So, I’ve done my ‘Best of 2015’ list but there were so many that nearly made the list and should still be on your ‘Wallet Emptying’ selection that I couldn’t let 2015 close out without giving them a mention………..
Mandala – Midnight Twilight
Psychedelic, dark and groovy.
Mew – +/-
Uplifting and slightly mental.
Progoctopus (now Oktopus) – Transcendence E.P.
Cracking Progressive rock with an unusual edge.
The Enid – The Bridge
Symphonic, classical, brilliant.
Franck Carducci – Torn Apart
Progressive, bluesy, funky and with a whole lot of soul and some scorching guitar solos, love it!
Djam Karet – Swamp of Dreams
What they do is make brilliant, spaced-out, psychedelic music that could only come from Djam Karet and ‘Swamp of Dreams’ is a perfect example of their skill and flair.
Corvus Stone – Unscrewed
Mad bad and brilliantly dangerous, whether you’ll come out the other side with all your mental faculties is another matter entirely.
Unified Past – Shifting the Equlibrium
It’s Power-Prog, will it appeal to everyone? I doubt it but, those that do appreciate this band’s excellent music have really dropped lucky this time, well done chaps!
3rDegree – Ones & Zeros Volume 1
2015 continues to deliver some very high quality releases and 3RDegree have muscled their way well up that list.
Kinetic Element – Travelog
It feels like a labour of love and the skill, energy, blood, sweat and tears that have been invested in this production can be felt by all who hear it.
Geof Whitely Project – Supernatural Casualty
I found ‘Supernatural Casualty’ to be a box of delights. At sixteen tracks it is perhaps two or three songs too long but that doesn’t detract from what is a thoroughly satisfying piece of music.
Methexis – Suiciety
Aided by some superb musicians and a vocalist who has the skill and inherent ability to deliver everything needed, what we actually have here is an outstanding musical release.
Better known recently as the voice behind Steve Hackett’s ‘Genesis Revisited’ live show, Nad has had a varied career as a solo musician and as part of the musical projects Unifaun and Agents Of Mercy. ‘Courting the Widow’ is his first solo effort since 2005 and was quite a revelation to me. It is full of traditional progressive rock pointers yet it is Nad’s voice that carries the album all the way through. A concept album about his stage persona, The Vampyre. Featuring a plethora of guest musicians including Steve Hackett, Nick Beggs, Roine STolt and NickD’Virgilio if you like well written, story driven music (and a touch of Genesis), you’ll love this.
Pink Floyd’s guitar maestro releases his first solo album since ‘On an Island’ and it is a good one. There’s been a lot of discussion about the prominence of the older, established artists recently and how they are perhaps taking the attention from the new and up and coming acts (I put my hand up to being one who is worried by it) but, surely, they can exist together. If these older, nostalgic acts weren’t around, what music would we have listened to in the first place? Nothing new or different but polished and comfortable, like your favourite shoes, I find myself returning to it quite frequently.
Canadian band Hillward started off as Southern Cross’ side project with three of its members, David Lizotte, Jean-François Boudreault and Antoine Guertin. The band became one of its own when Alexandre Lapierre joined as a second guitar player after the recording of the first album ‘Flies In Amber Stones’.
Progressive metal with alternative undertones, its powerful and dynamic sound is really quite addictive as it pulses and resounds with heavy riffs, potent drumming and aggressive vocals.
The eagerly awaited follow up to 2014’s eponymous debut album is a cornucopia of progressive, classical, experimental, ambient, jazz and pop influences that create the band’s unique style. Emotive and full of energy it is the fruit of 2014’s live performances and the way that playing live tightened up the band’s sound and evolved them into a tighter unit.
Perhaps a tad incohesive and self-indulgent in places, it is still, nevertheless, a great Prog-Rock release.
Australia’s Caligula’s Horse release their third album of raw, honest, and yet skillful, progressive, alternative rock. Vibrant and dynamic, the band are like a force of nature and their music is not for the faint hearted whilst being energetic, grand and forthright.
This is their most vivid, vibrant and emotional work to date and should see them break through and become one of the leading lights of the genre, full of colour and life.
Following my review of the band’s ‘Travelog’ album last week, I have the pleasure of introducing their first release from 2009. ‘Powered by Light’ follows in the tradition of the progressive rock giants of the 1970s, heavy with symphonic keyboards and virtuoso guitar work, Kinetic Element takes the listener on a lightspeed journey of the heart, full of great evocative passages.
Why do you listen to music? Think about it for a while, what are the main reasons you insert that CD and press play, or lower the needle onto the vinyl? (we’re going a bit more tactile than mp3 for this anology). There have to be a myriad reasons why different people will await a gentle introduction, a powerful, rip-roaring solo or the dulcet tones of their favourite vocalists.
Be it the angst, protest driven edginess of punk, the in-your-face violence of heavy metal or the gentle, ethereal grace of some progressive and folk tinged music, we all have our reasons. I find that fast driven, heavy rock and blues works brilliantly at the gym or if I’m in that nothing can stop me mood and the more relaxing music suits my more sombre moments.
Sometimes, though, I just like to listen to some music that has heart and soul and a lightness of being, a feel-good factor that brings light into your life and makes your day just go past a little bit easier, leaving a smile on your face and a glowing rightness in your soul. The music that tends to do that for me, more than any other, is what we may term ‘traditional progressive rock’.
Now the ‘P’ word is almost becoming persona-non-grata in certain musical circles and talking about it, or dropping an artist into that genre, can be detrimental to both your and their health, stupid as that may sound. The music that was inspired and influenced by the behemoths of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson et al is still going strong today and still matters to me in a big way.
I have been listening to an album recently that brings back waves of nostalgia about that style of music and which just washes over you with good feeling. Kinetic Element’s ‘Travelog’ album has been listened to regularly over the last couple of months and I felt it was about time I put my two-penneth in…..
Kinetic Element is a neo/symphonic progressive rock band from Richmond, Virginia that harbors musical roots in classic artists like Emerson, Lake & Palmer,Yes, Asia and Genesis and blends those influences with philosophical and spiritually powerful and uplifting lyrics.
Kinetic Element was formed to perform the music of Mike Visaggio’s solo CD, ‘Starship Universe’ which was released in 2006. The band is comprised of Mike (keyboards); Michael Murray (drums), Todd Russell (electric and acoustic guitar) and Mark Tupko (basses).
Unable to find a suitable vocalist in their hometown, Mike reached out to their musical friends Odin’s Court whose lead vocalist Dimetrius LaFavors agreed to perform the vocals for ‘Travelog’ while remaining with Odin’sCourt. However Dimetrius could only appear on three tracks due to Odin’s Court’s changing schedule. Riding in to KE’s rescue came Michelle Schrotz of prog icons Brave, and stellar CProg artist Mike Florio, to record the remaining two tracks.
Fred Schendel and Steve Babb of prog legends Glass Hammer became involved in the mixing of the album. The resulting collaboration produced the terrific sound you hear on ‘Travelog’. They also did the mastering at their studio Sound Resources in Chattanooga.
So, onto the music and the album opener War Song begins with an African drum style beat with Yes overtones and the delightful use of an atypical Keith Emerson type Hammond organgiving the song an immediate nostalgic note. The gradual intensifying instrumental introduction is quite complex and intricate and grabs your attention as it flows along stylistically, the ululating guitar note that scurries across your psyche is focused and intense. Just sit back, relax and enjoy as the initial stages of this 20 minute plus progressive epic dance across your mind like a musically inspired storyline. The keyboards, bass and drums providing the foundation for the impressive guitar work before the next chapter begins. Here the expressive vocals take up the story, dynamic and yet passionate and eloquent. Taking the influences that they hold dear and blending them into a distinctive style of their own, Kinetic Element give you an engaging musical cornucopia that, whilst occasionally glancing back over its shoulder, marches majestically onward to the future. A multitude of sophisticated rhythms and melodies surround you as this baroque song continues to surprise and delight, the vocals blending perfectly and adding a final sheen of finesse.
They don’t do short songs these guys, title track Travelog is the briefest and comes in just shy of ten minutes, that could be a stumbling bock if there was anything to dislike but all is looking good so far. A brilliantly pared back and minimalist acoustic guitar opens the song, it needs no back up as it tantalises and enchants, dancing across your mind and soul with beauty and grace. As the track opens up and the vocals begin, it doesn’t lose any of that ethereal quality and continues to leave you feeling relaxed and serene as if you are tip-toeing through a Utopian world of wonder. The fragile, frangible keyboards add an almost alien note, as if you have stumbled onto a vista of fantastical delights. There is an increase in tempo as the track comes to a triumphant close and you are left feeling quite fulfilled, calm and well, just right.
Into The Lair has a nicely judged bass driven opening with powerful keys and enigmatic drumming, a more serious note than what has gone before, dominant and influential, gripping and thoughtful but it soon opens up into a delightfully impish song, led by the superb, stylish vocals of Michelle Schrotz. It should come as no surprise, considering who mixed the album, but the Glass Hammer influence is greatest on this polished track. The smooth guitar note and elaborate keyboard notes lead into an involved and inventive instrumental section, playful in mood and execution. A return to the dominant introduction follows, like a counter to the lightness of the main section, I love the guitar on this part, Todd’s playing is precise and yet has a free-flowing life of its own. Michelle’s sweet-sounding voice returns to close out the song and leave you nodding appreciatively one more time.
A rather delightful piano introduction is the opening to Her and it keeps you entranced as the ivories are quite impressively tinkled, ebbing and flowing and chock full of earnest emotion. Like jewelled trinkets of sound they dance across your aural receptors leaving you suitably transfixed. The layers are stylishly increased as the drums join in, suitably classy and a warbling guitar adds substance. The track begins to take on a jazzy edge to it, staccato and edgy, the vocals join, with a note of pleading and desire. I even get a real feel of Christopher Cross in the song, not quite easy listening or chart music but with a real easy going nature. Like I have said before, it is feel good music that has subtle touches of classic progressive music, the guitar that runs through the middle section, backing the earnest vocal could have come from any 70’s Yes album. A compact, piercing solo fires straight at you and the guitar continues to worm its way around your mind, aided and abetted by the swirling keyboards and smooth rhythm section, the bass playing is particularly impressive. The cultured jazz feel to the song is its key though and we are treated to another great combination of influences as it comes to a high-class close.
Vision Of A New Dawn is perhaps the most thoughtful and contemplative track on the album and begins with another blistering, heavily jazz influenced opening. Driving piano and drums take on the first notes and then the bass joins in before some fuzzy, intricate guitar playing takes you off an an unknown journey into the more convoluted and mysterious side of the band. We turn first towards an instrumental section of free form progressive tinged jazz fusion, a thrill ride with many twists and turns, like a psychedelic explosion in your mind. A piquant piano note, nervous and tremulous at first, then leads you onto the next part, the vocals begin, heartfelt and poignant, as the wall of sound begins to build, guitars, drums and that elusive piano raising it higher and higher. Emotional and raw, the feeling is of renewal and rebirth, those that have once fallen will rise again. It is a gripping and musically intense story that is being written in front of you, this heart is open and it bleeds sentiment and fervor. A momentary pause, a slowing of time, the mountain has been surmounted, time for reflection perhaps. Take a seat and take stock of what is laid before you as the keyboards lead you on with a jaunty melody, uplifting yet with a note of reserve. There is almost a triumphal tone as we move into the next phase of this fascinating song, the keyboards leading the march before the captivating guitar takes lead duties again. A sombre moment, as if the light is fading and things are to become crucial and weighty, the piano leads the procession, solemn and sedate. The vocal joins, almost a lament, a pause, and then a gently strummed acoustic guitar begins, followed by forceful whistling and the final throws begin. An overture of voice, guitar, keys and piano takes this momentous track to a close, the silence that follows says more than words……
I am going to say it, this is an excellent ‘progressive rock’ album, no band should be scared of using that term and Kinetic Element wear it proudly in the middle of their collective chests and are rightly proud to do so. It’s obvious who their influences are and they take them and mould them into something that, whilst it is instantly recognisable, has a character and soul all of its own. It feels like a labour of love and the skill, energy, blood, sweat and tears that have been invested in this production can be felt by all who hear it.
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.
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:
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.
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.
The Tangent – A Spark in the Aether
A return to traditional progressive rock, incredibly addictive, flippant and irreverent and, well, just darn good fun!
The Wynntown Marshalls – The End of the Golden Age
Scottish tinged Americana with powerful and haunting songwriting and outstanding musicianship.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness
An excellentnew 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…..
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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……
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!