Few bands in the prog world have done as much to shape the last quarter century of the genre as has Porcupine Tree. In many ways, they defined what is often called “third-wave prog,” giving it a certain psychedelic and hard edge.
The glorious Delerium Years, 1991-1997, boxset captures the earliest part of the band’s history in a rich way. Indeed, I would go so far as to say it’s the nicest boxset I now own, and I’m comparing it against/to boxsets/earbooks from Rush, Big Big Train, Spock’s Beard, Yes, Chris Squire, Ayreon, Dave Brubeck, Steven Wilson (solo), and others.
The Delerium Years comes with the latest mixes of the five major releases from the band: On the Sunday of Life; Up the Downstair; The Sky Moves Sideways; Signify; and the live Coma Divine. Each CD is individually packaged within the larger box set, though absent the individual booklets with lyrics and liner notes. One can find all the liner notes and lyrics in the book that comes with the set—more on this below. The Delerium Years also—rather wonderfully—includes the more experimental Voyage 34; Staircase Infinities; Insignificance; and Metanoia. Best of all, at least in terms of CDs is the inclusion of Transmission IV, a wild 40-minute improvisational rock epic, “Moonloop,” and a disk of previously unreleased tracks, The Sound of No One Listening. Though I love all the music, I’m most taken with “Moonloop.”
The Meaning of a Life: Steven Wilson’s Hand.Cannot.Erase.
An Incarnational Whole
One of the greatest things in this whirligig of a world—however fraught with a string of perilous and gut-wrenching disasters—is the mystery of the human person. And, until God so decides to end this existence, every person is a new reflection of the Infinite. From the Catholic Humanist perspective, every human is an unrepeatable center of dignity and freedom. Each person, born in a particular place and time, comes only once, a life to burn as brightly or not, for one’s self or for another, in the time allotted to each of us. “Dark and inscrutable are the ways in which we come into the world,” the grand Anglo-Irish statesman and philosopher, Edmund Burke, understood. Fewer truths have ever been spoken in such perfect formation of the English language.
Yet, speaking on the mystery of the person and personhood, Pope John Paul II put it even more beautifully in the penultimate month of 1996.
The mystery of the Incarnation has given a tremendous impetus to man’s thought and artistic genius. Precisely by reflecting on the union of the two natures, human and divine, in the person of the Incarnate Word, Christian thinkers have come to explain the concept of person as the unique and unrepeatable centre of freedom and responsibility, whose inalienable dignity must be recognized. This concept of the person has proved to be the cornerstone of any genuinely human civilization.
As someone who has had the privilege of teaching history and writing biography the entirety of his professional career, I hope and pray that John Paul II’s words and ideas each across everything I teach, think, and write. As such, I am always looking at and for new ways to understand the dignity of each individual person, however tragically flawed.
Nearly six years ago, such a statement and manifestation of dignity arrived in the most unusual of ways: in the form of a rock concept album by the rather devoutly atheistic, seemingly always grumpy, and unbelievably talented English musician, Steven Wilson. His album, a sixty-seven minute story about a lost soul, came out on February 27, 2015. In terms of lyrics and music, Wilson’s work is extraordinary by the standards of any genre. What should intrigue us most, however, is the subject matter and how Wilson fills it out. The subject matter is the uniqueness of each human person, and he focuses on the life of one lost soul.
The latest dialogue between Spirit of Cecilia Editor-in-Chief and Arts Editor Tad Wert concerns one of the giants of prog and contemporary music in general: Steven Wilson. A restless soul who has been involved in many projects – No-Man, Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, among others – and revelatory remixes of classic albums, Birzer and Wert discuss his work with the late, lamented Porcupine Tree.
Brad: Tad, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Rich Wilson’s biography of Porcupine Tree, Time Flies, from Rocket 88 books, the same publishers who brought us the Spirit of Talk Talk. Wilson is an excellent writer, and the research he did for the book is impeccable. I’ve learned quite a bit, including some fascinating tidbits such as that Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness approached not just members of Japan but members of Talk Talk(!) to become a band or a project around 1991. The members of Talk Talk declined, but members of Japan became parts of No-man and Porcupine Tree, of course. Can you imagine what a Wilson/Bowness/Japan/Talk Talk band might have been? My heart pounds just thinking about it.
I first heard Porcupine Tree while driving through Fort Wayne in 2002. Fort Wayne is one of the closest cities to us (it even has a Barnes and Noble’s bookstore), and one of the local stations was playing “Trains.” I was blown away, and–thanks to my very understanding wife–we had to stop at the local record store. I bought In Absentia, Up the Down Stair, and Stupid Dream. One of my excellent students at the time, happened to be a PT fan, and he very graciously gave me a copy of Voyage 34 and Stars Die (the Delerium collection), about a year later. I was hooked, and I purchased the entire back catalogue at that point.
I’d heard Steven Wilson in other projects prior to this Eureka! Porcupine Tree moment in Fort Wayne, but I’d not really appreciated his genius until I heard “Trains” on the radio that day. I was, to put it mildly, rather gobsmacked. This, it seemed to me, nineteen year ago, was exactly what prog should be in the twentieth-first century.
While I still love “Trains,” it was actually The Sky Moves Sideways that convinced me that Wilson was and is a true genius. At the time of its release, some folks even speculated that it was a secret Pink Floyd album, and, while I very much hear the Floydian influence, the album is so very Porcupine Tree to me that I have a hard time seeing it as anything other than a masterwork of the band and of Wilson.
Tad: Brad, Porcupine Tree, along with Spock’s Beard, reignited my love for prog that had lain dormant for decades. After losing interest in the 80’s and 90’s, I rediscovered this vital genre via a prog-themed issue of Mojo Magazine. While almost all of it was devoted to the “classic years” of prog, one page featured some contemporary artists. Spock’s Beard was one, and Porcupine Tree was another.
Based on that recommendation, I picked up Spock’s Beard’s V, and PT’s In Absentia. I was hooked as well! I bought all of the Beard’s music I could find, as well as Wilson’s. I remember the Spring Break of 2002, when I took my family down to Florida. I loaded my mp3 player with nothing but Beard and Porcupine Tree, and that was what I listened to exclusively the entire vacation.
I, too, was convinced that Steven Wilson is a genius, and I tracked down as many projects of his that I could find. This was before streaming services, so some of it was hard to find. I never really have enjoyed his early No-Man music, even though that was more popular than Porcupine Tree at the time. If only the Talk Talk collaboration had occurred!
Porcupine Tree, though, was another matter entirely. Wilson’s seemingly endless supply of captivating melodies kept me hooked for a couple for months. Then I began to listen to the lyrics. Wow, there is some disturbing stuff there!
Brad: Great story, Tad! Seems like we had a similar trajectory, though I actually and amazingly encountered Spock’s Beard with the release of The Light. There was an excellent cd shop in Bloomington, Indiana, that seemed to have everything imaginable. I should’ve spent more time on the dissertation, but the music never stopped calling me. And, the fellowship money was necessary for rent, for food, and for CDs!
As to the lyrics, I agree, Tad. Whenever PT gets loud and heavy in the music, the truly dark lyrics come out. The lyrics for In Absentia, Deadwing, and Fear of the Blank Planet are some of the most disturbing I’ve ever heard. PT, overall, seems to have gone in three phases, lyrically. For the first several albums, the lyrics are atmospheric and dewey. In the middle phase (Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun), they’re clever and poppy. In their last, the heavy phase, they’re just downright dark. Maybe they lighten a little bit for parts of The Incident, but only a little bit. Even when PT gets heavy on “Dislocated Day” on The Sky Moves Sideways, the lyrics get dark.
PT has just released a massive boxset, The Delerium Years: 1991-1997, which includes all of the major releases of those years plus a disk of rarities, some remixed work, the full forty-minute version of the rock improvisation, “Moonloop,” and, what I’m most eager to see, a 140-page hardcover book with liner notes by the always amazing and excellent (and a Hillsdale graduate) Stephen Humphries. Honestly, the liner notes alone are, to me, worth the price of the boxset. It’s high on my Christmas wish list. And, should Santa not deliver, I’ll get it anyway! Bah humbug. Humphries, it should be noted, might be the best writer in rock right now. Certainly, he or Jerry Ewing.
As much as I love Porcupine Tree, though, I do wonder how much they’ve influenced prog as a genre. I mean this in the sense that–well, Radiohead, for example, affected pop and rock for at least a full generation. How many prog bands over the last 20 years have inserted dark lyrics and heavy musical parts in imitation of PT? I’m guessing quite a few. Quite a contrast, say, to The Flower Kings, who almost never go heavy or dark (with exceptions). Any thoughts on this, Tad?
Tad: Brad, you raise an interesting point – how influential was Porcupine Tree in prog? I would say that for most of the 2000’s, you couldn’t avoid comparing any new artist to them. I was very disappointed when WIlson disbanded PT for a solo career, but in retrospect it was a smart move career-wise. PT was so integral to the prog scene there was no way he could have broken out of it, and we wouldn’t have masterpieces like To The Bone today.
And I think he will end up being even more influential in the long run as a solo artist. What’s working against him is the fragmentation of music in general. When Radiohead were at their peak, music distribution was still dominated by the major labels. With streaming, consumers can tailor their listening to extremely small niches and never hear “big” artists. My students are incredulous when I tell them I would not recognize a single Beyonce song if I heard it, because I’ve never listened to any pop radio or streaming channels.
Before we wrap up this dialogue, I want to give credit to Wilson for his prescient warnings regarding the internet and social media. “Every Home Is Wired” from 1996’s Signify (my favorite of PT’s early albums, by the way) is incredibly prophetic. For me, the web came into its own in 1995, when the first decent browser, Netscape, appeared. One year later, Steven Wilson could foresee the dark side of anonymous online interaction and surveillance. And, of course, the entire Fear of a Blank Planet was a jeremiad against the isolation of children imposed by gaming, social media, and medication. And how about that killer guitar solo by Alex Lifeson!?
It’s interesting that Wilson resisted being on Spotify for years, but he eventually gave in. (For what it’s worth, Neal Morse – former leader of Spock’s Beard – still refuses to participate with Spotify. He created his own streaming channel of just his music for paying subscribers.) Curious readers of this post can now listen to the complete discography of Porcupine Tree in one convenient location, something that took me months and many dollars to achieve!
Brad: Tad, all of this (your response) is simply excellent, and I can only agree and agree and agree. Let me be blunt, though: Lifeson’s solo on Anesthetize is my favorite of all of his guitar solos, believe it or not. And, I say this as a Rush fan since 1981! There’s something about that brilliant track which brings the best out of Lifeson. I should also note: Lifeson is my favorite rock guitarist. So, my praise of this solo–while possibly over the top–has some weight. Well, at least in my mind.
So, let me conclude–especially after re-listening to PT’s entire catalogue (well, almost–I skipped a track, here and there)–I do think that Steven Wilson is a man of integrity and genius. The prog world (indeed, the world) is better because of him. Whether he’s in Porcupine Tree, Blackfield, No-man, or in his own fascinating solo career, he’s never uninteresting! Prophet, maybe. Genius, yes.
Tad: Agreed! Definitely a genius. I wonder how popular he would have been if he were active in the early ‘70s. In some ways, he is the Todd Rundgren of our time – brilliant songwriter, musician, and producer!
For readers interested in exploring Wilson’s PT-era work, I have created a Spotify playlist of my favorite tracks, which I’ve embedded below. An excellent sampler of his solo work is the album Transience, which Wilson compiled himself. The Spotify link for that album is here.
Seven years down and three to go in our look back at the best music of 2010’s. This post features 18 fine albums no self-respecting prog aficionado should be without. Here they are, in alphabetical order.
Southern spacey swamp rock (if that makes any sense!) that sounds relaxed and easygoing until the coffee kicks in. They really stretch out and mine some fine grooves on “Bulls” and “Alabaster”. If the Allman Bros. and Porcupine Tree had a child, it would sound like this.
A prequel to the Ayreon mythos, this 2-disc set is one of the most metallic in their catalog. It rocks incredibly hard, and as usual, Arjen manages to recruit an impressive cast of vocalists. The Ayreon arc of albums is one of the most impressive in rock, and The Source is a fine addition to it.
This was my top album of 2017. It’s an all-instrumental affair by Porcupine Tree keyboardist Richard Barbieri. While it is mostly jazz influenced, it also contains entrancing songs like “Unholy” – a meditative song with wordless vocals that could be a prayer. Nothing is rushed on this record, and I still never tire of listening to it.
We got an embarrassment of riches from Big Big Train in 2017. First, they released Grimspound which continued in the fine tradition of Folkore of celebrating unsung or forgotten heroes. “Experimental Gentlemen” and “A Mead Hall In Winter” are two outstanding tracks from this set.
A few months later, BBT released The Second Brightest Star, which was almost as good as Grimspound. The title track and “The Leaden Stour” are highlights.
BBT also gave away a digital-only release, London Story, which was a 34 minute track that combined several London-related songs. All of this activity was unprecedented for BBT and much appreciated by their fans.
Spirit of Cecilia’s founder and editor Bradley Birzer got in on the prog action in 2017 with this collaboration he made with Dave Bandana. Birzer wrote the lyrics – based on the sci-fi novel A Canticle For Leibowitz – and Bandana played and sang. It is full of majestic synths and great melodies.
Damanek is led by Guy Manning, and On Track is one of the best albums of the decade. Very sophisticated songwriting and playing abounds on this debut. African rhythms and catchy choruses make for a very nice experience. Marek Arnold lends his sax to the proceedings as well.
I was beginning to wonder if Depeche Mode was ever going to make a decent album after Playing the Angel. Fortunately, Spirit has some of their best tunes in years, and they sound energized. Let’s hope it lasts.
I didn’t catch this one until after 2017, but if I had I would have picked it as my favorite of the year. Geoff Downes (Buggles, Yes, Asia) and Chris Braide (Producers) join forces and produce an extraordinary album. The title track is one of the finest epics in the history of prog (and it even features vocals by Kate Pierson of the B-52s!). “Darker Times” has some of the most beautiful harmonies since the Beach Boys’ Surf’s Up. Chris Braide is a fantastic singer – pure and pitch perfect.
This collection of songs from Glass Hammer’s vault turns out to be one of their most fun albums ever. The stomping “Troll” is a hilarious takedown of internet trolls, and “Cool Air” is a marvelous musical version of an H. P. Lovecraft story.
I Am The Manic Whale’s second album is even better than their first. More confident and risk-taking, they succeed on “Strandbeest” and “Stand Up”. If you like XTC and Frost*, you will enjoy IATMW.
What a gorgeous album. It begins almost in midsong with Jonas Renske’s warm and hushed baritone singing, “You wait by the river/Days are long” and continues for more than a hour as one song flows into another. Even though there is a superficially languid feel to the music, I always sense the enormous power this band is capable of.
A supergroup composed of King’s X bassist/vocalist Dug Pinnock, Korn’s drummer Ray Luzier, and Lynch Mob’s George Lynch, this is a straight rock album with no apologies necessary. “Breakout” is a killer song.
The second installment in John Mitchell’s Lonely Robot trilogy. “Awakenings”, “Sigma”, and “In Floral Green” are an incredible one-two-three punch early in the album.
Gary Numan followed up the excellent Splinter with the even better Savage. There is a definite Middle Eastern vibe here, and Numan is still the master of the irresistible hook. His band lays down a massive groove on every track. It’s been fascinating to watch Numan struggle with his atheism – for someone who doesn’t believe in God, he sure does yell at Him a lot.
Slowdive were founding members of the “shoegaze” movement in the 90s. They disappeared after1995, and then suddenly showed up in 2017 with this eponymous album. It is as good as their best work from 20 years ago. Here’s hoping they don’t wait another 20 to make another.
Damien Wilson is no longer with Threshold, but that didn’t stop them from producing the fantastic double disc set Legends Of The Shires. “Stars and Satellites” is a fantastic song with layers of guitars and an unforgettable chorus.
Wilson embraces his love for ’80s new wave pop, and comes up with the most consistently enjoyable album of his solo career. His guitar solo on the title track is perfect: concise, melodic, and lyrical. “Pemanating” could be a Tears For Fears single, and “Blank Tapes” is unbelievably sweet and heartbreaking. A great, great record.
That’s our look at 2017, folks. Two more years to go! Honorable mentions for this year go to Dave Kerzner (Static), Godsticks (Faced With Rage), Lunatic Soul (Fractured), Sons Of Apollo (Psychotic Symphony), and Wobbler (From Silence To Somewhere). Add your choices in the comments!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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 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’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.
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!
We’re continuing our look back at the decade that is ending in a few weeks with a fond recall of 2013. It was another exceptional year in terms of high quality music, and I have selected fifteen albums that represent just how good that year was for lovers of prog and rock. Once again, my choices are in alphabetical order.
Okay, this is certainly not prog, but the Beatles were the greatest rock group of all time. This is a huge collection of studio outtakes from 1963 that was initially available for purchase for only a few hours on iTunes. Why only a few hours? Because the 50 year copyright on them was set to expire if they weren’t made commercially available. Once they were put on the marketplace, their copyright was safe, and the music label could continue to make money off of them.
That said, these tracks are a fascinating glimpse into how good John, Paul, George, and Ringo were from the beginning of their recorded career. They hit their harmonies effortlessly, and their musicianship is excellent. This collection is now available on Apple Music, and it is worth checking out if you are a even a casual Beatles fan.
Big Big Train followed up 2012’s English Electric Part 1 with English Electric Part 2, which was, in some fan’s eyes, even better. It opens with the propulsive “East Coast Racer” and includes the tender “Curator of Butterflies”. “The Permanent Way” pulls together several themes from the two parts beautifully.
Later in 2013, BBT released a deluxe 2-disc edition of Parts 1 and 2 with a changed running order and extra tracks entitled Full Power. I suppose it is the definitive edition, but I prefer the original separate albums.
One of my favorite albums of the decade is Cosmograf’s The Man Left In Space. It is a concept album about the anguish an astronaut goes through as he realizes he will not be returning home from his space voyage. Great music, sensitive lyrics, and snippets of audio conversations create a claustrophobic soundscape that is redeemed by the uplifting finale, “When the Air Runs Out”.
After he released Reality in 2003, Bowie announced he was retiring from music. Ten years later, The Next Day appeared. Reality was a career high point, but The Next Day is a worthy successor. In it, Bowie explores all of his eclectic musical interests, and delivers a terrific set of songs. The album cover is simply a vandalized version of his 1978 classic, “Heroes”, as if to say, “What’s past is past. Listen to me now.”
Los Angeles-based Days Between Stations released their excellent second album, In Extremis in 2013. It features Colin Moulding of XTC fame on the catchy “The Man Who Died Two Times”, and “Eggshell Man” is one of the best epics of the decade.
Einaudi is a classical composer and pianist, and In A Time Lapse is a superb collection of his minimalist-tinged compositions. Unabashedly melodic and romantic, this album is a beautiful listening experience.
The Mountain was Haken’s third album, and it was a breakthrough. Every song is excellent, and “Paraidolia” is one of the best in their entire catalog. This album was my favorite of 2013 (yes, I liked it even more than BBT’s Full Power). Today, Haken is one of the top bands in progworld. This album shows why they deserve all the accolades.
KingBathmat is the brainchild of John Bassett, and for a while in the mid-’10s it looked like they were going to conquer the world. Overcoming The Monster is their best album, and it is a hard-driving metal/psychedelic/progressive melodic masterpiece. “Kubrick Moon” is one of the weirdest yet satisfying songs I’ve ever heard.
Most people in America think Gary Numan is that one-hit wonder guy with the song about cars. He’s actually had a long career, with many ups and downs, and Splinter is an incredible return to form. Trent Reznor owes a lot to Numan, as Splinter illustrates. A very strong album, performed very well. The bass is absolutely thunderous, and the hooks Numan sets up sink in and won’t let go.
Not a 2013 album, but a welcome rerelease. The original 2002 album was greeted rapturously, because no one knew if Rush would ever perform together after Neil Peart’s personal losses. Once the initial excitement subsided, it was clear that the mix on Vapor Trails was a disaster. With this version, these fantastic songs can be heard as the band intended.
Matt Healey (North Atlantic Oscillation) released this solo album that could be another NAO set. It is a wonderful album, including an ode to Halley’s telescope (“Elegy For The Old Forty-Foot”). I’m a fan of anything NAO does, and SAND is an essential part of their catalog.
Sanguine Hum’s second album is even better than their excellent debut. The title track is 15 minutes of endlessly delightful pop that flies by in no time. The Weight Of The World is a career high that they have yet to surpass.
One of the best albums of the decade. Simon Collins (son of Phil, with his father’s vocal and drum chops) and Dave Kerzner formed the creative nucleus of this band and released a terrific concept album about a being who can travel through different dimensions. “Mobius Slip” is one of the most exhilarating 20 minutes in rock. Too bad Collins and Kerzner couldn’t patch up their differences to work together again. We’re all poorer for it.
When I first heard Steven Wilson’s opening track to The Raven That Refused To Sing, I thought, “Hmm… Early ’70s Herbie Hancock fusion with Yes.” I’m not a fan of that particular mixture, but fortunately, track 2 is one of Wilson’s finest ever: “Drive Home”. I admire him for trying new things and never sitting still musically – that’s what keeps me interested in his work.
Other significant releases in 2013: Anathema’s concert set Universal, Blackfield’s IV, The Dear Hunter’s Migrant, Nosound’s Afterthoughts, and Tesseract’s Altered State. Let us know your favorites that we missed in the comments!
In our continuing series of posts celebrating the music of the 2010’s, here is Chapter 2: 2011.
2011 was a relatively quiet year music- and prog-wise. I’ve chosen to highlight ten albums that have survived the test of time, and one or two might surprise. Once again, they are listed in alphabetical order.
A Steven Wilson side project with Aviv Geffen, Welcome To My DNA is their third release. This was a very nice, radio-friendly collection of songs (with one terrible misstep: Geffen’s “Go To Hell”). With the benefit of hindsight, one can see the influence this project had on Wilson’s excellent To The Bone years later.
Casey Crescenzo took a break from his six-act arc of albums (still in progress, BTW) to record this nine EP collection of songs inspired by the color spectrum. It begins with black, and works through the rainbow to end at white. It sounds insufferably pretentious, but it works. Dear Hunter manages to master every conceivable style of rock, from hard-core industrial (black) to pleasant folk (yellow). If you missed this set, check it out. It is an amazing achievement.
Duran Duran were always far more than ’80s pinup boys. Simon LeBon is a fine lyricist, and their melodies stand the test of time. All You Need Is Now is a surprisingly strong album, where they come close to the peaks they reached in their heyday, after spending years wandering in the wilderness.
The second Glass Hammer album to feature vocalist Jon Davison, and it builds on the strengths of 2010’s If. Every track is a winner, with “To Someone” a particular highlight. Once again, the cover art is a hoot.
Neal Morse continued chronicling his conversion to Christianity, focusing this time on a miraculous healing of his infant daughter. As expected with Morse, the music is excellent as endlessly satisfying melodies pour forth. The bonus disc contains three of his finest compositions: “Absolute Beginners”, “Supernatural”, and the 26-minute epic “Seeds Of Gold”.
Radiohead releases are few and far between, so when King Of Limbs showed up in 2011, it caused a stir. The first five tracks are dominated by relentless rhythm – maybe they’d been listening a lot to Philip Glass and Steve Reich? Anyway, it isn’t until “Codex” that a real melody shows up. “Give Up The Ghost” and “Separator” close things out on a relatively gentle note.
A DVD/CD set that documented Rush’s performance in Cleveland. Rush has released a lot of concert videos, and this is one of their best. They weren’t touring in support of a specific album, so they cover songs from every phase of their long career, and even preview a couple from the not-yet-released Clockwork Angels.
When I first heard this group, I was very excited. They managed to meld Devo-like rhythms to XTC-worthy tunes while creating a sound all their own. This was the strongest debut album of 2011, and is still a joy to listen to.
Steven Wilson’s second solo album, and it put to rest any hopes of Porcupine Tree working together again. This was an ambitious two-disc set that ran a gamut of styles. Wilson is an inspired composer of seductive melodies (“Deform To Form A Star”), and he isn’t afraid to wear his influences on his sleeve, i.e. late-’60s Beach Boys or King Crimson. Like a lot of double albums, it might have been stronger as a single disc.
Just when you think you’ll never hear anything new worth hearing from Yes, they surprise you with a strong album like Fly From Here. This one featured vocalist Benoit David, from the Canadian group Mystery, and it included Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes from Drama days. One of their best late-career efforts.
And that wraps up our musical look back to 2011. Not the most productive year with regard to prog, but just wait until 2012 – the floodgates are about to open!