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.
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.
Update: For a different opinion on Endless River, read Brad Birzer’s post.
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!
Greg West, at The Poached Egg, has a fascinating account of how a song from Pink Floyd’s classic Dark Side of the Moon album started him on a search for meaning that ultimately led to faith. Read the whole thing – it’s a nice example of how you can find evidence of God at work in the unlikeliest of places.