Justin’s Top 20 Albums of 2016


justin

A brief note about this list that you’re entitled to skip over.

With the exception of my top three picks (#1-#3), the weight is pretty much equal from #4 through #20.  Frankly, attempting to put apples and oranges in a comparative order of “good” to “best” doesn’t really say a whole lot about the albums themselves.  You can only really compare an album with other albums by the same artist, not with completely different artists who bring entirely different writing to the table.

But that’s, like, just my opinion, man.

Here’s my top 20 of 2016.

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Top 20 of 2016

20. Falling Satellites (Frost*) – A rich third album from Godfrey and Mitchell’s Frost* project, retaining all the dynamic qualities and fascinating compositional elements that make this writing venue so powerful.

Favorite track:

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19. Unsongs (Mothertongue) – A unique collection, this debut studio-length release from the UK-based act blends alternative bitrock with progressive song structures and adds an infusion of brass.

Favorite track:

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18. Theories of Flight (Fates Warning) – The 12th studio record by one of the most influential metal bands since the 80’s, Theories of Flight really resonated with me.  Alder’s voice retains a depth and quality remarkable for 25+ years of working in the metal industry, and the album’s writing retains the powerful, dynamic character of staple albums from the band’s discography.

Favorite track:

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17. Blackstar (David Bowie) – Perhaps not technically prog, but a fascinating and emotive collection of songs – both in terms of their content and context.  One of the most influential figures in the world of music for the last 5 decades left us a profound parting message, written almost literally on his deathbed, and that message is Blackstar.

Favorite track:

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16. Prufrock (Heresy) – A left-field release from a New York-based band that has been largely inactive since the 90’s.  I only just heard this one over the last few weeks and was pleasantly surprised by its quality and rich content.  Any album that can put lines of T. S. Eliot to music, verbatim, without it sounding gimmicky, gets a point in my book anyday!  The album is available on Amazon and iTunes.

Footage of the band live in 1990:

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15. Beneath the Dark Wide Sky (Dream the Electric Sleep) – Artistic rock often gets edged out of the prog arena for “not being prog enough,” but DTES have demonstrated with both 2014’s Heretics and this LP that their writing is mature and complex enough to well be considered progressive.  This one truly resonates.

Favorite track:

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14. Affinity (Haken) – More complex, metal-influenced prog from one of the UK’s best modern acts.  Unfortunately, I didn’t like this record nearly as much as The Mountain, but it still retains all the elements that I love about this band’s writing.  Appropriately, “The Architect” was awarded best prog song of the year by The Prog Report.

Favorite track:

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13. Crimson (Tabula Rasa) – Alternative, art-influenced prog from Miami, Tabula Rasa have now produced two studio-length records that together showcase some of the best overall quality in DIY progressive rock on the market today.  Not only that, but this material is written and produced by some very young, talented people!

Favorite track:

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12. The Unbendable Sleep (Rikard Sjöblom) – Ambient, singer/songwriter music from the frontman of Beardfish and member of Big Big Train, Sjöblom’s The Unbendable Sleep treads paths reminiscent of Jefferson Airplane and Caravan. This record has hooks and presence, possibly trending more in the pop direction than many fans of progressive rock would prefer, but still retaining enough eclectic traits to endear it to those of us who like musical challenges.

Favorite track:

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11. The Fall of Hearts (Katatonia) – Boasting rich vocal work and dark ambience, this 10th studio release from the Swedish metal band continues Renkse and Nyström’s joint exploration into melodic, progressive metal, without compromising their aggressive edge.

Favorite track:

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10. Fragile Times (The Ruble Goldberg Machine) – The debut from a new, London-based Bad Elephant act, Fragile Times is a monument to the influence of Steven Wilson on modern progressive rock.  Employing ambience, technicality, musicianship, and complex instrumentation, this album leaves a memorable footprint in the modern prog scene.

Favorite track:

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9. Profit (The Jelly Jam) – The first concept album from the power trio of Tabor, Myung, and Morgenstein, Profit is a grunge-influenced, hard-rock album about the dangers of groupthink and society’s bloated self-interest.  Memorable and extremely relevant.

Favorite track:

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8. The Invention of Knowledge (Jon Anderson, Roine Stolt)  – Anthemic, grandiose, and philosophical, this record brings together one of classic prog’s greats and one of modern prog’s old souls.  This ambitious record is sweeping and gorgeous, best enjoyed in one sitting.

Favorite track:

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7. Your Wilderness (The Pineapple Thief) – A return to the alternative/progressive style that fans of TPT have been looking for. Pop meets ambience, fleshed out in unusual song structures, Your Wilderness is an outpouring of everything that has made TPT such a memorable prog act.

Favorite track:

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6. Eros & Thanatos (Syndone) – Challenging and multilayered, the sixth studio album from Nik Comoglio’s Turin-based act retains its ELP-influenced sound, and continues to produce bombastic prog without a dedicated guitarist.  This album also featured guest performances by Steve Hackett and Ray Thomas.

Favorite track:

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5. Lighthouse (iamthemorning) – More graceful “chamber prog” with the exquisite, sorrowful atmosphere that has characterized Semkina and Kolyadin’s writing since their debut.  Lighthouse, their third studio release, does much to more firmly establish their musical identity, and also features powerful guest vocals by Mariusz Duda of Riverside.

Favorite track:

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4. The Prelude Implicit (Kansas) – I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who never expected another Kansas record, much less one that recaptured (without rehashing) all the elements of their early years.  Kansas’ first studio record in nearly 16 years is a triumphant resurrection – the return of an old friend that doesn’t feel like an over-the-hill cry for attention.

Favorite track:

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3. DOT (Karmakanic) – DOT is a prolific record, demonstrating yet again that Karmakanic are some of the most talented musicians at work in the prog industry today.  The album’s 24-minute epic, “God, The Universe, and Everything Else Nobody Cares About, Pt. 1” was listed alongside Haken’s “The Architect” as one of the best prog songs of 2016.

Favorite track:

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2. The Similitude of a Dream (Neal Morse Band) – Neal Morse’s newest record, a double-LP clocking in at 100+ minutes, is a magnificent, contemporary interpretation of John Bunyan’s literary classic, “A Pilgrim’s Progress.”  None of Neal’s material is ever truly subpar, but there are certain records that just don’t quite measure up to the truly exceptional releases – such as this one.

Favorite track:

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1. Folklore (Big Big Train) – The most mature BBT release to date, Folklore incorporates all the important elements of balladic prog: story & lyrics, anthemic compositions, and rich instrumentation.

Favorite track:

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HONORABLE MENTIONS:

  • III (Arcade Messiah) – A record I haven’t yet been able to fully digest, but what to me seems the strongest offering in the current trilogy of releases from John Bassett under the Arcade Messiah moniker.
  • A Way You’ll Never Be (John Wesley) – A really solid album with catchy hooks and a strong rock feel from the former guitarist of Porcupine Tree.
  • Do Nothing Until You Hear from Me (The Mute Gods) – A solid debut record with interesting musical elements and a fascinating level of irony, created by the tension between the album’s bright and often uplifting tone and its heavy thematic concepts.
  • Stranger Heads Prevail (Thank You Scientist) – I don’t know what it is about this band.  By every right, I should hate their style.  The heavy ska influence is exactly what made me dislike Knifeworld’s Bottled Out of Eden.  But this one grabbed me just like Maps of Nonexistent Places did back in 2012.  Energetic and rich, this is definitely one to give a few spins.
  • F.E.A.R. (Marillion) – Honorable mention because, although I’ve never really been able to get into Marillion, this album struck me as being quite good.  It didn’t feel like a direct transplant from the 80s, and I wish I’d had more time to spend with it.
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