Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Music of 2015

And so another year slowly reaches its climax, and here again is my look back at the music (mainly, though not exclusively, Progressive Rock) that has entertained and delighted me over the past 12 months. As with the last three years, this has been another wonderful year - we are living in a very creative time for progressive music at the moment, and making my selection has not been easy.

Before I run through my Top 20 albums of the year (and another 18 that I thought to be of particular note), a few other categories:

Live Albums
Three live recordings have really stood out to me, all of them quite brilliant.
3. Anubis - Behind our Eyes (Live 2014): some great prog from the Aussie boys
2. Lifesigns - Live in London-Under the Bridge: long-awaited, but worth it!
1. Snarky Puppy - Sylva: always recorded live, and always outstanding.

Discoveries of the Year
Acts that I've only become aware of in the past 12 months, that have really stood out.
3. The Room - although their debut appeared in 2012, it's only this year that I've discovered their melodic, catchy music. A great band live, and their sophomore effort 'Beyond the Gates of Bedlam' takes them a step further to recognition they richly deserve.
2. Louise Le May - A beautiful voice singing equally enthralling songs, Louise's voice reminds me in places of Judy Dyble. This folky delight needs to be heard wider, I think.
1. Tiger Moth Tales - Has I delayed my year-end list in 2014 for a further week, then Peter Jones' debut, 'Cocoon', with its evocations of childhood, would've featured highly. Since then, he has been almost prolific, producing his second album in the space of 4 weeks, as well as a collection of Genesis covers and a number of live shows. Here is a true talent.

Gigs of the Year
I've managed to get to a few shows this year: here are my Top 10, in no particular order except for the top 3
Abel Ganz & The Room @ CRS, Maltby
Cloud Atlas & Lifesigns @ Fibbers, York
The Enid @ Holy Trinity Church, Leeds
Fish & Lazuli @ Sheffield City Hall
Steve Hackett @ Leeds Town Hall
Lazuli & Alan Reed @ CRS, Maltby
Howard Sinclair & Heidi Widdop @ Wesley Hall Crookes, Sheffield

3. An Evening with Andy Tillison  @ Wesley Hall Crookes, Sheffield - a wonderfully intimate evening with Andy playing pieces from his Tangent, Po90 and solo material as well as some excellent improvisations and great banter
2. Steven Wilson @ Bridgewater Hall, Manchester - a quite simply stunning show on the Hand.Cannot. Erase tour: visually and aurally mind-blowing
1. Big Big Train @ King's Place, London - a show so good I attended the following night as well! Exquisite music played to perfection by an octet at the top of their game (and such a wonderful bunch of people too!)

And so to my favourite albums of 2015. But before I count down, I must mention a couple of EPs from the year: Big Big Train released 'Wassail' from their forthcoming 'Folklore' album alongside a couple of new tracks, 'Lost Rivers of London' and 'Mudlarks', and a live in the studio rendition of 'Master James of St George' from 'The Underfall Yard'; and David Longdon, along with Christina Booth & Rob Reed from Magenta, Nicks Beggs & D'Virgilio and Steve Hackett produced a wonderful new version of 'Spectral Mornings' with lyrics written by David. Both of these EPs were outstanding in their own particular ways and, although not full albums, merited mention in this year-end review.

Bubbling under the top twenty, in alphabetical order :
Alco Frisbas - Alco Frisbas
Anekdoten - Until All The Ghosts Are Gone
Beardfish - +4626-Comfortzone
Comedy of Errors - Spirit
The Enid - The Bridge
David Gilmour - Rattle That Lock
Grand Tour - Heavy On The Beach
Steve Hackett - Wolflight
Iron Maiden - The Book Of Souls
IZZ - Everlasting Instant
Karfagen - 7
Dave Kerzner - New World (Deluxe Edition)
Mew - +-
Mystery - Delusion Rain
Public Service Broadcasting - The Race For Space
Tom Slatter - Fit The Fourth
The Unthanks - Mount The Air
We Are Kin - Pandora

The Top 20
20. Unified Past - Shifting The Equilibrium
19. Nad Sylvan - Courting The Widow
18. Lonely Robot - Please Come Home
17. Built For The Future - Chasing Light
16. 3RDegree - Ones & Zeros
15. Riverside - Love, Fear & The Time Machine
14. The Room - Beyond The Gates Of Bedlam
13. Pasajero Luminoso - Afuerino
12. Karnataka - Secrets Of Angels
11. Louise Le May - A Tale Untold
10. Advent - Silent Sentinel
 9. Thieves' Kitchen - The Clockwork Universe
 8. John McLaughlin - Black Light
 7. Perfect Beings - II
 6. Snarky Puppy - Sylva

 5. echolyn - I Hear You Listening
     Another quite brilliant set of songs from this US group, a fitting follow-up to their eponymous 2012 offering
 4. Tiger Moth Tales - Storytellers Part 1
     Great musicianship, story-telling, and humour from the talented Peter Jones, and all written & recorded in a month!
 3. Theo Travis' Double Talk - Transgression
     Some exceptional jazz from the multi-instrumental maestro and his friends
 2. Steven Wilson - Hand.Cannot.Erase
     A haunting piece, full of musical dexterity and harrowing stories. Definitely on a par with 'The Raven Who Refused To Sing'.

 1. The Tangent - A Spark In The Aether
      An album that grabbed me on first listen and hasn't let me go all year. Andy Tillison has gathered a magnificent band of musicians around his own outstanding talent to give us a collection of songs full of energy, wit and imagination. From the excitement of the opening title track, the nostalgia of 'Codpieces and Capes', the dreaming of 'Clearing the Attic', the evocation of 'Aftereugene', and the aural pilgrimage of 'The Celluloid Road', this is a group of songs that take you on a journey of discovery and adventure. Quite simply brilliant.

(And yes, I have noticed that Theo Travis plays on the top 3 albums)

So there you have it: my 2015 in music. 2016 already has some great treats in store: here's to another epic year!