Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Music of 2013

2012 was a great year for music, particularly for my preferred genre of Progressive Rock, but 2013 has proved to be an even better year. There is so much good music out there at the moment that I have found the task of producing an end-of-year review quite daunting. Where do I begin?

Last year I produced a Top 25 of my favourite Progressive albums, but this year I have really struggled to keep the number down that far. Not only that: trying to rate them in order is proving really difficult. So, what I've decided to do is to produce a Top Ten (or possibly a Top 12) for the year, and list - in no particular order other than alphabetical -  another 30 that have particularly touched me/ moved me/ spoke to me - it's been that good a year!

Before then a few minor 'awards':

Gigs of the Year
3. Rush - Clockwork Angels @ Sheffield Motorpoint Arena
2. John Mayer @ London O2 Arena
1. Steve Hackett - Genesis Revisited @ Sheffield City Hall

Live Album of the Year
Anathema - Universal
Stunning music in an equally stunning setting

Discovery of the Year
The Twenty Committee - A Lifeblood Psalm
A remarkable debut: follow the link above to read my review on Progarchy.com

Non-Prog Albums of the Year
A couple have particularly stood out for me:
The Temperance Movement's eponymous debut
Prefab Sprout's Crimson / Red - a tour-de-force of song writing brilliance from Paddy McAloon

Disappointment of the Year
This has to go to Dream Theater's self-titled album, which sadly left me quite underwhelmed. The band have just not been the same since Mike Portnoy left, and the music, for me, has lost its spark.

So, to my 'bottom 30', in alphabetical order.
Airbag - The Greatest Show on Earth
Camelia's Garden - You Have a Chance
Comedy of Errors - Fanfare & Fantasy
Days Between Stations - In Extremis
Djam Karet - The Trip
The Fierce & the Dead - Spooky Action
Flamborough Head - Lost in Time
Godsticks - The Envisage Conundrum
Haken - The Mountain
Henry Fool - Man Singing
Ingranaggi Della Valle - In Hoc Signo
King Bathmat - Overcoming the Monster 
Leafblade - The Kiss of Spirit & Flesh
John Lees' Barclay James Harvest - North
Lifesigns - Lifesigns
Johanes Luley - Tales From Sheepfather's Grove
Magenta - The Twenty Seven Club
La Maschera di Cera - The Gates of Tomorrow
Maschine - Rubidium
The Opium Cartel - Ardor
Persona Grata - Reaching Places High Above
Riverside - Shrine of New Generation Slaves
Shineback - Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed
Solstice - Prophecy
Sound of Contact - Dimensionaut
Thieves' Kitchen - One For Sorrow, Two For Joy
The Twenty Committee - A Lifeblood Psalm
Vienna Circle - Silhouette Moon
Violent Silence - A Broken Truce
Willowglass - The Dream Harbour

And so to my Top 10 (or 12):

10. Cosmograf - The Man Left In Space
Star-studded line-up working with Robin Armstrong to produce a powerful interstellar concept piece - stand-out tracks 'Aspire, Achieve' & 'The Man Left in Space';

9. Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)
Carrying on from 2011's evocative 'Grace for Drowning', this collection offers light and shade and some excellent musicianship - stand-out tracks 'Luminol' & 'The Watchmaker';

8. Manning - The Root, the Leaf, and the Bone
Great story-telling alongside some brilliant composition and playing. One of the undoubted highlights of the latter part of the year - stand-out tracks 'Among the Sleepers' & 'Palace of Delights';

7. The Flower Kings - Desolation Rose
Another excellent offering from Sweden's 'Kings' of Prog, with some simply spell-binding songs from Roine Stolt and the others - stand-out tracks 'Tower One' & 'The Resurrected Judas';

6. Moon Safari - Himlabacken vol 1
This band continue to delight me with their close harmonies and wonderful compositions: this is music to put a smile on your face - stand-out tracks 'Mega Moon' & 'Sugar Band';

5. Freedom to Glide - Rain
 A work that tells the stories of those from the front line in WW1, with a heavy dose of Pink Floyd: a bit like The Wall or The Final Cut without Roger Waters' personal angst - stand-out tracks 'Rain part 2' & 'Not a Broken Man';

4. Sanguine Hum - The Weight of the World
Thoughtful, intelligent Progressive music (in every sense), a powerful follow-up to their critically-acclaimed debut from last year, 'Diving Bell' - stand-out tracks 'The Weight of the World' & 'Day of Release'

3. Wintergatan - Wintergatan
Strange, unconventional, joy-filled music, using all kinds of eclectic instruments to create wonderful soundscapes: an absolute delight of an album - stand-out tracks 'Starmachine2000' & 'Sommarfågel'

2. The Tangent - Le Sacre du Travail/ L'Étagere du Travail
A breath-taking couple of albums from Andy Tillison & co., that I just can't separate from each other: 'Le Sacre' tells a symphonic story of the working day as only Tillison can, and 'L'Étagere' - by no means the sweepings from the cutting room floor - is a collection of very strong songs along with out-takes and live recordings - stand-out tracks '5th Movement: Evening TV' & 'Supper's Off'

1. Big Big Train - English Electric (Part 2)/ English Electric: Full Power
The 'English Electric' sequence came to its fruition with these two releases, following on from last year's English Electric (Part 1) - my album of the year for 2012. Again I cannot separate these two. Full Power contains all the material from Parts 1 & 2, along with four additional tracks, all of which showcase the band's ability to craft exquisite progressive music that elicits strong emotions from the listener. This is nothing more than a stunning piece of work, that will, I have no doubt, become a classic of the genre to rival 'Close to the Edge' and 'Selling England by the Pound' in years to come. This is a complete package: song-writing, musicianship and vocals of the highest order from Greg Spawton, David Longdon, Dave Gregory, Andy Poole, Danny Manners & Nick D'Virgilio; production & engineering second to none by Rob Aubrey; and a physical product that is quite simply a work of art - stand-out tracks 'East Coast Racer' & 'Curator of Butterflies (perhaps the most stunningly beautiful song I've heard in years).

So, there it is: one among many end-of-year lists. But what a year it's been! On a par with 1973? I think so.