Is 2014 Over Already?

Time flies when you’re having fun listening to great music! 2014 brought in a bumper crop of excellent music in general, and prog in particular. Here are my favorites of the year:

Robert-Plant-lullaby-and-The-Ceaseless-Roar_638

10. Robert Plant: Lullaby And …The Ceaseless Roar

Mr. Plant returns to his folk roots of Britain, and delivers a thoroughly enjoyable set of songs. A couple rock out, but this is mostly an acoustic tour de force that transcends any musical trends of the day.

WOAFB-cover

  1. Lunatic Soul: Walking On A Flashlight Beam

This album didn’t garner the rave reviews of his first two, but I still think anything Mariusz Duda produces is far better than 90% of anything else out there. “Treehouse” may be my favorite song he’s ever recorded.

So much greater than a muppet.

  1. John Bassett: Unearth

This album opened my eyes to entirely different side of Mr. Bassett’s talent, and I love it. I hope he does more music in this vein – thoughtful, melodic, acoustic pearls.

Disconnect-cover

  1. John Wesley: Disconnect

Mr. Wesley has been Porcupine Tree’s secret weapon when they play live, and on the side he has been quietly making extraordinary music of his own. Disconnect is his best ever, and it features the inimitable Alex Lifeson on “Once A Warrior”.

Demon-300x300

  1. Gazpacho: Demon

It took me awhile to get into this album, but it was definitely worth the effort. It is a beautiful package, from the artwork and lyrics to the music itself. The subject matter is very dark, but listening to the entire album is a cathartic experience. It also has Jan-Henrik Ohme’s strongest vocals to date.

nao cover THE THIRD DAY

  1. North Atlantic Oscillation: The Third Day

Their third album, and the third one to make one of my best-of-the-year lists. Soaring vocals, gorgeous string arrangements, a wall of sound that is indescribably exhilarating. If Brian Wilson produced Catherine Wheel, it might sound as good as this.

Stunning album cover.  A progged-out version of Dolby's GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS.  Brilliant.

  1. Cosmograf: Capacitor

A marvelous steampunk trip through metaphysical dimensions. Robin Armstrong’s imagination knows no bounds, and his musical talent matches it.

Second Nature

  1. Flying Colors: Second Nature

Wow. No “sophomore slump” for this band. One of the many Neal Morse/Mike Portnoy projects that are active these days, Second Nature is an outlet for the more melodic side of their talents. Throw in the genius guitar work of Steve Morse, and this is an irresistible set of songs.

Restorations_by_Haken

  1. Haken: Restoration

Their Mountain album was my favorite of last year, and the only reason this isn’t number one is because it’s only 34 minutes long. I admit it – I’m greedy for more Haken music!

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  1. Transatlantic: Kaleidoscope

With Kaleidoscope, Stolt, Morse, Portnoy, Trewavas finally become a real group. On earlier works, you could tell which bits were Neal’s, which were Roine’s, etc. Every song on Kaleidoscope is stamped with Transatlantic’s distinctive sound, and it is a glorious one.

My Top Three Albums of 2014

As many on this site have already covered, or are in the process of covering, their favorite albums of 2014, I will keep my post (very) brief.  2014 was, as many have observed, an excellent year for progressive rock music.  Here, in no particular order, are my top three albums of the year:

Second Nature-Flying Colors: These five virtuosos did not disappoint in their sophomore effort, a complex yet accessible symphonic prog album.Second Nature

The Endless River-Pink Floyd: A beautiful and touching tribute to deceased keyboardist Richard Wright, David Gilmour and Nick Mason proved to the world that they are still top-notch musicians. PINK-FLOYD-THE-ENDLESS-RIVER-album-artwork-low-res-600x350

lullaby… and the Ceaseless Roar-Robert Plant: the ex-Led Zeppelin frontman does not rock out like he used to, but his new album, a blend of folk and Americana, is nevertheless a delight to the ears. (You can read my full review of the album here).Robert-Plant-lullaby-and-The-Ceaseless-Roar_638

I look forward to another great year of music in 2015. A Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to my fellow Progarchists and to all of our readers!

Bryan’s Best of 2014

Without a doubt, 2014 has been a great year for Prog. It seems as if we have been barraged by great music from all sides.  The string of excellence continues. This list is my arbitrary ordering of what I liked best from this year. I’m really not a huge fan of “best of” lists because I don’t think you can really judge art in that way. So, consider this a list of what I enjoyed. The order of numbers 10-3 is relatively interchangeable.

10. Dream the Electric Sleep – Heretics 8530215

I should have reviewed this album when it came out back in January, but I’m lazy. This was a fantastic sophomore release by the Lexington, Kentucky prog outfit. Their first album, Lost and Gone Forever, was an excellent concept album. These guys do a fantastic job of combining classic prog influences with a harder rock edge. The beginning of the album sounds almost Pink Floydian, and there are definite nods to The Wall. The singer also sounds a bit like Roger Waters. Heretics is another concept album, and it clocks in at over 70 minutes in length. Check these guys out – they are ascending as a band and are making some great music.

http://www.dreamtheelectricsleep.com

9. Cosmograf – CapacitorCapacitor

Robin Armstrong’s latest offering, combined with the efforts of such wizards as Andy Tillison, Nick D’Virgilio, and Matt Stevens, is a fresh take on prog rock. As of right now, I haven’t listened to any other Cosmograf albums, but this one is quite good. I’m sure there are others here at Progarchy that could tell you more about the band, and I’ll wager they would be more than happy to. Capacitor is definitely worthy of any 2014 “top 10” list.

http://www.cosmograf.com

8. Bigelf – Into the Maelstrom Into the Maelstrom

Three words – Mike freaking Portnoy. He teamed up with Bigelf to drum on their latest album, and it was insane. He has to be the hardest working musician in prog. This isn’t the last we shall hear from him on this list.

Bigelf’s breed of prog metal is unlike anything I have heard before. Maybe it’s lead singer Damon Fox’s awesomely bizarre vocals, or their fantastic combination of metal and classic rock, or maybe it’s Portnoy. Or all of the above. Whatever it is, Bigelf has created something special with Into the Maelstrom. They have been around since the early 1990s, have four studio albums, and have toured with Dream Theater, so they know their way around the business. Certainly worth the time for any Mike Portnoy fan, as well as any fan of prog metal.

https://www.facebook.com/bigelfmusic/info?tab=page_info

http://www.bigelf.com

7. The Gift – Land of Shadowscover

London’s The Gift masterfully combine prog metal with symphonic metal and Gabriel-era Genesis prog. This album is refreshing in its tonal clarity and its thematic prowess. It is definitely an album worth listening to over and over again through the years. Here’s my review of it from several months back:

https://progarchy.com/2014/07/20/the-gift-land-of-shadows/

http://www.thegiftmusic.com/index.php

 

6. Voyager – Vimage013

Australian prog metal outfit Voyager have released a very solid album this year. While I feel like it could have been more tightly constructed and some of the songs featured unnecessary repetition, there are some awesome riffs to be found here. This band rocks, and they rock hard. Many comment that the second half of the album is a let down, but I think it is just the opposite. Voyager ventures into the wonderful void of prog in the second half of V, including some softer songs. Time Lord wrote a very nice review of the album earlier this year:

https://progarchy.com/2014/07/05/voyager-v/

http://voyager-australia.com

5. Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope Kaleidoscope (Kaleidoscope)

I told you Mike Portnoy would be heard from again on this list. Supergroup Transatlantic cranked out a fantastic album this year. Made up of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt, and Pete Trewavas, Transatlantic has several albums under their belt, and they continue to impress. Kaleidoscope was my first introduction to Transatlantic, and it was an excellent first impression. The cover songs found on the accompanying special edition are all excellent. Anyone who can cover Yes, King Crimson, Elton John, Focus, Moody Blues, and a few others while still sounding entirely unique deserves immense respect. The live album, KaLIVEoscope, that came out in October, was equally brilliant, with three hours of musical genius. The collective talent in this band is shocking, and it clearly shows on Kaleidoscope.

http://www.transatlanticweb.com

4. Chevelle – La GárgolaLaGargola

No, this isn’t a prog album. However, Chevelle released one of the best albums of their career with La Gárgola. Their heavy, yet not overly heavy, style of metal has been a staple of contemporary hard rock over the past 15 years. Their excellent vocals, steady bass, clear guitar, proficient drumming, and haunting lyrics makes Chevelle one of the most interesting metal bands of the 21st Century. I found this album to be an excellent return to their heavier beginnings, while simultaneously exploring new and more complicated territory.

http://getmorechevelle.com/home.php

https://progarchy.com/2014/08/26/chevelle-la-gargola/

3. Pink Floyd – The Endless RiverThe Endless River

Is Pink Floyd even capable of making an album that isn’t good? Their latest (and final) album combines extra recordings from The Division Bell with recordings from David Gilmour and Nick Mason, as well as studio musicians. Mainly instrumental (only one song has singing), this album hearkens back to the instrumentation found in Wish You Were Here and Animals. The one thing missing, in my opinion, is Roger Waters’ bass. I feel like his involvement in this album would have made it even more spectacular, as well as thrill millions of fans. Even so, this is clearly Pink Floyd, and any fan of psychedelic prog will love this album. The album serves as a worthy sendoff for Richard Wright.

http://www.pinkfloyd.com/index2.php

http://www.pinkfloyd.com/theendlessriver/

2. Vanden Plas – Chronicles of the Immortals – Netherworld397022

Vanden Plas’ latest album might very well be the best progressive metal album I have ever heard, with no disrespect to Dream Theater’s Images and Words. It is just that Netherworld so beautifully captures the intricacies of metal, “high prog,” and magnificent story telling. There have been some excellent albums released this year, but few reach the brilliance of Vanden Plas. Having listened to some of their previous work, this album is not out of the ordinary for them. One of the nicest things about this band is the vocals are not your traditional “metal” vocals – there is no screaming, yelling, whining, etc. Andy Kuntz’s voice is beautifully melodic and mysterious, and it is perfect for this album. Vanden Plas perfectly crosses over between the worlds of full-on head banging metal riffs and quieter, classic progressive rock. This album also has one of the best beginnings and endings of any album I have ever heard. There is a clear and definite start and resolution – you aren’t left hanging or wishing there was more. It is perfect just as it is.

Check out Gianna’s and Time Lord’s reviews of Chronicles of the Immortals – Netherworld.

http://www.vandenplas.de

1. Flying Colors – Second NatureSecond Nature

Mike Portnoy again. The guy sure does get around. Neal Morse again too. Go figure. Also in the band are Steve Morse, Casey McPhersen, and Dave Larue.

Second Nature is one of the best albums I have ever heard. Flying Colors combine prog rock and pop rock in a way not seen since the glory days of Styx and Kansas. Seeing them live merely solidified my position on the matter. Catchy yet complicated riffs abound, as well as thoughtful lyrics. If prog wants to become mainstream and popular again, then bands need to take note of Flying Colors.

Check out my review of Second Nature, as well as my review of their live show.

http://flyingcolorsmusic.com

***

Well, there’s my top 10 of 2014. A fair mixture of metal, prog metal, and straight up prog. Honorable mention should go to Ian Anderson’s Homo Erraticus, Fire Garden’s Sound of Majestic Colors (which I thought had far too much of a “garage band” mixing to make my top 10 list), Fractal Mirror’s Garden of Ghosts, Salander’s STENDEC, and Glass Hammer’s Ode to Echo. Special mention goes to Haken’s recent EP, Restoration EP. Had this been an album, I would have placed it in my top 5. Dishonorable mention goes to Yes’ Heaven and Earth.

Top concert of the year goes to Dennis DeYoung. His voice has not changed in 40 years, and his backup band and vocalists are better than Styx. He also has a singer who sounds better than Tommy Shaw did 40 years ago. Runner up for best show goes to Flying Colors, from their brief Second Nature tour. The reason I’m not placing them as best live show of the year is because of the audio problems they had during the show. The sound system for Dennis DeYoung’s show was superb, with no feedback issues during the show. I also had a wonderful time at the B.B. King concert, as well as seeing the CSO perform the music to Return of the King live. It was a great year for concerts!

I would also like to mention Dream Theater’s self-titled album as one of my most listened to albums of 2014. Everything about this album was fantastic, including the live album on Blu-Ray they released a few months back. From the metal virtuosity to the lyrics, this album will be on the rotation for years to come.

2014 has been another fantastic year for prog, and I look forward to more of the same in 2015. Neal Morse’s next project, The Neal Morse Band The Grand Experiment, comes out in February. Take a wild guess at who the drummer is. Muse will also be releasing an album in 2015, one which they claim will return to their rockier roots. There is also talk of a Rush 41st anniversary tour (I think there is, anyways). Much to look forward to in the coming year, and much to appreciate from 2014.

Prog on, Progarchy!

 

Flying Colors – “Second Nature” – Rock Brilliance

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Flying Colors’ sophomore release, Second Nature, may very well be the best album of 2014. If it weren’t for Big Big Train’s English Electric, I would say this may be the best album of the past ten years. It is that good. Seeing the band live only confirmed this suspicion for me. Many times, so-called “supergroups” don’t turn out to be so super. While the idea of putting some of the best musicians in the world in the same band sounds like a recipe for success, the results are often the opposite. I find it easy to believe that egos could often get in the way of making fine music. Not so with Flying Colors. This band combines some of the greatest musicians in the world, and they fit together as band members perfectly. In fact, for several of them, this band may be some of their best work. With Second Nature, the band has an album and a tour under their belts, and they have developed a good relationship.

For those of you unfamiliar with Flying Colors (like I basically was about a month ago), the band is made up of :

Mike Portnoy – drums, backup vocals (co-founder of Dream Theater, member of Transatlantic and The Winery Dogs)

Neal Morse – keyboards and vocals (Spocks Beard, Transatlantic)

Steve Morse – lead guitar (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple)

Dave Larue – bass (Dixie Dregs)

Casey McPhersen – lead vocals and guitar (Alpha Rev)

The talent in this band certainly is not lacking. The same can easily be said of their new album. When I first heard it a few weeks ago, I was blown away. Then I listened to it again. Wow. It has been played basically every day since then. I went back and listened to their first, self-titled, album and their live album, and I was thoroughly impressed. I knew I just had to see them live.

The album itself begins with the over 12 minute long progressive epic, “Open Your Eyes.” This song combines the musical virtuosity of these amazing artists with McPherson’s haunting vocals. The album quickly shifts gear with the second song, “Mask Machine,” probably the most “radio friendly” song on the album. This song masterfully combines prog and pop rock. The next song, “Bombs Away,” is probably the heaviest song on the album, with an awesome bass line courtesy of Dave Larue. That guy rocks, quite literally. From the heaviest song on the album, we move to one of the quietest on the album, and one of my favorites, “The Fury of My Love.” I identify with this song: it isn’t anger, it’s intensity (listen to the song and you’ll understand what I mean). The next three songs, “A Place in Your World,” “Lost Without You,” and “One Love Forever” are straight up classic hard rock songs. Great guitars, strong keyboards, steady bass, driving drums (it’s Portnoy, what do you expect), and great lyrics. The 8th song on the album, “Peaceful Harbor,” is my favorite on the album, if not my favorite song of the year. Brad mentioned in a comment on another Flying Colors post that “Peaceful Harbor” is like “Dust in the Wind” revisited. I couldn’t agree more. The song starts quietly, in a brilliant fashion, and gradually builds to an epic guitar solo with choral singing reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky.” This song is good, true, and beautiful. The album finishes with another prog epic, “Cosmic Symphony.” Made up of three parts (I. Still Life Of The World; II. Searching For The Air; III. Pound For Pound), this song ends the album perfectly. The name of the song is perfect, as it sounds symphonic. In concert, I couldn’t help but sing along with “Pound for Pound.”

One of the elements that I like the most about the music of Flying Colors is the upbeat tempo that it has. I’m no expert on the technical side of music, but I don’t think any of their songs are in minor key. This isn’t really a metal album (although you certainly hear metal elements in Portnoy’s drumming). From the music to the lyrics, you are uplifted the whole time. Furthermore, Flying Colors doesn’t go overboard trying to make their music sound complicated. It seems as if many bands in the progressive genre these days are making their albums overly complicated in studio with so many extra instruments that they can’t possibly go on tour. Flying Colors keeps it simple by only recording what they can play in concert, and they do a fantastic job with it.

As a whole, Second Nature is a masterpiece of progressive rock, as well as AOR rock. This album belongs in the rock annals with the likes of Leftoverture, Journey’s Escape, Moving Pictures, The Grand Illusion, and many other classics of progressive and arena rock. It is that good. This album is, in my opinion, an instant classic, and it pains me to think that so few people will appreciate this masterpiece. This is an album that should be blasted loud to annoy the neighbors (and to hopefully win them over to prog!).

I highly recommend Flying Colors’ new album, Second Nature, to anyone who is a fan of rock. From the guitars, to the keyboards, bass and drums, to the amazing vocals, this album is a must have. You will not be disappointed, as it is one of the best albums made in any genre over the past several years.

http://flyingcolorsmusic.com

flyingcolors1-hr

Flying Colors – Live in St. Charles, IL – 10/3/14

Flying Colors - Left to right, Steve Morse, Casey McPherson, Neal Morse, Dave Larue, and Mike Portnoy
Flying Colors – Left to right: Steve Morse, Casey McPherson, Neal Morse, Dave Larue, and Mike Portnoy

Last night, I had the great pleasure of seeing Flying Colors perform songs from their first and second albums live on the second show of their tour. Held at the Arcada Theater in St. Charles, IL (western suburb of Chicago), the show got off to a rather slow start. Two hours slow, to be exact. The concert was supposed to start at 8PM, with seating to begin at 7. That didn’t happen, due to the fact that the FAA is yet another incompetent government agency run by morons and buffoons. Weather might have also played a part in the fact that the band’s flight from California was late, but I blame the FAA. (The Air Traffic Control facility in Chicago was lit on fire by a “disgruntled” employee last week, and they are still recovering.) Mike Portnoy claimed the band hadn’t slept in a couple of days, but it sure didn’t show while they were playing. So, considering the circumstances, it was almost a miracle the show happened at all, so props to Flying Colors for making it happen.

The Flying Colors began playing at 10, but they had a touring band called Bend Sinister, of Vancouver, Canada, open for them at 9 PM. According to the theater people, Flying Colors didn’t inform the theater that Bend Sinister would also be playing. Shoutout to the band manager for a job well done (sarcasm). Bend Sinister’s music can be best described as classic hard rock. They had guitar, drums, bass, keyboards, and a singer with the vocal range of Steve Perry (I’m not kidding, the dude was amazing). They played loud, and were a fairly solid opening act. They finished their act with a cover of Supertramp’s “The Logical Song,” and they did a great job with that. I kind of felt bad for not buying one of their albums to support them, but I’m a poor college student. The bassist gave me a business card after the show though, so there’s that.

Flying Colors finally took the stage around 10, and, boy, was the crowd ready. I don’t remember the setlist, which doesn’t much matter because they ended up playing a song that wasn’t on it. All the songs were from their first two albums, except for one acoustic song done by Casey McPherson from his band, Alpha Rev. He phased that song right into the beginning of “Peaceful Harbor,” and it worked perfectly.

Right from the get go, Flying Colors was rockin’ the roof off the joint. I was so excited to finally get to see Mike Portnoy, my second favorite drummer behind Neal Peart (who else?). After listening to my review copy of Second Nature a few weeks ago, I knew I had to hear more from this band. I acquired their first album (thanks, Brad), and I listened to both of Flying Colors albums almost daily for the past two weeks, until I decided to buy a ticket on Wednesday. They did not disappoint in concert. Everything from Steve Morse’s unworldly guitar work, to Portnoy’s always amazing drum work, to Dave Larue’s steady and technical bass work, this band has it all. I don’t think it is too much to say that this is one of the best “supergroups” ever.

The frustrating part of the evening, both for me and obviously for the band, was the feedback problems they had with their audio system. I think all of the problems were coming from Casey’s amps, as he said a couple of times that he blew a few amps, and the audio guy was on stage half the show messing with Casey’s guitar and amps trying to fix the problem. He never did, unfortunately. But, it was only noticeable on the quiet songs. Despite the setback, the band still performed flawlessly, and they really deserve credit for fighting through yet another setback. The crowd was more than gracious, which I’m sure the band appreciated.

IMG_1217
Dave Larue on bass

If you have listened to any of the Flying Colors catalogue, you know how amazing these guys are. In concert, they take it to the max. In fact, some of their songs sound even better live, especially “Infinite Fire,” which was the encore, and “Peaceful Harbor.” The beautiful thing about this band is they don’t play loud for the sake of playing loud. Even though I left with about 1/4 of the hearing capacity I arrived with, each instrument could be heard (or felt) clearly and distinctly. It wasn’t just loud noise, like some bands. As a lead singer, arguably the least famous member of the band, Casey McPhersen has an excellent stage presence and a fantastic voice with great pitch and range. He never missed a note. Neal Morse sounded good as well, and he was a whiz on the keyboards. Even Portnoy sang, which was cool to see the drummer do. He talked to the audience a lot as well, explaining their difficulties getting to Chicago. The Arcada Theater has become his “home away from home,” as this was the third show he has played there this year, all with different bands. Dave Larue is incredible on the bass, and he bears an uncanny resemblance to Geddy Lee. Steve Morse is a god on guitar, enough said.

Throughout the night, the band played a good mix of songs from both of their albums. It was probably about 50/50, but they may have played more from Second Nature. I think they opened with “Open Your Eyes,” but I can’t rightly remember. (I’m better at remembering albums, since I usually listen to albums in their entirety and never look at what song is playing. That’s why I love TaaB!) In no specific order, they also played, “Cosmic Symphony,” “Mask Machine,” “Bombs Away” (freakin’ amazing bass!), “The Fury of My Love,” “Peaceful Harbor,” Shoulda Coulda Woulda,” “Kayla,” “The Storm,” “Infinite Fire,” and several other songs I’m forgetting. It was all awesome, and there isn’t a Flying Colors song that I don’t like.

In the end, this was a fantastic concert. The band did a great job of overcoming adversity, especially when the venue was nowhere near sold out. They truly love their fans, because they showed nothing but appreciation to the crowd. In my mind, the only thing holding them back is the airlines, equipment failure, and whoever the hell set up the sound equipment.

Tonight was the last American show, held in Philadelphia. However, for European fans, there are seven more shows in the tour spread out around the continent. My recommendation: go! You won’t regret it. And go buy Second Nature. Great job Flying Colors!

http://flyingcolorsmusic.com

My iPhone takes garbage photos. I think a polaroid from the 70s could do better. My dad has color slides from a Journey concert that are clearer than this.
My iPhone takes garbage photos. I think a polaroid from the 70s could do better. My dad has color slides from a Journey concert that are clearer than this.