Lee in Limbo’s Big 2013 Album Review Wrap-Up

Lee in Limbo’s Big 2013 Album Review Wrap-Up
Big 2013

tl;dr Version: Not again! No! He cheated! I’m telling you, he promised to finish the old reviews first! A pox on your progeny!

‘Splain, Lucy Version: I’ll cop a plea here. I truly thought I would write more reviews than I ended up doing this year. Frankly, it’s getting harder to make time to do album reviews these days. They do get some readers, so they’re not a total write-off for me. They don’t seem to draw anyone to read my other blog articles, and they never translate to anyone trying my books on for size, but then, I pretty much gave up on that hope a while ago. I still like doing them, but it’s not easy to make time for them these days. So no more promises. I’ll try to get the highlights reviewed as the albums come in, when I can afford to pick them up, or when friends loan me theirs. That’s the best I can do. Now go buy a book, already!

Boring Version: So, I’ve heard a handful of albums that have simply entranced me, and a small pile of others that I either haven’t listened to enough times to decide what I think of them, or heard them once and gave up. The magic number of albums I’ve obtained through one means or another for review purposes is about thirty. There certainly were more albums than that put out this year. I just didn’t have enough time or money to pick them up, and my friends didn’t, either. Well, actually I suspect that one or two of them are holding out on me, but that’s alright; I forgive them. I also didn’t pick up any live albums, not because I don’t like live albums (I love them), but because I’ve made kind of a point off only reviewing studio albums, as they tend to consist of new music, where live albums rarely have more than a jam or medley that justifies owning the album for completists.

So, here are the studio albums of 2013 that I have to review. Should only need one post this year, so that’s good:

THE REVIEWS:
ALTERNATIVE ROCK ALBUMS
Alt Rock 2013

30 Seconds To Mars – Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams: Big, brassy, synth-laden, rhythmically pulsating alt rock with a switch blade edge. I don’t consider myself a fan of 30 Seconds To Mars or Jared Leto in general, but this isn’t an album that fails to grab you by the ears and pull you down into it. Strong words? Okay, how about, ‘this album won’t disappoint anyone who are fans of Fall Out Boy or Muse, and want more of the same’. Fortunately, I am, and it is. Not derivative, mind you. Just cut from the same cloth, only with more synth strings and horns, and choral effects than you get on a Muse album. There’s a dash of Depeche Mode and perhaps a touch of Joy Division/New Order in here (I also hear just a smidgen of industrial texturing from Skinny Puppy, though not the Nivek Ogre vocalizations), but not distractingly so. It’s that alt.synth.dance vibe that succeeds in sounding fresh and yet classic, though the band probably gets most of its energy from the late 90s, like so many bands I hear these days. Nevertheless, a good, solid album with some fresh tones and fine production values. The songs aren’t quite my thing, but they have enough classical edge and theatrical scope to appeal to my Progressive Rock tendencies, though I certainly don’t class them as Progressive Rock. They’re part of that new class of rock bands that are bringing it al together (like Muse). I jokingly refer to it as Progressive Pop when I do it in my own music, but in the context of a band like 30 Seconds to Mars, it’s fresher and edgier. I guess that’s my confused way of saying these guys are good, and this is a great album.

Daft Punk – Random Access Memory: I slotted this under alt rock, despite the fact that it’s really a dance album, and a very, very funky one, at that. I think I did it largely because they utilize so much technology to achieve their sound that it’s not pure funk or disco, and it’s a little too dance-centric for me to class it as a pop album in the vein of Macca or Rod Stewart. Nevertheless, it’s actually incredibly fun and listenable, which most dance music albums utterly fail to be for me. So, well played, Daft Punk. You’ve redeemed yourself in my eyes, which wasn’t an easy thing to achieve after your debut with that irritating song and video from over a decade ago that I still haven’t forgiven you for ear worming my sister with.

Fall Out Boy – Save Rock and Roll: Straight up cool mature ex-emo rockers reunite after what seemed (for me, at least) like about a week long hiatus, and thankfully, they bring the noise. I’ve only played it two or three times, and I still haven’t heard anything on it that catches me in quite the way certain tracks from their previous two albums did (although My Song Knows What You Did In The Dark is coming close), but it’s still a fun album, and sounds great. Plus it has back to back duets featuring Courtney Love (who actually doesn’t disappoint) and Elton John (who clearly has found his creative mojo again, thank goodness). Great album. Welcome back, guys.

Sigur Ros – Kveikur: This is an album I keep putting off checking out, because Sigur Ros has been a bit hit and miss for me over the years. It certainly opens big enough. Crunchy and atmospheric, with evocative vocals, which might be surprising for those (like myself) who weren’t aware that there are vocals in much of Sigur Ros’ work (and some in languages people actually speak). I’m listening to the album for the first time, thinking it’s this strange hybrid of Dream Pop, Shoegaze, Hard Rock and Industrial. The sound is still big, though apparently they’ve stripped down to what my faulty memory tells me is a trio. I’ll look that up in a bit to see if I’ve misremembered. But the point is, it’s heavy, huge, and hard edged. Interesting stuff. Might not be part of your jogging play list, but it’s good music for people who like atmospheric sound tracks with a rock edge.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito: Here is an album that opens with a electric piano and alternately reverberating and then distorted vocals, and that pretty much sets the tone for the album. The band’s trademark pop sensibilities are still in place, but if you’re looking for Maps pt 2, you’re in for a shock. Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been out of rotation on my play list for quite some time, so again, I can’t give them a fair and informed review, but just from listening to the opening track, I can tell you, there’s a fair bit of strychnine in the frosting sugar of Karen O’s deceptively girly voice. They’ve never been a strictly saccharine band, but I confess to not having picked up on how moody and edgy their music truly is. It’s dream dance music with teeth. Not quite my cup of tea, but diverse and respectably artsy, and so it gets props, if nothing else. I’ll have to play it a few more times to see if it sticks.

CLASSIC ROCK ALBUMS
Classic Rock 2013

David Bowie – The Next Day: This is probably one of my top five albums of the year. I wasn’t all that crazy about the first single (Where Are We Now?) when I first saw the video for it, but the album, taken as a whole, is a masterpiece. A real return to form. I loved his last couple of albums before he went on hiatus, but I’ve been yearning for something with a little more teeth, and preferably more even across the board. Even the very best of his albums from the last few decades has been hit and miss, dating right back to Let’s Dance, which for me was an important album at one time, but hasn’t aged well for me. I tend to harken back to his 70s output most, these days, because even the rough numbers were more inventive, over all, although my favourite post-Scary Monsters has to be Outside, the underrated masterpiece. This album is almost as good as that high water mark, and a fair bit more enjoyable on a pure ear candy level. It’s got all of its ducks in a row. Catchy melodies, crunchy textures, twisted compositions and evocative lyrics. All the bases covered, and with considerably more muscle than one might expect from a man approaching his seventh decade. All in all, if I weren’t such a Prog Head, this would probably be my album of the year.

Jimi Hendrix – People, Hell and Angels: Right, so it’s been a number of years since we last had a posthumous release of ‘new’ music by Hendrix, and it took me a number of years to reach the point where such a thing would be anything more than a musical curiosity to me. As it stands, this is an interesting collection of music, particularly given that it’s music that has never seen official release, and thus mines the rich but ever-diminishing supply of original Hendrix material the estate can bank on (as a matter of fact, Eddie Kramer says it’s the last). I don’t mean that to sound cynical. It’s not an album that can be easily dismissed as a cynical cash grab. The music is legitimately good and cool (if occasionally unfinished), though this sort of excavation leads me to wonder if Hendrix himself would have ever released the material presented here, given that he was heading in different directions at the time of his death. It’s a strong indicator that Jimi was even more prolific than we may have previously realized, but it’s easy to imagine how this music didn’t wind up on an official Jimi Hendrix Experience album, simply because it’s largely in a similar vein to the songs we know. Again, that’s not meant as a criticism. Perhaps it is best to say that, sonically, this album is as modern and fresh as any legitimate Hendrix album is ever likely to sound, but if you aren’t already a fan of Jimi Hendrix in any of his incarnations, then this album probably won’t be the one that converts you. Although, as a primer, you could do far worse. As a matter of fact, I take it back; this album might actually be the quintessential primer into the world of Jimi Hendrix for anyone who has been missing the point. It’s a bluesy power trio rock album with solid songwriting sensibilities and a great mix. If the original three tJHE albums (and perhaps the Band of Gypsies album, as well) had sounded this crisp to me when I first heard them, it might not have taken me forty years to get the point myself.

Joe Satriani – Unstoppable Momentum: It appears his work with Chickenfoot may have had some effect on his songwriting, because on this solo album, Joe hits it out of the park. He sounds fresh, with a vitality that (for me, at least) has been missing from his music for a while, due in no small part to the fact that he was fighting the uphill battle with the backlash against classic shred and chops in general that prevailed through much of the 90s and 00s. Ironically, given that the rebirth of Prog has made it safe to play well again, Joe has essentially stripped it down (much like his former protege, Steve Vai), going for a straight up instrumental rock guitar album, albeit without restricting himself to three minute ditties. And it’s all good stuff. I was stuck by how good it was from the first listen. Glad to have you back on top of your game, Joe.

Queens of the Stone Age – Like Clockwork: Just like a rusted old giant clockwork robot that’s had its gears carefully maintained, the reunited QotSA rocks with majesty and grace, refusing to go faster than it needs to, but relentlessly kicking and stomping everything in its path. That’s not to say this is an instant killer album. It’s a little more laid back and requires just a little more listening. It’s clear that experiments like Sound City: Real to Reel and Them Crooked Vultures have left some smudge marks on Josh Homme’s psyche, but this is still discernibly QotSA for 2013. Good stuff. Might not convert anyone new to their music, but I believe it’ll at least get some people off the fence.

Sound City – Real to Reel: Speaking of Real to Reel, here’s a strange idea: write a series of songs for a soundtrack to a documentary about the sound board you recorded the album on. Dave Grohl saves the classic Neve 8078 Board at the old Sound City recording studio, which has fallen on bad times since the days of Fleetwood Mac, Rick Springfield, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and punk grandfathers Fear, amongst many, many others. Dave reunites several artists and the board to record modern music and celebrate the machine that brought them to fame. The songs are good. Some are actually great. They’re all pretty gritty and kickass, and it’s fantastic to hear Rick tear it up, as well as a surprise turn by Paul McCartney with the surviving members of Nirvana, amongst many other highlights. Personally, I would love to hear more such experiments. This isn’t my album of the year, but for original album concepts, this one is hard to beat.

HEAVY ROCK ALBUMS
Heavy 2013

Black Sabbath – 13: Old School Heavy Metal? Check. Moody, brooding, full of menace? Check and check. Ozzy, Tony, Geezer and Bill? Check check, check and… oops, Bill stepped out again (Oh well, it wouldn’t legit if there weren’t still arguments. Maybe next time…). So I guess it must be a Black Sabbath album. For the record, I’m not the biggest Sabbath fan. Never was. I appreciate more than enjoy their work. All that said, this is exactly what a great Sabbath album should sound like. It’s got the power, the dynamics, the changes, the shades of gray. It’s got all the ingredients just right. They all sound fantastic. Where they haven’t always been on top of their game, here they prove that age is no barrier to rocking good and hard. It’s a great metal album. If you’re a fan, I don’t want to hear that you don’t love this album. This is the album Sabbath fans have needed for a very long time. Rejoice.

James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance: James LaBrie, when he breaks free from DT, tends toward the heaviest of Heavy Metal. He tends to dispense with all of the progressive elements that make DT special, and just goes for the heavy performances and the vocal tour de force effect. That said, it’s good metal. Great performances from solid musicians. Just lacks some of the elements that I yearn for when I hear him sing. Still, without solo output, the band would have gotten stale over a decade ago. The tracks have some interesting synth elements and arrangements that don’t sound dated. It’s a good album. Don’t know if it will ever make it into heavy rotation on my play list, but it’s good.

Queensryche – eponymous: This is the band minus Geoff Tate. They found a vocalist capable of filling Geoff Tate’s boots. They found their sound, again. They also found songs worth listening to, which is a nice contrast from the last album or two, which I wasn’t that stoked by. This is a good album. In fact, (referring to the following album) I think it’s the better of the two camps, and I believe I’m in pretty good company on that. I probably didn’t give the previous albums a fair hearing, but really, I gather that what had turned me off was the effect of Geoff exerting excessive control over the writing and production, and the band were losing the plot. I’m gonna stop editorializing. I’m clearly biased. Despite my enjoyment of Geoff’s prior work with the band, the band has been suffering, and here, I’m hearing a resurgence. I’ll wait for their next album to declare them truly free and clear, but this’ll do for starters. Now, let’s look at…

Queensryche – Frequency Unknown: This is Geoff’s new pick up band (and one suspects, his ego) trying to make a Queensryche album and legitimize his claim on the brand. It’s a good, solid heavy metal album. It’s lyrically solid, too. But it sounds very little like classic Queensryche. Some critics have written this album off because Geoff’s voice isn’t as soaring as it used to be, but really, we all get older, so I don’t have problems with voices changing. What I mind is formulaic writing, and that’s what I hear on this album. I do want to hear more from Geoff, but I think two things have to happen before he can truly come into his own. First, he needs to build a real band (studio hot shots don’t cut it, even when they’re great players), and second, he needs to let go of the Queensryche brand, because he simply hasn’t earned it, despite his years and increasing influence over the band in recent times. Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a bad album. Not at all. It’s just not the winner. It feels like a carefully assembled jigsaw puzzle of hard rock and heavy metal styles to demonstrate Geoff’s breadth and flexibility as a writer and vocalist, but it lacks cohesion. It also doesn’t stick in my brain the way the other album does. Maybe a few more listens… but I already know I like the self-titled Queensryche album made by the remaining band, so Geoff’s probably out of luck there, too.

The Winery Dogs – eponymous: Billy Sheehan and Mike Portnoy backing Ritchie Kotzen, in a proper honest to goodness power trio just like Mama used to make. It does exactly what it says on the tin: great guitars, phenomenal drums and incredible bass playing, all locked in and dialed to eleven. It has all of the elements you would expect from such a line-up, including great harmonies and pitch perfect performances on some really solid hard rock songs with really good lyrics, to boot. It’s easy to imagine why these three are so excited about this project. I hope they do more. But until they do, this will do quite nicely.

JAZZ/FUSION ALBUMS
Jazz Fusion 2013

Hugh Laurie – Didn’t It Rain?: More of a traditional Blues/Torch Song album than a proper Jazz record, I classed it here simply because Hugh’s album doesn’t really fit anywhere else in my categorization list, and I’m not going to make up a new banner for just one album. It fits Jazz in the same way that Diana Krall’s album last year did, in that a slightly jazzy musician renders some (in this case) classic/obscure torch song material with a great ensemble. The tone of the album is largely pretty downbeat, at least lyrically, but the music is warm and feisty, so don’t let the darker hues of true Blues spoil your appetite.

Levin Minnemann Rudess – eponymous: I was completely sideswiped by this record, and have only previously listened to it briefly, but with a pedigree like this, you can safely bet that musicianship and experimentation is to the fore, here. What might be less obvious is what kind of song craft is on display here. The answer would seem to be that there was a great deal of improvisation involved, even though I am lead to believe that Marco in particular did a fair bit of composition at home before bringing pieces to the band (I won’t rule out that Tony and Jordan had a lot to do with the writing as well; I just haven’t read anything to that effect; this album definitely bears some small sonic resemblance to Tony Levin’s previous power trio outing with Torn/Levin/White, and a little with his previous work with Jordan Rudess in Liquid Tension, as well). One thing I will say is that this is very little like anything else I’ve ever heard, though it has certain King Crimson, Frank Zappa and, surprisingly, Primus fingerprints, and some Porcupine Tree flavour as well. Mostly instrumental, it’s really a very eclectic album, but it sounds fantastic and doesn’t fail to excite. Over all, I haven’t played the album enough times for it to get into my head, but having carefully listened to it for this review, I can fairly safely say that it will make it into greater rotation from here on out.

POP ALBUMS
Pop 2013

Barenaked Ladies – Grinning Streak: After the tour de force that was All In Good Time, it might be fair to say that anyone expecting more of the same intensity should be disappointed. However, I think Grinning Streak, far from a phone-in, is a mature rendering of what BNL is and should sound like three years on from the departure of co-founder Steven Page. Almost all of the tunes are penned by Ed Robertson, but it’s a very diverse, eclectic mix of tunes, and some very strong song smithing, at that. Odds are, if you listen to this album, you’ll find something on it that stirs you and makes you smile, or at least tap your toes. Not precisely a career high, but nothing like the nadir a few self-important reviewers I read tried to portray this as. It’s a mature effort, but a fun one. If their previous album was the eulogy and the wake, this is life continuing on the day after. Respect.

City and Colour – The Hurry and the Harm: I’ve been putting off listening to this album simply because I knew this album wouldn’t be precisely what I was looking for, but finally cracking it open to listen to, I’m struck by what a nice, warm, varied album of alt-tinged pop music it is. I haven’t really dug into Alexisonfire, either, so I have little frame of reference for Dallas’ work. However, it’s a warm, intelligent track that greets us as the album starts, and it continues from that place. I’m embarrassed to have waited this long to try it out. It’s not breaking any records for me, but it’s good. Really quite good.

Elton John – The Diving Board: A stirring album of piano rock tunes and ballads by the man who helped pioneer the formula. Stripped bare of the artifice of his post-70s career and reduced to just piano, drums, bass, guitar and voice, as well as some of Bernie’s sharpest lyrics in ages, and the occasional instrumental vignette thrown in for good measure, it has the feel of a concept album without the weighty pretensions to smother every track. A fine album. Quite possibly the strongest thing he’s done in decades, and that’s saying something after the last two albums (The Captain and the Kid, and The Union with Leon Russell), which I rather liked.

Paul McCartney – New: Macca opens fire on Save Us and just rolls right through the numbers. It’s an energetic, varied album that continues on from where the last few albums (Driving Rain/Chaos and Creation in the Backyard/Memory Almost Full), came from sonically and thematically, but it’s fresh enough not to feel like he is just leaning on the successes that have kept him touring over the last decade. He also isn’t borrowing too much sonically from his back catalogue, which is a nice bonus for those of us who liked but were a little concerned about his over-reliance on nostalgia to sell particularly Chaos and Creation. I don’t mean that as a critique. I love his recent work in a way that his 90s output didn’t really achieve for me, and much of his 80s output has lost its grip on me (except Press To Play, which never seems to lose its creative impact). As a matter of fact, I think that’s probably what I like most about this album: It feels like a spiritual successor to his solo highlights, without simply aping himself. Not a mere pop confection, and that works for me. (NOTE: Ben Greenman, writing for the New Yorker, basically did a backhanded character assassination disguised as an album review, and for that I say, fuck you very much, Ben. Don’t know how long you’ve been at this music critic thing, but I suspect you’ve stayed too long. Go write something of value, now.)

Rod Stewart – Time: This is largely a warm, engaging album of Celtic-tinged, soulful classic rock and roll, very much in the vein of his early-to-mid 70s solo output. It’s all songs that seem to be autobiographical in nature. There’s fiddle and Hammond organ and harmonica and guitars and drums and backing vocals. It’s a very retro feeling album, produced, of course, with modern technology, so of course it sounds gorgeous. There is also some dance/disco type stuff in here, though the balance is pretty heavily on the classic roots rock. It’s best to say this is sort of a career retrospective. You should be able to figure out from that if you’re the type who can groove and rock with Rod. It’s the best album he’s recorded in a long time, by my reckoning.

Sting – The Last Ship: Sting decides once more to turn left, and gives us a Celtic Rock concept album, or perhaps more accurately, a Celtic Rock Opera. Truly an achievement worth checking out. It’s also a good album. Don’t give it a pass unless you really, really had your heart set on a Police reunion album, because this most emphatically it is not. It’s also not a continuation of his pop album series, though lyrically, it tips its hat a few times to his album The Soul Cages, which leads me to believe he is trying to tell stories from his parents’ world, growing up in the shipyards and watching as the work slowly drains away. It’s a lovely album, but not really for anyone looking for raging art rock or precision pop. I think it’s his most thoughtful work in years, however, and very stirring, as well.

PROGRESSIVE ROCK ALBUMS
Prog Rock 2013

Big Big Train – English Electric: Full Power: Okay, full disclosure: this is one of my top three albums of the year. I waited and waited for the completed version with all of the tracks in sequence to be released before finally buying my own copy (streaming from Bandcamp was getting old), and believe me, it’s worth every penny. Big Big Train has this incredible knack for taking classic prog and freshening it up without losing the serial numbers. You know you’re hearing Genesis and Yes and other classic prog quotes, but it’s not derivative. I know, that sounds like a contradiction. It’s a contradiction I’ve been struggling with since I discovered them. Where other modern prog bands I love (like Carptree or middle-period Porcupine Tree) have deliberately attempted to change up the entire sonic pallet while retaining some of the bombast and the compositional exploration, BBT makes bad ass Classic Prog, and they do it so well, it just clicks. The only other modern prog bands I’ve heard who seem to get it on that level are Transatlantic and The Flower Kings (both of whom are still working and are coming into something of a renaissance with the advent of the return of Prog). However, where those bands have the distinctive stylings of their main composers (Neal Morse and Roine Stolt, respectively), this band has Greg Spawton, Andy Poole, and newish vocalist/flautist Dave Langdon all contributing great material, with the auxilliary team of Dave Gregory (ex-XTC) on guitars, Nick D’Virgilio (ex-Spock’s Beard and Genesis, and playing better than ever, for my money) on drums and backing vocals, and Danny Manners on keys. This is an incredible band, and this album is the finest thing they’ve yet recorded. It stands head and hands above nine tenths of the pack. If not for Sound of Contact and Lifesigns, this album would be an easy win for the top spot on my list. Damn you, SoC and Lifesigns!!! *Shakes fist comically*

Cosmograf – The Man Left In Space: This is another new band for me, and I’m listening to the album as I write this. The gist of it is, they’ve got some classic prog sounds in the mix, and sonically, they bear a fair resemblance to Porcupine Tree, but they don’t suffer in the ingenuity department. The songs and the concept album (this IS a concept album, though I’ll have to play it a few more times to get the story sorted out) are solid and intelligent, with enough hooks and twists to keep from getting bogged down in the relatively moody, atmospheric numbers, of which there are several. I don’t know if I’d say it’s the most cutting edge music I’ve heard from a relatively new prog band, but it’s solid and enjoyable. Keep an ear out for them.

Dream Theater – eponymous: The second DT album to feature Mike Mangini on the drum throne, and the first to integrate him into the songwriting team, it’s a very solid progressive metal album, heavy on the prog, with another twisted epic piece to close the album with. Not my favourite album of the year by any stretch, but very good, and not quite as predictable as the previous album, which I claimed at the time sounded very much like Dream Theater making a Dream Theater album to reassure DT fans that they aren’t dead without Mike Portnoy. This album may not be quite as brilliant as some of their past efforts, but ably confirms that they aren’t lost yet. I find myself looking forward to their next album.

Edenbridge – The Bonding: This is a new band for me, and so I ask to be forgiven for not being able to compare their work to past efforts. I’ve only spun the disc twice, but it’s quite lovely, if you like an accented female vocalist (think Agnetha Faltskog, the blonde from ABBA) singing with a fairly theatrical prog metal, approaching operatic without the unnecessary trills (I dread vocal vibrato, I must confess). The band is fairly standard prog metal a la Symphony X or Dream Theater, and the male vocal harmonies tend to alternate between death metal growling and all male choir, but musically, they’re quite good, if predictable. Anyway, it’s a very nice album, though it doesn’t break much new ground for me. Not a waste, by any stretch of the imagination. They’re good. Just not my idea of top shelf. I’ll keep an eye on them, though.

Fish – A Feast of Consequences: Veteran songwriter and former vocalist of 80’s-era Marillion, Derek Dick, aka Fish, has been something of an enigma, recording album after album in growing obscurity and critical abandonment. However, the tide may be turning at last for this man, whose voice isn’t so mellifluous or constant as it once was, but what he’s lost in flexibility he more than makes up for in soulful delivery. I haven’t been the most ardent fan of his solo output, unfairly skipping over much of his catalogue in recent times, but I’m happy to say that, while A Feast isn’t the most progressive of prog rock albums, it’s definitely a fine and soulful effort, perhaps proving that the man still has a few things to say worth hearing. I’ve read a few unflattering reviews of this album around the internet, but I for one think it’s well worth trying, whether you’re a classic Fish fan, or perhaps especially if you’re a new listener looking for something accessible and yet moody, with enough atmosphere to satisfy anyone looking for a strong thematic album.

Lifesigns – eponymous: I wrote a review of this album earlier in the year, and managed to mix up the names of two out of three band mates (even though I was sure I was doing it wrong), but it bears repeating: this is a great neo-classical prog album, with lots of 80s synth sounds to freshen up the mix, and plenty of chops on display without ever sacrificing the primacy of the songs. A great new supergroup, and I truly hope we hear more from them soon.

Sound of Contact – Dimensionaut: This is an incredible neo-prog debut album for the new band headed by Simon Collins, son of Phil Collins, and his keyboard-toting partner Dave Kerzner. Starting a new band and making it a prog band effort is achievement enough for me, but deciding to write and execute a full-blown concept album for your first official effort is amazing. That it’s also one of the best albums I’ve heard this year is nothing short of miraculous. I can’t recommend this album enough.

Spock’s Beard – Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep: So as some may know, Nick D’Virgilio, drummer and more recently lead singer, has left the band, and they have replaced him with his live drummer and a new vocalist with a remarkably Steve Perryish range and tone, which, surprisingly enough, is a good fit for this album’s songs. We also see a slight return of Neal Morse, at least in songwriting position. However, we also see an increased presence of outside songwriters. Fortunately, these writers seem to be in sync with the band, and none of the songs feel like they could have been written for any band and are merely strapped into place to fill out the album. All in all, a very enjoyable classic-meets-neo prog album.

The Flower Kings – Desolation Rose: This is classic Flower Kings, spiritual and philosophical leanings on full display, but lyrically held in check. The jazz fusion experiments that made a large dent in their catalogue of the last decade seem to have largely been set aside, as they harken back to their classic-prog-meets-90s-neo-prog aesthetic that made them famous. I don’t like sticking any band in a box, and approve any change to a band music formula that is threatening to become a parody of itself, but it’s nice to hear memorable melodies, solid harmonies and pleasing arrangements again. Glad to have you back on my playlist, Roine.

SUMMARY
Well, I may not have heard everything put out this year, and I may not have liked everything I heard, either. But at least 2013 didn’t disappoint. Far from it, in fact. Some of the best music I’ve heard in decades was recorded and put out this year. If 2014 can continue this trend, it’ll be an incredible year. Here’s hoping…

© 2013 Lee Edward McIlmoyle

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