Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Merry Christmas and a happy, prosperous New Year to all readers of this blog. Are there many? Who knows!

The above are my three favourite prog based Christmas singles. For me they are the essence of Christmas in the 70’s as a teenager. Great days!

Anyway, enjoy the holiday and remember pop pickers to tune into BBC4 at 10pm on Friday 2nd January for Prog Rock Brittania: An Observation in Three Movements which promises to be the first thorough and non-pisstaking overview of the genre we all know and love. We shall see!
Very best wishes to everyone.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Some Other New Stuff I Liked In 2008

Finishing off my lists of the year here are some other newly released stuff I liked in the last 12 months. In no particular order this time, because I can't be bothered.

Wire ~ Object 47
Back to what they do best. Tricksy, arty, angular pop.

Mothlite ~ The Flax Of Reverie
Off kilter songs from Guapo mainman.

Earth ~ The Bees Made Honey In The Lions Skull
The addition of Bill Frisell really makes this recording stand out.

Guapo ~ Elixirs
Far away from their Zeuhl roots, but still intoxicating.

Black Mountain ~ In The Future
Almost in the prog section as the use of synths and mellotron takes this excellent slab of heavy rock very near to that territory.

Keane ~ Perfect Symmetry
I like this a lot. Lots of nice 80’s styled synths and great songs,

Bill Nelson ~ Clocks And Dials
Another bumper year for Bill. Having released five, yes five new albums including this 2 CD set which was so chock-a-block that the last track just didn’t fit!

Elbow ~ The Seldom Seen Kid
Deserved the Mercury prize without a doubt. Sometimes there is justice in the world!

Byrne & Eno ~ Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
This was never was going to be the next “My Life In the Bush Of Ghosts”. Nevertheless this is hugely enjoyable.

Howlin Rain ~ Magnificent Fiend
Great earthy, American songwriting. Beautifully arranged and played.

Steven Wilson ~ Insurgentes
Obvious nods to Porcupine Tree, No-Man and Blackfield, but this is his darkest outing yet. Sumptuous packaging.

Portishead ~ Third
Surpisingly more edgier and experimental than previous albums. Satisfyingly so.

Sigur Ros ~ With A Buzz In Our Ears We Play Endlessly
Maybe treading water a bit, but they always push the right buttons. As always haunting and beautiful.

TV On The Radio ~ Dear Science
This is what Brian Eno or Talking Heads might sound like if they were producing their key works now!

Darkroom ~ Some Of These Numbers Mean Something
Fantastic atmospheric instrumental music with the wonderful Michael Bearpark.

The Verve ~ Forth
They could have gone safe with this comeback release, but they have admirably experimented with their sound.

Coldplay ~ Viva La Vida
Working with Brian Eno was always going to be a winning combination. And it is!

Richard Barbieri ~ Stranger Inside
A brilliant follow up to the incredible “Things Buried”. Great instrumentals and wonderfully textured keyboards.

Dungen - 4
More Swedish psychedelic sonic wonders. This may be Gustav Ejstes project, but it’s the guitar of Reine Fiske that stands out for me.

Re-Issues/Compilations of The Year 2008

40. Dave Greenslade ~ The Pantateuch Of The Cosmogony
A straight re-issue of the 1994 SBM remaster. BGO have done as good as job as possible in reproducing Patrick Woodroffe’s lavish book in the CD size format. The music may not be the equal of the book, but its not as bad as I remember.

39. Various Artists ~ Spirit Of Joy – Tales From The Polydor Underground 1967 - 1974
Another Mark Powell label based box set. Polydor were never as esoteric as the likes of Decca, but there is plenty to admire here.

38. Trees ~ The Garden of Jane Delawney
After the success of Sony/BMG’s “On The Shore” re-issue they have done the same with this, the bands debut album.

37. John G. Perry ~ Sunset Wading
Re-issued on the excellent Esoteric label, this is a minor gem from the ex-Caravan bassist.

36. Various Artists ~ The Recommended Sampler
At last released on CD for the first time. This sampler of artists who recorded for the ReR label is to sya the least eclectic. Beautifully remastered by Bob Drake.

35. Supersister ~ Remasters
Esoteric released four of this Dutch bands albums who are held in high esteem. The best is probably “Present from Nancy”.

34. The Gathering ~ Sand And Mercury – The Complete Century Media Years
Excellently packaged box set containing all the material recorded for the Century Media label.

33. Stomu Yamashta ~ Go
Another winning release from Esoteric. This is Yamashta’s best known album, athough it’s also worth checking out “Floating Music”

32. Chicago ~ Stone Of Sisyphus
Long lost recording released at last. Though recorded during the bands more commercial period, there is much to enjoy here.

31. England ~ Garden Shed
The origin of this re-issue is a bit unknown, but it’s the best way to get this excellent prog album from the back end of progs golden period.

30. Various Artists ~ Strange Pleasures - Further Sounds Of The Decca Underground
Yes, its another of those Mark Powell box sets. More from the Decca labels.

29. Robert Wyatt ~ Rock Bottom
A straight re-issue really of the Hannibal release from the late 90’s. Although the original cover artwork has been re-instated.

28. Various Artists ~ The All New Electric Muse
Breathtaking collection of folk into rock from the 60’s through to the 70’s.

27. ELP ~ Deluxe Editions
These remasters of “Pictures at an Exhibition” and “Brain Salad Surgery” sound fantastic. Very poorly let down by the unbelievable inaccuracies and errors throughout the packaging.

26. Porcupine Tree ~ Lightbulb Sun
Steven Wilson gives this 2000 album the full 5.1 surround sound treatment. A pity the bonus tracks only appear on the DVD disc.

25. Fripp & Eno ~ Remasters
“No Pussyfooting” and “Evening Star” remastered by Simon Heyworth supervised by Robert Fripp. Amusing “alternative” versions of “The Heavenly Music Corporation” and “Sawastika Girls”!

24. Alan Parsons Project ~ Remasters
The last batch of remasters of APP recordings. This has been a wonderful series of re-issues. Great sound and informative booklets with interesting bonus cuts.

23. Renaissance ~ Renaissance
Re-issued by Repertoire in mini-LP format. This is a great recording, somewhat overshadowed by the later version of the band.

22. Dream Theater ~ Greatest Hit (& 21 Other Pretty Cool Songs)
Nice 2CD compilation covering material recorded for Atlantic.

21. Man ~ Back Into The Future
Lavish box set of live Man. Well done Esoteric.

20. Univers Zero ~ 1313
Beautifully remastered debut album from the darkest of prog bands, released on the Cuneiform label.

19. Blancmange ~ Remasters
Edsel Records are at the forefront for re-releasing 80’s synth pop. These remasters of Blancmange’s three albums remind us of how good this duo were.

18. Ultravox ~ Remasters
Very nice remasters of “Vienna” and “Rage In Eden”, extended to 2CD sets to include lost of bonus tracks.

17. 808 State ~ Remasters
ZTT have re-issued the complete 808 State catalogue as 2 CD sets to includes lots of extra material.

16. Gentle Giant ~ Three Friends
Remasterd by Eroc who has done a sterling job on the other Vertigo label Gentle Giant re-issues for Repertoire. Given the mini-LP treatment as well.

15. Penguin Café Orchestra ~ Broadcasting From Home
This is my favourite album from the PCO catalogue. Nicely reproduced in minimalist digipacks

14. Abel Ganz ~ The Dangers Of Strangers (20th Anniversary Edition)
Beautifully remastered and packaged re-issue of Scottish proggers best album from the 80’s.

13. John Foxx ~ Remasters
Having re-issued “Metamatic” as a deluxe 2CD edition a few years back, Edsel give the rest of the back catalogue the same treatmets. Lost of great bonus material included here and “The Garden” booklet now re-produced for the first time.

12. Return To Forever ~ Anthology
Phenomenal sounding remastered best of from this astounding jazz rock group from the 70’s.

11. Lana Lane ~ Best of Lana Lane 2000 - 2008
Japan only best of from the recent output of America’s finest female rock singer. All tracks nicely remastered by hubby Erik Norlander.

10. Dead Can Dance ~ Remasters
Beautifully remastered by Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs and John Rivers and all packaged in mini-LP sleeves. A gorgeous collection.

9. Anthony Philips ~ Wise after The Event
This is my choice of his back catalogue re-released this year. A brilliant 2 CD collection stuffed with great bonus tracks, excellent thorough annotated booklet and great remastering by Simon Hetworth.

8. Ayreon ~ Timeline
Sumptuous 3 CD and DVD box set bringing together the Ayreon story in one satisfying package.

7. Big Big Train ~ English Boy Wonders
Not just remastered but this early recording has been completely revisited with new bits added. Now sounds like new!

6. Parallel Or 90 Degrees ~ A Can Of Worms
Long overdue retrospective for Andy Tillisons pre-Tangent band. On the evidence of material like “Afterlifecycle” and “Promises of Life” this band is hugely overlooked.

5. Barndomens Stigar ~ Kultivator
Excellent re-release for this Swedish prog classic. Well done to Mellotronen in making this available, especially with added disc of newly recorded material.

4. Hawkwind ~ Box Sets
New label Atomhenge has been set-up to re-release Hawkwinds post 1976 albums next year. As a precursor they have released two 3CD box sets showcasing some of the best material from those albums. Surprisingly lots of great stuff here.

3. The Skids ~ The Absolute Game
I forgot how great this album was. Captain Oi have done a great job in re-releasing this together with the free album that came with the original LP release plus three bonus tracks. This album should be considered as one of the great post-punk albums, placed alongside the likes of Magazine, Wire etc.

2. T2 ~ It'll All Work Out In Broomland
Well done to Acme for making this readily available again. An absolute proto-prog classic. Keith Cross should have been a huge rock star.

1. Genesis ~ Box Set 1970-1975
EMI get it right with the third instalment of their remixing/remastering of the bands back catalogue. The sound is a revelation and the extras as good as could be expected considering what little there is around. They saved the best to last and proves that though latter Genesis may have been more commercially successful, it’s the earlier period which was musically more fulfilling.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Favourite Prog Albums of 2008

40. Tiles ~ Fly Paper
Getting further away the obvious Rush influences of their past releases, even though Alex Lifeson guests on one track.

39. Demians ~ Building An Empire
Excellent debut from this French outfit. Given the SW seal of approval.

38. Osada Vida ~ The Body Parts
Technical prog metal. This should have been received more widely than it was.

37. Presto Ballet ~ The Lost Art Of Time Travel
Second outing for this retro offshoot project. Highly enjoyable never the less.

36. Deus Ex Machina ~ Imparis
More wild fusionesque prog from one of Italy’s best bands.

35. Uriah Heep ~ Wake The Sleeper
A big surprise this. These guys should not be making music this good, but they did!

34. Edensong ~ The Fruit Fallen
Another great debut, this time from the US. A nice blend of instruments and styles.

33. Rhys Marsh And The Autumn Ghost ~ The Fragile State Of Inbetween
Pastoral prog, in a pop vein from Norway and first release on new label Better Place Recordings. Keep an eye on this label!

32. VdGG ~ Trisector
Back again, as a trio this time. Edgier than “Present” actually sounding quite refreshed.

31. Pineapple Thief ~ Tightly Unwound
Now signed to K Scope, this is their heaviest effort yet.

30. Karmakanic ~ Whose The Boss In the Factory
Superb solo outing from Flower Kings master bassist.

29. Beardfish ~ Sleeping In Traffic Part 2
Great follow up to the very excellent Part 1. Though I wish they would ditch the Zappaesque humour.

28. Sensitive To Light ~ From The Ancient World
Beautiful second album from Saen’s Vince Leff.

27. Mostly Autumn ~ Glass Shadows
Their most fully realised album in a few years. But always left feeling they can do more.

26. Lunatic Soul ~ Lunatic Soul
Atmospheric and beautifully textured first solo outing from Riverside mainman.

25. It Bites ~ Tall Ships
John Mitchell is on board, so its bound to be good. And it is.

24. The Reasoning ~ Dark Angel
Heavier than their debut, but this band is lining up to be one of the UK’s most promising outfits.

23. Marillion ~ Happiness Is The Road
Excellent double album and beautifully packaged. Nearly as good as “Marbles”.

22. Diagonal ~ Diagonal
Fantastic debut from this Brighton band. Mixing, jazz, prog, ambient they come across as a British Mars Volta. Very promising indeed.

21. Nosund ~ Lightdark
The best atmospheric rock album of the year. The No-Man influences are there, but this is a beautiful album

20. Moon Safari ~ Blomljud
A sprawling double album. A bit hippy for some, but gorgeous Swedish prog.

19. No-Man ~ Schoolyard Ghosts
The ever busy Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness serve up some more out there songs.

18. Asia ~ Phoenix
Much, much better than we should have expected. John Wetton is on fine form.

17. Opeth ~ Watershed
Can these guys get any better!

16. Neal Morse ~ Lifeline
Not much progress, but still some fantastic prog on show here.

15. Abel Ganz ~ Shooting Albatross
Great to have these Scottish proggers back with this excellent effort.

14. Frost* ~ Experiments In Mass Appeal
Second album from pop maestro Jem Godfrey’s side project. A more band project this time with Darwin’s Radio Declan Burke to the fore.

13. Panic Room ~ Visionary Position
Another excellent debut. Sophisticated and mixing lots of styles. Very promising

12. RPWL ~ The RPWL Experience
Very solid release from one Germany’s best bands.

11. Ephrat ~ No One’s Word
Love this album from Israel’s Omer Ephrat. Mixed and mastered by Steven Wilson.

10. Believe ~ Yesterday Is A Friend
Great second album from Satellite offshoot. Contains one of my favourite songs of the year in “You & Me”.

9. Ayreon ~ 1011001
Another epic concept prog opera. Lucassen is the master at this sort of thing.

8. The Mars Volta ~ The Bedlam In Goliath
More mental madness from Omar and Cedric. For me, this is their most structured release.

7. Magenta ~ Metamorphosis
Their most complex and darkest work yet.

6. Brighteye Brison ~ Believers & Deceivers
Beautiful and colourful prog from this Swedish band. The double keyboard line-up is a winner.

5. Unitopia ~ The Garden
Absolutely stunning double album from this Australian band. Unknown to many, this release should rectify that.

4. Pendragon ~ Pure
A really bold and audacious album. Their most powerful achievement.

3. Thieves Kitchen ~ The Water Road
Bringing in Anglagard’s Thomas Johnson on keyboards was a masterstroke. The combination of TK’s National Health/Bruford fusion style and the pastoral prog of Anglagard works perfectly here. The arrangements and production are wonderful. This is a dream recording.

2. Martin Orford ~ The Old Road
His last contribution to the world of prog. And what a way to go out. Everyone involved is on top form and Orford’s writing and playing are perfect. This album combines a great sense of nostalgia and an ever present love for progressive rock.

1. The Tangent ~ Not As Good As The Book
Andy Tillison’s most ambitious work yet. Spread over 2 CD’s this sees the band going even further towards the PO90 sound, including a re-working of that bands epic “Four Egos, One War”. Bringing Jakko M Jakszyk in on vocals and guitar added a further dimension to the bands sound. More of him next time please. The packaging is great too as the book is a hoot. This will do nicely to the next Manning album.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Favourite Live Albums 2008

The first overview of the past year starts with a look at some of my favourite live recordings. This may have been headed by the Henry Cow box set, but that looks like it won’t be out till beginning of January.

10. Porcupine Tree ~ We Lost the Skyline
Basically an in-store duo performance with Steven Wilson and John Wesley, re-working some PT material. Pity its only 30-odd minutes long, but nice to hear these songs in a non-standard almost acoustic setting.

9. UK ~ Live In Boston
A Japan only release for this long available bootleg recording. Though the sound here knocks the socks off anything that came before.

8. Spock’s Beard ~Live
Strangely, released barely two years since their last live set, this nevertheless emphatically shows the band at their exciting best. A nice mixture of older and newer material on show.

7. Kansas ~ Two for the Show
Remastered and expanded, this shows the band at their live best. Sony have done a great job here, right down to the packaging.

6. Rush ~ Snakes and Arrows Live
On the back of their best studio album for years, Rush rip through lots of their best material. Soundwise this is much, much better than the noise that was “Rush in Rio”.

5. Magenta ~ Live at the Point
A superbly recorded live album from the brilliant Magenta. Been a really good year for the band.

4. Trettioraga Kriget ~ War Years
This is a fantastic 2CD anthology of live TK through the years. The sound is first class and the performances from this legendary Swedish outfit top notch.

3. Henry Cow ~ Stockholm & Göteberg
A taster for the 9 disc box set which is soon to be with us. This disc shows HC at their formidable best, mixing composed and improvised material. If this is just a small example of what to expect, the full set will be monumental.

2. Pure Reason Revolution ~ Live at Nearfest 2007
With a new studio album at last being released next March, this live recording is a suitable stop gap. “The Dark Third” sounded a bit thin, but on this excellent live recording, the band sound emphatically powerful.

1. David Gilmour ~ Live In Gdansk
Beautifully recorded performance of the “On an Island” album (which is better here than the studio version) plus some great Pink Floyd covers, especially the mighty ‘Echoes’. A more than fitting epitaph for the sadly missed Richard Wright.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hawkwind ~ Spirit of the Age (Anthology 1976 – 1984)

New Esoteric subsidiary label Atomhenge has been set up to re-release all of Hawkwinds post 1976 albums up to 1997, fully remastered with bonus tracks and restored artwork. Those will start to be re-issued early in 2009, but prior to that the label has compiled two 3CD box sets. The first covers the period 1976 to 1984 and the second, titled “The Dream Goes On” covers 1985 to 1997. The “Spirit of the Age” anthology is noteworthy as it covers the successful period when the band were signed to the Charisma label, after being with United Artists since their inception. My favourite albums from the Charisma years were “Quark, Strangeness and Charm” and the excellent “PXR5”. The latter contains some of my favourite post-UA Hawkwind tracks like “Jack of Shadows” and the wonderful ”High Rise”. Listening to this stuff again I had forgotten what an excellent lyricist and vocalist Robert Calvert was. The band at this time sounded on occasion like a post-LSD Roxy Music but there is still no mistaking Dave Brocks riffing and the bubbling synths are trademark Hawkwind.

The remastering on all tracks is by Ben Wiseman from the Audio Archiving Company who has kept things very much at low volume, which is the antithesis to a lot of mastering these days. The 48 page booklet has lots of archival photographs and detailed text by Ian Abrahams who has written a book about the band. This is a superb compilation and suitably illustrates how surprisingly varied Hawkind sounded during the period covered here.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Current Listening ~ 2/12/08

Frost* ~ Experiments in Mass Appeal
Second offering from progs Mr Pop, Jem Godfrey. For me this is even better than the debut. More of a band feel prevails with Declan Burke from the very promising Darwin’s Radio on lead vocals a smart move!

Phil Manzanera ~ Firebird V11
Phil back with his old Quiet Sun mucker, Charles Hayward. This has a very Quiet Sun/Diamond Head feel to it and even a bit of This Heat avant gardness! A great instrumental album with Phil’s guitar suitably treated.

Edensong ~ The Fruit Fallen
A very promising US outfit producing deceptively heavily pastoral type prog. One to watch out for.

Steven Wilson ~ Insurgentes
The mans a genius. No more to be said!

Unitopia ~ The Garden
This is unputdownable. A fantastically rich tapestry of sounds. One of the best of the year!

Big Big Train ~ English Boy Wonders
This early album has been completely re-done and sounds superb as a result. BBG are one of our best bands and more people should know about them.

Hawkwind ~ Spirit Of The Age
This 3 CD box set is the first release on Atomhenge and is a precursor to all of Hawkwinds post 1976 albums being re-released. Given the full Mark Powell treatment this looks and sounds terrific.

Coming soon will be my favourite prog releases of the year. Looks like it may be a Top40 this year! There will also be a re-releases best of and favourite live albums/compilations as well as some other favourite new releases, which fall outside the prog category!
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