2022: A Proggy Reflection

I loved Tad’s list of great albums of the year.  I’m in agreement with most of them, and I’m proud to be Tad’s friend and ally in this crazy world.  He’s a man of great insight.  

I will admit, I didn’t give as much time to music in 2022 as I normally do.  I was, for better or worse, spending almost all my free time on my own book manuscript, Tolkien and the Inklings: Men of the West (yes, this is a shameless plug!  Please look for it sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2023).  Whether such a use of my time was worth it or not, time will tell.  In that book, though, I thank not only Tad, Kevin McCormick, Carl Olson, and Erik Heter of Spirit of Cecilia fame, but I also thank Greg Spawton of Big Big Train, Steve Babb of Glass Hammer, John Galgano and Laura Meade of IZZ, and Andy Tillison of The Tangent (and a few others) for inspiration.  I couldn’t have written what I wrote during 2022 without such inspiration.

I would also note, importantly, that the website Progarchy reached its 10th anniversary.  Carl, Kevin, Erik, and a few others helped form it in 2012.  I’m very glad it’s thriving, especially under the loving care of Chris, Bryan, and Rick.  I’m no longer a part of Progarchy, but I wish them the best.

When it comes to 2022, let me start with a few non-music releases.  I absolutely loved Kevin J. Anderson’s (and Neil Peart’s) Clockwork Destiny.  Because of my friendship with Kevin, I was blessed and read the book in manuscript form.  I loved every moment of it, and I thought it was the perfect conclusion to the Clockwork trilogy.  Kevin is an amazing writer, and his imagination really knows no bounds.

I also read, with great enjoyment, Steven Wilson’s Limited Edition of One.  I still don’t quite get why he’s not totally satisfied with his community of fans, but the man’s “interestingness”, like Kevin’s imagination, knows no bounds.  Wilson could write an album about the Hillsdale phone book, and I’d be interested.  Remember phone books?  Of course not.  Regardless, Wilson’s Limited Edition of One (deluxe edition) was one of the greatest releases of the year.  I even gave it away as a gift to two of my closest friends.

I also read Rocket 88’s biography of Mark Hollis, A Perfect Silence.  It was detailed and interesting, but not great.  Hollis’s lyrics evoke imagination, but Ben Wardle’s book really just gave the nuts and bolts of the man’s life.  What about his mind?  His soul?  His heart?  He came from the lower class, but what did that mean about his faith and his view of the world?  All of this was missing from this good but flawed work.  It feels more like a reference work than a biography—with all due respect to Wardle, who clearly did his research.  I just wish he’d stretched his biographical imagination.

Though I didn’t spend as much time on music, as I normally do, I did, however, think the world of the following, released this past year:

Tim Bowness, Butterfly Mind.  Holy Moses, folks.  What more do anyone want?  Plaintive lyrics and progressive pop!  Incredible material from a true master.  Thank you, Tim.  What beauty, you’ve provided.

Cosmograf, Heroic Materials.  Admittedly, one of my all-time favorite artists is Robin Armstrong.  The man is one of the greatest audiophiles (next to Steven Wilson) of our era, and everything he produces matters.  This is an excellent release, a fine contribution to the Cosmograf discography.

Oak, The Quiet Rebellion of Compromise.  Ok, exactly does one say?  This is gorgeous music, whatever its genre (and, to be sure, I’m not sure what genre this is).  I loved the band’s second album, and this one seems like an extension of that one.  Glorious lyrics, glorious music.

Galahad, The Last Adventurer.  Stu Nicholson is a master of lyric writing.  Love this man, and his music.  Nothing he writes is unimportant, and in collaboration with Galahad, freaking brilliant.

The Cure, Wish (30th anniversary edition).  Supposedly, The Cure is about to release an album or two. What does it have to lose?  Everything Robert Smith does is genius, and I’m sure that whatever new the band releases will be genius as well.  Wish, though schizophrenic, is genius as well.  So much prog, and so much pop—all mixed together in one brilliant release.

IZZ, I Move (anniversary edition).  Along with Glass Hammer, IZZ is a favorite American prog band.  Here, we have a re-release of a masterpiece—again, masterful in music as well as lyrics.  Galgano and Meade sing their hearts out. IZZ also released a number of singles this year–all of which grabbed my heart and soul. Because they came as singles and not as a single album, though, they gone generally unremarked upon in the prog community. Please go to Bandcamp and give these beauties a listen.

Tears for Fears, Tipping Point. I’ve never hidden my love of Tears for Fears, probably my favorite pop band. I’ve been a rather diehard fan since first hearing them in 1985. This album is really good, but it’s not great. Had the band employed some proggy elements–especially in terms of song segues, such as they did on Songs from the Big Chair–this might very well have become their best album ever. As it is, Tipping Point feels like another collection of really good songs, but it doesn’t feel like a proper album.

Ultravox, Rage in Eden (40th edition).  I didn’t come to this album until it was five years old.  Yes, I heard it for the first time, sometime in the fall of 1986.  My great friend (and fellow Spirit of Cecilia writer), Kevin McCormick introduced it to me.  Wilson’s remix must be of the English version rather than the American version, for there’s at least one song missing.  Still, Wilson’s remix is wonderful, and I’m very glad to own this anniversary edition.

Glass Hammer, At the Gate.  What can I write about GH that I’ve not written before?  Everything this band does is important.  And, yet, each release—rather than fading away—becomes better and better.  I love to see such evolution in a band.  If critics identified early Glass Hammer, later ones might confuse the band with Rush.  Yet, what can be said definitively is 1) Glass Hammer honors those it loves; and 2) by doing so, always creates its own unique thing.  This is a superb ending to a recent trilogy.  See, also, Steve Babb’s first novel, the irrepressible Skallagrim – In the Vales Of Pagarna.

Ayreon, Universal Migrator, Parts 1 and 2.  I bought the deluxe (something, I’ve been doing more and more, as I get older) edition, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.  There’s nothing substantially new from the original release, but it’s great to hear what modern technology can do with the spacing of instruments and the flow of the music itself.

Gazpacho, Fireworking at St. Croix. I fell in love with this album on my first listen, and then I went a bit crazy. I bought the blu-ray, fell in love with it, and then I bought the deluxe earbook. It certainly vies as one of my two favorite releases of 2022.

Porcupine Tree, Closure/Continuation. I’m guessing that if I could calculate all the albums I listened to in 2022, this would rank as number one (or, two, given how many times I also listened to Gazpacho (just mentioned). I think it’s a great album, but I would rank it in the middle of Porcupine Tree releases. It’s neat, and it’s wonderful that PT reformed. But, this album, as good as it is, doesn’t come close to the wonders of Fear of a Blank Planet or Sky Moves Sideways.

I also want to note, that I’ve very much enjoyed all of Roine Stolt’s remixing and systematic reissuing of albums of The Flower Kings throughout 2022.  The latest—which just arrived and which has made me very happy) is the remix of Unfold the Future.  I hope that Stolt has a chance to reissue the whole catalogue.

I would also like to note, I’ve really not had time to check out Dave Kerzner’s The Traveler, Shearwater’s The Great Awakening, or The Tangent’s Songs from the Hard Shoulder. I very much look forward to doing so.

Finally, I must also note that in 2022, I had a front-row seat to the making of Promises of Hope by the Bardic Depths. I never cease to be amazed by the creativity and imagination of Dave Bandana. So wonderful to see that man make brilliant things.

Here’s to a great and glorious and proggy 2023!

P.S. I want to thank, especially, Burning Shed and Bandwagon USA for feeding my prog habit!