Monday, 29 April 2013

t - psychoanorexia

Haven't done this in a long time, but every once in a while an album comes along that requires more than just my private enjoyment and I feel the need to shout out loud to the few who may take notice, of something far greater than just 'a new release' or 'some great new music' or even a 'sure fire top 10 of the year'.
Some records are made that transcend mere music. On the musical planet that I call home - Progressive Rock - a quick perusal of will reveal a 'Top Prog Rock Albums List'. This is a 'best of' of the genre and frankly hasn't changed much since I've been a regular visitor to the sight, for the last 6 years or so. Aside from some shuffling around, the 'top 10' remains virtually unchallenged. In fact if you visited today, here is the order you would see...

1. Yes - Close To The Edge ( 1972 )
2. Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick ( 1972 )
3. Genesis - Selling England By The Pound ( 1973 )
4. Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here ( 1975 )
5. Genesis - Foxtrot ( 1972 )
6. King Crimson - In The Court Of The Crimson King ( 1969 )
7. Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon ( 1973 )
8. King Crimson - Red ( 1975 )
9. Pink Floyd - Animals ( 1977 )
10. Van Der Graaf Generator - Godbluff ( 1975 )

Notice the trend.

The last release to crack the top 10 is from 1977. To be sure Animals is a classic, also a favorite of mine, but it's 36 years old.

I love all of these albums - although admittedly having not listened to #10 - and if were asked, would probably if pressed have to declare Camel's 'Moonmadness' ( #21 in the top 100 incidentally ) as my all time favorite,  but is it really? Or is the comfort and familiarity, of the 'prog' equivalent to an old pair of slippers at work here? Some deeper questions might be, 'Among the thousands of progressive rock releases since 1977, does time with the music reveal an inferiority to 'the greats' among all of them? Is there not at least a few albums produced in the last 36 years, that can vie for a spot in the 'impenetrable top 10'? Or have the thousands of progressive rock musicians out there suffered an inexplicable decrease in creative ability, never again to match those from the list above?

I don't think so.

To be frank, many of us who love progressive rock and are passionate about it, aren't spring chickens anymore. We grew up listening to the music above and that time was a breeding ground for experimentation and progression and was almost mainstream. Those days will always be fondly remembered and although 'prog' will likely never be mainstream again, beaten down into 'internet discovery' status, by the massive popular music machine that sacrifices integrity and deep connection with the artist and his/her creation, for samey 'flavor of the day' sexually charged, mind-numbing pablum, performed by 'pretty people', that serves more as background noise to our busy day, if not to distort a whole generations ability to listen to and be truly moved by an artist who doesn't sacrifice themselves, at the alter of 'mammon' for their three and a half minutes in the orgy of popular music culture!

But all is not lost. There are artists out there who 'create', who - and no, I don't say this lightly - despite our reluctance to knock the kings off of their thrones, are producing music to rival the best.

Which brings me to the artist known only as 't' ( Thomas Thielen ) from Germany, who has released 4 albums as a solo artist - and solo really means solo here, as he performs all instruments and vocals - his latest being the real focus of this post 'psychoanorexia'.

As a progressive rock music purchaser, the internet is where I find my music and rely heavily on samples, but more importantly the reviewers who inhabit the underground with me and with great zeal and affection, write of their discoveries. Much more than not, they get it right and if it's 'up my ally', I go ahead and order and am pleased that I did. 'psychoanorexia' - although based on a small sample size - is regarded by those who I trust with my hard earned money, a 5 star release. By musical description, this was a 'no-brainer' purchase for me, but really, until you hear the product, you're never sure. I have purchased some great albums in the last 6 years, certainly deserving of their 'no-brainer' status and play them regularly to this day and will continue to do so. I have also purchased some 'meh' albums - good, but not quite as good as advertised.

'psychoanorexia' falls into neither category. This is one of those albums that transcend. There is so much beauty and depth here, that to attempt to root it all out and do it justice after 10 or so listens, seems beyond me, a daunting task to be sure. Thielen has created an 'album for the ages'. In short - in my mind - a masterpiece, to take it's place among the greats and to easily reside with them for years to come.

What will you find here? Better yet, what won't you find here?

It certainly pays homage to the greats, but never ever does it re-hash them. Never during the listen of this album do you say to yourself "that sounds like....", it never lends itself to that. Don't get me wrong, there are elements of the greats, but this is a modern record, that has as much to do with Radiohead as it does with Floyd, or as little. It's an epic heartwrenching/mind-bending thriller of a movie, without the pictures, except the ones that creep into your head while listening.

66 minutes comprised of 4 epic length tracks that defy your ability to pigeonhole any one of them into a a 'nice and tidy' category, for as soon as you think you've got it, this mad genius - and I say this with all due respect and admiration - crosses you up, with a change of direction and mood. At times sad, at others reflective, angry and uplifting, but never boring or repetitive. You can't help but hang on every note anticipating what comes next, even after repeated listens.

There's no point in trying to review the 4 songs as separate entities here, it doesn't work. No song stands above another ( great is great folks ) as this must be taken as a whole, or not taken at all. In saying this, please understand I AM NOT SAYING, don't mind the song, for there are songs withing songs and the melodies and lyrics achieved here are second to none!

To continue on here would just be to heap superlative upon superlative and my vocabulary doesn't stretch as far as this album deserves. You get the point by now I think. If not, I'll say it outright and please understand, I don't say this lightly....THIS IS ONE OF THE FINEST ALBUMS/PIECES OF MUSIC EVER CREATED...period!

Thomas Thielen is a poet/composer/musician of the highest order and has created with 'psychoanorexia' a millennial masterpiece, not to be missed!

Here are some links to some reviews and Thielens web page. Please visit and read and if you plan on purchsing any music in the future, please do yourself a huge favor and put this at the top of your list. This music will never be heard on your local radio station or promoted and maybe that's a good thing. Music such as this, should be sought out, savored and cherished in this world full of background noise.


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Favorite Albums Of 2012

First off, what a year! After the slew of great releases in 2011, I was a little skeptical that 2012 could top it, but with the promise of releases from such heavy hitters as Anglagard, Echolyn, Neal Morse, The Flower Kings, Big Big Train, Anathema and The Gathering, there was some hope. Oddly enough, with all of the big names mentioned above, only 2 of those made this years favorites list. That's certainly not a slight against any of the ones that didn't make it, but more of a statement about the ever increasing quality of music out there. A little bit of searching time spent on the internet can reveal a slew of talent, just waiting to be discovered. That's half the fun for me!

Which brings me to my second point. I decided to call this a favorites list, rather than a 'best of' or 'top 10', only because of a fear of presumption in a highly subjective category such as music. As terrible as I think some music is, I don't have to listen to it, nor do you have to listen to mine. So this list is a personal thing. It's made up of music that is technically top notch ( a progressive rock fan's pre-requisite ), but most of all, it is what moved me, to the point of tears at times and because of that, became my favorite listening experiences of 2012.

Before I get started on my favorite 10, I'd like to give a nod to 2 albums that would've made it, if not for extenuating circumstances, the first because it was re-done older songs, the second because it was a re-issue of an older album.

Steve Hackett, Genesis Revisited 2. ( United Kingdom )

Steve Hackett, is one of my favorite musicians, certainly my favorite guitarist and any new release by him is a cause for personal celebration. When that new release is some re-done material from one of the giants of progressive rock - Steve's old band, Genesis - well for someone who grew up as a Genesis fanatic - until Hackett's departure - it just adds to the 'must have' category. Add in the fact that included on this 2 disc monster is the penultimate progressive rock song 'Supper's Ready', it sends it over the top! Done with a multitude of top notch musicians and singers, with added guitar parts and excellent production, this was a massive release and a constant in the cd player.

Arco Iris, Agitor Lucens V. ( Argentina )

Wow! This was a curiosity purchase for me. As a fan of progressive rock music from all corners of the earth, coupled with the enjoyment I find discovering obscure music, this release fits the bill. Arco Iris are one of the fathers - along with Bacamarte and Los Jaivas - of South American progressive rock and one of the best, at least as far as this album is concerned. This double album was released in 1974 and for the most part, unheard of in these parts. This is a shame as this album has it all. A mixture of Pink Floyd inspired space rock, psychedelic rock, jazz fusion, some 60's type sounds and spiced up perfectly by native South American rhythms. This is an absolute treat for the ears and the re-issue of this Argentinian gem is easily my favorite 'oldie but goodie' of the year!

                                         And Now On To My Favorite New Releases of 2012

10. Autumn Whispers, Cry Of Dereliction Volume 1( Norway )

This one was a bit of a sleeper and edged it's way into the top 10 at the last moment. Very ethereal, sparse and acoustic, this one is perfect for a quiet evening at home. Thought provoking in it's lyrics and subtle in it's instrumentation, this is a beautiful album and worthy of it's place. Added to what was said before, I must say that anything that comes from Norway seems to have a dark, wintery woods feel to it, like listening to an old nordic myth, put to modern music. Beautifully dark, with a sense of light to come. That's the best description I can give.

9. Astra, The Black Chord ( United States )

Stemming from southern California, Astra is just what you need to get your psychedelic/space rock groove on. Flowing keyboard and guitar jams with a rollicking rhythm section and solid vocals, is just the right tonic on those long drives to work for me. The best description I can give of this album is 'feel good and fun'. If you thought psychedelic music died with the 60's, Astra will change your mind in a heartbeat!

8. Kompendium, Beneath The Waves ( United Kingdom )

Big, stunning sweeping project from Magenta's Rob Reed, with an army of who's who musicians and singers, full orchestra and choirs, this had to be a logistical nightmare that only someone like Reed could pull off! With more time spent, this one surely would end up in my top 5. It certainly is number 1, when the whole package is considered. No expense or care was spared with this production. The package is absolutely as stunning as the music. This is a true concept album in the tradition of 'Dark Side Of The Moon' or 'War Of The Worlds',,,better yet 'Lord Of The Rings' of concept albums! Orchestral, celtic, operatic prog! Everything done here is top of the heep! To try and explain this album is folly really. You need to sit down and experience it!

7. Violeta de Outono, Espectro ( Brazil )

Dunno what they're singing about, don't care! The music on this disc is sublime. In the best tradition of Camel, the keyboard and guitar interplay is beautiful and whatever Fabio Golfetti is singing about with his outstanding pipes, I'm sure is wonderful! From start to finish, this one is a winner and if you don't mind listening to vocals in another language, I highly recommend this to you. You might even find yourself bellowing out with the music, even if you don't know what you're saying :-) The South American masterpiece of the year, if I were to pick one.

6. Silhouette, Across The Rubicon ( Netherlands )

Ahh, the Dutch always make an appearance and with Silhouette's Across The Rubicon, it's an easy choice. Call it neo-prog if you'd like and in the best traditions of IQ and Marillion, I guess it is. This is their 3rd and also easily their best! 3 out of four band members share the vocal duties and musically, this disc is built around the wall of keyboard sounds of Erik Laan. Not that the other musicians are not outstanding, but this is a keyboard lovers dream, especially if you like that 'wall of sound' sound. Great melody tops this one off and permeates the whole album. This one is as good a neo-prog album as any you'll find and as nice of a surprise as Anubis' A Tower Of Silence, from last year. Another sing along album. Great stuff!

5. Frequency Drift, Laid To Rest ( Germany )

These guys almost made the list last year with the album 'Ghosts' and have done themselves better with this release. The stars of the show here are the haunting vocalist Antje Auer, keyboardist and composer Andreas Hack and the incredible violinist Frank Schmitz. This music will take you for a ride as they are not afraid of long stretches of exploration. Not in the sense of a lot of noise, but long drawn out melodies and solos, especially by the aforementioned Schmitz. In fact his violin is almost the lead instrument at times, but don't let that scare you off as this is an incredible album, where all musicians shine! Look at the album cover, it really does say a lot about this music. Very dark at times, but never depressingly so. This one could've come from Norway!

4. Anathema, Weather Systems ( United Kingdom )

Next to Kompendium, this gets the nod as the best produced album of the year. Simply stunning in it's sound only surpassed by the music. As a former doom metal band, Anathema has left that sound far behind them, but not so far as to not let it influence them on occasion. The Cavanagh brothers have had to deal with a lot of personal toil in the last few years and it pours out from their music with abandon and makes for some emotionally wrenching moments. The music is simply outstanding here and pretty much each song tends to rise in tempo from mellow beginnings to ear shattering heights. However it's the emotionally charged vocals of Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas ( the new queen of progressive rock singers ) that make this album the winner that it is. This is a powerful album that will bring tears to your eyes.These guys have refined their sound with each album and I can't wait to see what's coming next.

3. Big Big Train, English Electric Part 1 ( United Kingdom )

How can an old Genesis fan not love these guys? This album is filled with those sounds that made me fall in love with progressive rock in the first place. No rip-offs here though as these guys have pretty much rose to the top of the prog rock heap, by taking those sounds from the past and modernizing them, with their own brand of Britishness and story telling. This is 'Trick Of The Tale' for the modern age, but with more of a focus on real life stories. The Gabriel/Collins like vocals of Dave Longdon are the icing on the cake here. This vied for number 1 this year, but settles in nicely at number 3.

2. Gazpacho, March Of Ghosts ( Norway )

I'm blessed with a wife who loves me and this I am grateful to God for. I also count myself blessed, because although the music I love wouldn't be considered mainstream by any stretch of the imagination, Carla also loves it. I say this because for a second year in a row, she would have my number 2 album choice be number 1. We have come to blows over this and I am now eating frozen dinners,,,I mean they're really frozen! Hehehe,,just kidding.
I love this album as much as she does in reality and Gazpacho are probably my favorite of the modern progressive rock bands as they have truly hit their stride over the last 4 albums and become the kings of the laid back Radiohead meets Talk Talk meets Porcupine Tree meets Marillion sound, which really has produced their own classy sound, heavy on thought provoking lyrics sung by superb vocalist Jan Henrik Ohme. This is truly a band and each member contributes to the songwriting and the songwriting is stunning. This is a concept album of sorts, as the songs have to do with encounters with ghosts and their stories. Emotion is also the key here with Ohme's vocals riding high upon layers of outstanding music, where one musician doesn't outshine the others, but the others wouldn't sound near as good without each individual contributing. These guys have found a sound that's money in the bank and can do no wrong. No song on this disc is sub-par and none really outshine another as every song on this disc is of the highest quality, just like the band themselves. Carla's #1 :-)

1. Autumn Chorus, The Village To The Vale ( United Kingdom )

Oh boy, if I sound liked I was gushing over Gazpacho, I will overflow with this description! This album was actually officially released at the end of 2011 digitally, but didn't see distribution on hard copy until 2012 and was one of those 'this sounds interesting purchases' that I make every once in a while, without much info to go on. Classified by the band themselves as post rock/post classical, when the music is this good classifications are not needed thank you. To give you an idea, it's as if a band of English minstrels were transported into a 21st century recording studio that was already occupied by classic French Canadian progressive folk band Harmonium and asked to make an album with them. That might be a little obscure for some folks, but that's the best I can do. When I put this disc into the stereo it transports me to places that very few albums can do. This is truly other-worldly and never loses steam. From beginning to end this album delivers a musical experience that is as close to perfection - for me - as I have ever heard. The vocal performance of the year lives here, in the person of Robbie Wilson, a light shimmering and yet powerful performance that will leave you breathless! Together with the absolutely brilliant use of classic and modern instruments blended to near choral perfection, this - for me - was a no-brainer, for album of the year. If you decide to hear just one of the albums on this list, let it be this one. Turn off the lights, hit play and come back when it's over, so you can tell me what you think :-)

Monday, 16 July 2012

A Legend Passes

I know it's coming and I can't stop it.

Another legend, another hero from my youth, Jon Lord - co-founding member and keyboard wizard of Deep Purple has died.

As I close in on my 50th year - 2 years and change away - an inevitable truth follows. Those who inspired, who gave me so much joy, who unknowingly 'grew up' with me, are falling into eternity. I speak here obviously of musicians, because no matter what we consider a part of our youth, music and those who create it, seem that much more important. Music seems timeless. 'Fad-music' comes and goes. The Donny Osmonds, the Lief Garrets, the Justin Biebers and One Directions will come and go, but there is a music that endures, that has grabbed hold of youth and adult and youth again, since the time of it's creation and refuses to let go. Call it 'classic rock' if you like, but what it really is, is just great music, enduring music.

If the 'Soundtrack of Kevin Rolfe's Life' was available on cd, the two bands who would be on it, from at least age 11 until now, would be Pink Floyd and Deep Purple. My favorite members of those bands - who's sounds have been with me this last 35 years - are both keyboardists and are both now gone. First Richard Wright of Pink Floyd, who died in 2008. A gentleman by all accounts and a wonderful atmospheric player, who always set the mood when it came to a 'Floyd' record. Who never seemed to get the credit he deserved, even if he did compose one of the most beautiful songs in the history of rock music 'The Great Gig In The Sky', from the forever classic album 'Dark Side Of The Moon'. Mr. Wright was such an important member of the band for me, that when he was effectively dumped by Roger Waters, I left too. When the band re-formed years later and Richard was a part of it, so again was I.

And now Jon Lord, my favorite member of Deep Purple has also passed. Where Rick Wright was all about atmosphere, Jon Lord was - at least while playing with Deep Purple and Whitesnake - all about Rock'n' Roll and not only man-handling his Hammond organ like nobody ever before or after, but maybe more importantly, making the keyboard a 'cool' instrument in 'heavy rock' and later for a slew of 'heavy metal' bands. Mr. Lord showed that keyboards belong when the music got heavy and influenced a host of players of the next generation of rock keyboardists. If the tributes pouring in at this very hour are any indication, Jon Lord may very well be one of the most influential musicians in rock music history - and may I add - very quietly so. Not only was he arguably the finest rock keyboardist of all time, but was a fantastic classical player and composer also and is recognized as such by fellow composers alike. This man was a major major talent and maybe more importantly, to those who were fortunate enough to cross paths with him, a lovely man who befriended and made comfortable those around him!

So as a legend and another of my all time favorite musicians passed away today, another part of my childhood died. Perhaps that's why I'm writing this post. Many more will write - with more articulation than I can muster - columns in the days ahead, that will focus on the man and musician. A cursory search of YouTube will unvail - for those who don't already know - how insanely talented, Jon Lord really was. However it won't reveal what he meant to me and many others who he guided through youth, with his music.

Paul Simon said: "Music is forever; music should grow and mature with you, following you right on up until you die". For me, Jon Lord accomplished this. From the first time I ever heard him play a note until this very day, his music has moved me, has grown with me and will stay with me until the day that I die. I may not be an expert in words, but this - I think - is the greatest tribute that I can give him.

R.I.P Jon Lord.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

My Brother The Wind - I Wash My Soul In The Stream Of Infinity

My Brother The Wind is a 4 man collective from Sweden, who play improvised space/psych/prog. The men responsible for this effort are all from other bands - Nicklas Barker ( Anekdoten ) on guitars and mellotron, Mathias Danielsson ( Makajodama ) on guitars and sitar, Ronny Eriksson ( Magnolia ) on bass and Hammond organ and Tomas Eriksson ( Magnolia ) on drums and percussion.

The first thing you notice about this album is the space. Not of the cosmic variety in this sense, but that the songs are allowed to breath and take shape, forming around a solid core, but on the outside of that core having the feeling of being ready to splinter and soar off into the universe. Not to worry, the 'Wind' somehow manage to keep it all together and make it all sound very cohesive. This is trance inducing, mind blowing music that carries you on a wonderful journey through the cosmos.

First track 'Fire! Fire!' starts the journey off in fine form. Almost like the starting of the engine, the guitar, keys and drums look for that spark that will cause all parts to work as a whole and when the bass line kicks in, this is the spark that unites! At 13 minutes long, this is a space/psych workout with soaring guitars, wild - almost out of control - drumming and that bass line keeping it all together. When the mellotron really kicks in near the end of the song you know you've dropped the booster rockets and are settling in for the rest of the trip. A great opener.

Track 2 is the much shorter and beautiful 'Pagan Moonbeam'. Acoustic guitar and sitar give this number a wonderful Indian feel as bass and drum move the song along at an almost plodding pace. The real highlight of the song for me though is the keys. It adds an early Pink Floyd touch over top of the Indian base. This one could've went on for 13 minutes also and I would have been perfectly happy with that!

Track 3 is 'The Mediator Between Head And Hands Must Be The Heart'. This is where the boys really kick up the improvisation. This song seems to be built upon Tomas Eriksson's drum line. It's almost like they said "okay Thomas, you play something and we'll all join in". However the track came about, it still evokes that 'floating through space' feel with the somewhat creepy mellotron seeming to pull it all along. By the end of the number, Thomas' drums seem to retreat from being the lead instrument and falls into rhythm with the rest of the band. Good stuff!

Track 4 'Torbjorn Abelli' is the slow burner of the bunch. The rhythm section of bass, drum and guitar slowly but surely move along at a nice pace while some outstanding lead electric - I assume from Mathias Danielsson - rips through it all. A hint of mellotron far in the background just adds to the depth and beauty of this number. This one just continues to ramp up for 11 minutes, with an added bonus of a second guitar lead - I assume from Nicklas Barker - at the back end of the song, until it closes out softly. The perfect space rock song!

Track 5 'Under Crimson Skies' is a foot tapping mind blowing full out bluesy/jazzy rock jam, for the first three and a half minutes anyways. This is re-entry folks! The rest of the song is very cool and calm, with great guitar sound, walls of spacey sounds, and bass and drum bringing it ( us ) all home. Another 10 minute epic!

Track 6 'I Wash My Soul In The Stream Of Eternity' puts our feet firmly back on ground as it begins with the calm sound of a rippling stream and with light guitar, keys and rhythm section taking us to the end, where stream and chirping birds close it out. A perfect way to end the trip. Beautiful!

This is the kind of album that reminds me why I love music so. It really can take you on a journey. From the tension of initial take off, to the relaxed semi-comfort of the middle part of the trip, to the nervousness of landing and the thankfulness of being home. This album conveys those feelings and it is why, it's my favorite instrumental album from last year. You don't need lyrics to tell a story, when you have musicians with this sort of vision and talent. Well done.

5 out of 5

Friday, 30 December 2011

Top 10 Releases Of 2011

It has been a fabulous year for music, if you're a fan of progressive rock. I have purchased and listened to, more new recordings, than at any other time in my life and that's saying something, as I've been a bit of a 'music junky', my whole life. Growing up in the 60's and 70's with the classics of progressive rock, I never would've imagined the resurgence that's taken place, in recent years.

More than anything, my reason for submitting this list is, I almost feel obligated. I have derived so much pleasure in listening to these discs this year, that I hope to - in my on small way - turn some people on to these wonderful recordings. These bands and artists aren't making a lot of money from this. They do it for the 'love of the music', while in some cases, holding down day jobs, to put meat on their tables and raise families. So much thanks, from me to them, for making my days brighter, with this great music. Keep on progin'!

One more note. This is my list! The criteria for this list encompasses many things - complexity, production, instrumental dexterity, concept and many other things, that the lovers of progressive rock hold dear. However, for me, it still comes down to the feel of an album. Songs that transport you with their beauty, whether with the music or the lyrics. In short, it's still about the song! No matter which genre you prefer, in the end, it's the tune that stays with you, long after the listening that you hold dear. The song that, whether lyrically or musically, brings you joy, or causes tears in the eyes. This is what music has always been about!

So, without further babbling, here are my top 10 recordings from 2011.

10. Steven Wilson, Grace For Drowning.

Steven, is the busiest man in progressive rock.

Not only finding time to work with innumerable artist, producing and playing with them, but also re-mastering the King Crimson catalog. Throughout all this, he found time to record this 2 disc masterpiece.

Musically and lyrically deep, this is a disc that will sit number 1, on many lists. It may take a little work to get it, but when you do, it will give the listener much pleasure, for years to come. When all is said and done, this recording may be the one that launches progressive rock, back in to the mainstream. If nothing else, it will be what the new generation of progressive rock musicians, will aspire to. Mournful at times, heavy at other times, jazzy in places and technically brilliant, it must be heard to be admired!

9. Anubis, A Tower Of Silence.

Vocals, vocals, vocals. Not since Moon Safari's, 'Blomljud' album have I heard singing this good. Yes, there is still some great vocals, in progressive rock and if these guys are any indication, it's only getting better. But it doesn't stop here. Not only does every member in the band contribute vocally, they contribute musically. With deft handling of their instruments and - with each member sharing in then writing credits - it seems that they have a great feel for what works, in a band setting. Aside from the great lyrical content ( this is always a huge plus for me ), they take the listener for a ride, with some outstanding musical excursions and no band member gets left behind. This may be - for some - classified as neo-prog. Wherever it finally rests in the many classifications that progressive related music offers, it's a masterpiece! If I had had more time with this one, it may have been higher on the list.

8. Cosmograf, When Age Has Done It's Duty.

Beautifully depressing.
These are the words that come to mind, when I think of this cd. For any of us on the other side of 40, the concept of this recording, can't help but bring on some melancholy, when taking it for a spin on the stereo. Multi - instrumentalist, Robin Armstrong, the brains behind this expansive recording, shirks the idea of 'growing old gracefully' and injects a little reality into the notion, by highlighting (?) the darker side of getting old. If this all sounds a little too depressing for you hang on, I did mention beauty remember. Somehow, Robin has managed to take this subject and with great melody and song writing skill, create one of the most beautiful cd's of the year. The title track - with guest vocalist, Steve Thorne turning in an incredibly emotional performance - is a heart wrenching experience, that stays with the listener for a long time. Musically, this one is a gem also, evoking late 70's Genesis and Pink Floyd, but only flavored so. This is Robin's own and we're the better for it. May it be heard by many! We'll give this album the 'Heart Wrencher Of The Year' award.

7. Greylevel, Hypostatic Union

Oh Canada!
Apparently, the Canadian content laws, don't apply to good music. This excellent band from British Columbia, gave us the Canadian 'Album of the Year', but hardly anyone in this country knows it! This is 'new' progressive rock, in all of it's spacey, psychedelic, melancholy, early Porcupine Tree/Pink Floyd sounding beauty. As an added bonus, as a reformed Christian, the lyrics on this ( yes the title gives it away ) album are not the usual pablum heard on most contemporary Christian music. This is deep, well thought out content here folks. Great stuff. The music - as described earlier - leans to the mid-level paced and sometimes crunchier side of the scale. However, this is just a starting point. There are a lot of layers here that produce some great 'sit down' listening. This IS NOT a disc, you throw into the car stereo, for the highway drive to the cabin. This is the one that goes on, when the lights are turned down low. Just a side note. This is not a disc that preaches to you. This is intensely personal stuff here and Greylevel do it better than any other 'Christian' oriented band. Wake up Canada! There's a great band in our midst. Let's support them!

6. Haken, Visions.

And now we move to some heavier material. Haken's first release  Aquarius, was one of the great 'discovery' buys that graced my cd collection in 2010. Well, if that one was good, Visions is great. From the intricacy of the music, to depth of lyrical scope, to out and out heavy moments to the shear bliss of 'take you away' softer moments, this disc will have you gasping for air, by the time it's over. Now this is the one, that you put in the car stereo, for the highway drive. Watch the speedometer though. For anyone who leans toward the heavier side of music, this is a 'can't go wrong' purchase. The guitars are crunchy, with head-banging delight and the solo's match in intensity. The keyboard playing is out of this world, washing over the music as it swirls through your head. The rhythm section holds it all together, just as you think it's going to break down. Just when you think the song has exhausted itself, the band blow you away with something else. To top it all off, Ross Jennings is one of the top vocalists in rock music, which just adds to the greatness of this band. The Epic title track is worth your hard earned dollar alone. 20 minutes of pure prog metal bliss and oh yeah, the rest of the disc is just as good. Destined to be a classic!

5. White Willow, Terminal Twilight.

What can be said of this band? The brainchild of Jacob Holm-Lupo, this is the quintessential European prog outfit! This band creates a sound, that puts you deep in a Norwegian forest and refuses to let you out, until it fills your ears with intricate, beautifully dark music as only they can make. I've been a bit of a fanboy of this band, ever since I listened to their Sacrament album. The return of vocalist Sylvia Skjellestad, from that period - with her little girlish, other worldly voice - was just the tonic to get me excited, for this new release and man, did they not disappoint! This is now my favorite White Willow album and that's saying a lot, as they have consistently - albeit, not quickly enough - have dished out top quality progressive rock since 1995. From the earlier Nordic-folk output through their heavier period and into their more poppier ( not really pop music, but the only description I could come up with ), they have taken all of the best of what's made them one of the top progressive rock acts in the world, putting it all together, to make their best recording yet! Guitar, keyboard, drums ( courtesy of Anglagard legend, Mattias Olsson ), flute and many more instruments, mesh together to form a sound that is purely White Willow. Sylvia's vocals are just icing on the cake here and with a guest appearance by Tim Bowness on the track 'Kansas Regrets', or die!

4. Subsignal, Touchstones.

Subsignal was originally a side project from 2 of the members of German prog metal outfit Sieges Even. Their first album, Beautiful And Monstrous was an instant hit within the prog community and made the release of this new album, a much anticipated event. Boy, was the wait worth it. From beginning to end, this one is a burner. Great complex and yet accessible toe tapping, fist pumping music, with exceptional lyrics and vocals from the best vocalist, in metal music today - Arno Menses - this one wins, 'Progressive Metal Album Of The Year' hands down! Every song has that certain 'thing' that makes it great. Whether it's a riff, chorus, combination of both, or Arno putting it over the top with his pipes, this one rocks! The production on this cd will blow you away, as every instrument steps to the forefront, while not overpowering the others. A special note to drummer, Roel van Helden also who, for me gets the 'Drummer of the Year' award. He is simply outstanding!

3. Sean Filkins, War and Peace & Other Short Stories.

Simply put, Sean is a story teller. In the spirit of Harry Chapin, Jim Croce and Neil Young, Mr. Filkins can draw you in and make you a part of the song. However, unlike the aforementioned legends, he does it with some of the most inspired progressive rock, this side of the mid-seventies. This one blew me away, with the depth and accomplishment from the first listen and more and more with each successive hearing. Had I had more time to soak in this fabulous recording, I do say it probably would have garnered the top spot, on this years 'Best Of' list. This is epic prog at it's finest, all killer no filler, on this cd. The songs are long ( two epic 20 minute tracks being the center pieces ), with absolutely no waste of energy or space at all. If you've ever had an inclination to explore the wonders of progressive rock, this is where I would have you start. Sean has made the most accessible, progressive rock album of the year, to be enjoyed for decades to come. I get excited just thinking about, what's to come from this great artist. I have a hand signed copy of this great cd and it's a prized possession in my collection. Bordering on perfection! ( by the way, that's about as good as any album can get, as I'm not sure you can make a perfect album ).

2. Airbag, All Rights Removed.

Can I call this 1A?
My progressive rock journey began with, Pink Floyd. As a kid, I can remember laying on the floor, with headphones on, being utterly blown away by, Dark Side Of The Moon. Afterwards came the rest of the 'Floyd' collection and the rest is history. Seeing Pink Floyd in concert still ranks as the highlight, of a very extensive concert going life. For me, it was David Gilmour's guitar and Richrd Wright's subtle keyboards that were the draw. The two of them always seemed to have an other worldly chemistry, that made Pink Floyd, what it was. My favorite Band. Even outside the band, if David and Richard could play together - which they often did - the chemistry was undeniable and always a treat to hear or watch. After Richard's sad passing and any hope of a true Floyd reunion with it, what was a fan to do - outside enjoying the back catalog? Who could take up the mantle of this great band and continue a sound, that I loved so much? Enter, 'Airbag'.
Coming from Norway ( yep, Norway again ), they released their first disc - Identity - in 2009. This album blew me ( and my wife ) away. This was the sound! Well, I'm happy to report that 2011's 'All Rights Removed', is even better. This is the music that Mr.Gilmour and Mr.Wright would be making together, if they could. From the opening chord to the closing note, this is a Pink Floyd fan's answer, to the loss of Richard Wright and never having another reunion to hang your hopes on. This is not a copy band. This is just a group of musicians, who are influenced by legends and are carrying on, in that tradition and good for them! And good for us too! Are they as good as Pink Floyd? Probably not. But who was? But if you're a fan of Floyd, you can't miss out on Airbag.

1. Wobbler, Rites At Dawn.

Norway again??!!
That's right, 3 albums in the top 5 and sitting 1 and 1A. What are they doing in the woods up there? I don't know, but whatever it is, the boys from 'Wobbler' got a double dose! The first time I played it, my first thought was 'wow, is this 1974'? This is part of the charm. Using analog equipment and modern recording techniques, if this album would've been released in 1974, it would be considered a classic today. This disc is a progressive rock fan's dream! If you're a fan of Yes' earlier output, early Genesis or any of the greats from the early period of the genre, this disc is a 'must have' for your collection. The music is top-notch retro prog at it's finest, with beautifully crafted songs, expert playing, time signature changes to blow your mind and great ( almost Jon Anderson sounding ) vocals to top it off. Out of all the new prog rock acts, this is the one I want to see live. These guys have mastered the art of retro prog, with a modern twist to the point that, if it could happen and Yes, King Crimson, Genesis and Pink Floyd were to be wiped from memory, Wobbler would easily slide in to take their place! And this for me, is why 'Rights At Dawn', wins, for album of the year.

 Other discs for consideration

Steve Hackett - Beyond The Shrouded Horizon
Frequency Drift - Ghosts.....
Hostsonaten - Summer
Karmakanic  - In A Perfect World
Leprous - Bilateral
Discipline - To Shatter All Accord
Neal Morse - Testimony 2 ( haven't heard this one yet, but Neal's automatic )
Sunchild - As Far As The Eye Can See
Guy Manning - Margaret's Children
The Tangent - Comm
Phideaux - Snowtorch
Beardfish - Mammoth
Magic Pie - The Suffering Joy
The Psychedelic Ensemble - The Dream Of The Magic Jongleur
Gosta Berlings Saga - Glue Works
My Brother The Wind - I Wash My Soul In The Stream Of Infinity
Magenta - Chameleon
Jane - Eternity

Notable Newcomers

Joseph Magazine
Delusion Squared
Ben Craven

If nothing else comes from this post, please give these musicians a try. Not by illegally downloading, but by searching them out on YouTube or some of the other sites that offer streaming of their music. Visit their web sites, to get sound samples and full songs. If you like it, buy it and contribute to the hard work, of these great musicians.
Thank You

This 'Best Of' list, is based on recordings that I've purchased and heard. Granted, due to budgetary constraints, I can't listen to every new release and still have some to order, especially of the late year releases. The list was created from over 80 discs that were released and purchased in 2011.

Thursday, 29 December 2011


It'S been a great Christmas and may I say, a continued week off, from work. A lot of things going on, but also some great times just being at home, with the family.

Tomorrow is my big unvailing of the top 10 cd's of 2011, so if you're interested come back and see the list tomorrow.

Back to Christmas. It was great to see everyone's reactions to what we got them and this truly was what I was looking forward to. Carla and I were able to spoil everyone and that was a great feeling. We were also able to spoil each other. I for the first ever, was able to give a gift of diamond to her and that was a great feeling. She presented me, with a new Galaxy tablet ( which I'm using right now ), which I never expected in a million years!

So, great times indeed. The season in which we celebrate the greatest gift ever given man, we also were able to give some gifts to our own.

Merry Christmas to all and a joyous New Year!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

2011 What A Year For Prog!

I can't remember a year in which I've enjoyed purchasing and listening to music, as much as this one. The list is almost endless, in the outstanding releases that have graced the ears of this 'prog lover', this year.

I'll publish my top 10, before the year is out, but just a cursory scan of my cd shelf, reveals the staggering quality of music, put out this year.

Airbag, White Willow, Wobbler, Steven Wilson, Iona, Haken, Subsignal, Gazpacho, Hostsonaten, My Brother The Wind, Beardfish, Magic Pie, Steve Hackett, Greylevel, The Winter Tree, Guy Manning, Sean Filkins, The Psychedelic Ensemble, Leprous, Memories Of Machines, Introitus, Gosta Berlings Saga, Knight Area, Agents Of Mercy, Frequency Drift....and on and on it goes.

And some newcomers worth noting include, Joseph Magazine, Delusion Squared and Inner Road immediately come to mind.

These are just a few! I've ordered and listened to over 80 new releases this year and can honestly say that, 75 are real good and out of those 75, 25 are outstanding and seriously vied for top 10 status. I have others to order, which sadly, won't reach my ears before the end of the year, but as 2012 cannot - in my opinion - reach the heights of 2011 ( unless of course, Anekdoten were to release some new music ), perhaps we can revisit 2011 over and over again.

Stay tuned for the first annual 'ProgMan' Top 10.