Progradar Best Of 2016 – Gary Morley’s Top 10 With Statistics

I was supposed to have compiled a list of my top 10 ( I Think it was) albums of the year to be added to the sum worth of Progradar’s scribbling…

But I got sidetracked, applied work head and started an analysis what I’d bought and the statistics it presented me with. I blame being off sick with ‘flu or a cold as my wife insisted! J

So, an introduction is the formal way of working.

Set out the aims and objectives of this presentation.

Provide the data capture information etc.

Well ,all the CD’s were released in 2016 and purchased by my good self using either a credit card, PayPal or cash in a variety of transactions, involving human interaction, human to machine and machine to machine interfaces.

For statistical purposes, all are treated as “sales”.

Total number of “sales” of 2016 releases to the subject (me) was recorded at 159 units.[1]

These 159 units form the basis of our data extrapolation

Analysis and a breakdown into the main music food groups took place and we cross checked our data with the standard sources (A mate on Facebook, Wikipedia, a man at a bus stop and the local feline)

We then carried out advance statistical sampling and came to the following conclusions:

1 I spent far too much money on CD’s …again! Good job Wifey doesn’t read this J

2 I keep finding new bands and artists to listen to. This is a self defeating sub routine, s the more I listen too, the more get added to the library, so the more follow up CD’s and back catalogue CDs come under scrutiny, so the limited finances are spread across an increasing collecting field. Rationalisation will have to be implemented and decisions, tough decisions will have to be made in regards to future funding shortfalls.

3 I’m a sucker for a pretty cover. There are a number of “wild card” CDs here that have no discernible links to the others, they were chosen purely on a whim as I liked the look of the cover. To avoid embarrassment to both creator and listener, these will not be separated from the data and will be treated as equal contributors to the sum of all musical knowledge.

[1]  Unit – a physical Compact disc, either as an individual or as a multi unit (known as a “box set”)

Breaking down into the 9 detailed groups, we see that Prog is the most voracious in terms of numbers, accounting for 30% of my “spend”

Generic “Rock came a close second, at 28% , with Blues taking the final podium position with a sterling take of 20%. Specialist genres spilt the remaining funds between them with Soul and Ambient / Dance taking 14% each – a merger there could reap dividends next year.

That was the gross figures; there was no taste bias or cultural drift applied.

No additional “worth” was assigned to individual persons or products.[1]

The second part of our research was to “rank” the releases in order of “enjoyment” and “appreciation.

We pored over the raw data and assigned arbitrary plusses and minuses to each, factoring in musical dexterity, lyrical relevance, aura of cool, instrumental prowess, humalongabilty, ability to raise goose bumps, and “star Quality”

[2] For our research purposes, all “units” are assigned an equal cost, regardless of actual cost. This is to remove smugness bias and inferred value capping

The top 50 were assembled and separated from the 2016 subject group and were reassessed using the “Wallet emptier matrix”

Results were then sense checked and subjected to a “blind “listen to confirm that there were no tactical substitutions or last minute reappraisals.

And the top ten were dusted off , polished and are here for your pleasure.

In reverse order:-

10 – iamthemorning – Lighthouse

Glacial Russian Prog duo take everyone by surprise , this is a thing of beauty , genre defying and a Prog album that you can play to your non prog friends ( you do have them , don’t you? )

Beauty in both voice and spirit with a beast of a piano player, play it loud and get lost in their world.

9 – Joe Bonamassa – Live At The Greek

Yes, I know, Progradar writes about Prog. My ears listen to all sorts, this is my top ten of the year, and a lot of great music passed through my ears to get here.

Joe pays tribute to the 3 Kings of the Blues as only he can. By assembling a crackingly good live band, rehearsing them and then letting them loose in a concert environment. Where the joy and blues magic is captured by Kevin Shirley for us to enjoy, and I for one did. Highlight – the good vibes shining through the whole project and a full horn section powered blues band.

8 – Hawkwind – The Machine Stops

The first one in my list that I reviewed, so I can happily put this here. Hawkwind sound reenergised here, no more rehashing their own past, instead a thought provoking and relevant concept album about modern life, based on a story written 75 years ago. Fired up, rocking away, an album that thoroughly deserves the accolades it has received this last year.

7 – William White – Open Country

Switzerland, land of many things, but Rastafarian hotbed home of politically charged soulful reggae in the personable Mr W is not top of most people’s lists. In fact, after chocolate, mountain views and tax evasion, most people couldn’t provide much more of a picture of Southern European Alpine lining until Toblerone changed the shape of a chocolate bar- then every pub “expert” trotted out a variety of half facts, none of which prepare you for the sheer charm of this album. A double, one side is a fine collection of politically charged songs that anyone familiar with Ben Harper or Michael Franti would approve of .CD 2 is where the top 10 votes pile in. Live, William and his band are downright funky! Superb playing in front of a lucky crowd elevates this album into the top 10. Just listen to “Soul Rider” and defy your legs not to get all funky on yo’ Ass!

6 – The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude Of A Dream

I’ve reviewed this, but you won’t know that yet, as review is still being written. This is a Prog fan’s dream Prog album. Concept album – tick, double album in fantastic artwork – tick. Musicianship bordering on the fretwankery – tick.

Songs – oh yes , it has more tunes that an entire karaoke bar in Kyoto on a wet Wednesday ( traditionally the optimum time and place for karaoke )

Deep Purple collide with Genesis , listen to Queen and Led Zeppelin , all get kidnapped by God fearing Christian fundamentalists with an overzealous approach to redemption . All that and more wrapped up in the Prog Concept album of the year. It’s another exciting chapter in Morse’s book of tunes, not a radical departure from Spock’s Beard / Transatlantic output but still head and shoulders above many of the releases from the “big boys” this year.

5 – Big Big Train – A Stone’s Throw From The Line

To capture that rarest of events, a Big Big Train live concert required an engineer of skill and dexterity: Rob Aubrey proves that he is both with this album. Recorded last August in front of a, shall we put it politely, “devoted” “slightly biased” crowd ( I plead guilty to attending the first night) you can relive the experience in glorious Technicolor on the blu- ray  released earlier this year. But the release of the entire set as a 2CD set is the icing on the cake. Stripped of the need to spot faces in the audience, here you focus on the sound made on that stage. A glorious, very “English” sound too, but in an inclusive melting pot of traditional folklore , contemporary urban life and a celebration of the common man.

Listening now, with 2016 fading into the night, it heralds a better place than the one we are in now. Our heroes were still with us, we were united as a people, hoping for better times and reflecting on the past, not with rose tinted glasses, but the lenses of modern technology and science.
One modern “myth” is that the death of David Bowie in January started the slow unravelling of the space time continuum that played out in 2016, ?I think that without the white heat of beauty this event generated, things would have been worse. Not quite sure how, but we are still here, I’m writing this, and if my theory is correct, the chance of someone reading this far is greater because of the subject within.

Just listen to the glory that is / was “East Coast Racer”.

4 – Colin James – Blue Highways

Colin James made this album for me… Or so it felt when I saw that he’d done an album of his favourite blues tracks, a sort of musicians mix tape. On here are 13 reasons why he is the greatest Canadian guitar player / singer out there. Greater than the God, Neil Young by virtue of the fact Colin plays the blues and is therefore probably human whereas Young is almost certainly not  .

Over the years I’ve followed James from a hot shot hyped up “future of the blues” gunslinger period through his “Big Band” period where he made Jools Holland sound like a school music project, to his dabbling with funk and soul up to his 25th anniversary celebration live album, always a bit of a secret pleasure for me, until this album cracked it for him. From full blown funky band to solo acoustic, all facets of his talent are here , impeccably produced ,an album that just oozes class.

3 – Skye & Ross – Skye/Ross

Morcheeba were the band that turned my head onto contemporary UK music , post rave. I’ve always loved soul and funk, but the rave scene and the endless splintering of genres across the spectrum meant that a lot of good stuff passed me by at the time. However. Watching “the White Room” TV show back in the day , 2 bands caught my ears . One was Kula Shaker with their retake of psychaedelia , the other wasn’t so much of a band , I heard this stunning slide blues guitar over a wash of samples and rhythm duelling with an angel. Looked up and there were 2 geezers and an angel! My first experience of the genius of Morcheeba. I tracked down their debut album and started a musical journey that continues to this day. Through line up fluctuations, fame and fortune, downsizing and fallow years, I persevered, collecting their albums, solo material and those of other bands they turned me onto. The whole “trip hop” fashion scene produced some great musicians, all of which now form part of my musical DNA – Banco De Gaia , Massive Attack, Thievery Corporation, Desert Dwellers, Shpongle, Ott, Dreadzone  , The Orb and Leftfield, all these unfolded from that first Morcheeba experience) .

So my excitement was piqued when I saw that 2/3 of the original line-up were promising a return to their roots. Not a rehash of old material nor old demos but new material! I paid my money ( a pledge music adventure) and waited.

That wait was worth it, 10 tracks of class and beauty, a “proper “ album of 2 sides , all killer , no filler as the clichés states. These are perfect “pop” songs with sparse instrumentation that allows Skye’s voice to pour like honey from the speakers. No showboating guitar fretwankery drowning everything, just well crafted songs played and sang to the benefit of the listener.

2 – Banco De Gaia – The Ninth of Nine Hearts

Coming from a very Rock centered youth, my musical tastes expanded rapidly as I was exposed to new sounds. My youth was spent emulating Friends elder siblings, declaring allegiance to the Gods of Rock – Free, Deep Purple and  Led Zeppelin were our local pantheon, I added Pink Floyd, Santana, Queen , Bad Company and more by the time punk exploded in our area.

XTC were our hometown band , we al rushed out and bought the 3D Ep, placed it on the communal stereo… and half got up and left after 2 chords!

Through the punk years and the new romantic desert afterwards, we were student, learning about life , love and David Bowie.

Employment beckoned it’s fickle finger and I followed my ears. Discovering Reggae, Soul, Funk, Jazz, African , “Electro”( hip hop ) , Acid House, and so on.

Throughout ll of these expansions, the one thing that linked the music that became part of me was melody. I love a good tune, no matter what label is put on it. Through the new romantics I discovered early electronic pioneers, the post punk movement produced This Mortal Coil for me to love , We Banco De Gaia latest album sits firmly in that melodic bag. It’s not “dance “music, it’s not “Electronica” , neither is it folk or classical. IT sits at the centre of a web with strands linking all of these . Pat Metheny group influences the vibe, as does Psych dub via hallucinogen style rhythms and synth use. It’s very trippy, but not in a 4 to the floor house / euro beat manner.

The only album that springs to mind as I listen is Jakata Visions with it’s up beat up-tempo tracks. Much of 9/hearts is a slow unfolding of layers of beautiful sound, sculpted to lose yourself in. Time is outside this album. Listen on headphones and the world around you fades and you are on a trip Toby Marks has constructed for you to enjoy. A rollercoaster between your ears, one I loved riding time and time again.

Listen to “Burn the Witch” and tell me that’s not “Progressive”!Isten to the Sax and synth on “the Princess and The Skygoat” – Pink Floyd meet Sly n Robbie . Bliss, sheer aural bliss.

1 – Prince – 4Ever

It took me months to accept that he had died. The cornerstones of my musical DNA took a battering in 2016. Losing Lemmy in December last year was a shock, he was an old festival warrior that wifey was friends with. David Bowie went out inder his own terms, leaving behind a final “great” album , Blackstar that I cannot listen to without getting the feeling that it’s an elaborate joke on his part. He knew that he next journey for him was imminent so left us with an enigmatic, dense jazz puzzle , guaranteed to sort  the men from the boys as it were.

Come April,  I get home from work, sit with a green tea and turn on my PC. Before it’s even on, my phone explodes with friends asking how I feel, that it’s a joke. Not a joke. Not true . can’t be… Life sucks., Raging friends “FUCK FUCK FUCK NO NO.

The greatest musician It was my pleasure to see, hear or be aware of had died.

The world has not been the same since. Prince was my world in many ways for the last 30 years, my family and friends were aware that I devoted hours listening to, talking about and sharing music produced, composed, arranged and played by this man.

IT took his death for them to see the genius.

His notoriously robust removal of unapproved live footage from the internet meant that most people saw the skills I (and my virtual family) had been banging on about.

Guitar players- this guy could eat them all for lunch (except, as a strict vegan, no animals were harmed in the playing of his guitars)

He was a master musician, able to play any instrument, ant style, at any time.

Not in a look at me techno-wank speed guitar ego boost, but in a very understated but forceful way. Live, when he let rip, you stood there, jaw dropped, staring. And he knew it. Impish smile as he solo’d furiously during the secret 3rd Eye Girl gig at Shepherd’s Bush Empire – 3 hours of high octane funk n roll guitar melting fun that I’ll always remember.

He controlled that stage, the others following his lead as he took the band (and us) with him on his trip.

Then there are the songs. Throw away ditties, ballads, songs he gave away, songs people didn’t realise he’d been involved with, let alone written…

Kiss, Sign O The Times, Purple Rain, The Most Beautiful Girl In The World, Raspberry Beret, Nothing Compares 2 U. I could carry on listing them, but I think you get the picture painted here.

So 4ever is the first posthumous Prince album, and a corker it is too. Planned by him as a career overview, it contains all the hits, a smattering of rare edits and, for the hard core faithful, an official release of “Moonbeam Levels” at long last.

His vault contains much material unreleased, unheard and unreleased, how much of it gets released depends on the lawyers, but I’ll be there, in line saying take my money, I want that live album, and that one, that box set too.

Live the man was untouchable. In 40 years of gig attendance, he was the apex performer. Better than Led Zeppelin at Knebworth, better than Stevie Ray Vaughan at Reading, better even than Marillion in the Brunel rooms Amphitheatre in Swindon, where I watched them stun a crowd from the relative safety of my DJ booth.

No, there could only be one album of the year, one artist of the year and this is that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progradar Best Of 2016 – Leo Trimming’s Top 10

Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Simply stunning. Robin Armstrong has imagined a rich narrative of alien incursion (or paranoid breakdown?!) with sonic brilliance. The imaginative story is unnerving, whilst the music is captivating on a human level but cinematic in scope – ranging from crunching Purple riffs, through atmospheric acoustic passages to sweeping Floydian soundscapes. Robin Armstrong’s multi-instrumental ability would be nothing without the excellent song writing and fascinating concept of this outstanding album. Undoubtedly, Album of the Year for me, from one of the best Progressive Rock artists of this generation.

(I’ve put Cosmograf as my Album of the year… the rest are in no particular order… they’re all great albums.)

Red Bazar – Tales From The Bookcase

This was my TPA’s review’s conclusion early in the year for this surprise package, and I’ve had no reason to change it since…

‘This is an excellent collaboration: Red Bazar have helped Peter Jones express more of his serious, darker side and also allowed him to display more vocal dexterity. In return Red Bazar have gained a talented and very fine rock vocalist who has added great lyrical skill and vocal feeling  to their own fine emotional musical palette…

This may be a bit of a dark horse, but Red Bazar may just have released one of the Prog albums of the year.’

Matthew Parmenter – All Our Yesterdays

A favourite on two levels – it’s a great album of subtle artistry and fine music, and on another level the artist & his music  touched me personally. My Progradar review concluded:

Matthew Parmenter has stepped aside from the magnificent, gothic group dynamic of Discipline to create a solo work of art suffused with dramatic shades and emotional lyricism, conveying tragedy and hope. This is an album that is likely to captivate and beguile with subtlety and delicate emotion. It certainly gave me unexpected comfort – Inside.’

Nine Stones Close – Leaves

A darkly trippy and psychedelic album. Part dream, part nightmare – this is an album for which repeated listens gradually unpeal the layers, like all the best progressive releases. My Progradar review observed:

Nine Stones Close create rich musical landscapes suffused with a sense of the dramatic and psychedelic… They do not stick to their old formula and want to progress. My advice is stick with these guys because you are never quite sure in which direction their songs or this albums may turn, but it sure is an imaginative and fascinating ride!’

Big Big Train – Folklore

A much anticipated release does not disappoint as the album describes modern folklore, ancient legend, elegies for lost love and epic stories of heroism and loss … plus bees (!) in a rich tapestry of folk tinged progressive rock. Lyrically intelligent and insightful, conveyed with integrity and emotion, and played with consummate skill and passion. Impossible to ignore – we all sort of knew it would be great. Of course it’s great!

Marillion – F.E.A.R

This is a remarkable release from the Prog veterans that rightly propelled them back to wider prominence with an album full of anger and insight in to the state of the world, with the dominance and influence of the ‘super rich’. Of course, none of those political thoughts or feelings would count for anything in an album without outstanding music – Marillion have conveyed their message with powerful rock passages and also subtle melody. Three epic songs with ambitious scope are clearly modern and truly ‘Progressive’ without lazily resting on ‘Prog’ tropes.  A late contender for album of the year, but who would guess that well over 30 years in to their career that Marillion would pull off an album that truly has something to say about today’s world with such impact and sensitivity, and really mean something.  Beautiful at times, dramatic at other times… thought provoking throughout.

The Gift – Why The Sea Is Salt

Let’s get straight to the point – ‘Why the Sea is Salt’ is a truly exceptional album, and deserves to propel The Gift in to the higher echelons of current British Progressive Rock Music. Simple as that – it really is that outstanding. Very few albums indeed have the potential to attain the status of a potential ‘classic’ album, which will live long in the memory like ‘Why the Sea is Salt’. This is a work which greatly appeals to the heart and mind in equal measures, and similarly beguiles and stimulates in its beauty and drama. The Gift have skilfully and  beautifully draw upon a variety of influences, inspirations and ideas and artfully crafted them into an imaginative and enjoyable musical experience that touches the heart and stimulates the mind. Just brilliant.

What more could one want from an album?!

Paradigm Shift – Becoming Aware

This is an outstanding album musically and lyrically, with this young band fusing elements of heavy rock, psychedelia, rap, politics and progressive rock tropes in an intoxicating mix.

Paradigm Shift create finely played music based on well known influences with a largely retro feel. It is refreshing to see a new, younger band on the progressive rock scene willing to inject a political but not overwhelming edge to their songs on this very promising debut album, addressing such issues with vigour and passion.

What remains to be seen is whether Paradigm Shift can sustain this very impressive early showing, and how they develop and absorb other influences in the modern progressive music scene. However, with this album I think many progressive rock fans will definitely be ‘Becoming Aware’ of this promising young band.

TILT – Hinterland

TILT have delivered a superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. A fine combination of excellent rock music with all that’s best about progressive rock, these guys show how it really should be done. It is a clever mix of styles with some subdued, complicated sections weaving between the more straightforward rock themes and gives TILT their own definite sense of identity. This is a talented group of musicians who are at the top of their game and it shows.

Yorkston,Thorne and Khan – Everything Sacred

Finally, and completely out of ‘left field’ for me after seeing them at a festival.

What do you get when you combine a talented Scottish folk singer-songwriter, (James Yorkston) with a reknowned double bass jazz player (Jon Thorne) and finally an award winning Sarangi player and classical singer from New Delhi ( Suhail Yusuf Khan)?

You get an album of beguiling beauty, heart breaking emotion and diverse sounds, blending styles and cultures in a fascinating mix. Listen to songs like ‘Broken Wave’ and ‘Everything Sacred’ and try not to dab the corner of your eye. At other times you are drawn in to hypnotic Indian rhythms with hints of folk, and always played with such delicacy and skill.

Is it ‘Prog’? Of course it bloody isn’t!

But what is more ‘Progressive’ than skilfully and intuitively blending musical and cultural influences to create something so new and so beautiful? Go on… challenge yourself – it’s a great album.

 

Progradar Best Of 2016 – Shawn Dudley’s Top 10

Let’s face it, 2016 has not been the best year in human history, but it has been an exceptionally good year for music.  Seemingly every week something new would capture my imagination and become indispensible.  Due to the magnitude of choices putting together a year-end list became a daunting exercise.

What follows is not necessarily a traditional “top 10”, it’s a condensed selection of albums that made the most impact on me throughout the year.

Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts

The Fall of Hearts was the easiest selection for this list; its place has been secure for months.  Nobody was more surprised than me as I had previously been ambivalent about Katatonia but this gorgeous, immaculately crafted album completely won me over. It’s a subtle, layered album that bears repeated listening, something I did almost daily for several months. The Fall of Hearts is their most mature and fully realized work to date, a rare instance of a band in their second decade who continue to evolve and improve their already unique sound.
Favorite tracks:  Takeover, Last Song Before The Fade, Shifts

Opeth -Sorceress

While the various factions of Opeth fans of different eras clash online, fruitlessly fighting for supremacy…Mikael Akerfeldt continues to laugh and do whatever the hell he wants. Sorceress continues Opeth’s exploration of vintage instrumentation that began with the controversial Heritage in 2011 and the more straight-forward and polished Pale Communion in 2014.  Sorceress goes against expectations by going for a rawer, heavier and more experimental approach.  It’s a stylistically diverse collection of songs with gorgeous folk rockers, heavy Prog epics and 70s inspired jams co-existing harmoniously.

Favorite tracks:  A Fleeting Glance, The Wilde Flowers, The Ward (bonus track)

Messenger – Threnodies

This sadly under-appreciated gem was easily one of the most enjoyable albums I heard all year. Messenger had the ability to work within the sonic framework of classic Prog, the instrumentation and vibe, yet not become a slave to it. Threnodies may offer up flashes of the past via inspiration; Wishbone Ash, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, CSN&Y; yet it sounds simultaneously modern and wholly relevant in 2016. Sadly the band has prematurely called it a day, but despite that I wouldn’t want you to miss out on hearing what they’ve left behind.
Favorite tracks:  Oracles Of War, Balearic Blue, Celestial Spheres

Seven Impale – Contrapasso

This thoroughly and wonderfully insane sextet from Norway was my favorite discovery of the year. Contrapasso is the type of album it’s best to just experience because describing it accurately is an exercise in futility. You’ll find elements of King Crimson, jazz-fusion, early 70s heavy metal and a love of the absurd, but that still just gives you a vague impression. The mixture of wonderfully heavy guitar and bass riffs, improvisational saxophone excursions and entertainingly theatrical vocals I find completely addictive.
Favorite tracks: Languor, Heresy, Inertia

Gong – Rejoice! I’m Dead!

Guitarist/Vocalist Kavus Torabi makes the first of two appearances on my year-end list. On Rejoice! I’m Dead! he effortlessly carries on the eclectic and joyful Gong; simultaneously a love letter to the recently departed founder Daevid Allen and a thoroughly rewarding work on its own merits.  It’s a wonderful collection of brief, quirky rockers and stretched-out fusion jam bliss. I love the sound of this album so much; I can’t help smiling whenever I play it. Who says Prog can’t be fun?
Favorite tracks: Rejoice!, The Unspeakable Stands Revealed, Kapital 

Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden

Our second Kavus Torabi appearance is another blast of experimentally playful fun. Knifeworld sets the tone immediately with the thoroughly addictive High Aflame, an artfully arranged pop confection that is the perfect album opener. The horn section allows them to employ voicings that you don’t often here in progressive rock circles, not that this album really fits into the general guidelines of that term. In fact I’m not sure Knifeworld exists within the guidelines of anything but their own imagination.  I applaud them.

Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä

And now for something truly and beautifully frightening. This Finnish quintet has crafted an avant-garde treasure, a mixture of Space Rock, Jazz and caustic Black Metal that is supremely thrilling. The arrangements are incredibly dense, building layer upon layer of guitars, synths and scorched earth vocals that threaten to become atonal cacophony, but deftly remain right on the edge. It’s challenging, intense music, but also contains much beauty. If you’re feeling brave, I highly recommend it.
Favorite tracks:  Lahja, Havuluu, Vasemann Kaden Hierarkla

 

Haken – Affinity

I will admit that the technical end of Prog Metal is not my preferred style. I’ve never been inspired by the Dream Theater end of the spectrum, I can admire the craft, but it doesn’t generally speak to me. Haken is one of the few exceptions, a band whose audacious personality and jaw dropping musicianship manage to always remain entertaining. This is assisted by a welcome amount of dry humor that has a tendency to display itself on occasion. Affinity is their most complex and intricately constructed album yet, maybe not quite as accessible as The Mountain but just as artistically successful. The playfulness shows itself on the epic ‘1985’, a song built entirely on the instrumental sounds of the 80s that never devolves into parody and instead becomes poignant. Haken also continue to outgrow the limitations of Prog Metal, methodically expanding their musical vocabulary into new, unexpected areas. Affinity continues their winning streak of rewarding albums; I look forward to hearing where they go next.
Favorite tracks:  The Architect, Red Giant, 1985

Purson – Desire’s Magic Theatre

D.M.T. is Rosalie Cunningham’s love letter to the late 60s psychedelic and early progressive rock scene and the substances that often inspired them. What keeps it from becoming just a curio is the conviction she brings to her songs and how skillfully she applies the vintage instrumental sounds to create the required effect. The influences are plentiful; Hendrix, The Doors, Jethro Tull, Jefferson Airplane, King Crimson, Curved Air; but Rosalie has taken that inspiration and applied it to her own organic and highly enjoyable compositions.  It’s a fun album that is worth investigating, with or without the accompanying substances.

Favorite tracks:  Electric Landlady, Pedigree Chums, The Bitter Suite

Khemmis – Hunted 

In addition to Progressive Rock and Jazz I’ve also been a Heavy Metal fan for over 30 years. I don’t listen to straight-ahead metal very often these days but occasionally I’ll hear something that reawakens that old love of chugging, galloping riffs and thunderous drums. Khemmis is a young band from Denver whose latest album Hunted kicked my ass right and proper. Their sound is a tasty mix of doomy Candlemass/Trouble riffs, dual harmony lead guitars and NWOBHM inspired attitude. Satisfyingly crushing yet consistently melodic and inspired, these guys nail all the metallic requirements with their muscular performances and above-average songwriting.  My neck hurts…
Favorite songs:  Above The Water, Candlelight, Hunted

 

 

 

 

 

Progradar Best of 2016 – Craig Ellis Bacon’s Top 10

Anderson/Stolt – Invention of Knowledge

Expansive and spiritual in the vein of Tales From Topographic Oceans, this album–like all things Yes these days–has sharply divided the prog world’s opinions. And everyone’s got an opinion on this thing. Well, I’m firmly in the camp that Jon Anderson, Roine Stolt, and Co. have gifted us with a masterpiece. The album is a singular experience, a meditative exercise in four movements. The unrelenting positivity might sound out of place for these dark days, but it’s nonetheless needed. Strong contender for album of the year, for those with ears to hear.

Big Big Train – Folklore

Big Big Train keep adding members, and with each addition they get a little–scrap that, they get A LOT–better. I think they’ve hit on a perfect line-up, because they’ve just released a perfect album. They continue here with themes of the English countryside and fading cultural artifacts, rocking a ‘pastoral prog’ approach that owes a lot to Selling England By The Pound and Wind & Wuthering. Be sure to listen to the extended version as released on vinyl and hi-res download.

Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”
Donald Glover and Ludwig Göransson deliver the funk with plenty of 70’s heart and…well, y’know. There’s lots of organic percussion, fat synths and keys, deep grooves, and vocal effects to fill out the tracks. Childish Gambino keeps things varied here, but centered on those 70’s funk tropes, and somehow manage to inhabit rather than merely imitate. If Prince had released this album in the last few years, it would have been hailed as a renaissance and return to form.

Ben Craven – Last Chance To Hear

Great & Terrible Potions is quite an album to follow up, but Ben Craven has managed it with Last Chance To Hear. Loosely a concept album about the end of the music industry as we’ve known it, this album features William Shatner, prog-a-billy, a spot-on James Bond theme, and even a lovely piano elegy. It’s also a contender for best album art and packaging, with gorgeous designs by Freyja Dean. Cinematic, progressive, singer-songwriter with lush production.

The Fringe – The Fringe

Nick D’Virgilio, Jonas Reingold, Randy McStine. I was sold on the first two names alone, and I wish I had known about the third sooner. Perhaps the album I’ve listened to the most this year, The Fringe incorporates the more alternative rock side of prog into a garage band ethos with my pick for the best production work of the year. The album is stacked with deep grooves, vocal harmonies, and guitar solos. The Fringe are too good to remain a side-project, so here’s hoping that we hear more, and soon.

Frost* – Falling Satellites

Prog has always been a Populist musical venture, however strange that may sound these days. Why shouldn’t pop be progressive, anyway? The latest from Frost* is the most modern-sounding album of the year; it’s ahead of its time, really. All pop music will sound like this in ten years (we can hope). Hooky, layered, accessible, rich, and emotional–it suits a wide range of musical needs.

Steve Hindalong – The Warbler

Incorporating elements of his work with The Choir, The Lost Dogs, and his previous solo album, Steve Hindalong turns in another batch of so very human songs. His descriptive lyrics are so mundane–that is, they essentially capture the mundanity of everyday life–that they bypass our receptors for aesthetic filigree and hit straight at the heart. It’s not unusual for a song to prompt tears, chuckles, and tears again in the course of a verse and chorus. Essentially a singer-songwriter album, the rich production frames the lyrics while never obscuring them. Don’t let the religious backdrop scare you away; this is less of a ‘Christian’ album than what Neal Morse was writing before he was a Christian, and it captures themes of friendship and everyday existence so very well.

Marillion – F.E.A.R

Wow. Of course I want my Prog to be beautiful, grandiose, immersive, but to get one that’s also so…so important? If I were ranking albums, this would have to be #1, and I’ll happily listen to it twice for every person who’s turned off by the message. Political prog at it’s finest, and Mark Kelly is going to win an award for his keys on this album, right

Muriah Rose – Beneath The Clay

Muriah Rose hits the ground running with this gorgeous debut, comprising folk, country, Americana, and singer-songwriter forms recalling The Carter Family, Julie Miller, and The Byrds. Beneath The Clay is Appalachian music through and through, not only musically but thematically and emotionally. Her husband, Bill Mallonee, holds down the rhythm section and adds textured guitar, but Muriah’s voice and lyrics stand front and center in the spotlight, where they belong.

Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence

Continuing in the vein of Sky Blue but with some Ocean Machine thrown in for good measure, Transcendence finds Devin Townsend working the “emotional mid-tempo rock” thing the DTP have perfected over the last several years, except that here they perfect it even a little more. While I’d love to hear more of Anneke Van Giersbergen’s vocals, the decision to lean on her vocals a little less really brings Dave Young’s guitar and Mike St-Jean’s keys more to the forefront. It’s not just marketing, folks: this album sounds less like a Project and more like a band effort. Nolly’s mixing and production also add some breathing room to Devy’s typically dense arrangements. It’s heavy, proggy, inspirational, and good.

 

 

 

Progradar Best of 2016 – David Elliott’s Top 10

Here’s my Top Ten, in no particular order. You can disagree with me as much as you want, but I’m still right. Bad Elephant Music releases are excluded. I don’t want to die.

The Dowling Poole – One Hyde Park

Superb pop album from Willie Dowling and Jon Poole. Makes you smile throughout. Perfect to cheer up a cold winter day.

Afro Celt Sound System – The Source

Earthier and less electronic than their previous releases, Afro Celt redux! An album will never be as amazing as their sizzling live shows, but this comes pretty close.

Sand – A Sleeper,Just Awake

Sam Healy (North Atlantic Oscillation) does a spiffing solo project. The first Sand album was lovely, this one is even better.

Frost* – Falling Satellites

Well worth waiting for. It takes something to beat Milliontown – this might just be it.

Thank You Scientist – Stranger Heads Prevail

Fun, funky and far out. Progressive rock US-style. I dare you not to dance to ‘Mr. Invisible’.

North Sea Radio Orchestra – Dronne

Simply sublime. Music at its unclassifiable best. I can’t describe it, but you MUST hear it.

Bent Knee – Say So

More art-rock madness from t’other side of the Atlantic. Courtney Swain’s high-drama vocal delivery backed by equally striking instrumental performances. Utterly captivating.

Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden

The fullest realisation of Kavus Torabi’s unique musical vision. More bassoon!

Karmakanic – DOT

Probably my favourite full-on prog release of the year, BEM albums excluded. Karmakanic are sounding like a band these days, rather than a project.

Gong – Rejoice! I’m Dead!

Even Daevid Allen’s death couldn’t stop Gong from continuing. That man Torabi again, but although the voice is his, the music is undeniably Gong.

 

 

 

Progradar Best of 2016 – Emma Roebuck’s Top 10

Emma’s 10 for the year November 2015 to November 2016. It’s difficult to select 10 out of a whole year of frankly remarkable music. This selection is based on what I have listened to outside my radio show and reviewing schedule. No doubt I will change it in 2 days or more but this is the list as I type the words. I have looked at the albums I have played most at home or in the car since I acquired them. I apologise to any I have omitted but 10 is 10 and there has to be a line. It is not because the quality is less but more that these albums have spoken to me more than others. I think it is representative of what the year has given us musically from the independent sector to the ones with recording deals.

Red Bazar – Tales From The Bookcase

What can be said about this out of the Blue album that already hasn’t? A good instrumental band gets access to a vocal talent in the extreme that is a bit of a musical polymath. You get the final ingredient they needed. You get a collection of storytelling songs that bode well for the future of good solid melodic Progressive rock that is a delight to ears.

Steve Thorne – Island of the Imbeciles

Brooding, insightful, dark and political, no, not my facebook posts but Mr Thorne’s latest output. I have returned to this album again and again this year.  He captured the zeitgeist so well in this album. The songs stand up to repeated listening and are musically outstanding as well as lyrically. He has the ability for the melancholic which suits me down to the ground.

Birdeatsbaby – Tanta Furia

One of my more oddball, leftfield choices for the Prog scene, their publicist asked me to give it a listen and I duly obliged. What hit me straight away is the desire to just follow their path no matter what genre they were placed in by others. This is high energy music where a Gothic mentality meets Prog avante guard and adds a little Lana Del Rey. Yet it is all about the song not the ability to play. It’s dark and seedy, the world of Birdeatsbaby but worth a visit.

Kyros – Vox Humana

Adam changes a band name and then gets a band to make an album by a band rather than a solo project with musicians helping. It’s a jump in maturity for the song writing and although not an actual concept it is a thematic album on the “Human Condition”. I look forward to seeing this album brought to life on stage live.

Drifting Sun- Safe Asylum

This is Neo prog in its finest tradition. I played a track from this to a fellow DJ at Progzilla Radio and he was blown away in a fit of nostalgia for the days of a renown pub in Walthamstow. It is neo Prog of the highest standard. Full on, no holds barred and unashamed in where it comes from and long may it remain so.

Under A Banner – TheWild Places

If you have ever seen New Model Army or the Pogues then you’ll have some idea of the passion and power in this music. Add a strong political lyrical undercurrent and a joyous love of the music with a progressive ideology then you get a vague idea of what the music is all about but you must listen to the album to get the impact. It felt like a slap in the face. The raw power yet the sophisticated arrangements and music. Despite coming from a strong folk tradition it screams ‘hear me and be stirred’.

We Are Kin – …and i know…

We Are Kin come out with a second album on Bad Elephant Music. The previous album was a studio project using musicians to add to the core tracks of the composers and was not really designed for live performance and, as such, felt like a studio project, a good one, but it was more of a compositional process.  ‘…and I know… feels like a band has gone into a studio and a written and album together. The flow and format gives strength and depth. They are part of an up and coming group of new “Prog” outfits coming up that give me hope for the future of music in general not just the progressive scene.

Tilt – Hinterland

I have said it before but, like Dylan’s backing group stepping out from behind the star to take centre stage (as an independent band writing their own music and doing a great job), TILT have stepped up from being behind that talented  behemoth Fish and found another amazing vocal talent and given freedom to some amazing power prog that any band would be proud of making. I need to see these guys live and Prog Dreams seems like a great festival to do it.

Napiers Bones – Hell and High Water

A truly artistically independent effort, Gordon and Nathan live over 250 miles apart, one close to the wilds of Yorkshire moors and the other in Dartmoor. These places form a cornerstone of their inspiration and writing. This album I reviewed for Progradar when it came out and was knocked back that not only was this album being given freely but also the rest of their catalogue was free too. Very well written and produced storytelling of a high standard. Classic Prog coming from the local mythology of both localities this is music that needs a wide audience.

Maschine – Naturalis

The perpetually busy Mr Machin gets the time to write his own stuff and put out an album that feels considerably mature and still full of the passion and energy only the young seem to be able to maintain. I am a fan of great musicianship but never at the cost of the music. Maschine strike this balance very well indeed.  This is another thematic album this one on the struggle between man and the natural world. The future of Prog is in safe hands.

I suppose I should state the struggle I had getting these 10 from the amazing releases that 2016 has had has been huge.  The list of bands not in here because of making my criteria so strict is immense – Cosmograf, Opeth , I am The  Manic Whale,  Kate Bush,  Verbal Delirium, Marillion, Steven Wilson, Van Der Graaf  Generator, Twice Bitten, jH , The Tirith etc etc etc . These albums in my selection have the highest personal play numbers of any others in my list. I commend you to try them but also do not be afraid to listen to an album from any act despite having never heard of them. With streaming from most sites now like Bandcamp you can try before you buy.  Go on you know you want to.

 

Progradar Best of 2016 – Rob Fisher’s Top Ten

We are going to end 2016 at Progradar with a selection of ‘Top 10’ picks. I have asked as many contributors as would like to join in the fun to give me their best 10 albums of the year. Here we start with Rob Fisher‘s selections.

Flux – Shadowlines

I had the absolute pleasure of seeing Flux perform at the Darbar Festival in London’s South Bank. They gave a superb and truly heart warming rendition of songs from their uplifting debut album ‘Shadowlines’. Since first hearing it earlier in the year I have been championing their music which is alive, fresh and above all joyful. There is an alluring blend of eclectic influences from around the world, stamped with a unique style and identity which exudes a passion for life through elegant melodies, exquisite playing and energetic rhythms.

Frost* – Falling Satellites

Glorious, sizzling, pulsating walls of sound. This is truly modern prog, aware of contemporary influences and absorbing modern ideas and sounds. It is a triumphant and shamelessly inventive experiment on how to do prog in the 21st Century, using sounds and techniques belonging to other musical contexts but making them your own. The result is a breathtaking adventure through expansive soundscapes, fascinating samplings and an album which stands as a shining beacon for genuinely creative and dynamic song writing.

Southern Empire – Southern Empire

Inspired, powerful song writing and intense levels of technical and musical virtuosity combine to create a debut album which does exemplary justice to both aspects of the term ‘progressive’ and ‘rock’. Sean Timms masterfully weaves intelligent lyrical insights with textured layers of expressive and compelling music which are psychologically perceptive, full of emotional insight and brimming with melodic creativity.

Thence – We Are Left With A Song

Thence have created what is, in effect, the soundtrack for life in the 21st century. It is an album which bristles with creativity, dynamism and enthusiasm, bringing together elements of orchestral and classical music, jazz, blues, rock and metal. The music ripples with stark contrasts, using sweeping and scintillating soundscapes to mirror the noisy backgrounds against which we live our lives. The vocals are buried in music which is humming with layers of distorted guitars, yet emerging into crystal clear oases of melodic calm and clarity. Enthralling.

Karibow – Holophinium
You can understand why Oliver Rüsing needed a two-cd release for the latest instalment of musical excellence from Karibow. The vision which inspires the album is majestic and sweeping in scope, telling stories of poignant self-discovery through vivid symphonic landscapes which are an exhilarating journey in delightfully imaginative musical creativity. From the outset you are fully engaged both intellectually as well emotionally in music which is hauntingly textured and beautifully expressed.

Damian Wilson – Built For Fighting

What an unexpected revelation and delight this fourth studio release from Damian Wilson really is. Penetrating lyrical vignettes tell poignant and moving stories, sung in a voice that portrays simply staggering levels of expression, emotion and passion. At the heart of it is the conflict between our biological and physical make up suited for life as a perpetual battle for survival, on the other the recognition that there is a kinder and gentler way of living. A remarkable and heart-breaking release.

Kaipa Da Capo – Dårskapens Monotoni

As soon as you hear the opening bars of this elegant and imposing album you both know and you feel as if you are home. Reuniting the original members of Kaipa from the mid 70’s, lush musical landscapes are built around smouldering keyboards, breath-taking guitar work, powerful bass and intricate drumming. This is prog as it was always meant to be, lovingly crafted and exquisitely played in songs which capture a bluesy, symphonic and deeply satisfying mood.

Dec Burke – Book Of Secrets

A fiercely intelligent and highly perceptive hymn to the pendulum of life as it swings between joy and despair. The album is boundlessly energetic, infused with power, drive and focus. There is an infectious conviction to the music which is expressed in a diverse mixture of styles, moods and competing instrumental emphases. The songs are incisive, vigorous and dynamic, filled with a strong sense of character and purpose.

T – Epistrophobia

A late entry to the 2016 list of releases, T’s follow up album to the fiercely powerful Fragmentropy illustrates that all good things come to those who wait. Despite having a more symphonic and even melodic character, Epistrophobia is intellectually intense and emotionally provocative in equal measure. T’s music has always demanded your time and attention when listening in return for the rewards it eventually yields and this is no exception. Profoundly brilliant.

Oak – Lighthouse

A third debut album makes my top 10 for 2016. Lighthouse is wonderfully charming and, the more you hear it, affectionately endearing. The album is a fusion and mixture of all sorts of feelings, experiences, thoughts and emotions which is expressed in music which has a vitality and dynamism that lifts you up, carries you along and sets you down again as it explores the joys and the agonies of being alive.  Upbeat instrumental work builds foundations for energetic landscapes and highly melodic harmonies.