Tag Archives: Gazpacho

Striking Sparks Over Gazpacho’s Fireworker

Gazpacho Fireworker

In this second dialogue between Spirit of Cecilia’s Editor-in-Chief, Bradley Birzer, and Arts Editor Thaddeus Wert, they discuss the merits of Norwegian progsters Gazpacho’s latest album, Fireworker.

Wert: Hello, Dr. Birzer! I understand you consider Fireworker to be Gazpacho’s best album since their 2007 classic, Night. That album certainly deserves its iconic status; I would say it single-handedly established a new genre of prog – “drone rock”. And when you add the incredible lyrics, it’s undeniable Night is a masterpiece. I really like Fireworker, and I have spent quite a bit of time immersing myself in it, but I’m still partial to Tick Tock, followed by Demon, if asked to rank their albums following Night. What is it about Fireworker that gets you so excited?

Birzer: Hello, Mathematician Wert! Yes, I’m finding myself rather obsessed with Fireworker.  I’m not sure how many times I’ve listened to it since it first arrived on my doorstep, but the number is getting close to uncountable. And, while I love Tick Tock (one album, I might have listened to, too much) and Demon, I’ve not been this immersed in an album since Night.

For me, Gazpacho always has great atmospherics and great vocals (Jan-Henrik Ohme).  The flow of any Gazpacho album is unparalleled in the prog world.  They linger when they need to linger, and they breathe when they need to breathe. Unlike some of their harder colleagues, Gazpacho values silence and restraint. A rare gift in any art form. 

What makes a Gazpacho album successful then–given the admittedly excellent vocals, atmosphere, and flow–is the meshing of vocals with atmosphere.  Again, each one–taken separately on any Gazpacho album–is near perfect, but how they mesh together is not always perfectly attained.  Every album is always good, but not always perfect.  As I hear it, Night might be unbeatable when it comes to the meshing. It’s a case of the vocals helping the atmosphere and the atmosphere, likewise, helping the vocals. 

On this meshing, Fireworker comes VERY close to beating Night.  This is especially true on the title track, which allows the vocals to proclaim an urgency, a weirdness, and a conviction. Take, for example, the truly bizarre insertion of Stephen King’s The Shining toward the end of the song:

Your ideal life

You’re the pilot of a dream

A fireworker’s fire regime

To illuminate

The sky’s a billion burning eyes

A final sulfurous goodbye

In The Shining

Apocalyptic overlook

Where Wendy wants to read his book

Admittedly, I’m not entirely sure what Gazpacho is doing here, lyrically, other than giving us a series of hazy utterances.  Yet, the lyrics work, and I desperately want to know what’s going on.  In large part, this is because the atmosphere and the vocals have meshed perfectly, thus making the lyrics deeply fascinating.

Tick Tock and Demon, while brilliant albums, don’t quite mesh the vocals and atmospherics quite as well as do Night and Fireworker.

Wert: Brad, I agree with your observation that on Fireworker, Gazpacho does a great job meshing vocals with atmosphere, and very few groups are as atmospheric as they are. Musically, though, I need to have something to grab onto – a melodic hook – and Fireworker doesn’t provide that for me. It is a beautiful piece of music, but if you asked me, I couldn’t hum anything from it. I probably need to spend more time listening to it.

Were you as surprised as I when the choir burst into the mix on the opening track? They have been posting some interesting insights on their Facebook page. One fan asked what the choir is singing on Space Cowboy, and they replied that they are 

“…singing randomly generated lines that were supposed to be in the “ancient language of the brain” used before words came into the picture. The choir is supposed to be the consciousness with its various voices all coming together to warn the protagonist of venturing further towards the Fireworker itself.”

I find that fascinating! I also appreciate the fact that they devote every album to a unifying theme. Fireworker’s theme is the ancestral voices that are embedded in our DNA – like the ancient “fight or flight” response we are still slaves to, even though we don’t face the same threats primitive humans did. They seem to be saying that we aren’t in control of ourselves; the “Fireworker” that is in our DNA makes demands on us we can’t resist. I find that perspective to be a little pessimistic.

Birzer: Tad, thanks  so much for such a thoughtful response.  I’m in agreement with you about most of this.  But, maybe because I’ve been listening too much, I find myself humming long parts of the album, and I especially find parts of Space Cowboy and Fireworker hummable. 

As to the album’s concept. . . I’m in agreement that it’s incredibly pessimistic and, given how free form much of Gazpacho’s music can be, strangely determinist.  You’d think an art rock band would do EVERYTHING to avoid believing in and espousing determinism.  Unfortunately, though, we’ve been a determinist society since the 1850s and Darwin.  Believe me, I long for a humanist society, one based on free will.

So, what a paradox and tension in Gazpacho’s album–free-form music with determinist lyrics.  I think, in my own mind, I can get around this because of two things.  First, the lyrics are so chaotic as to be, at times, nothing more than mere notes added to the album.  Second, I’ve been placing the album alongside H.P. Lovecraft’s works–which are equally determinist and mechanical in thought.  And, if I can love Lovecraft despite this, I can love Gazpacho.

Still. . . what would a humanist album from Gazpacho be like?  It would Night or Tick Tock!

Wert: “Paradox and tension” is the perfect description for Fireworker, as well as Gazpacho’s music in general. Like you, I love their work despite my dissent from their philosophy, and I am glad they are producing such beautiful music. And while I’m at it, I’d like to offer my appreciation for their attention to detail in the physical packaging of their albums. Each one is like a small hardbound book with exquisite art from Antonio Seijas. Each one is like a treasure trove of hints and omens. In an era when many recording artists simply throw a CD into a cardboard folder, Gazpacho obviously put great care and thought into every release, and for that I am grateful. Here’s to hoping there are many more from them in the future!

Gazpacho Discography
The Consistently Beautiful Art Books That Are Gazpacho’s CD Releases

In The DropBox: Flying Colors, Nick Mason, Djabe with Steve Hackett, and Gazpacho

The DropBox overfloweth this week: two live sets, an interesting prog/jazz offering, and the new Gazpacho album.

First up, Flying Colors’ third live album, Third Stage: Live In London, recorded during the tour in support of 2019’s excellent Third Degree. The prog supergroup of Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Dave LaRue, Casey McPherson, and Neal Morse just gets better and better. This is a two-disc set featuring the cream of their crop of arena-rock style prog. The rhythm section of Portnoy and LaRue is insane, especially LaRue’s funky bass. If you aren’t familiar with Flying Colors, this is the perfect introduction. If you’re a fan, it’s the best document of their scorching live prowess yet recorded.

Next up is Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets. This is a real treat: Nick Mason, original drummer for Pink Floyd, put together a talented group of musicians to play a relaxed set of pre-Dark Side Of The Moon classics at the Roundhouse. If all you know about the Floyd is DSOTM and later, these songs (with the exception of the Meddle ones) will surprise you. They are playful and psychedelic in a very charming way. Gary Kemp, of Spandau Ballet fame, handles vocals, and he is terrific. It’s obvious both the band and the audience are having a great time, and Nick Mason has not lost his chops one bit.

The Magic Stag, by Hungarian group Djabe, is hard to categorize. The first few songs sound like some sort of raga/smooth jazz hybrid, as if Bob James found himself in Bollywood. Okay, I exaggerate, but there’s definitely an Indian feel to “Power of Wings” courtesy of a sitar jamming with trumpet. Steve Hackett lends his always tasteful guitar to seven of the eleven songs, and he and his wife wrote the lyrics to the title track.

The sixth track, “Unseen Sense” is the highlight, with some outstanding acoustic guitar work supporting a beautiful melody. This is a song worthy of stellar fusion artists such as Oregon, Weather Report, or Mark Isham. The rest of the album maintains the high standard set by this track. If you are looking for a nice album to play on a lazy Sunday morning, Djabe’s The Magic Stag is a perfect choice.

Anything new from Gazpacho is big news, and it’s been two years since we heard from them. Fireworker is their latest, and it is somewhat of a departure from previous efforts. I, for one, am glad to see them stretch out a little. The past few albums were starting to sound a little interchangeable. This one kicks off with the 20-minute epic “Space Cowboy”, which features a huge choir. It’s as if Carl Orff took his Carmina Burana and scored it for a prog rock group. That sounds ambitious, but Gazpacho pulls it off with aplomb.

This song cycle, like most of Gazpacho’s, has a unifying concept. In the words of keyboardist Thomas Andersen,

“There’s an instinctual part of you that lives inside your mind, separate from your consciousness. I call it the ‘Fireworker’ or the ‘Lizard’ or the ‘Space Cowboy.’ It’s an eternal and unbroken lifeforce that’s survived every generation, with a new version in each of us. It’s evolved alongside our consciousness, and it can override us and control all of our actions.” In order to get us to do what it wants, he clarifies, the “Fireworker” will silence the parts of our mind that feel disgust or remorse so that we’re unable to stop it. The conscious part of our mind, Andersen notes, will actually “rationalize and legitimize” those thoughts and actions so that we never discover the beast behind-the-scenes. No matter how we feel about ourselves in terms of identity, accomplishments, and value, we’re all just vessels—or “Sapiens”—that the creature uses until it no longer needs us. “If you play along,” Andersen explains, “It’ll reward you like a puppy and let you feel fantastic; if you don’t, it’ll punish you severely.”

From arena prog, through psychedelic pop, to jazz prog, and finally Norwegian choral prog (for want of a better term!), this is the most eclectic batch of music we’ve ever pulled from the DropBox. I’ll leave you with a little Djabe and Steve Hackett:

 

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!

 

 

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!

Those Awkward Teenage Years – The 2010’s, pt. 1: 2010

Now that we are nearing the end of another decade, it seems appropriate to take a look back at some of the fine music that was produced in the past ten years. This is the first of ten posts – one for each year – of the decade that went from compact discs through mp3 files to streaming. So, in alphabetical order, here are some notable albums from 2010:

Anathema: We’re Here Because We’re Here

It’s nice to kick off our list with my favorite album of 2010! What a great collection of songs that proudly announced the new, sleek, and sophisticated Anathema. This album was a peak in their career, as it explored the mystery and loss that is inextricably bound up in the death of a loved one.

Big Big Train: Far Skies, Deep Time

The patron band of Spirit of Cecilia? Looking back at this “EP” (the playing time runs a generous 41:00), it’s hard to believe how far BBT has come. And yet, this contains indispensable songs from their canon like “British Racing Green” and “The Wide Open Sea”. This is definitely NOT a stopgap released to please fans between full albums.

Broken Bells

The debut collaboration between the Shins’ James Mercer and Danger Mouse, Broken Bells managed to transcend both the Shins’ and Mr. Mouse’s other work. The opening notes of “The High Road” never fail to bring a smile to my face. Off-kilter pop that is timeless.

Crowded House Intriguer
Crowded House: Intriguer

Neil Finn is one of the greatest songwriters, ever. This album by Crowded House is a fitting swan song to their career: somewhat subdued and very sophisticated pop.

DTP Addicted
DTP: Addicted

Devin Townsend is a gifted and restless soul who is constantly exploring new areas of music. In 2010, his Devin Townsend Project released this slab of power-pop-metal that is one of his most enjoyable listens. It doesn’t hurt that Anne Van Giersbergen lends her angelic voice to the proceedings, and “Supercrush!” has one of the most addictive hooks in the history of rock.

Engineers: In Praise Of More

The third album from Engineers was a definite letdown after the glorious shoegazey roar of Three Fact Fader. Adding Ulrich Schnauss seemed to have smoothed off the rough edges and introduced an “ambient” element. However, it was still one of the better releases of 2010.

Gazpacho: Missa Atropos

This was my introduction to Norwegian proggers Gazpacho, and I admit I wasn’t particularly impressed. However, I gave their earlier album, Night, a listen, and Missa Atropos started to make sense. Now they are one of my favorite groups.

Glass Hammer: If

The first Glass Hammer album to feature Jon Davison on vocals, and it is a wonderful work. An album I never tire of listening to, and it has some of their finest songs ever, including “If the Stars/If The Sun”. The cover art is a hoot.

Lunatic Soul II

The second effort by Riverside’s Mariusz Duda continued the atmospheric and world music vibe of the first. In this chapter, the soul of the person who died in the first album finds a home after wandering around in the afterlife. A great listen on headphones.

Pineapple Thief: Someone Here Is Missing

This was Pineapple Thief’s bid for the prog big leagues, but it missed the mark. Bruce Soord’s songwriting had tightened up quite a bit, but his best work was still ahead of him (i.e. Magnolia, Your Wilderness, Dissolution). If you were a PT fan in 2010, though, this was a very nice listen, and the Storm Thorgerson cover was intriguing.

Porcupine Tree: Anesthetize

And we wrap up our stroll down Memory Lane with the kings of early 2000s prog, Steven Wilson’s Porcupine Tree. This was a recording of a 2008 concert, released in 2010. They play the entire Fear of a Blank Planet album along with other songs from their vast catalog, and it is a phenomenal performance. If anyone wonders what all the commotion about Porcupine Tree was about, this is the one work that proves how great they were.

I hope this post brought back some fond memories of the beginning of the decade. These are personal favorites – if you have others, let us know in the comments!