Justin’s Top 25 of 2017


albums (1)Two thousand seventeen was somewhat of a light year for me in terms of album reviews, but it was a much more full year in terms of life change, so I can definitely attribute some of my album selections on this list to pieces that particularly resonated with me where I was during various phases of 2017.  Regardless, each of these is a new personal library staple that I’m sure will only continue to grow on me the more I listen.

With the exception of my top 5, these selections aren’t really weighted all that much – they’re simply on my list of best overall releases for the year, roughly organized based on my rating.  There are a few albums included here that are decidedly non-prog, and I don’t particularly feel the need to defend those selections: Each boasts a depth of writing that sets it apart and enables it to stand up on its own.

Here’s to a great year of new music in 2018!

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25. “On Track” – Damanek (7.5/10)

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With strong jazz and funk flavors, this debut release from the UK is a solid collection of well-written tunes, boasting great musicianship and huge potential.

Favorite track on Spotify

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24. “Le Survivant” – Orion (7.5/10)

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A concept album dealing in social, environmental, and political tones, this fourth studio release from Narbonne-based Orion surprised me with its depth of songwriting.  Le Survivant was yet another 2017 album that challenged me to decide on an overall favorite piece: the instrumental jazz fusion tune “Cumulostratus” and the dynamic piece “Le Dernier Arbre” both gave “Big Bang” a run for its money.

Favorite track: 

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23. “Kettlespider” – Kettlespider (7.5/10)

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Featuring high-energy instrumental prog, this self-titled, DIY release is the sophomore album from the Melbourne-based act.  There’s a lot to like here and a lot to look forward to in subsequent releases if you have a taste for stacked guitars and keys.

FAVORITE TRACK:

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22. “44 Minutes” – Millenium (7.5/10)

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The material on 44 Minutes (which, discounting its bonus track, is the actual runtime for the album) incorporates elements of balladic metal, atmospheric soul, jazz, and even sound sampling for its thematically heavy compositions.  Neo-prog isn’t typically my favorite, but this album represents that sub-genre at its best.

Favorite track on Spotify

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21. “Music For People in Trouble” – Susanne Sundfør (8/10)

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Both haunting and soothing at the same time, this is a fantastic album of gentle refrains, ambient textures, and pensive lyrics.  I keep coming back to this one.  Susanne’s fifth studio release, Music for People in Trouble debuted at number one on the Norwegian album charts and has earned considerable acclaim.

Favorite track:

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20. “Quitara” – Johannes Luley (8/10)

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This is an album full of explosive instrumental tracks, richly melodic and inventive with varying dynamics, styles, and instrumentation.  Too often, instrumental albums meander without focus, but Luley’s instruments lead with purpose and tell gripping, wordless stories.

Favorite track:

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19. “Heat” – Lion Shepherd (8/10)

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Middle-Eastern vibes abound in this great anthemic release from a relatively new Polish act.  Lion Shepherd spent much of 2017 touring alongside Riverside, fronting this great sophomore album throughout Europe.  I first covered HEAT in a Triple Feature, and it ended up grabbing my attention more thoroughly than I’d expected.

Favorite track:

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18. “Faced With Rage” – Godsticks (8/10)

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A hard-hitting collection, best heard dialed up to 11, Faced With Rage is an album that explores heavy themes of victimization, vengeance, and justice.  Appropriate for the subject matter and characteristic of the band, this record features grinding, deeply metal-influenced writing, and doesn’t let off the gas until its conclusion.

Favorite track:

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17. “The Big Dream” – Lonely Robot (8/10)

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The second album in a projected trio of loose conceptual releases, The Big Dream focuses on the heavy themes of isolation and alienation, picking up the threads of 2015’s Please Come Home.  This is such a bombastic album: big guitars and vocals, strong arrangements and layered textures, and powerful storytelling are just some of the things I really like about John Mitchell’s writing.

Favorite track:

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16. “The Second Brightest Star” – Big Big Train (8/10)

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The third installment in another trilogy of releases, this release is best heard in context with its sister pieces, as much of its content reprises, answers, or compliments content from both Folklore and Grimspound (in fact, the album derives its title from a lyric in Grimspound’s title track).  Overall, this is a softer record with emphasis on strings and keys throughout.

Favorite track: 

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15. “Voids” – Minus the Bear (8/10)

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The sixth studio release from Seattle-based art rock quartet, this album is characteristically frenetic and ambitious, full of vocal and instrumental hooks.  With stellar tracks such as “Give & Take,” “Invisible,” and “What About the Boat?” there truly isn’t a weak song on this album.

Favorite track: 

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14. “Fractured” – Lunatic Soul (8/10)

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This project of Mariusz Duda’s (Riverside) reaches the decade mark in 2018, now boasting five stellar releases that range from dark and brooding to light, dynamic, and emotive.  Fractured is a fantastic release with new depths to discover with each listen.

Favorite track:

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13. “Forever Comes to an End” – Bjorn Riis (8.5/10)

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An album that carries vibes of Steven Wilson, Anathema, and Bjorn’s own Airbag project, Forever Comes to an End is a highly emotional experience, full of dynamic and ethereal compositions that truly resonate.

Favorite track: 

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12. “In the Passing Light of Day” – Pain of Salvation (8.5/10)

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A powerful return to a heavier, more classic sound for the band, this album is altogether gritty, raw, and characteristically intimate.  Gildenlöw’s balladic writing on this album is done with mere skeletons of instrumentation: the production carefully isolates individual voices and instruments for striking clarity, and then adds flesh to the bones at appropriate moments for dynamic intensity.

Favorite track: 

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11. “CTRL-Z” – Life in 24 Frames (8.5/10)

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This art-rock concept album clearly demonstrates its modern west-coast influences with its dreamlike, atmospheric vibes.  Each of CTRL-Z’s twelve tracks is named for the months of the year, and each is equally transporting.  This record also gets my vote for coolest album art of the year.

Favorite track:

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10. “Remedies” – Soup (8.5/10)

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Some of the most emotive music I have ever heard has come from the pen and voice of Erlend Viken.  Remedies is yet another raw outpouring of the soul, plumbing the depths of human experience and sounding gorgeous in the process.

Favorite track:

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9. “Songs of Experience” – U2 (8.5/10)

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A companion piece to 2014’s surprise album drop, Songs of Innocence, this album incorporates many of the classic flavors and raw poignancy that made U2 such a mainstream success and inspired so many acts to take to the stage.  This album is a culmination of all eras of U2 – 80‘s drive, 90‘s guitar riffs, and 00‘s song structures – and also forges into new territories.

Favorite track:

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8. “Syndenes Magi” – Arabs in Aspic (8.5/10)

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Psychedelic and funky, this is another quality release from a Norwegian band with a flair for 70’s-style prog and acid rock. This record is three tracks and 43-minutes long, and all kinds of awesome.

Favorite track:

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7. Malina – Leprous (8.5/10)

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Technical progressive metal with powerful vocal work, this record is a delight from one end to the other – so much so that I had a really hard time choosing just one favorite track over such awesome pieces as “From the Flame,” “Captive,” and “Illuminate.”

Favorite track:

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6. The Optimist – Anathema (9/10)

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I have loved the absolute wall of orchestral sound that defines Anathema compositions ever since my introduction to the band with 2012’s Weather Systems.  As their 11th studio release, The Optimist represents a powerful culmination of everything that makes this band so phenomenal: creative song structures, musicianship and cohesiveness, and soaring arrangements.

Favorite track: 

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5. “Detachment” – Barock Project (9/10)

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An extended sophomore album with rich instrumentation and creative songwriting, Detachment is a strong follow-up to the band’s debut (2015‘s Skyline) and a reassuring statement following the amicable departure of the band’s former lead singer, Luca Pancaldi.  Barock Project’s material consistently strikes me as the work of virtuosos — excellently crafted and orchestrated, stunningly performed.

Favorite track: 

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4. “Grimspound” – Big Big Train (9/10)

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The second installment in a trio of studio-length releases (beginning with 2016’s Folklore, culminating with The Second Brightest Star), this dynamic album expands upon themes from its predecessor and points forward to the final installment as well.  Too many great pieces find a voice on this release for me to truly pick an overall favorite: the hooks of “Brave Captain” and “Experimental Gentlemen” are both eternally stuck in my subconscious; “Meadowlands” is a gorgeous, all-too-short piece of pastoral writing; and “The Ivy Gate” is vintage BBT, everything I love about this band encapsulated in a single composition.

Favorite track: 

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3. “The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery (Where Do We Draw the Line Now?)” – The Tangent (9/10)

A wonderfully crafted album with post-apocalyptic themes and intimate details, this album does wonderful storytelling and boasts an orchestral structure.  Tillison’s writing is mature lyrically and musically: vocals and instruments are strong and well-used throughout, with impeccable orchestrations and dynamics.  This is another album in this list that’s still vying for my overall favorite.

Favorite track:

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2. “From Silence to Somewhere” – Wobbler (9/10)

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Norwegian prog with an organic sound and classic prog influences, Wobbler’s fourth studio release finished 2017 at the top of the Progarchives list, and it nearly grabbed number 1 on mine as well.  This album is rich in lyrical content, and its music maintains a careful balance between vintage sound and modern feel.

Favorite track:

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1. “Land Animal” – Bent Knee (9.5/10)

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Another spine-tingling release of strange conceptual material, audacious musical themes, and helter-skelter syncopation, this album at once haunts me and moves me.  No other 2017 release has stuck with me quite like this one has.  Land Animal boasts a level of musicianship and creativity that give it a unique voice in the modern progressive music scene.

Favorite track:

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