Those Awkward Teenage Years – The 2010’s, pt. 9: 2018

We’re getting close to the present day in our look back at the best music of the decade. 2018 was another bountiful year for prog fans, and, like 2017, it included a couple of surprise reunions along with some reappearing favorites.

We’ve chosen 15 albums to represent the excellence of 2018, so without further ado, here they are in alphabetical order.

Damanek: In Flight

Damanek’s second album is even better than their impressive debut. “Skyboat” sounds like a mid-70s Jethro Tull single, and the three-part “Big Eastern” is an epic telling of a family’s saga from their roots in China to their settling in America. Thanks to Damanek, I have become a big fan of Guy Manning.

Evership II

Another sophomore effort that improves on an excellent debut. Evership II continues their championing of classic prog. Fans of Marillion and early Spock’s Beard will love this.

Gazpacho: Soyuz

Gazpacho released one of their all-time finest albums in 2018 with Soyuz. Loosely based on the true story of a doomed Soviet Russian space mission, the music is uplifting, angry, and heroic.

Glass Hammer: Chronomonaut

There’s a reason a Glass Hammer album has been featured almost every year this decade: they have consistently produced great music! This entry to their catalog is a sequel to Chronometree, and it showcases their pop skills (think classic Todd Rundgren). “Fade Away”, the majestic finale, is one of their best.

Haken: L-1VE and Vector

Haken released a 2-CD/DVD set of a great performance in Amsterdam in 2018, where they play the entire Affinity album. Later in the year, they put out Vector, which made quite a few Best of 2018 lists. Haken are at the top of their game, with no sign of fading.

Kino: Radio Voltaire

This was a nice surprise! Way back in 2005, John Mitchell (Arena, Frost*, Lonely Robot, It Bites), Pete Trewavas (Marillion), John Beck (It Bites), and Chris Maitland (Porcupine Tree) got together and recorded what many people thought was a one-off album. Lo and behold, they reunited in 2018 and released Radio Voltaire, which ended up being one of the best of the year. Like anything Mitchell is involved in, there are excellent tunes, superb guitar, and a dash of humor.

Tim Morse III

Tim Morse (no relation to Neal) quietly and carefully self-produces gems of albums every few years. Tim Morse III is a delight to listen to, and I hope he never stops creating music.

North Atlantic Oscillation: Grind Show

If you’ve worked your way through this series, you know that I like North Atlantic Oscillation – a lot. Grind Show doesn’t disappoint, as they continue to hone their unique sound that marries layered harmonies to synth-heavy music. Sort of like what would happen if Brian Wilson collaborated with Kraftwerk.

Oak: False Memory Archive

A fascinating set of songs from the Norwegian group Oak. I would classify it as chamber pop music. They even include “Clair de Lune” in one of their songs, but it doesn’t come off as pretentious. Highly recommended if you are looking for something pretty to listen to.

Perfect Beings: Vier

Wow. This is one of the best albums of the decade, let alone 2018. Vier means “four”, and the songs are divided into four groups: Guedra, The Golden Arc, Vibrational, and Anunnaki. The entire album is one long suite as various themes emerge, recede, and reappear. On their previous two albums, Perfect Beings incorporated some Beatlesque power pop into their music, but this is on another plane of music entirely.

A Perfect Circle: Eat The Elephant

Another surprise reunion. Maynard James Keenan’s side project A Perfect Circle released two incredible albums in 2000 and 2003, and a horrible one in 2004. It seemed like that was that, and they were done. Fourteen years later, they put out Eat The Elephant, which is excellent. Not as metal-oriented as their earlier music, but more subtle. Beautiful melodies and lyrics expressing barely controlled rage characterize this one.

Riverside: Wasteland

Riverside survived the dreadful loss of Piotr Grudzinski, their guitarist, and released the very strong Wasteland in 2018. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, this album manages to be hopeful and uplifting.

RPWL: Tales From Outer Space

RPWL started out as a Pink Floyd tribute band, which was obvious on their earlier Beyond Man and Time. On Tales From Outer Space, they just rock out and have a great time. I ended listening to this album almost more than anything else in 2018. “Not Our Place To Be” has a great hook that gets in your ear and won’t come out.

Manuel Schmid Und Marek Arnold: Zeiten

This is the album I actually did listen to more than anything else. It is sung in German, and the melodies are elegant art-pop. Here’s what I said in my original review: Schmid and Arnold’s melodies are beautiful and delicate, catchy without being cloying, and deceptively complex. The instrumentation is primarily keyboards based, and mostly acoustic. There are very tasteful synth flourishes and electric guitar solos, but none of them overwhelm the beauty of the underlying melodies.

Southern Empire: Civilisation

The second outing by this band from Down Under consists of four epics, and there isn’t a wasted note anywhere. These guys are going to be prog superstars very soon.

That completes our look back to 2018. Honorable mentions are Big Big Train’s live set Merchants of Light, Gunship’s Dark All Day, Pineapple Thief’s Dissolution, Tesseract’s Sonder, and Umphrey McGee’s It’s Not Us.

Let us know what we’ve missed in the comments!

 

 

Pink Floyd's endless river

While we eagerly wait for the next installment of Tad Wert’s wonderful series, Those Awkward Teenage Years, and collectively shake our heads in disgust at the events (or pseudoevents) transpiring in Washington, DC, I’ve been thinking a lot about Pink Floyd.  As most of you probably know, the band released its immense (and immensely expensive) boxset, The Later Years.  Its coming and its arrival have, for a variety of reasons, sparked my imagination and stirred my soul.  I’ve loved Pink Floyd since roughly 1979, and the band has inspired me personally in a variety of ways, most of them indescribably affecting me in ways I could never measure.  From the unrelenting anger of “Another Brick” to the genteel heights of “High Hopes,” Pink Floyd has been a constant in my life, intellectually and emotionally.

The last actual Pink Floyd album, The Endless River, came out five years ago. There were, of course, the usual complaints and criticisms.  So be it.  Whatever the complaints and criticisms, I must disagree.  The Endless River is not just a great Pink Floyd album, it’s one of the best rock albums of the last decade. In very large part, this excellence comes from intent—it is rather intentionally an homage to one of rock’s greatest and most innovative keyboardists, Rick Wright.

Musically, it is innovative, and the music breathes, lingering where it needs to linger and moving when it needs to move.  If you’ve not listened to it in a while, give it another spin.  It’s well worth many, many spins.

Believe me, it will be far healthier than dwelling on politics.  And, it will probably be more productive, too.

Those Awkward Teenage Years – The 2010’s, pt. 8: 2017

Seven years down and three to go in our look back at the best music of 2010’s. This post features 18 fine albums no self-respecting prog aficionado should be without. Here they are, in alphabetical order.

All Them Witches: Sleeping Through The War

Southern spacey swamp rock (if that makes any sense!) that sounds relaxed and easygoing until the coffee kicks in. They really stretch out and mine some fine grooves on “Bulls” and “Alabaster”. If the Allman Bros. and Porcupine Tree had a child, it would sound like this.

Ayreon: The Source

A prequel to the Ayreon mythos, this 2-disc set is one of the most metallic in their catalog. It rocks incredibly hard, and as usual, Arjen manages to recruit an impressive cast of vocalists. The Ayreon arc of albums is one of the most impressive in rock, and The Source is a fine addition to it.

Richard Barbieri: Planets + Persona

This was my top album of 2017. It’s an all-instrumental affair by Porcupine Tree keyboardist Richard Barbieri. While it is mostly jazz influenced, it also contains entrancing songs like “Unholy” – a meditative song with wordless vocals that could be a prayer. Nothing is rushed on this record, and I still never tire of listening to it.

Big Big Train: Grimspound and The Second Brightest Star

We got an embarrassment of riches from Big Big Train in 2017. First, they released Grimspound which continued in the fine tradition of Folkore of celebrating unsung or forgotten heroes. “Experimental Gentlemen” and “A Mead Hall In Winter” are two outstanding tracks from this set.

A few months later, BBT released The Second Brightest Star, which was almost as good as Grimspound. The title track and “The Leaden Stour” are highlights.

BBT also gave away a digital-only release, London Story, which was a 34 minute track that combined several London-related songs. All of this activity was unprecedented for BBT and much appreciated by their fans.

 

Birzer Bandana: Becoming One

Spirit of Cecilia’s founder and editor Bradley Birzer got in on the prog action in 2017 with this collaboration he made with Dave Bandana. Birzer wrote the lyrics – based on the sci-fi novel A Canticle For Leibowitz – and Bandana played and sang. It is full of majestic synths and great melodies.

Damanek: On Track

Damanek is led by Guy Manning, and On Track is one of the best albums of the decade. Very sophisticated songwriting and playing abounds on this debut. African rhythms and catchy choruses make for a very nice experience. Marek Arnold lends his sax to the proceedings as well.

Depeche Mode: Spirit

I was beginning to wonder if Depeche Mode was ever going to make a decent album after Playing the Angel. Fortunately, Spirit has some of their best tunes in years, and they sound energized. Let’s hope it lasts.

Downes Braide Association: Skyscraper Souls

I didn’t catch this one until after 2017, but if I had I would have picked it as my favorite of the year. Geoff Downes (Buggles, Yes, Asia) and Chris Braide (Producers) join forces and produce an extraordinary album. The title track is one of the finest epics in the history of prog (and it even features vocals by Kate Pierson of the B-52s!). “Darker Times” has some of the most beautiful harmonies since the Beach Boys’ Surf’s Up. Chris Braide is a fantastic singer – pure and pitch perfect.

Glass Hammer: Untold Tales

This collection of songs from Glass Hammer’s vault turns out to be one of their most fun albums ever. The stomping “Troll” is a hilarious takedown of internet trolls, and “Cool Air” is a marvelous musical version of an H. P. Lovecraft story.

I Am The Manic Whale: Gathering The Waters

I Am The Manic Whale’s second album is even better than their first. More confident and risk-taking, they succeed on “Strandbeest” and “Stand Up”. If you like XTC and Frost*, you will enjoy IATMW.

Katatonia: The Fall Of Hearts

What a gorgeous album. It begins almost in midsong with Jonas Renske’s warm and hushed baritone singing, “You wait by the river/Days are long” and continues for more than a hour as one song flows into another. Even though there is a superficially languid feel to the music, I always sense the enormous power this band is capable of.

KXM: Scatterbrain

A supergroup composed of King’s X bassist/vocalist Dug Pinnock, Korn’s drummer Ray Luzier, and Lynch Mob’s George Lynch, this is a straight rock album with no apologies necessary. “Breakout” is a killer song.

Lonely Robot: The Big Dream

The second installment in John Mitchell’s Lonely Robot trilogy. “Awakenings”, “Sigma”, and “In Floral Green” are an incredible one-two-three punch early in the album.

Gary Numan: Savage: Songs For A Broken World

Gary Numan followed up the excellent Splinter with the even better Savage. There is a definite Middle Eastern vibe here, and Numan is still the master of the irresistible hook. His band lays down a massive groove on every track. It’s been fascinating to watch Numan struggle with his atheism – for someone who doesn’t believe in God, he sure does yell at Him a lot.

Slowdive

Slowdive were founding members of the “shoegaze” movement in the 90s. They disappeared after1995, and then suddenly showed up  in 2017 with this eponymous album. It is as good as their best work from 20 years ago. Here’s hoping they don’t wait another 20 to make another.

Threshold: Legends Of The Shires

Damien Wilson is no longer with Threshold, but that didn’t stop them from producing the fantastic double disc set Legends Of The Shires. “Stars and Satellites” is a fantastic song with layers of guitars and an unforgettable chorus.

Steven Wilson: To The Bone

Wilson embraces his love for ’80s new wave pop, and comes up with the most consistently enjoyable album of his solo career. His guitar solo on the title track is perfect: concise, melodic, and lyrical. “Pemanating” could be a Tears For Fears single, and “Blank Tapes” is unbelievably sweet and heartbreaking. A great, great record.

That’s our look at 2017, folks. Two more years to go! Honorable mentions for this year go to Dave Kerzner (Static), Godsticks (Faced With Rage), Lunatic Soul (Fractured), Sons Of Apollo (Psychotic Symphony), and Wobbler (From Silence To Somewhere). Add your choices in the comments!

 

Those Awkward Teenage Years – The 2010’s, pt. 7: 2016

Welcome to Spirit of Cecilia’s retrospective of this decade’s musical highlights! This is the seventh chapter, which covers the best of 2016, and Hoo Boy! we had a bumper crop of great music that year. Here are 20(!) of the best prog and rock albums from 2016, in alphabetical order.

Big Big Train: Folklore

Big Big Train continued its decade-long conquest of progworld with Folklore. A big part of their appeal (aside from their wonderful musicianship and beautiful melodies) is their knack for finding forgotten heroes and paying musical tribute to them. In Folklore, we are treated to the fascinating story of the messenger pigeon, Winkie. “The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun” is another indispensable BBT track.

Blueneck: The Outpost

Blueneck hails from Britol, UK, and The Outpost was one of the standout albums of 2016. Shimmering, slow-building, atmospheric, and majestic music made this a compulsive listen for me. “From Beyond” is a tremendous track.

David Bowie: Black Star

David Bowie had this album released posthumously. As always, he resists easy categorization. The nearly ten minute title track is full of skittery rhythms, disembodied jazz sax, and disturbing lyrics. A fitting final statement from one of the most talented and creative souls in music.

 

Cyril: Paralyzed

I did not hear about this group until recently, but I am glad I discovered them. Cyril is from Germany, and Marek Arnold and Manuel Schmid are members. Paralyzed is a fantastic prog album – one of the best of the last ten years. There are hints of classic Genesis in their sound, and I can’t recommend this album enough.

Devin Townsend Project: Transcendence

It looks like this is the final offering from the Devin Townsend Project, and what a way to finish! They revisit a DTP classic (“Truth”), and cover a Ween song (“Transdermal Celebration”). In between are some of the strongest songs Townsend has ever written. His vocals can make my hair stand on end, they are so, well, transcendent.

Evership

Evership is from my own city of Nashville, TN, but I would add this to our list regardless of their location. These guys write lyrical epics that are performed flawlessly. “Ultima Thule” is a near-perfect song, building slowly and quietly to a roaring conclusion. I can’t wait to hear more from this group.

Frost: Falling Satellites

How about a little fun? Jem Godfrey’s project Frost* released a terrific pop/prog collection in 2016 that I still listen to often. “Closer To The Sun” is one of the most enjoyable and reassuring seven and a half minutes in music.

Glass Hammer: Valkyrie

Glass Hammer embraced their inner Rush and put together a challenging concept album based on the trauma suffered by a WWI veteran. Suzie Bogdanowicz never sounded better, the band rehearsed all the songs before recording, and it shows. They really fire on all cylinders.

Haken: Affinity

Haken took a time machine back 30-odd years ago for Affinity. There all kinds of vintage synth sounds and nods to ’80s hair bands that make Affinity a hugely enjoyable record. Of course, they still have their 21st century wall of sound on great songs like “1985” and “The Architect”. This is one of Haken’s best albums, and it is scary how good they are.

Headspace: All That You Fear Is Gone

The second album from Adam Wakeman’s and Damien Wilson’s project was a stunning set of songs. There are rough blues (“Polluted Alcohol”), straight ahead metal (“Kill You With Kindness”), and complex prog (“The Science Within Us”). “Secular Soul” is the kind of song that forces you to stop what you’re doing and just listen.

iamthemorning: Lighthouse

A beautiful and sensitive portrayal of a young woman’s battle with mental illness, Lighthouse was iamthemorning’s second album. In my original review, I noted, “Imagine, if you will, a world where Aerial-era Kate Bush, Dumbarton Oaks-era Igor Stravinsky, and Sketches of Spain-era Miles Davis got together to compose a song cycle.”

Kansas: The Prelude Implicit

One of the biggest surprises of 2016 was the triumphant return of Kansas. This was no cashing in on nostalgia – this was a truly excellent album that successfully compares to their classics from the ’70s and ’80s. Welcome back, boys!

Kyros: Vox Humana

These guys started out as Synaesthesia, and morphed into Kyros. Whatever they call themselves, Adam Warne and Co. are some of the most talented songwriters and musicians working today. Vox Humana was a 2-disc concept album about a scientist who creates an artificial human, and the problems that ensue. Highly recommended.

Neal Morse Band: Similitude Of A Dream

The Similitude Of A Dream was the Neal Morse Band’s second album, and it was a monster. Over 2 hours long, it told the story of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Upon its release, it was immediately hailed as a prog classic.

Opeth: Sorceress

Opeth’s Sorderess topped a lot of critics’ Best of 2016 lists. With this album, Opeth laid to rest any remains of their death metal past, and jumped headlong into prog.

Pineapple Thief: Your Wilderness

In 2016, Pineapple Thief released what I consider to be their finest album to date, Your Wilderness. Bruce Soord came up with a diverse and satisfying set of songs that really rocked (“Tear You Up”). Gavin Harrison plays drums, and he kicks them into high gear.

Radiohead: A Moon-Shaped Pool

Radiohead rediscovered melody on A Moon Shaped Pool and came up with a beautiful album. String quartets, gentle synth washes, and massed voices combine for one of their finest hours.

Southern Empire

Australia’s Sean Timms (keyboards) and Danny Lopresto (vocals, guitar) lead this marvelous new prog band. Their debut was one of the best albums of 2016, with “The Bridge That Binds” the standout track.

Syd Arthur: Apricity

I listened to this album by Syd Arthur more than practically anything else in 2016. It is a funky, catchy set of songs that remind me a bit of Talking Heads. I dare you to sit still while listening to “No Peace”.

Vangelis: Rosetta

And finally, an offering from an old veteran: Vangelis. He can veer dangerously close to cheesy romanticism, but Rosetta is one of his best set of songs in his long career. He composed them to accompany the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft that successfully landed on a comet. It is appropriately spacey and atmospheric.

Whew! I hope this long post convinced you that 2016 was one of the best for great music. Let us know in the comments below what you enjoyed back then.

Those Awkward Teenage Years – The 2010’s, pt. 6: 2015

We’re midway through the decade – thanks for joining us on our journey through the musical highlights of the 2010s!

In terms of music distribution, compact disc sales continued their steep decline. In 2000, 943 million CDs were sold. By 2015, that number had dropped to a little over 100 million. iTunes (and mp3s in general) was fading fast as Spotify, Amazon Music, and Apple Music attracted listeners to their streaming platforms. What these trends mean for artists remains to be seen. As it gets harder to earn income from recorded music, will that discourage new artists from getting started?

On the other hand – stepping back and taking a longer view of history – perhaps we’ll look at the 20th century as an aberration in terms of the financial rewards many recording artists were able to garner. For most of recorded history, musicians and composers have  had to struggle to survive, and even the the most gifted relied on wealthy patrons.

Fortunately for us in the 21st century, there is no shortage of great artists producing fine music, and 2015 was a good example. So here are the highlights of that year, in alphabetical order.

The Dear Hunter: Act IV: Rebirth In Reprise

Casey Crescenzo has released five of his planned six acts. Act IV: Rebirth In Reprise is my favorite so far. As usual, there is everything but the kitchen sink here. “A Night On The Town” is the key track as it swings like a Gershwin composition before an exhilarating rock motif takes over.

Gazpacho: Molok & NIght Of The Demon

Another year, and not one, but two Gazpacho releases. Molok is another dark concept album about the ancient demon utilizing modern technology for his nefarious purposes (I think). The fact that Molok has some of the prettiest music Gazpacho has ever made makes the concept go down easy. Night Of The Demon is a live set where the band really cooks. It’s a perfect introduction to them, if you’re curious.

Glass Hammer: THe Breaking Of The World & Double Live

Another year, and not one, but two Glass Hammer releases. The Breaking Of The World is another peak for them (how do they keep doing that?) with essential songs “Mythopoiea”, “North Wind”, and “Nothing, Everything”.  Double Live is a terrific no-frills live performance. Susie Bogdanowicz and Carl Groves are excellent singing classics like “The Knight Of The North” and “If The Stars”, while the band rocks tighter than a tick.

I Am The Manic Whale: Everything Beautiful In Time

A new band from Reading, England, I Am The Manic Whale sprang fully formed from the brain of Michael Whiteman (the band name is an anagram of his). This is an impressive debut with songs celebrating subjects ranging from 10,000 year clocks to the joys of parenting messy toddlers. “Princess Strange” is an inspiring take on cyberbullying.  A true delight to listen to, and worthy of a large audience.

Karnatake: Secrets of Angels

Veteran proggers Karnataka enlisted new singer Hayley Griffiths for Secrets Of Angels, and she really lit a fire under them. Opening track “Road To Cairo” has a killer middle eastern riff that is as satisfying as Led Zep’s “Kashmir”. The title track is also excellent.

Dave Kerzner: New World

The keyboardist and composer from Sound Of Contact struck out on his own and produced this wonderful Floydian sci-fi epic. Put it on, and imagine you are back in 1977, hearing a fantastic new prog masterpiece.

 

Lonely Robot: Please Come Home

John Mitchell’s (Arena, Frost*, It Bites) first album in a trilogy about an astronaut lost in space. One of the best albums of the decade, Lonely Robot features John’s excellent vocals and stellar guitar work. Every song is memorable, but “Oubliette” and “Are We Copies?” are standouts.

Neal Morse Band: The Grand Experiment

The first album from The Neal Morse Band is one of the best of the decade. First, it is NOT a Morse solo record – this is a band effort with all members contributing to the songwriting. Second, Neal found a young multi-instrumentalist in Eric Gillette who is simply phenomenal and spurs everyone to new heights. “Alive Again” may just be the finest epic Neal has been involved in.

Riverside: Love, Fear, and the Time Machine

This was my favorite album of 2015, and I still listen to it fairly often.  Riverside pulled together their metal and hard rock roots with Mariusz Duda’s gentler Lunatic Soul excursions, and came up with a winning mix. Add in some nods to ’80s new wave, and this is a very fine record.

Rush: R40

A document of Rush’s 40th anniversary tour, where they played songs from every phase of their long career. The stage set began filled to the brim with props and effects, and they gradually shed them as they worked their way back to the first shows they played in a high school auditorium.

Subsignal: The Beacons Of Somewhere

Subsignal’s The Beacons Of Somewhere was a highlight of 2015. Straight-ahead prog rock with awesome melodies. “Everything Is Lost” is an excellent song, as is the multi-part title track. Every time I listen to this marvelous album, I hear new details that delight.

Tesseract: Polaris

Tesseract toned down the more extreme metal aspects of their music for Polaris, and that made a huge difference. Daniel Tompkins has always been a terrific vocalist, but on this album he really shines.  “Dystopia” soars, and “Tourniquet” is a gorgeous cacophony of sound. “Phoenix” makes me want to drive 100 mph. A great album that earned Tesseract a well-deserved wider audience.

Steven Wilson: Hand.Cannot.Erase

Steven Wilson’s Hand.Cannot.Erase caused the biggest stir in progworld in 2015. It was his breakthrough album, catapulting him into the mainstream, and deservedly so. That said, the subject is so emotionally harrowing (the true story of a young woman who died alone in her apartment, and wasn’t discovered for three years) that I have a hard time enjoying it.

Yes; Progeny

A box set that contains recordings of seven concerts from 1972. Yes was touring in support of Close To The Edge, and this is a fascinating document of a young and hungry band at the peak of their powers. Yes, the setlist stays constant, but it is fun to hear how their performances evolved over a short period of time, and how they dealt with onstage setbacks, like a local FM radio station taking over their PA system!

Once again, I easily could have doubled the length of this post. I left off excellent albums by Bruce Soord, Downes Braide Association, Echlyn, Izz, and Perfect Beings, among others. Let us know what your Best of 2015 list is in the comments!

Those Awkward Teenage Years – The 2010’s, pt. 5: 2014

We are well into our retrospective of the decade now, and in this post we will take a look at 2014. It was another fine year for music as some artists made their debut, and some seasoned veterans continued winning streaks. Once again, my selections are presented in alphabetical order.

Dave Bainbridge: Celestial Fire

Dave Bainbridge is a phenomenal guitarist who led the Celtic-prog band Iona in the ’90s. Celestial Fire is a massive album featuring several guest vocalists, including Damien Wilson (Threshold, Headspace, et al.). Bainbridge’s style is inventive and fluid, reminiscent of Alan Holdsworth, and Celestial Fire provides ample proof that he is one of the finest guitarists working today.

Elbow: The Take Off and Landing of Everything

Elbow has consistently produced excellent albums, and 2014’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything is one of their best. Singer Guy Garvey is blessed with a terrific voice, as well as a knack for literate lyrics. He broke up with his girlfriend while writing the songs for this album, and his emotional turmoil resulted in a beautiful work.

Flying Colors: Second Nature

Second Nature proved that Flying Colors were a real group with a bright future. All the members of this prog “supergroup” meshed perfectly, and they came up with one the most enjoyable listens of the year. The positive chemistry between them is obvious from the opening song, “Open Up Your Eyes” through the closing epic, “Cosmic Symphony”.

Gazpacho: Demon

Gazpacho released one of the darkest albums of 2014 with Demon. It purported to chronicle the tribulations of a demon hunter. The packaging and artwork is extraordinary – it looks like an old notebook filled with cryptic messages and arcane drawings. The music is excellent as well, creating an ominous sense of foreboding. Don’t listen to this one alone!

Glass Hammer: Ode To Echo

From darkness to light. Glass Hammer’s Ode To Echo is one of their finest albums from their long career. Vocalist Jon Davison transitioned out and Carl Groves took over with the welcome return of Suzie Bagdanowicz. Groves brings an interesting lyrical perspective to songs like “Garden Of Hedon” and “Ozymandias”. Song for song, I think Ode To Echo is one of Glass Hammer’s finest efforts, combining their pop sensibilities (“The Poropoise Song”) with their prog chops (“Misantrog”).

IQ: The Road Of Bones

You have to give thanks for bands like IQ, who have proudly waved the prog flag since 1981. The Road Of Bones is a 2-disc set that is uniformly excellent. While the tone of the album is quite dark, the strong musicianship and songs make The Road Of Bones a very enjoyable experience.

newspaperflyhunting: Iceberg Soul

Poland’s newpaperflyhunting made a splash in 2014 with Iceberg Soul. Postpunk minimalism, angular guitars, spacey vocals, and progressive themes all combine to make a very unique sound. You can buy their entire discography at bandcamp for less than $5! Give them a try if haven’t heard them.

North Atlantic Oscillation: The Third Day

The cover of North Atlantic Oscillation’s third album features a steampunkish compass/timepiece thingamajig, which is an apt visual for their music. Harmonies hearkening back to classic Beach Boys, crunching grungy guitars, massive bass lines, and delicate keyboard flourishes evoke rock’s distant past and indicate a promising way forward. Everything NAO has released is top-notch and utterly unique.

Perfect Beings

Based in Los Angeles and led by guitarist Johannes Luley, Perfect Beings debuted in 2014 with this delightful album. Sounding at times like long lost sons of the Beatles and Pink Floyd, Perfect Beings are unabashedly progressive while keeping their feet firmly planted in melodic rock. One of the best debuts of the decade.

The Pineapple Thief: Magnolia

Everything clicked on The Pineapple Thief’s tenth album, Magnolia. It contains a diversity of styles while remaining a cohesive work. It’s more well-produced pop than out-there prog, and that can be a good thing. “Alone At Sea” and “The One You Left To Die” are highlights.

Pink Floyd: Endless River

The final album from one of the true giants of rock. It consists of outtakes and jams from when Richard Wright was still alive with some David Gilmour vocals added on top. Pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel, compared to their earlier work.

Update: For a different opinion on Endless River, read Brad Birzer’s post.

 

Transatlantic: Kaleidoscope

A tremendous album by the long-absent prog supergroup Transatlantic. Kaleidoscope sounds like they never left, even though their last album, The Whirlwind was released in 1999. Kaleidoscope contains all the elements that make Transatlantic so special – ballads, huge epics, and outstanding musicianship. Opener “Into The Blue” is a fantastic song, as well as the closing title cut.

Midge Ure: Fragile

Coming off Ultravox’s triumphant Brill!ant, Midge Ure released the gentler Fragile in 2014. A true solo effort, Ure played, sang and produced everything. “Star Crossed” is one of the best songs he has ever written.

John Wesley: Disconnect

John Wesley is Steven Wilson’s go-to man when he needs a guitarist for his touring band.  he is also a talented singer and songwriter in his own right, as Disconnect amply illustrates. Alex Lifeson even drops by to contribute a nifty guitar solo. Best track: “Mary Will”.

Yes: Heaven and Earth

We finish our look back to 2014 with a somewhat controversial album: Yes’ Heaven and Earth. Jon Davison left Glass Hammer to handle vocals for Yes, and he assisted with the songwriting on this record. Fans’ reactions to it were mixed. Personally, I think it is a fine record. It doesn’t come close to their ’70s classics, but that is an unrealistic expectation. When taken as a pleasant musical offering, it is a solid effort.

So that completes our survey of the 2014 musical landscape. We are halfway through the decade! As always, let us know your favorites from this year in the comments. Thanks for reading!