Progradar’s ‘Best of 2015’ review – by Progradar

David

A scary picture to get things started, it’s that time of year again when everyone puts out their ‘Best of 2015’ album list and I’m no different to every other music journalist, budding or otherwise.

Lists like these are very subjective, after all, one man’s poison is another man’s wine but they’re fun to do and give a real retrospective of some of the great music that has been released over the past 12 months or so.

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First off, the usual disclaimer, I won’t include any Bad Elephant Music releases as some people might say I’d be slightly biased. However, once again, this tiny independent label has given us some mighty impressive music from the likes of The Room, Tom Slatter, Simon Godfrey, The Fierce and the Dead and Twice Bitten, among others, all of which can be sampled at the link below:

Bad Elephant Music

I tried to get it down to a top 15, never mind a top ten, but that proved too difficult so, here it is, Progradar’s top 20 albums of 2015. Don’t see the position as being too indicative as, really, albums 20-6 could be in any given order on any given day, the quality is that close. The top 5, however, are my definitive top 5 albums for 2015.

Enough pre-amble, here we go……

20 – Transport Aerian – Dark Blue

A deeply dark, disturbing and highly original work of art from this talented, serious musician. Well worth a listen but, be afraid, very afraid!

19 – Steve Rothery – The Ghosts of Pripyat

Marillion’s guitarist is venturing further afield with his solo work and it’s simple, faraway beauty is quite inspiring. Put your feet up, get your headphones on, lay back and relax.

18 – Barock Project – Skyline

An unexpected highlight of the year, hopefully the fourth album by this extremely talented and still relatively young band will see them break into the mainstream of the progressive rock market. I for one think that, with music as deeply enjoyable and illuminating as this, that they definitely deserve it!

17 – The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness

A new release full of sophistication and depth and powerful, thoughtful songs that resonate deeply with you. An album about duality, darkness and light and imbued with intricate compositions, complex arrangements and virtuosic performances, you will want this delight in your collection, trust me…..

16 – Mystery – Delusion Rain

2015 saw Canadian prog-rockers Mystery return with  a new album and a new lead singer and it was as if they’d never been away. Jean Pageau has a voice that fits perfectly with the melodic progressive rock that the band deliver with aplomb. The epic track The Willow Tree is a superb, intricate and emotional hit of passion and takes the album from merely good to very good indeed.

15 – Hibernal – After the Winter

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdPh-mbJh0c

Mark Healy’s cinematic and evocative soundscapes waft over a post-apocalyptic spoken word storyline to deliver an immensely visceral listening experience.

14 – Built for the Future – Chasing Light

‘Chasing Light’ is one of those rare albums that grabs you immediately AND keeps on getting better with every listen. Built for the Future’s debut release is a thing of rare wonder that resonates with me on a personal level, their commitment to delivering music that connects deeply with the listener has produced a record that shines brightly.

13 – Sylvium – Waiting for the Noise

Superb progressive rock with tones of Porcupine Tree and Riverside. A musical experience that emphasizes emotions rather than the eternal quest for a perfect pop song.

12 – The Wynntown Marshalls – The End of the Golden Age

Scottish tinged Americana with powerful and haunting songwriting and outstanding musicianship.

11 – Echolyn – I Heard You Listening

Storytelling by music, getting to the heart of the matter and opening up small town America. A band I have heard little of in the past, this new album will definitely change that, a melting pot of sweet melodies and delicious harmonies.

10 – Tiger Moth Tales – Storytellers Part One

An album that is even better than the delights of ‘Cocoon’. My inner child is brought to the fore by the magic, charm and allure of ‘Story Tellers Part 1′, it takes me away to an inner nirvana where nothing can touch me or spoil my mood.

9 – Comedy of Errors – Spirit

Do you believe music has soul? I do and, when it is as deeply involving and emotionally uplifting (and draining to be honest!) as this, it becomes life affirming in many ways. All the songs were written by Jim Johnston but I’m sure even he would agree that they are given life by the whole of Comedy of Errors.

8 – Glass Hammer – The Breaking of the World

It could have been this studio album or the equally impressive ‘Glass Hammer – Live’, recorded at this year’s RosFest but, first, let’s get the Yes comparison out of the way, these guys do traditional progressive rock so well they have transcended that to stand in their own circle of praise. A highly impressive effort once again.

7 – Karnataka – Secrets of Angels

The first album written specifically for vocalist Hayley Griffith’s voice, a symphonic prog- rock masterpiece with towering anthems and delicate ballads concluding with the epic twenty-minute plus title track.

6 – The Tangent – A Spark in the Aether

A return to traditional progressive rock, incredibly addictive, flippant and irreverent and, well, just darn good fun!

5 – Big Big Train – Wassail (yes, I know it’s only an E.P. but I like it!!)

You can put your heroes on a pedestal to be knocked off when they don’t reach your lofty expectations but, with ‘Wassail’, Big Big Train have just enhanced their reputation as purveyors of unique and sublime progressive rock which is founded on the elemental history of this blessed isle. A history that is fundamental to the everlasting allure of this captivating group of musicians.

4 – Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah II

‘Arcade Messiah II’ takes all that was good with the first album and enhances by taking the raw, coruscating energy of the first release and developing it into a superb sound that, while holding nothing back, is full of nuances and intelligence. A ‘Wall of Sound’ that makes Phil Spector’s look like a diminutive picket fence and it is quite possibly the best thing this highly talented musician has ever produced.

3 – Maddison’s Thread – Maddison’s Thread

Folk is rooted at the core of Maddison’s Way but this album is all about the music and the way Lee can diversify with aplomb is very impressive. A contender for album of the year for me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

2- Subsignal – The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime

See, this is why these bloody lists are only subjective. I had mine all worked out and then I listened to the fourth album from German band Subsignal and it was blown out of the water. Arisen from the ashes of the great Sieges Even, the first three albums by the band failed to really hit the heights for me. Well, all is most definitely forgiven as ‘The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime’ has just hit me right on the correct spot and elevated them to a higher level. It has a real emotional depth to it and is one that is highly, highly recommended, nearly making it to the top spot…..

1 – Riverside – Love, fear and the Time Machine

So, after a tough fight it is Polish band Riverside that take the crown this year. I have always been a fan of this band without actually loving their work. All that changed with this years beautiful release. There is a depth and maturity to this release that resonates deep to the core. The fragile, breaking vocals and signature sound have taken the band to the forefront of the progressive rock genre and, in this album, they have left behind a musical legacy of which anyone can be proud.

 

 

 

Review – Built for the Future – Chasing Light

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Life is a journey long taken and, along the way, events will happen that will have differing impacts on you and the way you live that life. The world around us provides many things to aid you on that quest, things that may make the journey easier.

My life’s journey started nearly 48 years ago and has been one of numerous ups and many downs, the one thing that has been a constant is music. I have loved music from a very early age and it has aided my celebrations and comforted and consoled me in times of sadness and negativity.

For the last two years I have been fortunate to put down my thoughts about music in digital print form. For the first 18 months a served my apprenticeship at Lady Obscure Music Magazine, a sometimes steep learning curve where I was helped a hell of a lot my my fellow writers and editors.

Since February of this year I have been able (thanks to my friend David Elliott) to run my own website where this very review will be published, Progradar. I have often likened myself to a musical treasure hunter, searching in the more obscure areas of music for songs and albums that will surprise and delight and maybe become the soundtrack to someone else’s life.

The music I generally write about isn’t written for profit or acclaim, it is written from the heart because that particular artist had a dream or a need to put their music out there for everyone to hear. I find that this type of music has more originality and soul than anything you can hear in the mainstream arena, it makes you stop and think and can move me nearly to tears.

These artists deserve to be listened to by a much bigger audience and I hope that, in some little way, my words can contribute to their wider recognition.

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So what new album inspired my soliloquy above? Well, social media is a place I will trawl for new music and it was on a well known site that I met Patric Farrell and learned of his musical project Built for the Future. I liked what Patric was telling me and, without further ado, an offer of  review was given and accepted, the rest, as they say, is history…..

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Built for the Future is a crossover prog/alternative band from San Antonio, Texas. The band consists of Patric Farrell (backing vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, drums and programming.) and Kenny Bissett (lead vocals) and ‘Chasing Light’ is their debut album. The record also features Dave Peña and Chris Benjamin (guitars) and Imaya Farrell (violin, viola and cello).

The band combines the dynamics of progressive music with the accessibility of melodic songwriting to give far more emphasis on arrangement than dexterous shredding.

Built for the Future is influenced by Rush, Yes( the Rabin years) and latter day Genesis as well as Tears for Fears, The Fixx and, of course, The Beatles. Recent bands that are guiding lights also include Spocks Beard, The Flower Kings and Porcupine Tree.

Having known each other for 25 years, it wasn’t until 2013 that they got together musically when Patric asked Kenny to sing on one song from an album he was working on that the two connected. Once the result of the first few songs was realized, it was clear from that point on that this was going to be a productive relationship.

‘Chasing Light’ is the first complete release that either of them have been a part of in all their years of playing music and is the beginning a series of albums about a protagonist who is seeking to change life and worlds to find ‘light’.

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Not holding anything back, Arrive is a most powerful opening track with an intro that smacks of ‘Live and Let Die’ by Wings, emotionally smouldering. The evocative vocal and delicate piano give a real feel of heartfelt hope and anticipation. The piano note hangs in the air before the song opens up with a compelling guitar arrangement, giving you a feeling of real connection with the music. The thumping riff that follows really hits you hard and pulls you along with a pure force of will as this elegant track runs to a quite impressive close, what a great start! More commercial but no less effective, Radiowave begins with a quite funky guitar and bass line driving the song along, the vocals have a sort of Beatles type of harmonising going on and the whole track begins to take on a whole Madchester vibe of the 1990’s, as if the Happy Mondays had unwittingly stumbled upon a new progressive sound. Happily shunting along at a steady pace, it has a real upbeat vibe with that expressive bass thumping along and a few fiery guitar breaks and intricate keyboard runs. Interest well and truly piqued!

An elegant guitar note introduces Lightchaser before a jazzy 80’s synth inspired track then opens up before you. The vocals are deliberate and monotone and give it an early Ultravox feel of sharp suits and sharper moustaches. Being a child of the 80’s this track really connects with me, Kraftwerk synth notes and a real melancholy atmosphere spark memories long forgotten and a happy reverie. The feeling of pathos and poignance is really acute as you lose yourself and travel back three decades for five minutes. We stay in the immediate vicinity of that decade for Speed of the Climb which literally screams new romantics and Korg synthesizers right in your face. The drum note and edgy vocal are completely in fitting with the era and the bass notes could have come straight from the rule book of Mark King. Me? I’m having a whale of a time, this music sits perfectly in my purview, wonderfully judged and the song rises, with some impressive guitar work, to a full-on close.

Ominous and full of portent, Build for the Future opens with a real laconic feel. The keyboards and drum beat are measured and determined before Kenny’s restrained vocal adds another layer of intensity and complexity. Almost funereal in tempo yet very addictive to listen to, it almost seems like a lament for a time gone by and an unknown future, “Build for the future, break with the past….”. An intensely thoughtful and emblematic song with an enigmatic ending. Burning Daylight is another track with a more commercial feel to it and a rhythm section that could have come straight from an early Rush album. The laid back, monotone vocal adds a synthetic feel to the song and the irascible drums leave a mysterious note hanging over everything. The fine guitar play ties everything together to deliver a competent track that doesn’t quite live up to the high standard of what has gone before.

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Guitar, drums and keys combine to deliver a 80’s synth tinged prog note to Walls, almost as if Patric and Kenny had spent the afternoon listening to New Order before writing this song. It has real sense of sophistication running through the centre, the creamy production values are much in evidence on this stylish track with a catchy chorus and modish beat which, added to the slick guitar riff that is heard in undertones is really quite inventive. A nod in a definitive progressive direction, Running Man is a homage to Canada’s finest prog pioneers with a bass line that Geddy would approve of and a complex and tricky drum beat. The expansive guitar note gives a really wide soundscape to the whole song and Kenny’s vocals fills that wide open space perfectly, the harmonies are pretty good too! The guitar break brings everything full circle and a fine track is made whole, addictive and transfixing with the baroque brilliance of the guitar solo which just leaves you slack-jawed in appreciation.

A quiet complex and striking introduction launches The Siren Will with a muted dirty guitar riff followed by a chiming guitar run and heavy bass note, think Muse and U2 merged and you’re on the right track. The vocal has that pared back yet incisive feel and you gradually feel yourself drawn into this capable and involving song. You can feel influences abounding everywhere but this band are moulding them into their very own, precise identity and it is one that really resonates with me on discerning tracks like this that leave you wanting to hear more. The polished, urbane guitar solo that closes out the song is a case in point, sheer quality. Seriously psychedelic and funky as you like, Staring at the Sun has a California dreaming kind of feel to the Hammond organ introduction before the vocals break out and we are off into RPWL territory, especially on the seriously addictive chorus. I really like the upbeat and inspirational feel to the song and you can’t help be uplifted onto a higher plane by the open hearted ambience it endues. The chugging riff, colourful keyboards and chanting vocal combine to cover everything with a filmy coat of  the 1970’s (touched by a little of that Madchester vibe again) and leave you with a wide grin on your face.

A halting acoustic guitar opens Samsara and note of seriousness returns. Neo-prog in its origins but alternative rock in its delivery, it is a fast paced track that keeps you on your toes, the ever present urgent drum beat galvanising you into action. The impelling bass beat backs up the drums with a dynamic energy and the keyboards do add a slight tint of psychedelia to the mix. A good track that happens to be sandwiched between two great ones, it does seem to suffer for that. The way the track changes just after half way, becoming more imposing and forceful, gives it added gravitas and an energising injection, enough so that it still leaves its mark on you. Saving the best until last? That would be difficult on an album as impressive as this but lets see what the near thirteen minutes of The Great Escape delivers. The opening is quite profound as the track begins to tie the whole album together, influential and vitalising. There is a brooding ebulliance deep at the heart of the song as it continues to forge forcibly ahead before a well judged break delivers a lighter note and any ominous undertone is lifted. This is a track to envelop yourself in and let it wash over you, seeping into your deepest soul. Don’t resist, leave yourself open to the joy and beauty and you will be well rewarded. The song runs like an overview of what has gone before yet never becomes repetitive. Hope and freedom are the message here, a musical mantra for a better world. As it unfurls before you, the mosaic is opened and all becomes clear. An ardent guitar solo breaks loose and fires into the ether, illuminating all around and the final journey begins. I love the way this song plays out to the close, titillating and engrossing, you dare not leave and yet, as the song finally ends, you do feel an emptiness begin to open up inside you. Dear friend, it is up to you what you fill that void with…….

Damn, blast and buggeration, it has happened again, my own search for the moving and motivational has thrown up another diamond. ‘Chasing Light’ is one of those rare albums that grabs you immediately AND keeps on getting better with every listen. Built for the Future’s debut release is a thing of rare wonder that resonates with me on a personal level, their commitment to delivering music that connects deeply with the listener has produced a record that shines brighter than most I have heard this year.

Released 28th July 2015 (digital)

Buy Chasing Light from bandcamp

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progradar’s – ‘Best of 2015 So Far’ – Edition

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Don’t be put off by the scary picture, that is actually me getting ready to tell you what albums have made my ‘Best of 2015’ list. These lists are always subjective and incredibly hard to compile. Let’s be honest, at the end of it all, it is only my opinion which can agree with or differ from, all it is meant to be is a guide to what music has really inspired me this year so far.

Firstly a self-imposed rule that I won’t include any Bad Elephant Music releases because, as you know, I attempt to be the Head of PR for this rather special record label and it could be seen as bias.

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To be honest, all the BEM releases this year are as excellent as ever and would probably have made my list anyway so please do go to:

The BEM bandcamp site

And check out this years releases from Audioplastik, jh, We Are Kin, Tom Slatter, Emmett Elvin and The Fierce and the Dead, superb, eclectic and downright brilliant.

Right, that’s the advertising out of the way now on with the main course…..

In no particular order, here are my top 15 releases so far for 2015.

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Sylvium – Waiting for the Noise

Superb progressive rock with tones of Porcupine Tree and Riverside. A musical experience that emphasizes emotions rather than the eternal quest for a perfect pop song.

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The Tangent –  A Spark in the Aether

A return to traditional progressive rock, incredibly addictive, flippant and irreverent and, well, just darn good fun!

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The Wynntown Marshalls – The End of the Golden Age

Scottish tinged Americana with powerful and haunting songwriting and outstanding musicianship.

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Karnataka – Secrets of Angels

The first album written specifically for vocalist Hayley Griffith’s voice, a symphonic prog- rock masterpiece with towering anthems and delicate ballads concluding with the epic twenty-minute plus title track.

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Tiger Moth Tales – Storytellers Part One

An album that is even better than the delights of ‘Cocoon’. My inner child is brought to the fore by the magic, charm and allure of ‘Story Tellers Part 1′, it takes me away to an inner nirvana where nothing can touch me or spoil my mood.

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Hibernal – After the Winter

Mark Healy’s cinematic and evocative soundscapes waft over a post-apocalyptic spoken word storyline to deliver an immensely visceral listening experience.

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Transport Aerian – Darkblue

A deeply dark, disturbing and highly original work of art from this talented, serious musician. Well worth a listen but, be afraid, very afraid!

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Echolyn – I Heard You Listening

Storytelling by music, getting to the heart of the matter and opening up small town America, sometimes a band can come very close to perfection with a new release and this album is as close to a must buy album as I’ve heard this year.

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The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness

An excellent new release full of sophistication and depth and powerful, thoughtful songs that resonate deeply with you. An album about duality, darkness and light and imbued with intricate compositions, complex arrangements and virtuosic performances, you will want this delight in your collection, trust me…..

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Glass Hammer – The Breaking of the World

Let’s get the Yes comparison out of the way, these guys do traditional progressive rock so well they have transcended that to stand in their own circle of praise. A highly impressive effort once again.

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Built for the Future – Chasing Light

All sorts of influences combine in this impressive melting pot to deliver a debut album of sheer beauty. I was so surprised by the quality and heartfelt emotion of this album, it is that good!

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Maddison’s Thread – self-titled

Folk is rooted at the core of Maddison’s Way but this album is all about the music and the way Lee can diversify with aplomb is very impressive. A contender for album of the year for me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

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Kingcrow – Eidos

Progressive metal that is more prog than metal. I will probably upset some people here but, to me, this is the thinking man’s Opeth, much more accessible and quite deeply, darkly moving.

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Barock Project – Skyline

An unexpected highlight of the year so far, hopefully the fourth album by this extremely talented and still relatively young band will see them break into the mainstream of the progressive rock market. I for one think that, with music as deeply enjoyable and illuminating as this, that they definitely deserve it!

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Kinetic Element – Travelog

An album of ‘opulent ear candy’ featuring 5 tracks of classic progressive rock that harks back to the 70’s. Superb musicianship featuring everything from jazz basslines, intricate guitar work and soaring keyboards combine with delightful vocals to deliver something that every prog fan will like.

I chose not to include E.P’s but there have been a couple that have stood out for me this year so far Big Big Train’s ‘Wassail’ and Progoctopus’ ‘Transcendence’ are both excellent and well worth catching up on.

Like I have already said, lists like this are very subjective and other albums could have made it so here is a selection of ‘honourable mentions’ that have really struck a chord with me this year so far……

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So there we have it, just over half of 2015 has passed and we have so much more new music to look forward to. Let me know your thoughts, there will be albums you expected and some you didn’t no doubt and I’ll see you at the beginning of 2016 for the year end awards!