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.

 

 

 

Be Prog! My Friend festival announce Friday headliners Marillion

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FESTIVAL WHICH HIGHLIGHTS THE WORLD’S BEST PROGRESSIVE BANDS ANNOUNCE FRIDAY HEADLINERS MARILLION 

Since its inception in 2014 the Barcelona based festival Be Prog! My Friend has played host to the likes of Steven Wilson, Opeth, Camel, Meshuggah, Anathema, Devin Townsend, Pain Of Salvation, Katatonia, Leprous, TesseracT, The Pineapple Thief, Magma, Between The Buried And Me, Anneke Van Giersbergen, Agent Fresco, Fish, Riverside, Ihsahn, Alcest, Textures, Haken, Iamthemorning, Obsidian Kingdom, The Algorithm & Antimatter.

Taking place in the beautiful open air surroundings of Poble Espanyol – a huge stone built architectural museum – the site is one of the most important and striking landmarks of tourism in Barcelona. Whilst by day the Catalonian hotspot may play host to some of Barcelona’s most interesting historical articles, by the end of June to the start of July it will instead play host to some of the world’s finest progressive bands.

This year saw the festival co-headlined by Steven Wilson and fellow progressive heavy weights Opeth. So far for 2017 Be Prog! My Friend have announced the legendary Jethro Tull as Saturday’s headliner alongside Norweigian music collective Ulver, Anathema, Animals as Leaders and Caligula’s Horse.

Now the festival have revealed Friday’s headiner for the 2017 edition of Be Prog! My Friend will be Marillion. The festival organisers comment:

Marillion’s music is, by its nature, tough to sum-up but perhaps can be described as experimental-yet-emotional rock, married to thought provoking, soulful lyrics – a powerful and moving cocktail which, for those who “get it”, elicits extraordinary devotion.

After over thirty years, the band shows no signs of slowing down; this last month they released “Fear (Fuck Everyone And Run)”; an album that has been called “the best album by Marillion in twenty years”. 

Steve Hogarth said, “We don’t know how many more albums we’ll make, or how long we’ll live. Everything has to be the best it can be”.  With ‘FEAR.’ Marillion show that they are as vital and potent as ever. Peerless and, yes, fearless…

 We welcome Marillion with our arms wide open!’

Tickets are on sale now with final price. 130 Euros:

http://www.ticktackticket.com/entradas/goto.do?claves=.127248&origin=TTT&codIdioma=ING

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30th June – 1nd JULY 2017 – BARCELONA 

Review – Marillion – F.E.A.R – by Kevin Thompson

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Let’s get this out of the way first, I have been a Marillion fan, since ‘Market Square Heroes’, not as fanatical as some but have every album from both eras and solo projects. I have seen them many times live and they have seen me through the highs and lows of my adult life, always there to bring wonder, amazement and comfort. I refuse to choose which era I prefer as both are in their own right part of a greater whole that make this band not only one of the greats of Progressive music, but one of the best bands I have ever heard. Pioneers of crowd-funding they created a whole new ecosystem in which to survive and prosper, where others fell to the whims of the press when the genre stumbled to the fickle fancies of the general great unwashed.

If we are to believe that life is one big cycle, everything must come around again, as in fashion and also the popularity of music. The quality of Marillion’s output and personal symbiosis with their adoring fans have carried them over a 38 year career and eighteen albums, quite often against all odds, and shown the way for others to follow. Free from the shackles of large labels and self sufficient it has enabled them to create under their own rules a beautiful distinctive sound. They have never really ‘gone away’ or ‘made a comeback’, producing consistently strong material. It is to be expected then that a band who have always been able to make social comment, (‘Easter’, ‘Season’s End’, ‘Brave’….) and are not afraid to tackle uncomfortable subjects, should go all out on the new album to try and prick the conscience of the human race and open our eyes to the mess we are making of this wonderful planet on which we have the privilege to be born.

Why is it we, who consider ourselves the ‘superior’ race continually attempt to waste all before us with greed and want, when in reality there would be plenty for all if only we would look after the world we live in and work with and not against the planet and everyone on it. Such is the constitution of man, but there is no fantasy in the fact we are pushing ourselves to destruction and there will be no happy ending if we do not change our ways, Mother Nature will have her revenge on the pretentious, foolish notions that we can control her.

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Can the New Kings save us from ourselves through the message of music, it would be naïvely sweet to think so and the intention is sincere. Whether it does depends on you dear listener, but for myself the lyrics may serve to open my eyes, but the music opens my heart. Listening to Marillion makes me feel I want to be a better person and fills me with a warm glow. Previews and internet gossip may, erroneously lead you to believe this is decidedly different from previous albums, it’s not. What you will hear is the culmination of personal experience spread over four decades, condensed and poured like liquid gold into your ears, on what many may feel are some of the best tunes the band have ever written. All brought together on an album that dares to try and topple ‘Afraid of Sunlight’ from my ‘favourite’ spot.

Let me try and convince you a little further, are you sitting comfortably? Then I will begin….

Our first story warns of  an impending dramatic change in the five piece El Dorado. The album title sung so sweet a chorus, you could almost be forgiven for mistaking the impact it aims to create. This is not flippant or irreverent comment meant to shock, rather to indicate the evil that men and women do and what it generates in humanitarian, ecological and financial terms. Ignorantly disregarding the warnings of disaster we are bringing on ourselves, the analogy of a devastating, approaching storm illustrating our shame exquisitely. What future are we creating and what legacy will we leave our children and future generations?

The next tale urges us to seek an end to wars and work to universal peace, no longer to be Living in Fear. You could be forgiven for thinking the band were trying to create a ‘Hippy’ utopia with the 60’s echoed sentiments, but in a world that that has grown increasingly bitter and violent, maybe those with flower power had something greater to offer us after all. Mocked, before their time, and over-dramatic with portents of an all too scary real life in which we now live. Who are we now to cast aspersions, seeing them as just a quirky trend in the past only makes fools of us now. An infectious chorus will dig into your consciousness, lodging there and carrying the new day message of hope, should we ignore it or join hands across the world in harmony?

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Almost an antithesis to Thankyou Whoever You Are from the album ‘Somewhere Else’, as a pentagonal prosopography, The Leavers is the narrative of a band and crew’s life from a behind the scenes perspective. The constraints of a life on the road, showing a more personal tale of the strain on all involved. Constantly on the move, setting up/packing up and repetitive routines. Hardly ever home and when you are, restless, never fully settled whilst something tugs at you, drawing you back to the nomadic world you have become accustomed to. The testing of relationships as you struggle to fit into the family dynamic and their daily rituals, the feeling of being an intruder. Each section of this extensive song segues into the next as the band smoothly slide between passages.

Steve Hogarth’s heartfelt vocals perfectly catch the requisite emotion for the rest of the band to feed from, creating layers of luscious strings at the fingers of Messrs Pete Trewavas  rhythmic bass and Steve Rothery’s soaring guitars, intertwining with the percussive symmetry of Ian Moseley’s drums, all laid on a quilted bed of  Mark Kelly’s delicious keys. The coherence of the the band’s music on this album has never been more tangible and a further fitting analogy as to what we could all achieve if we worked in harmony together for the common goal, in their case this beautiful thought provoking album.

The delicate piano and wistful vocals illustrate our ageing, which can creep up on us as the realisation dawns we can no longer mentally or physically do all we could or would like to. We all too soon become observers of The White Paper on which we have painted our lives. Visiting our past whilst we innocuously watch the world pass by. Bitter-sweet, verging on regretful reflection of what we lose, as the music builds  for the yearning of youth when everything was fresh and colourful, rapidly resigned to greyer shades of obscurity. Could we, should we have done more whilst we were capable?

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What have we not unearthed in dark depth from our tales so far? Ah, yes, greed and corruption. There is no ‘need’ for some but a ‘want’ to own, take control, hold dominion over those below and less fortunate at any cost. There is always someone whose avarice will override their common sense of decency in a corrupt corporate society where power matters to The New Kings above all else. Revelling in others’ misfortunes whilst building empty steel and glass castles to their vacuous domains, in which the echoes of the titled chorus ring. Any assumed pleasantries in previous tracks are disregarded on this epitaph of the evil that men do, dispensing with the subtleties to expose the core of this world’s impropriety.

This album resonates on every level of my senses, be it my own advancing years that force me into the realisation that in my humanity I too have been guilty, on however a small scale, to some of the above at some stages in my life. Before I put my soapbox away I would like to end on this. It is not someone else to blame, it is not someone else’s fault. We are all accountable. Wake up and smell the roses, whilst they still grow. Stand up and be counted. Do not live in F.E.A.R.

 Released 23rd September 2016

Order from Marillion.com