Is this a definitive list – hell NO! I could name numerous albums that might/should have been on this list and were certainly in the nominees category, however:
“Then, shalt thou count to ten. No more. No less. Ten shalt be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be ten. Eleven shalt thou not count, nor either count thou nine, excepting that thou then proceed to ten. Twelve is right out. Once the number ten, being the tenth number, be reached, then, lobbest thou thy The Decade in Review towards thy readers” 🙂
Moonspinner – 2011
Kicking off my personal choices from the decade is this delightful solo album from John Hackett, which barring two tracks, Claude Debussy’s Syrinx and JS Bach’s Andante (the latter with guest guitarist Andy Gray) is completely written and performed by John on guitar and flute. Simply put Moonspinner is a beautiful, uplifting, beguiling and utterly charming album and one that has, on many occasions, been the perfect antidote to the most stressful of days.
Very much like Ian Anderson’s The Secret Language of Birds, Moonspinner has become a go-to album when some flutey escapism is required. To this end the album bursts out with the sprightly, Witchfinder, bringing classical and progressive music together – something John expressed he would like to achieve at the time of its release.
Across the album John bewitches and charms weaving a magical spell that captivates and enthrals…
Abel Ganz – 2014
Being a child of the ’50s – that’s the late ’50s, let’s not make me any older than I am, please – and like many of my generation, I sort of struggled with the vast majority of the ’80s neo-progressive movement. Perhaps lesser-known, but Scots-based Abel Ganz fell into that cauldron. Re-emerging after a long hiatus, in 2008, and prompted by glowing reviews, I checked out Shooting Albatross, which I found enjoyable in parts, even stunning here and there, but as a whole it did very little for me. So when they returned six years later with this, their self-titled release, I approached with caution and mild curiosity.
So as the band now have an album in my list of favourite’s from the decade – what’s changed? A new approach to the music and a change in personnel saw them retain those stronger elements from their past, but pretty much reinvent themselves and tearing up the old template. I remarked in my review that I felt Abel Ganz had come of age with this release.
Abel Ganz, in many respects, reminded me of the classic period of progressive rock, where pieces started with a song structure, complete with a strong melody and great hooks, and then taken on an extended musical journey. The twenty-three minute Obsolesence suite Parts 1-6, near the top of the album, bears this out. Each part stands up in its own right, together they form a track that can wear the title ‘epic’ with pride.
A long album, but there’s no filler material here and each track has well and truly earned its place. Complementing the progressive elements is a “folkier” slant, which I particularly like, along with impressive vocals and strong harmonies, memorable themes and great musicianship…
The band recently announced a new album is in the final mastering stages – which I am looking forward to hearing!
Ashes for the Monarch – 2015
Before the cries of “flagrant misuse of office” ensue, I openly admit to having a long-standing musical association with the band. Although perhaps deemed as a top ten, the idea behind ‘Selective Aspects – The Decade in Review’ was for the TPA reviewers, who took part, to select ten albums that had made a personal connection with them. So tricky for me to exclude this one 😉
The second album from the band, released fourteen years after the debut, features seven tracks based around such diverse themes as the choices and decisions we need to make in life (Whichone), the changing industrial and social landscape (Hell and High Water), dreams and nightmares (Projections) and those tracks based on books and myth – John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (Garden of Evil) and the album’s epic track One Man Alone, based around the tales of Lawrence Talbot [The Wolfman].
At twenty-three minutes, it is this track in particular that is most pleasing, paying an affectionate homage to those ’70s pioneers of the progressive movement. Across the track ELP, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis, Camel, Pink Floyd, Focus, along with a few others, are referenced and heralded. One Man Alone is an unashamed tribute to those bands, who have given me and many others a lifetime of musical enjoyment.
It was a blast to learn, perform and record and a track I personally enjoy on a purely listening level.
ShadowLines – 2016
London based quartet Flux announced their arrival with the enchanting ShadowLines, an intriguing cross-genre amalgam of styles performed almost exclusively on acoustic instruments – guitar, piano, violin, bansuri (a side-blown wooden flute) and assorted percussion. The ten tracks weave a magical spell that engrosses and captivates the listener. In many respects similar to the aforementioned John Hackett Moonspinner album in that ShadowLines is a go-to album when a sense of normality is required.
I was a little slow off the mark with this one, so the review of ShadowLines fell to fellow TPA colleague Rob Fisher. Echoing his closing sentiments: “ShadowLines is a wonderful album which is gracious, warm and vibrant in spirit. It is all the more remarkable for being a debut release. I earnestly hope the band will continue their playful and reflective explorations in the same spirit of open receptiveness, inquisitiveness and hope. I am eagerly looking forward to hearing where the journey takes them next.”
Sadly the flux would appear to have stopped flowing and although individual members have been pursuing musical careers, no mention has been made as to a follow up ShadowLines. We live in hope?
Proto Mundi | Doomsday Vault – 2017
Composer, bassist and multi-instrumentalist Antoine Fafard released a number of rather special progressive, jazz fusion albums across the decade and in fact earlier this year he returned with the excellent Borromean Odyssey. As with previous releases Antoine is mightily shrewd when it comes to his selection for the other half of the rhythm section – on Proto Mundi he asked Simon Phillips to take on the drum mantle. With Gary Husband on keyboards and violinist extraordinaire Jerry Goodman, all the ingredients are there to start cooking on gas.
Two things set Proto Mundi aside from Antoine’s other releases, firstly Antoine allowed all the tracks that extra running time, giving each piece the space to breathe, perhaps best exemplified in the twenty-minute The Journey, the second of three tracks from the album.
The second clincher for Proto Mundi was, and as the title implies, is the bonus disc Doomsday Vault. Featuring eleven remixed tracks from Antoine’s first three albums, plus four previously unreleased pieces. Once again a who’s who of drummers including Chad Wackerman, Vinnie Colaiuta, Terry Bozzio and Gavin Harrison.
A wonderful and immersive set of albums…
The Last of England – 2017
Gordon Giltrap is one of those musicians who can do no wrong for me. His early progressive albums, from the mid-’70s, still seem as fresh now, as they did all those years ago. Acoustic guitar in hand he possesses a wonderfully unique and instantly recognisable style, a style which he so readily embeds within the melodic and captivating framework here on The Last of England. The mainstay of the album is the seven pieces, falling under the sub-heading The Brotherhood Suite, which create an absorbing and deeply moving piece. Paul Ward’s warm and sumptuous orchestrations lay the foundation for Gordon’s wonderfully ornate and captivating guitar.
In modern times and at around thirty minutes The Brotherhood Suite may be deemed by many as short, although had the album finished here it would certainly be worth the admission fee as far as I am concerned. The seven remaining tunes may take us down a less orchestrated route, however they complement what has gone before admirably.
I concluded my review back in 2017: “Gordon Giltrap and Paul Ward have produced something rather special here and a release that ranks very highly in the GG catalogue. The Last of England is a wonderful testament to Gordon Giltrap and his music…”
Son (Coh) – 2017
Back in 2012 I reviewed Elehia, the enjoyable, on the whole, debut album from Ukrainian band Obiymy Doschu, remarking at the end of my review “Looking forward – I will certainly be keeping an ear open for this band…”. Well in a fortuitous culling of my burgeoning CD collection earlier this year I stumbled across Elehia, popping it into the ‘keep’ pile and making a mental note to see if the band, (whose name I could never quite pronounce, or remember and my aide-mémoire nickname for them, little help when Googling), had released any new material.
Good news and “Obi-Wan’s Daschcam” had returned in 2017 with Son (Coh). What I hadn’t anticipated however was the sheer depth and quality of this album. In fact, I was quite taken aback; yes this was the same band, lead by the warm and engaging voice of mainman Vladimir Agafonkin, but this was on another level. The music retains the heavier edge of their debut, elevated now by the pristine production values, allowing all the vocals and instruments to shine through the bands densely orchestrated sound.
A classy release in all respects, great songs, memorable melodies, subtle but great instrumentation and the production values – spot on!
Playing With Fire – 2018
To paraphrase the opening remarks from my review of Playing With Fire: “…a truly absorbing display of empathic creativity, with all eight musicians truly on fire, performing a deeply engrossing hour’s worth of compelling and fascinating music. Eclectic compositions combining World and cultural Indian music, jazz, classical and progressive rock take the listener on a journey of exotic soundscapes.”
Playing With Fire is a live, studio-based recording over a two day period at Seattle’s Jack Straw Cultural Center, captured on film and audio.
Full of Eastern sounds, hypnotic rhythms and subtle grooves which captivate, leaving you gently swaying along to their alluring, if not oddly metered structures. Composer and bassist Jason Everett (aka Mister E), holds everything groovingly in place with his six and seven string fretless instruments and is joined by a stellar cast of familiar and not so familiar names – all is revealed in TPA’s review of Playing With Fire – linked below…
The recording is top notch with each instrument transparent and crystal clear in the final mix.
The Outsider ~ News from Nowhere – 2018
Now Neil Campbell posed one of the biggest dilemmas in compiling this collection of albums from across the decade. Not, whether or not he should, or should not be included, but rather the difficulty of selecting just one album from the numerous excellent releases from this period. Nominees here taken from his collaborative/band outings including Bulbs – On, or more recently the eponymous After The Flood project album (2018). Or the two contrasting solo releases, Tabula Rasa Suite or eMErgence, which spanned the festive season 2014/15. In the end I stumped for Neil’s concept album The Outsider ~ News from Nowhere based on William Morris’ 19th century, utopian socialist novel, News from Nowhere.
Neil’s concept album, The Outsider ~ News from Nowhere, takes the listener on a charming instrumental journey. I am consistently impressed with each and every one of Neil Campbell’s albums, which demonstrate not only excellent technical and compositional skills, but the ability to write music. Music to be listened to and enjoyed – and music that is very seldom formulaic or repeated.
Neil Campbell remains one the U.K.’s shamefully undiscovered contemporary composers, and I for one hope a larger audience awaits him soon.
Terraformer – 2019
As we approach the end of the decade, even more difficult selecting an album that has had a significant impact on me. I mean Terraformer was only released in June, however as this album and their previous release Stranger Heads Prevail are in regular rotation, and the latter my top album of choice in the TPA 2016 poll, I reckon it’s safe to say it’s a keeper.
For the uninitiated, Thank You Scientist are a New Jersey-based septet who, from the early bars of Terraformer take you by the scruff of the neck, and with their heady combination of heavy and intricate arrangements, great musicianship and strong hooklines, take the listener on a pummelling and rumbustious tour de force. Bloody marvellous!!!
A roller coaster of a ride that makes you question why you started, but as soon as it finishes you’re back in the queue for a repeat run.
In all truthfulness had the task been to select 100 albums from the decade I reckon it would still have been a challenge! So whittling down a whole decade’s worth of music into just ten choices has proved to be tricky (understatement of the decade). Not a great deal of “household” names in my selections, more a reflection of those albums that have made a personal connection with me.