin Armstrong’s latest Cosmograf masterpiece (and, yes, this IS a masterpiece) HAY-MAN DREAMS, I had no clue what the album would be about.  After all, Armstrong loves existential themes of isolation, alienation, and timelessness.  When I first saw the title, I just assumed the album would be about a farmer who cultivates hay.  Maybe some lonely old guy who couldn’t figure out the modern world.  I knew that Armstrong would do something wild with it, but I didn’t know what.  Hay man?

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Progarchy Radio Episode 9

I’m back!  After two months at 10,000 feet above sea level and almost no internet, I have high speed!  So, what do I do with my access. . . I record progarchy radio episode 9.  Music from The Tangent, The Ben Cameron Project, The Pineapple Thief, Frost*, Oceansize, Riverside, SAND, Karmakanic, Simple Minds, Nosound, Roswell 6, Tool, Threshold, Jason Rubenstein, and Cosmograf.

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Cosmografic Silences: The Unreasonable Art of Robin Armstrong

cosmograf unreasonable
If you’ve yet to do so, go to the bottom of this review, order the album, then return for the review.

When it comes to finding the legitimate inheritors of the legacy of Pink Floyd’s dystopian psychedelic prog phase (in particular, ANIMALS), there are only three serious contenders: Airbag; Dave Kerzner; and Cosmograf.  While all three are excellent, Cosmograf has consistently honored the tradition while progressing in the most existentialist ways possible.  Airbag might be more atmospheric, and Kerzner might be poppier, but no one does what Cosmograf does when it comes to angst and intensity.

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Robin Armstrong on the Physical Art of Prog

Not atypically stunning artwork from Cosmograf.
Not atypically stunning artwork from Cosmograf.

Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf) has some very important things to write about the actual, tangible, physical art of prog.

A few folk have been asking about the availability of lyrics for the Cosmograf Albums. We don’t provide these in any other form other than in the CD booklets. The reason for that is that we want to protect the remaining value of the physical product in a world where it is being increasingly marginalised alongside less and less available income streams for bands. A huge amount of work goes into our booklets with superb artwork and photography, which often never gets seen by those buying from digital platforms. When you buy a CD not only do you get a great audio experience you get the great artwork and the printed lyrics too.

Amen, Robin.  Amen.