As we approach the half way point of 2019 and enjoy the delights of many fabulous releases, members of The Progressive Aspect team, in collaboration with Anthony Rowsick’s radio programme Prog-Watch, have collected together their “Best Albums of 2019 (so far)”. The programme will air on Progzilla Radio on Sunday 16th June 2019 at 1:30 pm, will be repeated again on Monday at 6:30 pm, and Wednesday at 11:00 pm (UK times). A podcast will be available for download later in the week.
2019 has been an interesting year so far. We’ve had music from the usual suspects, all of it to a very high standard. However, the boat floaters to date have been;
This Winter Machine. I loved their live set at Fusion 2, especially the new material, and having now heard The Tower of Clocks in its entirety, it goes straight into my top five. It’s an album easy to immerse yourself in.
Picked up to review on a whim, not having heard much of the band. It is a beautiful album that easily stands many repeated listens. Clear as Mud!
There is the essence of Bowie and Gabriel, with a dash of Japan and jazz. Stand out for me is The Comfort Zone with its depth and warmth in composition. Another glass of red please.
Any Big Big Train album is, for me, a highlight, Grand Tour is no different. It’s a good, but for me not great, album, even though I cannot fault the musicianship or production. Breaking beyond the Greg Spawton/David Longdon songwriting has proven to be interesting, and I find it hard to choose between the two Nick D’Virgilio penned tracks. The instrumental Pantheon is a lovely, quite dark earworm, but I find myself drawn to Theodora in the Green & Gold. Whether the album stays in my end of year top ten is irrelevant, there is much more music to come, but it will be treasured all the same.
My final so far is Nocturne, by The Emerald Dawn. “Local” to me, and I’m happy to champion local, The Emerald Dawn, like another Cornish band Hanterhir, have amazed me with their music, I may have to mug a few people to acquire a hard copy and back catalogue, the alternative is go without pants, but you don’t need to know that. So my coda piece from them in this year is As Darkness Falls.
There are any number of fantastic releases so far this year and honourable mentions go to Port Noir – The New Routine; Dream Theater – Distance Over Time; Lebowski – Galactica; Radius Funk – Ultraviolet Voodoo. As inventive as these fine albums are, however, pole positions for 2019 So Far go to the following.
Marek Arnold and Manuel Schmid – Zeiten
Zeiten marks the beginning of a new art rock project from this German duo and a more graceful, elegant and thoroughly enjoyable album you are unlikely to hear for quite some time. What shines through is a stylish simplicity and absorbing finesse which is utterly enthralling in the clarity and the transparency of the music you are hearing. The artistic diversity in style, structure and mood of the songs on the album is refreshing and if a large part of its success rests on Manuel’s vocals then an equal measure of success lies in the riveting musicianship of Marek Arnold.
Track: Doch dann dreht sich die Welt (5:29)
T – Solipsystemology
T’s latest dipping of the toe into the waters of musical narrative results in a stunning creative masterpiece. Nothing prepares you for the sheer scale of the intellectual, musical and experiential tsunami which sweeps you off your feet. And nothing prepares you for the way it keeps doing it to you – again and again and again – even though you think you know what is coming. Even though the album is possibly his most ‘accessible’ release to date, if what you are looking for is casual enjoyment, this is not for you. This is an album which will whisper to your fears, echo in your darkness, nuzzle and embrace your self doubts. It is philosomusipoetological (a homage to the T’s titling). It is the captivating and unsettling music of life.
Warmrain – Back Above the Clouds
This is a wonderful full debut album from a progressive UK band playing beautifully elegant and delightfully creative melodic music. The clear presence of influences from historical British prog and rock bands provides a warmth and richness to their own distinctive style and energy which emerges from engaging music which is full of sumptuous riffs and compelling refrains. What a debut!
Cyril – The Way Through
Cyril have clearly taken a momentous leap forward with their third album. The music, as well as the dynamics of their instrumental interactions, bristles with innovation and imagination and combine to create this spellbinding and thoroughly engaging experience. Guy Manning’s deceptively simple storyline opens the door to a series of musical portraits which capture the troubling yet poignant episodes and moments of a life at the edge of death and looking back over key decisions and moments which have been made. The journey of the soul on which he takes us allows him to narrate the stories of these episodes in lyrics that are exquisitely detailed, unerringly piercing and emotionally harrowing.
Flaw and Order – Evaporated People
A second debut album makes my list. This mesmerising Indian quartet explore the Japanese phenomenon of ‘the evaporated’ or ‘Johatsu’, thousands of people who, through the pressures of everyday life, simply disappear each year. The music is crisp, spacious and wonderfully interactive; the musicianship is superb and the moods and atmospheres they create in order to express the textures of mental health problems are poignant and moving.
Lost Crowns – Every Night Something Happens
A gorgeous, surprising, barking mad and thoroughly rewarding album, the kind of progressive music that should be reverred far and wide throughout the Prog World, but almost unsurprisingly isn’t.
Grice – One Thousand Birds
Exquisitely put together, it’s an album of relaxation that bears repeated plays. Grice Peters’ performance is superb, ringing the emotion out of his beautifully crafted songs.
Ed Wynne – Shimmer Into Nature
Yes, it sounds like Ozric Tentacles should, but it’s the overriding enthusiasm and continuing joie de vivre that leaves the indelible mark with this, Ed’s first solo album.
Ed Wynne – Facebook
The Mercury Tree – Spidermilk
Let’s face it, microtonal music is never going to be for everyone, but The Mercury Tree have successfully integrated it into an intriguing collection of accessible songs, giving them and woozy and disconcerting edge that I really like.
Lonely Robot – Under Stars
Anyone who has been listening to Prog-Watch for a while knows that I love the music of John Mitchell. With the latest Lonely Robot album he has delivered another masterpiece of modern progressive rock. It has concept, great compositions, and great singing, playing, and production values, which all combine to deliver an album that is clearly progressive in nature, but also accessible enough to possibly appeal to a wider audience.
Huis – Abandoned
Many of the selections in this year’s mid-year round-up were from the UK, and almost all were from Europe. So I wanted something to represent North America, and the new album by Huis fits the bill! The third album by this Canadian band, Abandoned is a concept album dealing with loss, abandonment, and alienation. But there are also more upbeat themes of rebirth, resilience and hope. For the album, Huis are once again joined by Michel St-Père of Mystery, who not only provides great, edgy guitar playing, but a fine ear for production values.
North Sea Radio Orchestra + John Greaves & Annie Barbazza – Folley Bololey (Songs from Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom)
Finally a release for this much-anticipated collaboration, who up to now have confined their performances of this fine work to Italy. They are performing it in London in June. A simply stunning interpretation of Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom, plus a few extras. The LP/CD package is simply gorgeous and cover designer Michele Lombardelli deserves a medal.
Flying Lotus – Flamagra
A sprawling follow up to 2014’s psychedelic extravaganza You’re Dead. Unlike that album, which wore its early Soft Machine influence quite openly, and put it through all sorts of modern production trickery to produce a dense trip hop stew, Stephen Ellison this time flings open the stable doors and the horses stampede their new-found freedom across lysergic plains of dayglo cinematic vistas. Or summat. In a word, epic!
[Read the full TPA Review]
Isildurs Bane & Peter Hammill – In Amazonia
Having made an album with Steve Hogarth, the unashamedly prog Swedes now team up with one of the heavyweights, the greatest lyrcist of the originals, one Peter Hammill. It’s far too tempting to say that this is what the latest incarnation of VdGG should sound sound like, but I just did.
Lonely Robot – Under Stars
Under Stars is the third album in the John Mitchell project, Lonely Robot. Using the ‘Astronaut’ central character as an Observer, Mitchell has yet again released a finely crafted album of accessible rock songs with a progressive edge. Under Stars focuses on the millennial generation, and the disconnecting effects of social media and technology. John Mitchell is the ‘Renaissance Man’ of modern progressive rock but in Lonely Robot he may just have found his most distinctive and notable achievement.
This more reflective album is exemplified in the lyrical flow and gentleness of the title track Under Stars, with a sense that the Astronaut wants us to turn away from our screens, turn off our devices and just look out at the splendour and beauty of Space and our World.
Cosmograf – Mind Over Depth
Cosmograf has resurfaced with the remarkably heavy but introspective Mind Over Depth. This is an intensely personal album – a totally immersive album with a dark side and a clear focus on the head and mind. Robin Armstrong expresses his inner most feelings, presented within much heavier and darker musical frameworks than previously witnessed.
Such is the undoubted compositional skill, immense imagination and sheer quality of performance of Cosmograf on all his albums that Robin Armstrong deserves to be regarded as one of the premier progressive rock artists of the 21st century – there will be few albums better in 2019 than Mind Over Depth. Godspeed imparticular features Colin Edwin (ex-Porcupine Tree) on bass and Kyle Fenton on drums who drive this Leviathan of a song along, with great power and precision, allowing Armstrong to give vent to enormous screams of anguish with his excellent vocals. The whole piece starts in rather calmer waters with a liquid organ, reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s No Quarter, before erupting powerfully.
Red Bazar – Things as they Appear
Things as they Appear is Red Bazar’s second vocal album with Peter Jones (from Tiger Moth Tales and Camel). Red Bazar bravely touch on important issues, observing the negativity and deception which has infected modern day politics, communication and public debate. This is an impressive melodic rock album for our times, direct and accessible in sound, but filled with subtlety and insight. Red Bazar have produced one of THE albums of 2019. Temple grabs the listener straight away with a fanfare of keyboards and electric guitar, and great vocal characterisation from Peter Jones. A dark song about fake religious leaders and demagogues and the way they manipulate others… seems timely!
This Winter Machine – A Tower of Clocks
This Winter Machine’s second album underlines their growing reputation as fine exponents of great rock songs with an eye for memorable melodies and hooks. They are very skilled in expressing their musical and lyrical ideas with flair and imagination. A Tower of Clocks is an outstanding album which will deserve to be remembered as one of the best melodic progressive rock albums of 2019. Delta, about the anguish of a young person coming out to their parents on April Fools Day, may simply be one of the best melodic progressive rock songs of 2019. This Winter Machine skilfully and sensitively weave infectious and often triumphant sounding progressive rock melodies together with emotion-drenched melancholic passages and intuitively crafted and powerful lyrics.
United Progressive Fraternity – Planetary Overload Pt 1: Loss
Mark Trueack, (ex-Unitopia) and multi-instrumentalist Steve Unruh (of Samurai of Prog) have created an ambitious, diverse album focusing intensely on environmental and humanitarian issues, with an array of guest musicians, including Steve Hackett, Michel St-Père of Mystery and Jon Davison of Yes. Moving well away from Trueack’s Unitopia roots, this has a range of musical styles and influences. Such diversity may be it’s weakness, at times as it is a flawed album in my view, but when it’s good, it’s a great… and has an important message for our times. The blood-soaked subject matter of the outstanding and powerful anti-war Forgive Me, My Son song is tragically evoked with great skill and commitment. Featuring the impressive multi-instrumental skills of Knifeworld’s Charlie Cawood, who contributes the bewildering array of oud, saz, bouzouki, dulcimer, zither and bass, Mark Trueack sings with great emotion and Steve Unruh’s violin weaves its way around the rhythms and melodies like some sort of musical wraith.