John Bassett was very active in the mid 2010s with his KingBathMat, solo, and Arcade Messiah projects. KingBathMat was a quirky prog group that released five excellent albums of melodic metal, while Arcade Messiah began as an instrumental outfit. AM has released a few EPs since 2016’s III, but Bassett is back with a vengeance in 2020, and it sounds like he never left. In fact, he has taken the best elements of KingBathMat and Arcade Messiah and melded them into a sleek prog-metal machine. He’s now working exclusively under the Arcade Messiah moniker, and their latest effort is The Host. It features his trademark gift for a memorable melody delivered with crunching guitars. If you like your prog rock on the heavy side while remaining hummable, then your can’t go wrong with Arcade Messiah’s latest.
Katatonia’s City Burials is their followup to 2017’s magnificent The Fall of Hearts. This is a set of songs that explore the sadness and sense of loss one gets as one realizes that the past is buried forever. “Behind The Blood” is a ferocious rocker in the tradition of past Katatonia, but the majority of tracks are more hushed and tender. Jonas Renkse’s vocals have never been more warmer and more expressive as they are here. “Vanishers” features a beautiful duet between Renkse and Anni Bernhard that is a highlight. Katatonia’s evolution from extremely dark metal to melodic prog has been fascinating, and City Burials is their strongest effort yet.
Speaking of evolutions, The Pineapple Thief has fully emerged from their Radiohead/minimalist origins, and with Versions Of The Truth they are now one of the finest prog/pop groups active today. In the early 1980s, The Police were one of the biggest groups in the world. Their secret power was letting Stewart Copeland’s drums take the lead, and having Andy Summers’ guitar provide the rhythm.
With Gavin Harrison, The Pineapple Thief have a percussionist as gifted as Copeland, and his drums are way up in the mix, propelling the entire project. Every song is credited to both Harrison and Bruce Soord, and these are the finest set PT has ever recorded. Gone are the 20+ minutes-long meandering explorations, to be replaced by perfectly crafted pop miniatures. Even the longest one – “Our Mire” at 7:26 – is a masterpiece of concision. Stylistically they range from the laconic “Driving Like Maniacs” to the pulverizing “Break It All”, and there isn’t a clunker in the lot.
Three albums, three winners. 2020 isn’t a total disaster!
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 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 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 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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’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.
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 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.
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.
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”.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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!
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”).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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”.
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!