Published on 10th December 2017
TPA/Prog-Watch Best Albums of 2017
As we approach the end of another exciting year of wonderful music and enjoyed the delights of many fabulous releases, The Progressive Aspect, in collaboration with Anthony Rowsick’s radio programme Prog-Watch, have collected together our “The Best Albums of 2017”. There may yet be some more delights left in the year to tickle our fancies, but these are the albums that have worked for us in the year so far.
The programme airs on Progzilla Radio on Sunday 10th December 2017 at 1:30 pm, will be repeated again on Monday 11th at 6:30 pm, and Wednesday 13th at 11:00 pm (all U.K. times). A podcast will be available for download later in the week. The show will also air on Progressive Positivity on Thursday 14th at 1:00 am and 5:00 pm (again all U.K. times).
Discipline – Captives of the Wine Dark Sea
A thoughtfully crafted piece of work, a fine example of how they weave their beautifully crafted music around the stories they wish to tell. Exciting, emotional with touches of melancholy, a top quality release.
White Willow – Future Hopes
White Willow have forged their own trail providing original music which pays homage to the “classic era”, but always sounding fresh and modern. Moody and dark at times but ultimately fascinating and beautiful, the album has a natural ebb and flow.
Himmellegeme – Myth of Earth
Their debut album of dark psychedelic, atmospheric rock with some hard hitting riffs is brimming with ideas, sounding fresh, perfectly paced with never a dull moment. There is some great music coming out of Norway at the moment, of which this album is one fine example.
Bent Knee – Land Animal
This Boston band have provided an album of depth and quality, which is creative, inventive, unpredictable and even challenging at times. Even with songs built around Courtney Swain’s amazing soaring vocals, this is no one woman show, each band member making contributions that are as important as the next in conveying their musical vision.
Samuel Hallkvist – Variety of Rhythm
Samuel is a distinctive guitar player, producing wonderful sounds and textures on an album full of hidden depths. A perfect blend of rhythm, melody, textures of sound coupled with jazz rock elements, to provide an innovative musical suite.
I Am The Manic Whale – Gathering the Waters
It grows with every listen, though Strandbeest remains my favourite. Their second album gives them a clearer identity
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Local associations, beautiful music and wonderful story telling. Again meeting my expectations, but I suspect the next all new album will be quite different. Track: A Mead Hall In Winter.
Tom Slatter – Happy People
Well despite the continuing death threats, and the contradictory title, I like this album. Tom is quite playful on it. May I suggest razor blades Tom? Track: Happy People.
Drifting Sun – Twilght
Light and shade, a step up from their last and I think much more to come. Track: Wings of Hope.
IT – We’re All In This Together
Unheard before, a revelation. Politically charged tunes with decent melodies. Track: The Path of Least Resistance.
Elder – Reflections Of A Floating World
Boston-based power trio Elder expands their sound with an additional guitarist and unfurls another collection of inspired heavy-psych jams. Their thoroughly vibrant brand of guitar rock hit me like no other this year.
All Them Witches – Sleeping Through The War
Simply, the best American rock band I’ve heard in years. Sleeping Through The War is a tasty southern-fried stew of heavy blues rock, psych, punky swagger, swampy jams and Zeppelin stomp.
Motorpsycho – The Tower
The most deliriously entertaining album of the year, 85 fat-free minutes that fly by in seemingly half that span.
Enslaved – E
Over a quarter-century into their career, these extreme metal legends from Bergen, Norway continue to mature, evolve and impress. E is their most conceptually rewarding release to date, an enthralling progressive metal journey through the frozen wastes.
Telepathy – Tempest
Impressive sophomore release from this U.K. instrumental metal band. Their evocative compositions are just as gripping as they are thunderously heavy.
Threshold – Legends of the Shires
A blistering triumph of melodic creativity for Threshold, aided and abetted by the fact that the band appear to have deliberately mined the musical resources of their back catalogue and rekindled the creative fire and the exuberant spirit of earlier times. Legends of the Shires is deeply ambitious precisely because it joyfully explores layers of progressive complexity and delights in the new found emotional excitement and expressiveness which it affords. It has a more refined sound and a greater finesse to the writing that allows a more enriched and intense musical experience to emerge.
Kant Freud Kafka – Onírico
Onírico is a beautifully grand and majestically sweeping musical vision which delivers a thoroughly captivating and at times quite unsettling cinematic feel to the experience. Unexpected and totally brilliant, it catches you off guard and surprises you with its joyful, dreamy soundscapes, fascinating transitions, complex musicianship and insightful musical narratives. It is not often that music tells a story as thoughtful, as provocative and as powerful as this. Beautiful.
Barock Project – Detachment
An unexpected delight, filled with beautiful harmonies and richly melodic layers. Lovingly crafted songs embrace and engage you with musical virtuosity and sumptuous soundscapes. The whole album is an elegant caress of progressive rock at its very best; it is impossible not to fall in love with its charm, finesse or sophistication.
This Winter Machine – The Man Who Never Was
Layers of carefully crafted music entwine with troubling, insightful lyrics to form a complex landscape created from hints of ideas, snippets of suggestions, glimpses of moods, flashes of emotions, either complimenting or playing off each other to form a forceful and driving narrative. As a debut album, it is a remarkable achievement and magnificent success, filled with natural elegance, sophistication and awash with lyrical subtlety and imaginative suggestion. From the start it is hard not to be impressed.
Kepler Ten – Delta V
Powerful, sizzling album. The sheer consistency of the song writing is deeply impressive and the striking quality of the musicianship is truly remarkable. There is a breathless air of unbounded enthusiasm, an almost raw, fresh vibrancy which speaks of excitement, passion and intensity. The music is captivating, immersive, weaving gorgeous textures with extravagant layers which eagerly engage, consume and delight. The compelling momentum carries you ever forward to the next song.
Bubblemath – Edit Peptide
A quite magnificent achievement, the musical equivalent of releasing two dozen squirrels onto a frozen lake. They slide and jump and skid and crash and bump and run. It makes little obvious sense but it’s a wonder to behold!
Karda Estra – Infernal Spheres
Another fine release from Richard Wileman, his skill at taking chamber classical, jazz and rock influences and turning them into something new is beyond reproach and he continues to give his audience fascinating and intelligent music of real depth.
Leprous – Malina
A highly impressive and rewarding album that should alert more people to the talents of this quite extraordinary band. Malina has fully restored my appreciation for what Leprous do.
The Knells – Knells II
This is a superb listen that scratches places that few other releases even think of going to. It’s intelligent, considered but retains a rawness and energy, the results being both refreshing and cleansing. Stunning.
The Bob Lazar Story – Baritonia
It is music like this that makes me want to keep on hearing new stuff, music inspired by a wide range of influences and processed through wilfully obtuse minds to produce satisfyingly unexpected results. It gets better with each play, a cohesive salvo of accessible (but not TOO accessible!) weirdness that should be available on the NHS, such are its healing properties.
Motorpsycho – The Tower
A magnificent beast of a double album that puts Crosby, Stills & Nash on a rocket and fires it into the sun. This is not a mere garden of Earthly delights, but a whole hinterland.
UNKLE – The Road: Part 1
Emerging from a blizzard of coke after a 7 year binge…soz…hiatus, James Lavelle throws everything at this cathartic and sprawling album that fuses more styles than you’d see in an Afro-European hairdressers. Compelling stuff.
[Not reviewed on TPA]
All Them Witches – Sleeping Through The War
The Summer Sound of Sleaze, with tunes! An album that hits hard, but rolls with the punches, sat in a rickety rocking chair on the verandah of a tumbledown shack on the edge of a swamp, not far from Nashville. Somehow languid and in-yer-face all at once, in a way that only a band from the US of A could be.
Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar
Laughing in the face of convention. Ulver confound not only their fans but also themselves with every release, this time round giving us a conceptually abstract helping of the darkest slab of synth pop imaginable. Unlike the other, and far more well known “pop” dabbler this year, The Assassination of Julius Caesar sounds not the slightest bit like anything they’ve done before. We wouldn’t want it any other way.
Mew – Visuals
Intelligent Scandi-pop hasn’t sounded this good since A-ha. That is all.
Barock Project – Detachment
Then like those special personal moments in life, we sometimes stumble over something totally unexpected and wonderful in music, something which touches us in ways we cannot always explain or rationalise, but just feel at a deeper level. Detachment from Italian band Barock Project is one of those special musical moments.
What is remarkable is just how much variety and imagination are packed into songs that are not enormously epic in length, without sounding overcrowded and fussy. First and foremost, Barock Project have melody and interest at the core of their pieces, and whilst they hone and embroider the songs with ornate sounds and universally stellar musicianship they never spill over into indulgence or pretentiousness – they’re just bloody good rock songs. I am struggling to remember an album that I have enjoyed quite so much in a while… and that’s the feeling this album engenders – JOY.
Bjørn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
An Airbag is a device designed to save your life or reduce injury in the event of a collision.
Can music save your life? Who knows? But life does does bring us into collisions with all sorts of unexpected events and we try to find ways to survive, or at least lessen the impacts. From the sound and themes of Bjørn Riis’ second solo album it seems evident that life has been impacting upon him deeply, as reflected in an emotional release. Emotion is not a word usually associated with the sweeping, glacial Floydian soundscapes so beloved of Airbag, but Riis has successfully created a more personalised album, infused with fragile feelings and delicate melodies alongside his trademark architectural sonic structures. There is much more to Forever Comes to an End than a Floyd pastiche or just an Airbag album by another name, Riis has really put his heart on the line on this release and emotion exudes from the imaginative music and heartfelt lyrics on this intensely personal album.
Will this album save your life? Very probably not, but like an Airbag Forever Comes to an End may very well stop you getting a headache and will certainly help you deal with the collisions and impacts of what life may throw at you.
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
“To go to sleep and never wake up… to be simply not there forever and ever…
… that’s such a curious thought… that’s such a curious thought.”
The second Lonely Robot album from THE Progressive Rock Renaissance man, John Mitchell (also of Frost*, It Bites, Arena and others), once again showcases Mitchell’s strong song writing and distinctive guitar style, but also his excellent keyboard work throughout this musically dynamic album. Whilst this is an album of ‘Big Ideas’ it is largely expressed in a series of accessible and polished rock songs, alongside some more progressive cinematic passages. For Mitchell the song is key, and whilst he undoubtedly has the musical chops he is not about indulgent technique, preferring songs punctuated with memorable hooks and riding along on waves of melody, such as the ‘earworm’ song Sigma and it’s heroic refrain. John Mitchell has released a remarkable album which subtly conveys meaning and depth with accessible and finely written songs.
The juxtaposition of machine and emotion in the Lonely Robot project is peculiarly touching, and one wonders if many of us lead similarly robotic, regimented lives, not knowing how to escape or truly express our inner feelings…
“That’s such a curious thought…”
Magenta – We Are Legend
“Mirror your World through my Touch…Set me Free, oh Set me Free.”
These words from Colours on Magenta’s new album are about Vincent Van Gogh, but they could also describe the feelings engendered by this imaginative and impressive release from this premier Welsh band. We Are Legend underlines Magenta’s outstanding musical credentials, but they have far more than just great technique, imbuing their songs with melodies to stir the soul and stories to fascinate the mind.
The album includes some distinctly ‘un-Magenta’ elements, such as drum loops, sequencers, dashes of dance music rhythms and heavy guitars, as Rob Reed and the band stretch their boundaries, but long time Magenta fans should have no fear, they are still recognisably Magenta, but noticeably reinvigorated with new energy, sounds and an edge, showing a band that does not compromise and wants to move on in terms of expression and imagination.
Magenta have created one of the best albums of their career by daring to stretch and express themselves with great integrity and dazzling imagination. This will be regarded as one of THE progressive rock albums of 2017 – Magenta have definitely added to their own ‘Legend’.
Magic Bus – Phillip the Egg
“The Air is Sweet with Hope and Joy.”
These uplifting words of opening song Mystical Mountain from the mystifyingly titled third release by Magic Bus sum up the atmosphere of this positive and joyful album as this talented band take us on another musical Astral Journey. With a band name derived from Ken Kesey’s ’60s counter culture ‘Merry Pranksters’, who travelled America in a psychedelically painted bus called ‘Further’ (also known as ‘The Magic Bus’), it is inevitable that this is a band that unashamedly basks on the sunlit hills of the hippy idyll with musical and lyrical inspirations drawn that era. Phillip the Egg gloriously continues along that path, but this time Magic Bus take it to greater heights with a more expansive and vibrant approach.
It’s an album which reveals their more progressive influences and conveys more of the energy and power of their impressive live sets. Magic Bus have produced a very fine album which takes their journey onward into a more exciting musical orbit. They continue to draw on and honour their inspirations and influences, but have developed their sound to liberate and more fully reflect their true energy and spirit. As Paul Evans once said:
If you’re not happy with where you are, there’s always the road… there’s freedom on the bus.
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
This latest album from Cosmograf (Robin Armstrong) is steeped in a sense of the countryside and family, conveyed in the classic rock sounds of guitar, drums and bass, interlaced with skilful and atmospheric keyboards.
Robin has done it once again – he’s produced one of the Progressive rock albums of the year… but in a completely different style from previous albums. This only goes to underline his skill and quality as a musician and writer, continuing to define him as one of the best Progressive Rock artists of this generation. However, be aware that whilst his last few albums have been akin to widescreen pieces of musical cinema with immediate and spectacular effects, his latest work is much more evocative of a finely written musical novel with more emotional resonance and subtlety, revealing more and more with every reading or listening.