Another year has flown by, which can only mean it's a good excuse to make a list, as if I needed one, so yer t'is, as we yokels might say.
2014 was a good year for musical strangeitude, and leaving no stone unturned in my unending quest for the new and different, here are my musical highlights of the last 12 months, caught in my tattered net as the ceaseless tsunami of releases surges by. Before you ask "Where's Mordor's Weakness by Richard Volestrangler & The Mutant Discharge?", please bear in mind that even if I had had the assistance and advice of the ghost of John Peel, a man who lived the metaphor "snowed under", I still could not hope to listen to every vaguely progressive album that hits the shelves, virtual or otherwise.
Right then, all these are in highly approximate chronological order, and as ever, my top recommendations are in bold - though they are all worth a listen - and links to my endless blatherings on said platters are present and correct, should you wish to investigate further.
With a few exceptions, rather than slow down this page's loading speed to that of an eerie approximation of the swiftness of David Cameron's thought processes by cluttering this missive with embedded videos, I have created a Spotify playlist that features a track from everything I can find on that platform. For those that are missing, if you're curious head over to the review where you'll find links to YouTube, Bandcamp, etc.
So, sit back, crack open the gravy, load your bong with sprouts and transmutate...or summat!
Susan Clynes - Life Is
A delightful start to this or any other year, jazz chanteuse and pianist Susan Clynes gave us this charming set of highly personal songs.
Peter Hammill & Gary Lucas - Other World
The first of two Hammill releases this year sees Hammill's ongoing preoccupation with the march of time set against the blues-psych guitar of the Magic Band man. A good pairing.
Machine Mass feat. Dave Liebman - Inti
As respected reeds player Dave Liebman put it, this progressive jazz fusion album is "post-everything" and lays a new path for the sometimes tired old genre.
Sand - Sand
AKA Sam Healy from nu-prog wonders North Atlantic Oscillation, here letting his dreampop instincts off the leash, with no little panache.
Billy Bottle & The Multiple - Unrecorded Beam
In with a shout for Album of the Year, this wonderful release has lost none of its magic charms in the ten or so months since I first heard it. All hail the New Canterbury in Devon!
Spoke Of Shadows - Spoke Of Shadows
A Warr guitar class with plenty of soul.
Gazpacho - Demon
The Norwegian wizards weave their dark storytelling magic with the consummate ease you now expect of them. Beguiling.
Jack Bruce - Silver Rails
In what turned out to be his last album, the master bassman leaves us at the top of his game. RIP.
Chat Noir - Elec3Cities
A combination of piano trio jazz and electronica results in a cinematic and emotive album.
Factor Burzaco - 3
Hidden away in Argentina, it is a sad fact that this always surprising band will be largely ignored. The full album is up on YouTube, and is well worth checking out.
Messenger - Illusory Blues
A truly lovely album of acid-folk-prog that succeeds in every way. Marvellous!
Seven Impale - City Of The Sun
OK, it's derivative but it's a blast. No Van der Graaf Generators or King Crimsons were harmed in the making of this album.
Univers Zéro - Phosphorescent Dreams
An album that is nigh on impossible to get hold of at a reasonable price in a physical format outside of Japan may mean it will be overlooked, which is a shame. New boy Antoine Guenet ruffles some feathers with good effect.
Necromonkey - (a glimpse of possible endings)
Sophisticated instrumental progressive rock with a smattering of the more eclectic influences.
Beck - Morning Phase
Lush. Impeccable. Gorgeous. Sad. Redemptive...all in a dream.
Pingvinorkestern - Push
This is fun, first and foremost. No mournful shoegazing allowed.
Tim Bowness - Abandoned Dancehall Dreams
This is what became of the brokenhearted; masterful melancholic soul mining performed as only Tim can. Another contender.
Aquaserge - A L'Amité
The très agréable offspring of Planet Gong and Hatfield & The North gone very wonky.
Jack O'The Clock - Night Loops
Eclectic but not heavy in the slightest, an example of uncategorisable but accessible progressive music making.
Poil - Brossaklit
Punk-jazz and avant chamber music are just two ingredients in this sonic food blender of an album.
Led Bib - The People In your Neighbourhood
"Pigbag played by Gentle Giant" sez moi. That'll do for starters...
Earthling Society - England Have My Bones
Lancashire acid-rock wizards with the second of a declamatory trilogy, issuing forth righteous krautrock'n'roll from their cave lair at mouth of a foul estuary. Possibly.
Tohpati - Tribal Dance
To my ears, the best of the many Indonesian guitarists brought before a larger audience by the intrepid Moonjune label, here with a fine mix of fusion and ethnic stylings. In a word, class.
Rumour Cubes - Appearances of Collections
I haven't just put this here to prove that not everything I listen to is a left-field angular racket, you know! Lovely album, this band are a kind of noisy cousin of North Sea Radio Orchestra. I came to this late, so no review, but you can find it on Bandcamp.
Ut Gret - Ancestors' Tale
Great songwriting combined with an avant-rock sensibility and another of those very good female singers currently plying their trade in the progressive scene over The Pond makes for a fine album that improves every time you hear it.
Matt Stevens - Lucid
Purloining Steven Wilson's "Hardest Working Man In Showbiz" gong from the shoeless one's trophy cabinet while he was having his first snooze in years, Rushden's Finest, aka Matt Stevens found time in his restless schedule to make this highly varied and enjoyable album.
Emmett Elvin - Bloody Marvels
In the singular, it sure is. One of those rare instances that deserves the well-worn adjective "cinematic".
Bob Mould - Beauty & Ruin
A song cycle depicting "a lifetime of emotion in 36 minutes". Probably his most Sugar-like solo record.
Knifeworld - The Unravelling
Another strong contender for album of the year, this kaleidoscopic and sprawling album is a distillation of the unbounded musical ambition of chief Knife Kavus Torabi. I was far too busy to write about this at the time, but my good mate Jez sez it all.
Swans - To Be Kind
Michael Gira continues on his singular declamatory path, funded by the equally intense fervour of his many followers. Cathartic is another of those over-used reviewing adjectives that finds a for once appropriate home.
Sunn O))) & Ulver - Terrestrials
An immovable object is battered by an unstoppable force. The result is atramentous and serene.
Kermit - Litoral
Not half as green as their chosen name, Kermit play space-jazz for the modern age.
Moraine - Groundswell
Consummately skilled and highly individualistic, Groundswell is a place where progressive jazz-rock for the 21st century collides with blistering improv and ethnic influences.
Moe Tar - Entropy Of The Century
Moorea Dickason is a lady who could sing a page of Hansard and make it sound like the most natural pop hook laden lyric ever written. It's pop, Tarek, but not as we know it, and bloody good it is, too!
North Atlantic Oscillation - The Third Day
Shimmering and dazzling. That is all. Another Album of the Year qualifier.
Goat - Commune
Tribal-psych lunacy and quite barking...woof woof...inspired my silliest review of the year.
Trojan Horse - World Turned Upside Down
Ah, it's those "Noisy Prog Bastards" confounding expectations of what "prog" means these days. I'm still convinced Hypocrite's Hymn is at least partly a pisstake!
Cheeto's Magazine - Boiling Fowls
A prog band looking like they're enjoying themselves? Is that allowed? The album is infectious and goofy, and of course, fun!
Robert Plant - Lullaby and...The Ceaseless Roar
A return to form for Percy, no-one does the world music/rock'n'roll face-off as good as this. Not that Band of Joy was bad, far from it.
Scott Walker & Sunn O))) - Soused
Just listen to that croon on Brando...and the spiky guitar...and the cracking bullwhip. Glorious, and almost accessible...almost.
Syd Arthur - Sound Mirror
Great songs and a slightly improved sound on last year's sonically grating debut - see later entry on this list.
Accordo dei Contrari - AdC
Deep eclectic progressive rock music for the connoisseur.
Regal Worm - Neither Use Nor Ornament (A Small Collection Of Big Suites)
The charmingly bonkers Jarrod Gosling returns from a brief sojourn to regale us with more asymmetrical tales of derring-do with titles like Odilon Escapes From The Charcoal Oblivion, But Endeavours To Return And Rescue The Cactus Men. An obscuranist's deelite of a follow up to last year's wonderful and wacky Use And Ornament album.
Kayo Dot - Coffins on Io
No metal here, the chameleon-like Kayo Dot morph into My Bloody Valentine's even moodier nephew.
Flying Lotus - You're Dead
I never imagined I'd be recommending an album with Snoop Dogg on it, but there you go. Inspired by the song suite idea that informs Soft Machine's second album, apart from being imbued with a jazz sensibility this album is nothing like the then emerging Cantabrians, or indeed like anything else at all. A lesson in production techniques as much as muscianship, it is both eclectic and brilliant. Apparently Mr Lotus is Alice Coltrane's grand-nephew which explains a lot. Death never sounded so groovy!
Wrupk Urei - Kõik saab korda
Estonian mekanik spacerock, escaping the yoke of Russian oppression past and present. It's a good laugh, too!
The Mercury Tree - Countenance
The American side of a coin that flips to reveal The Fierce And The Dead. Must be played loud, natch.
The Blue Ship - The Executioner's Lover
This is certainly different. Although originally released in 2013, this year saw its first physical release, on the esteemed Italian label AltrOck. A Kurt Weill-inspired operetta performed by a Scottish chamber-rock collective. it works!
Gong - I See You
Even in his 77th year Daevid Allen can still show folk a third his age how it's done. Last I heard he was recovering from illness - get well soon!
Orchestra of the Upper Atmosphere - O2
Improv with Krautrock and jazz-rock leanings, via Terry Riley, all expertly done. Industrial soundscapes with no meandering.
The Amorphous Androgynous & Syd Arthur - A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble
I have often wondered what Syd Arthur's cluttered and murky self-produced studio sound would turn out like in the hands of a dedicated producer. Well, now we know, sort of! Bloody brilliant, that's what...this is an album's worth of remixes by psych-heads Amorphous Androgynous (aka FSOL) as part of their ongoing A Monstrous Psychedelic Bubble series, and well worth £6.99 of anyone's money (or £15 for the LP version).
Peter Hammill - ...all that might have been...
Less guitar than the last one, perhaps obviously, and heavy on the synthscapes and atmosphere. Look, you can't go wrong with a bit of The Thin Man, now, can you?
Jumble Hole Clough - 202 Days
"No-one releases albums in December" or "December and January are graveyard months for new releases" are two statements of common sense. Sod common sense, eh Colin? December 6th saw this slab of Spartan Space Funk from Hebden Bridge land on my hard drive, and a bloody good job it did, too!
Markus Reuter - 6 Reflections
No-one told Markus Reuter about December either. A sublime set of layered guitars and effects resulting in expertly controlled harmonics and resonance. Another reviewing cliché applies, as these are indeed sonic cathedrals in the sky. The best ambient album I've heard for quite a while.
After all that I have to tell you that my Album of the Year is Beck's Morning Phase. There are many good reasons why this superb album features at the top of, or in the top three of probably every non genre-specific "Best Of" list, and if you have not heard this little beaut you really ought to seek it out.
|You should see her when she's angry...|
Gig of the Year
A Celebration of Lindsay Cooper - The Barbican, London 21st November 2014. Not so much a gig as an event. A truly wonderful occasion.
Flop of the Year
Yes - Heaven & Earth. An album that henceforth will be used as the musical yardstick for a damp squib, or as Mick Farren once succinctly put it "Yes? No." The cover's a tad garish, too, if you ask me.
|The view from the office was most distracting...|
A rather fine stable, run by an East End hard man (heheh...) and home to those Horses otherwise known as the "Noisy Prog Bastards", come on down Bad Elephant Records.
This fine boutique has come up trumps on more than a few occasions this year. I think this is the first time I've given this particular limp banana to a British label. Huzzah!
Track Title of the Year
Research and Destroy from the Rumour Cubes album up there in the list. Heheh...
Bob & Bonio - shut up already...oh...it seems you have.
Mr Fripp has let it be known that there is a "possibility" of a UK gig (or even gigs) for Crim MK8 in September next year, if a "suitable" venue can be found. I won't believe it until I have the tickets in my gnarled and malfunctioning digits.
Endless River was instantly misunderstood even though Gilmour and Mason had been at pains to point out it was not a Pink Floyd album in the fully realised sense. It has grown on me, and it is a fitting tribute to a dignified gent who was treated appallingly by the bass player. Don't go and spoil it by releasing any more previously buried studio noodles, eh?
Facebook - we all moan about it sometimes, but 2014 saw a few more "Friends" being met and hopefully made in the real world, so it certainly still has its plus points. You know who you are and you're all damn fine people!
"Prog" to me continues to simply be an abbreviation of progressive, which may well explain why most of my list is some way removed from "prog" the syle. In an era where everything musical has already been done, progressive music does not necessarily have to push boundaries, but as a minimum requirement it should at least be able to see the boundary on the horizon. It seems to me that prog the style is barely aware that there is a boundary at all, much preferring to stay at home where it's safe and warm, surrounded by mementos of the past, with little threat of anything deviating from the tried and tested.
A fellow blogger reckoned that prog releases were "a bit thin on the ground" in 2014, and if by that he means conservative music for the over 50s that readily displays one or more instantly recognisable musical tropes from the first half of the 1970s, then maybe he is right. Me, I wouldn't know, much less care.
Thanks again for reading my nonsense this year, there's much more where that came from, you lucky people! Have a great Winter Solstice break, see you on the other side.
Best of Years Gone By...