2022 was an excellent year for prog music fans, with several old favorites releasing surprisingly strong new albums. Here are my favorites, in alphabetical order:
The Bardic Depths: Promises of Hope
No sophomore slump for these guys! Promises of Hope is even better than their excellent debut. Dave Bandana’s composing and singing is terrific, and Brad Birzer’s lyrics plumb new depths. Let’s hope their partnership is a long and fruitful one.
Big Big Train: Welcome to the Planet
This release came quickly after Common Ground, and is the last to feature the late David Longden, but it is by no means an “Odds and Sods” collection. It is a heartwarming album with some of BBT’s best-ever songs – Proper Jack Foster is an instant classic.
The Dear Hunter: Antimai
Casey Crescenzo’s Dear Hunter has one of the most unique sounds in music today, combining alt-pop, hot jazz, and prog jams. And it’s all good! Antimai is a concept album about a society where different classes of people live in concentric rings of a city. The poorest live in the outermost, and the most powerful live in the inner tower. I have listened to Antimai many times this year, and I always hear new and entrancing details.
Evership: The Uncrowned King, Act 2
Evership’s Uncrowned King Act 2 concludes their musical interpretation of Harold Bell Wright’s allegory. If you are a fan of classic ’70s prog, then you will love this album.
Galahad: The Last Great Adventurer
These long-time prog vets released a very satisfying set of songs in 2022. Blood, Skin, and Bone is one of the best songs of the year – melodic, heavy, with an excellent message: how external factors influence how we react to each other. One of my most-listened-to albums of the past few months.
Glass Hammer: At The Gate
The concluding chapter in Glass Hammer’s Skallagrim saga is the best. You can read my review here. Glass Hammer is the finest American prog rock group, period. It is astounding how they have maintained such high quality over such a long career. As The Years Go By is another top song of 2022.
King’s X: Three Sides of One
Fourteen(!) years after their last studio album, this hard rock/prog trio surprised everyone with one of their best albums ever. From the blistering funk of Let It Rain to the beautiful ballad Nothing But The Truth, King’s X have never sounded better. What a joy to hear them play again!
Jonas Lindberg and The Other Side: Miles From Nowhere
If I had to pick the single best album of 2022, Jonas Lindberg and the Other Side’s Miles From Nowhere would be it. It was released early in 2022, and I still listen to it regularly. It is full of delightful pop/rock hooks performed with excellent musicianship. I have listened to this album dozens of times, and I’m still not tired of it.
David Longden: Door One
This posthumous release of David Longden’s solo album only emphasizes what a loss the world suffered with his passing. It is not an unfinished set of sketches, but a complete and masterfully produced album. Love Is Allis one of his finest songs, and a fitting conclusion to an amazing musical career.
The Porcupine Tree: Closure/Continuation
Another big surprise from a progrock veteran! I never thought Steven Wilson would work with Richard Barbieri and Gavin Harrison again, but here we are, and the music is pretty darn magnificent. Dignity is another PT classic, and here’s hoping there’s more music coming from them in the future.
Shearwater: The Great Awakening
This was a new discovery for me. I love late-era Talk Talk, and The Great Awakening sounds like something Mark Hollis would put together if he were still alive. No Reason is one of the most haunting songs I’ve ever heard.
Tears for Fears: The Tipping Point
Yet another surprise release from longtime musical veterans! Usually, when I hear a beloved artist from the ’80s is getting to put out new music, I get very apprehensive. Let’s face it, the ’80s were forty years ago, and the chances of rekindling the magic are very small. However, Tears for Fears’ The Tipping Point is one of the best albums of 2022, and one of the best of their career. Not a throwaway song in the bunch, and they sound as good as ever. Rivers of Mercy is my favorite, but every single song is a winner.
Devin Townsend: Lightwork
Devin Townsend is one of the most fascinating artists working today. You never know what style his latest album will be: brutally hard rock, country, ambient, pop? Lightwork is a relatively quiet entry in his vast catalog, but it rewards repeated listens. The crunchy guitars crunch, the soaring vocals soar, and the endlessly satisfying melodies pour out of the speakers (or earbuds). So far, I think Lightwork is in Townsend’s top five best.
And there you have it: a baker’s dozen of great albums from the year 2022. The most satisfying trend is the number of great albums produced by artists after a long absence: King’s X, Porcupine Tree, and Tears for Fear. I hope they don’t wait as long to release their next albums!
A special (MEGA!) progcast, featuring Tad Wert, Kevin McCormick, Dave Bandana, and Brad Birzer. Nearly 3 1/2 hours long, we play Tin Spirits, SAND, NAO, Oak, Nosound, No-man, Memories of Machines, Sanguine Hum, The Tangent, Big Big Train, The Flower Kings, and The Bardic Depths. All of the music was chosen to impress Kevin, and we find out his reactions to it all. Additional bonus feature: Dave talks a lot about the making of the most recent The Bardic Depths album, Promises of Hope.
This is the first of our Spirit of Cecilia Radio Progcasts, episode one–featuring music by Big Big Train, The Flower Kings, Galahad, IZZ, The Bardic Depths, Kevin McCormick, NAO, No-man, Wobbler, and The Tangent. All songs used by kind permission of the artists/labels.
And, with the fiery and enthusiastic commentary of Dave Bandana, Brad Birzer, and Tad Wert.
Among our topics: how much we miss David Longdon (RIP); if the Flower Kings are diverse in their musical offerings; if disco can be prog; just what the number 42 is about; if The Tangent simply rocks; what kinds of instruments Wobbler uses; how McCormick, NAO, and No-man owe something to Mark Hollis of Talk Talk; and just how much we love prog.
As much as I am happy to see 2021 fade away in my rear-view mirror, it was an exceptionally good year for music. Wait, let me qualify that – 2021 was an exceptionally good year for some genres of music. In broader cultural terms, music streaming services continued their ascendance as the preferred choice of consumers. Spotify, Apple, and Amazon are steadily erasing the idea of the “album” as a listening experience. People can now create their own playlists, mixing artists and genres to suit their personal preferences. In some ways, the compact disc was its own worst enemy. Instead of an album taking 35 to 45 minutes of a listener’s time, artists began adding more and more subpar songs to their releases so as to fill out the 75-minute capacity of the CD. While the extra available time is a perfect fit for progressive rock, classical music, and jazz, it definitely doesn’t work for pop music.
Speaking of which, pop music itself has degenerated into a homogeneous olio of auto-tuned, computer-composed dreck that is as lasting as cotton candy. There are no longer any artists that attract a broad audience that spans ages, cultures, and tastes. Taylor Swift might come close, but her sales (if that concept has any meaning these days) are a fraction of what a 1970s Fleetwood Mac or Elton John achieved. Radio is a spent force, and most teenaged music consumers get their tunes via TikTok and other social media. The days when one could turn on the radio and hear The Beatles, a Motown masterpiece, a Burt Bacharach ballad, some Lee Morgan hard bop, and The Who on the same station are long gone.
However, in 2021 progressive rock continued to champion the album as the preferred musical package. With that in mind, here are my favorite albums of last year. It was such a bountiful crop that I can’t limit myself to a Top Ten; it was hard for me to whittle the list down to fifteen!
15. Arc of Life
This is a side project of Yes-men Billy Sherwood, Jon Davison, and Jay Schellen, who are joined by prog-genius Dave Kerzner and Jimi Haun. While Yes’s album, The Quest, got all the attention, I found myself enjoying this one more. It’s poppier and tighter, with terrific production. Also, the optimistic and uplifting lyrics lightened the dreary early months of 2021.
14.Gary Numan – Intruder
From the light of Arc of Life to the darkness of Gary Numan. His previous two albums, Splinter and Savage were tremendous efforts, and Intruder continues in their synth-heavy style. There’s not a lot of hope in Gary’s outlook on life, but you can’t deny his compositional gifts. Every song satisfies on a gut level.
13. Kevin Keller – Shimmer
One of my favorite contemporary composers, Keller solicited suggestions from his fans and incorporated them into this collection of songs. At times minimalist, other times unabashedly romantic, Keller’s music in Shimmer is always a treat. This is one that will never grow stale.
12. Transatlantic – The Absolute Universe
An unprecedented release from this prog supergroup, and one of their best ever. It came in three versions: the single-CD Breath of Life, The two-CD Forevermore, and the Blu-Ray Ultimate Version. All three are different albums with unique character. If pressed, I prefer the Ultimate Version, but I have really enjoyed immersing myself in each one.
11. Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk – Eight Fragments of an Illusion
I’m such a big fan of Schnauss (Tangerine Dream, Engineers) that I will buy anything he puts out. This is his third collaboration with guitarist Jonas Munk, and, and it is excellent instrumental electronica. Highly recommended for fans of Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, and American Dollar.
10. Evership – The Uncrowned King
Nashville proggers Evership continue to impress with their third effort. This is a concept album based on an allegory by Harold Bell Wright. This is great prog in the style of classic Kansas or Queen.
9. Leprous – Aphelion
With a name like Leprous, you might think this is extremely dark, growly metal. However, vocalist Einar Solberg possesses some of the most impressive pipes in music. This is a set of songs that are uplifting and thrilling. Leprous is on the verge of breaking into a huge phenomenon.
8. Richard Barbieri – Under a Spell
Barbieri’s previous album, Planets + Persona, was my favorite album of 2017. Under a Spell continues his unique musical creations – part jazz, part samples, part rock, all great. Spooky and comforting at the same time, if that makes sense.
7. NMB – Innocence and Danger
The Neal Morse Band is now a full-fledged collaborative group, and this 2-CD set is their best yet. No concept, just terrific songs. The 31+ minutes long Beyond the Years is one of their greatest epics. The only fly in the ointment is Bill Hubauer’s annoying nasal vocals, but they aren’t distracting enough to ruin the listening experience.
6. Big Big Train – Common Ground
A wonderful collection of songs that cement BBT’s status as the most creative group making music today. The loss of David Longden was one of the most tragic events of 2021.
5. Glass Hammer – Into the Breach
Glass Hammer reinvent themselves once again, this time as ferocious prog rockers. New lead vocalist Hannah Pryor is the perfect person to carry these powerful songs. Messrs. Schendel and Babb never cease to amaze with their endless musical ingenuity.
4. Styx – Crash of the Crown
I never thought I would be raving about a new album from veteran rockers Styx, but this is the real deal. Tommy Shaw has never sounded better, and there isn’t a single piece of filler in this album. Fifteen songs clocking in at 43 minutes, this an impeccably crafted set that was the biggest surprise of 2021.
3. Downes Braide Association – Halcyon Hymns
The fourth album from DBA is their best yet. Chris Braide is a terrific singer, and this is a great set of melodic gems. Each song evokes a pastoral paradise, providing relief from an anxiety-laden 2021. For most of the year, when I couldn’t decide what to listen to, Halcyon Hymns was my go-to album that never failed to satisfy.
2. Lifesigns – Altitude
What a tremendous album, full of gorgeous twists and turns. The title track and Last One Home are two of the finest songs of the year. I listened to this one more than any other, excepting….
1. Frost* – Day and Age
The title track is my favorite song of the year, featuring a killer hook from Jem Godfrey and ferocious guitar and vocals by John Mitchell. A perfectly sequenced album, with musical themes resurfacing throughout, Day and Age is a towering achievement for Frost*. The production is unbelievably crisp and reveals new details with each listen. Hands down, the best album in a year of truly outstanding ones.
I hope my list piqued your interest in some artists you may not have heard before. Here is a Spotify playlist that samples some of the delights contained in these wonderful albums.
Big Big Train are extremely saddened to announce the death of David Longdon this afternoon in hospital in Nottingham, UK at the age of 56 following an accident in the early hours of Friday morning. He is survived by his two daughters Amelia and Eloise, his mother Vera and his partner Sarah Ewing.
Sarah Ewing comments: “David and I were best friends, partners and soul mates and I am utterly devastated by his loss. He was a beautiful person and I feel so lucky to have known and loved him.”
Greg Spawton comments: “We are absolutely stunned to lose David. It is unspeakably cruel that a quirk of fate in the early hours of yesterday morning has deprived him and his loved ones of a happy future together and all of the opportunities, both personal and musical, that awaited him next year and beyond.”
David joined Big Big Train in 2009, immediately making a significant impact with that year’s The Underfall Yard album. He proceeded to record a further eight studio albums with the band, including the forthcoming Welcome To The Planet, as well as fronting the band for a series of highly acclaimed concerts from 2015 onwards. In addition last year he released an album with the late Judy Dyble under the name Dyble Longdon. On the day before his accident he had been in the studio working on a new solo album.
“David made a huge impact on my life both musically and personally,” Spawton continues. “I loved him like a brother and already feel his loss very deeply. He was a true creative visionary with extraordinary depth of talent. But above all he was a first rate and very kind man. His family, friends, BBT bandmates and crew will miss him terribly.”
The band’s Welcome To The Planet album remains scheduled for release on 28th January 2022. A further statement regarding the band’s 2022 concerts and other activities will follow in due course.
The band and their management request privacy for David’s family and friends at this extremely difficult time.
Hot on the heels of BBT’s magnificent Common Ground album comes this announcement of another new album! In the case of Big Big Train, you really can’t have too much of a good thing, so this is welcome news:
Big Big Train – announce new album ‘Welcome to the Planet’
New single “Made From Sunshine” out now
Six months after the release of the critically acclaimed album ‘COMMON GROUND‘, Big Big Train are pleased to announce a new album ‘WELCOME TO THE PLANET’, due out on January 28th, 2022 on their own label, English Electric Recordings.
Big Big Train founder Gregory Spawton explains the short time between albums: “The experience of the pandemic has shown us that we need to make the best use of our time on Earth. With that in mind and with new band members on board giving us a fresh head of steam, we decided on a speedy return to the studio to write and record Welcome To The Planet.”
As with ‘COMMON GROUND’, ‘WELCOME TO THE PLANET’ sees Big Big Train retain their progressive roots but also take influence from all spheres of music. The album’s opener ‘Made From Sunshine’, co-written by guitarist Dave Foster and singer David Longdon, has guitar lines redolent of Johnny Marr and vocal harmonies reminiscent of the Finn Brothers/Crowded House, with violinist Clare Lindley sharing lead vocals with Longdon.
Elsewhere on the album, keyboard player Carly Bryant gets her first Big Big Train writing credit and lead vocal on the captivating title track. The two recent singles ‘The Connection Plan’ and ‘Lanterna’ are included along with a winter themed song ‘Proper Jack Froster’, a bittersweet tale of childhood. The album is completed by the delicate acoustic ‘Capitoline Venus’, the beautiful ‘Oak And Stone’ and a pair of dazzling instrumentals, ‘A Room With No Ceiling’ and ‘Bats In The Belfry’, written by guitarist/keyboardist Rikard Sjöblom and drummer Nick D’Virgilio respectively.
You can listen to “Made From Sunshine” here:
Here is the track listing:
BIG BIG TRAIN ‘WELCOME TO THE PLANET’
Part One Made From Sunshine The Connection Plan Lanterna Capitoline Venus A Room With No Ceiling
Part Two Proper Jack Froster Bats In The Belfry Oak And Stone Welcome To The Planet
For their March 2022 UK tour, which will be their most extensive to date and which will culminate with a show at the prestigious London Palladium, David Longdon (lead vocals, flute), Nick D’Virgilio (drums, vocals), Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, vocals), Greg Spawton (bass), Carly Bryant (keyboards, guitars, vocals), Dave Foster (guitars) and Clare Lindley (violin, vocals) will be joined by a five piece brass ensemble. In addition to two further UK shows in September, the band expects to announce North American and continental European tour dates shortly.
Big Big Train release new instrumental single ‘Apollo’ Track taken from forthcoming album Common Ground due out July 30th
“Apollo” is the second track to be taken from Big Big Train’s forthcoming album ‘Common Ground’ due out on July 30th, 2021 on English Electric Recordings. The new album, recorded during the worldwide pandemic, sees the band continue their tradition of dramatic narratives but also tackles issues much closer to home, such as the Covid lockdowns, the separation of loved ones, the passage of time, deaths of people close to the band and the hope that springs from a new love. “Apollo” is a seven-minute plus instrumental written by Big Big Train drummer Nick D’Virgilio and will be an undoubted highlight when the band tour in 2022. “When the time came to start coming up with ideas for the next BBT album, I felt very strongly that we should include a quintessential instrumental track. I wanted to write the band’s version of Genesis’s Los Endos and to make a track that really showed off the talent of all the amazing musicians in this band. I knew that the team could totally play anything I threw at them, and boy, did they prove me right! I thought about the unique instrumentation of BBT. We have so many wonderful ‘voices’ to play with and I wanted every one of them in this song. In the big end bit, I can totally envisage the crowd with their hands in the air going back n forth, all of the lights and haze on the stage, the band just absolutely slamming, the crowd singing along with the melody the BBT brass ensemble is playing, until we reach a glorious end.” Watch the video for “Apollo” here: https://youtu.be/88HHhbD1vFE
‘Common Ground’ sees the band taking in wider musical and lyrical inspiration from artists such as Elbow, Pete Townshend, Tears For Fears, Elton John and XTC, as well as acknowledging their more progressive roots. As ever, Big Big Train will take listeners on a journey, be it waiting for the UK 5pm pandemic press conferences (’The Strangest Times’) to the library of Alexandria (‘Black With Ink’) to the bottom of the ocean (‘Atlantic Cable’).
For the ‘Common Ground’ tour, which will be their most extensive to date and which will culminate in the UK with a show at the prestigious London Palladium, Greg Spawton (bass), David Longdon (lead vocals, flute), Nick D’Virgilio (drums, vocals) and Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, vocals) will be joined by Carly Bryant (keyboards, guitars, vocals), who contributes vocals to ‘Common Ground’, Dave Foster (guitars), who plays on two tracks on the new album, Clare Lindley (violin, vocals) and by a five piece brass ensemble. The band expect to announce North American tour dates shortly.
BIG BIG TRAIN UK TOUR 2022
TUE, MARCH 15TH – YORK, BARBICAN WED, MARCH 16TH – CAMBRIDGE, CORN EXCHANGE FRI, MARCH 18TH – BIRMINGHAM, SYMPHONY HALL SAT, MARCH 19TH – BATH, FORUM MON, MARCH 21ST – GLASGOW, ROYAL CONCERT HALL TUE, MARCH 22ND – MANCHESTER, BRIDGEWATER HALL WED, MARCH 23RD – LONDON, PALLADIUM
Big Big Train was initially founded in 1990 and went through several line-up changes, but in 2009 the band decided on a fresh start, and the core of the current version of the band was born. Since then, they have gone on to win four Progressive Music Awards, played sold out shows and seen their last album, 2019’s ‘Grand Tour’, reach #1 in the Official UK rock charts and break into the top 40 in the Official UK album charts. The band toured the UK for the first time in 2019, culminating in a sold out show at London’s Hackney Empire, subsequently released as the critically acclaimed Blu-ray ‘Empire’, and 2022 will see the band performing their largest UK tour to date along with their first ever dates in North America.
My earliest memory is standing on my tiptoes putting Let it Be by The Beatles on my parent’s stereo. I must have been only four or five years old, and I don’t know why my parents let their pre-schooler touch their records. I wouldn’t have.
“I dig a pygmy, by Charles Hawtry on the deaf-aids. Phase one, in which Doris gets her oats.” Then the acoustic guitar, the bass drum, John and Paul singing in unison, and I’m in my happy place – laying on the floor listening to music. Looking up at the ceiling and lost in my imagination. Not much has changed in 45 years.
Besides The Beatles, my parent’s record collection consisted of 1970s staples such as Linda Rondstadt, Neil Diamond (laugh if you’d like), Emmy Lou Harris, Glen Campbell, Loretta Lynn, Bob Dylan, Charlie Parker, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Wes Montgomery, Herbie Mann, and The Moody Blues. I listened to all of those albums except Every Good Boy Deserves Favor by The Moody Blues. The cover freaked me out and planted the seeds of suspicion about Progressive Music (Prog).
Probably as a teenager I tried to listen to it. I imagine that I picked up the needle at “Desolation, creation.” It still sounds stupid, but if I would have stayed with it and listened to “The Story in Your Eyes,” things may have been different.
However, I wasn’t aware of Prog as a thing or deliberately avoiding it until I encountered the anti-Prog bible, The Worst Rock n’ Roll Records of All Time: A Fan’s Guide to the Stuff You Love to Hate by Jimmy Guterman and Owen O’Donnell in a used bookstore sometime in my early 20s. That book was everything a young music snob like me could want, take downs of stupid lyrics and bloated Prog bands on every page. I learned that you could always be cool by ripping on Prog.
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