Wednesday, July 8, 2009

94. The Beatles- Rubber Soul

I'm going to keep this one short since I already talked about how important the Beatles are to my experience as a music listener. Rubber Soul is a very special album because it is a perfect bridge between the poppier early Beatles and the experimental later Beatles. Every song here is a classic and I love how the album flows seamlessly from track to track. I can't pin down exactly what it is, but this album has a very specific spirit to it, and each track embodies that spirit perfectly. This album has it all: beautiful harmonies and brilliant songwriting and arranging. This album reminds me of my childhood, and for that very reason, I simply couldn't resist putting it on my list. An essential Beatles album.

95. Genesis- Trick of the Tail

“Trick of the Tail” is the first Genesis album after Peter Gabriel left the band following their masterpiece “The Lamb Lie Down On Broadway”. Genesis have a very special place in my heart because they are one of the first four prog bands that I ever heard (the others being Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd and Yes). My dad is a huge fan of Genesis and is the one who introduced me to them and it was a magical experience. He mainly focused on the Peter Gabriel Genesis albums (which I will get to in later entries) and I discovered the Phil Collins Genesis albums later. Trick of the Tail is solid proof that Genesis was more than capable of carrying on without Peter Gabriel (much like Spock’s Beard carrying on without Neal Morse). Phil Collins does an excellent job of taking the role of front man and singer. This album has a really positive mood about it and it always makes me happy when I listen to it.

There are several standout tracks here. The opener, Dance on a Volcano, is excellent and sounds in many ways like classic Genesis. It is hard rocking and shows that Phil Collins has chops as a drummer (which many people don’t know). Entangled is a beautiful ballad that showcases the talents of Steve Hackett on guitar. I really love Mad Man Moon which is a showcase for keyboardist Tony Banks, who proves that he is a virtuoso at his instrument. Also, the closer, Los Endos, is excellent in how it brings the whole band together to revisit the themes of the whole album in an explosive instrumental track. I really do love this album—it still sounds fresh even 30 years later and really makes me feel good when I listen to it. The mark of a masterpiece of music is one that connects with the listener emotionally, and this album definitely does.

Monday, July 6, 2009

96. Agents of Mercy- The Fading Ghosts of Twillight

This is a very recent album, in fact I reviewed it not too long ago on this blog. I'll just copy and paste some of the things I said before in my review about why I love this album so much:

"I love this album! It is simply beautiful. It has grown on me through repeated listens, and now I really have a great appreciation for each song. First, a small background on the album, it is mainly the brainchild of one of my favorite prog musicians of all time: Roine Stolt. His signature sound is all over this album. Another notable feature of this album is the singing of Nad Sylvan. I'll admit, his voice took me a little getting used to, but once I did, it really enhanced the music. His voice is a cool cross between Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and Fish- 3 of my favorite singers. He has a lot of character in his voice that really comes out in the compositions of this album.

The album is a little more laid back than your average prog album, but I love it that way. It gives the album a really cool mood that is consistent throughout. And, don't be misled, there are moments when it rocks hard. It is a brilliant combination of classic Genesis, Beatles, and the signature Flower Kings sound that comes with Roine Stolt's songwriting. It makes for a rather enjoyable listen that I just can't get enough of. It has stayed in the CD player in my car since it was released and has been a joy to listen to.

....As you can tell, I'm having a difficult time really putting my feelings for this album into words. I really love the laid back mood of the album, a great soundtrack to spring and summer. There is a lot of great acoustic moments, which makes sense since Roine Stolt originally intended for this album to be an acoustic solo album. But, there are also a lot of great prog moments that really call back Genesis at their best. Nad Sylvan also has managed to really capture the mood of this piece with his vocals."

Conclusion: This is an incredible album that is a throwback to late Beatles and early Genesis. Roine Stolt is a master at what he does and this is no exception.

97. Michael Jackson- Thriller

I consider this album to be a perfect pop record. Michael Jackson was a genius at what he did. He was a brilliant performer and produced some of the greatest modern pop music during the eighties and early nineties. He had a huge, important impact on music as we know it and truly deserves the title "King of Pop". Unfortunately, towards the end of his life, the controversies he was involved in seemed to dominate the attention placed towards him. But, that shouldn't be allowed to take away from the brilliance of what he did for music and for the performing arts.

This album contains many hits of which Jackson is well known for, including: Billie Jean, Beat It, and Thriller among many others. The songs have an appealing funk to them which makes them great to dance to. He even infuses some rock, especially on Beat It. I think Billie Jean is a perfect pop song, it has a catchy chorus and engaging verses. It is truly a brilliant song. I also have a special place in my heart for P.Y.T. which I think is a great song that has a great groove to it. Thriller is a huge accomplishment for Michael Jackson who was relatively young when it first came out. It really has nothing to do with Progressive Rock, but I can't help but smile while I listen and enjoy the melodies and beats. It is a masterpiece of pop, and should not be overlooked!

Dream Theater- Black Clouds and Silver Linings

Dream Theater have been one of my favorite bands ever since I first heard Scenes From a Memory. Scenes From a Memory was a revolutionary album for me—it instantly connected with me and introduced me to a genre I love called Progressive Metal and began my fascination with this band which of course led me to pick up all their albums and to eagerly await their next album (which at that time was Train of Thought). The album in question here is Black Clouds and Silver Linings, which I don’t hesitate to say is one of the best albums Dream Theater have ever created. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word and I haven’t been this excited about Dream Theater since I first heard Scenes From a Memory over five years ago.

Black Clouds and Silver Linings, just as the name suggests is a record about the hard times in life and being able to find the “silver linings” from these experiences, such as a lesson that can be learned or pulling out something good that came out of the hard experience. The album opens with a storm, representing the black clouds, before the band comes in full force with “A Nightmare to Remember”. This is one of Dream Theater’s best openers and really causes the excitement to rise within the listener. Mike Portnoy is in top form as he drums with intensity, even doing some blast beats. One of the best parts of this song is the “Beautiful Agony” section where things slow down a bit and James LaBrie shows off his incredible voice. The band comes back in and Mike is able to give some growling vocals to accent the fierceness of the vocals before the band comes in for a quirky and fun instrumental section before the song ends.

“Rite of Passage” is the single from the album and it is a typical metal song, although much better than the previous single from the last album “Constant Motion”. This song has a wonderful sing-along chorus and a great soloing section where John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess get to show their chops on their respective instruments. A notable moment is the bebot solo from Jordan which is done with use of his iphone. The next song, “Wither”, is a beautiful ballad—one of the best ballads this band has created. “The Shattered Fortress” is the conclusion of the 12 step saga that Mike Portnoy has written about his steps in overcoming his alcohol addiction. It is a powerful finale that incorporates all the best parts of the whole saga and it has some more incredible solos from John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess.

“The Best of Times” is a touching song that Mike wrote for his dad who passed away recently. The song makes me tear up because it such a sincere lyric from Mike that shows that he is truly speaking from his heart. Continuing with the theme of the album, this song shows how his Dad’s death was a black cloud, but the memories they shared is the silver lining that he can take away from it that will help strengthen him throughout the rest of his life. One of my favorite moments of the whole album is the end of this song where John Petrucci performs a magnificent guitar solo that is emotionally moving and a great way to end this song.

The final song of the album is “The Count of Tuscany” and it is one of the best Dream Theater epics. The introduction is an excellent showcase of the whole band, and it is one of the most brilliant melodic sections of music the band has ever crafted. The story of the song is a personal experience by John Petrucci where he took a ride with a man who called himself the Count of Tuscany and was an odd man with a brother who is compared to a cannibal. John feels terrified for his life in this situation being in a house with these eccentric characters. There are so many great instrumental moments until finally there is a break and a big atmospheric Yes-like section starts of for the next several minutes. The finale of this song is one of the best parts of the whole album where the Count tells John that he is not as scary as John thinks he is and that John is free to go and to tell everybody about him and his brother. It is a majestic closing with wonderful guitar and James LaBrie’s voice is on top form here.

As you can probably tell, I love this album. I consider it a masterpiece. From the opening storm to the majestic closing, I am captivated by it. I can’t wait to see them live in August and I hope they perform some of these songs at that concert (please play A Nightmare to Remember and The Count of Tuscany!). I think this album is the perfect balance between the different styles Dream Theater has: metal and progressive; hard rocking and emotionally touching. It is a perfect balance, which I believe is another manifestation of the Black Clouds and Silver Linings theme. This is going to be a tough album to top this year (Transatlantic, I’m looking at you). I am thankful for all the brilliant music that Dream Theater has created throughout the years and am delighted to say that they still have “it”. As evidence of this, this album landed at #6 on the billboard charts—the highest position the band has ever received throughout their career. This album is a band playing at the top of their game, and I hope they can continue making brilliant albums like this one.

Rating: 10/10

98. The Beatles- Revolver

Ah...the Beatles have a very special place in my heart because they are what started my passion for music. When I was very young (somewhere between the ages of 11 and 13) my Dad shared the Beatles music with me and I was blown away. We immediately went to the store and picked up the red and blue albums (which contain all of the Beatles greatest hits throughout their career). I wore those albums out and then set out to collect all of the Beatles albums. This sparked my interest in prog later (which my dad introduced me to) and also to more modern rock, which was a passion of mine throughout high school.

Anyway, enough reminiscing, this is one of the first albums where the Beatles truly started experimenting with music (and drugs, unfortunately) and created an album that was extremely sophisticated for its time. I feel that Revolver is one of the important albums that influenced progressive rock because it was a band at the peak of their creativity experimenting with rock music and pushing the boundaries of what was considered conventional rock at the time. There are many highlights on this album- the wonderful opener, Taxman, sung by George Harrison. Eleanor Rigby, which is a classic in every way, that makes use of strings to create a certain mood. Here, There and Everywhere is a wonderful ballad that features the great vocals of Paul McCartney. Good Day Sunshine and And Your Bird Can Sing are both wonderfully uplifting and are great examples of the Beatles at their peak.

The Beatles are the most influential band in rock history and are a huge influence on progressive rock and I'm thankful for their influence. On later albums they get even more experimental and progressive, but I'll leave that for future entries...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

99. Spock's Beard- Feel Euphoria

It’s funny, the previous favorite album is by a band that is perhaps my least favorite of all the prog I’ve heard, and now I’m featuring an album by my favorite prog band. This is going to be an interesting list to be sure! Feel Euphoria is the seventh album by Spock’s Beard and is an important one in their history. Following their concept album, Snow, Neal Morse decided to leave the band for religious reasons. This was a huge deal since Neal Morse was the main songwriter/singer/multi-instrumentalist for Spock’s Beard, so what would they do with him? They decided to pull a Genesis and let drummer Nick D’Virgilio become the new front man. He had already shared his wonderful voice on a couple of tracks from Snow (Carie and Looking For Answers) so it seemed like a promising proposition.

I discovered Spock’s Beard around the time that this major change occurred in their line-up. I was devastated when I heard about it because I had just discovered one of my favorite bands, and now its key member was leaving to forge his own solo path. But, I decided to look at it positively—now I was getting not just one, but two albums at a time from my favorite group of musicians. So, I awaited Testimony by Neal Morse and this album with a lot of excitement.

Feel Euphoria came first and it was an exciting moment since this was my first brand new Spock’s Beard album to explore. I recognized that it wasn’t as good as the Spock’s Beard material with Neal, but I was pleased to find that it had a charm all of its own. Spock’s Beard was far from lost without Neal at the head. Nick has a wonderful voice and this album showcases it brilliantly. There are a few weaker tracks, but that is forgivable since this is practically a debut album for Spock’s Beard version 2.0. I love the opener Onomatopoeia, it really rocks hard and brings the excitement right up front. The Bottom Line is a classic Spock’s Beard track to me that has some great synth from Ryo and a multiple sections that are all great. If anything the song is too short and they could have developed some of the ideas in it more.

Other tracks I really love are the hauntingly beautiful Ghosts of Autumn that really showcases Ryo’s chops on keyboards and Nick’s wonderful vocals. This song was written by Dave Meros, and shows that he is a strong songwriter. I love the epic, A Guy Named Sid. It may not be as strong as Neal’s epics, but it has its moment including a Gentle Giant vocal round section all done by Nick. I think Nick D’Virgilio and Dave Meros are perhaps the greatest rhythm section in all of progressive rock. They are very solid here and Alan Morse shows his signature guitar sound. Carry On is a great closer and ends on a very positive note.

I have a special spot in my heart for this album because it proved to me that Spock’s Beard was not dead—they were alive and kicking and capable of producing great music without Neal’s influence. I can’t help but smile and feel nostalgic as I listen to the album. I am very impressed with how Spock’s Beard moved on so quickly from Neal’s departure and were able to craft such a great album. This is truly a remarkable feat and I will continually appreciate the album as I keep that in mind.

100. Marilion- Misplaced Childhood

I will admit straight out that I have had a constant struggle with the band Marillion. When I was discovering modern prog bands for the first time, I discovered a band called Transatlantic and found out they were a supergroup made up of members of different current prog bands. One of the members, Pete Trewavas, was the bass player for Marillion, so I decided Marillion would be a good band to check out. Well, I was severely dissapointed because the music sounded really boring and I couldn't really identify anything "proggy" about it. But, throughout my exploration of modern prog, every once in a while I'll come across a strong recommendation for Marillion and I decide to give them another chance, usually ending in more disappointment.

One of these times I bought the album "Misplaced Childhood" because it seemed to be the album that everyone considered to be their masterpiece. I wasn't too impressed on first listen and once again regarded it as a dissapointment. But, something possessed me to try the album again, and I found it a bit more enjoyable on second listen. After a while this album managed to grab me and now I consider it as one of my favorites. Later I would try to get in to other Marillion albums without success (sorry, I just don't understand the appeal of Marbles). My conclusion is that maybe I only like the Fish fronted Marillion, because it seems that all the Marillion that has been disappointing has been the version of Marillion fronted by Steve Hogarth. Fish is such a charasmatic front man and singer that I can't help but be captivated by his performance on this album. This post has actually inspired me to perhaps check out more of the Marillion with Fish.

This album is a concept album, and I'm a sucker for concept albums- they always tend to be my favorites. The album is about losing childhood as we grow up and the loss of innocence associated with growing up. Because of the concept, the music is pretty dark for a majority of the record and Fish gives a very emotional vocal performance that is one of my favorite vocal performances on any album. You can tell that he is very emotionally invested in what he is singing about. Kayleigh is a wonderful pop song that actually recieved some popularity at the time this album was released. Heart of Lothian is a wonderful rock song with some wonderful guitar work from Steve Rothery. My favorite section of the whole album, though, is the last three songs: Blind Curve, Childhood End? and White Feather. These songs are the most progressive on the whole album and they also the most uplifting (the last two especially, Blind Curve is still depressing). The message given is that there isn't really an end to childhood, that we can still maintain the innocence we had as children and can use our knowledge to help the children of the world now. It is a great ending to a great album.

I really do love this album despite it not seeming completely progressive to my ears. I am not a huge fan of music that came out in the '80s, in fact I believe this is the only '80s album in my whole top 100. But, that perhaps makes it even more special, because it was released in the year of my birth, 1985. This album is also special because of the inclusion of Pete Trewavas who is one of my favorite musicians of all time (and he does do a lot of impressive bass playing on this album). I may never fully understand Marillion's huge fan base in the prog community, but I do have a place in my heart for Misplaced Childhood and consider it a gem of progressive rock.

Riverside- Anno Domini High Definition

This album is heavy and aggressive…and I love it! Riverside is a Polish band that made quite an impression in the progressive rock scene with their Reality Dream Trilogy. I found all three of the Reality Dream albums excellent, but I think this album may transcend even that excellent trilogy. All musicians are in top form here, the playing is absolutely fantastic and this album is a nonstop roller coaster ride for its almost 45 minutes. In fact, it is hard to tell where one track ends and the next begins, it all just seems to blend together making for a breathtaking experience.

The first two tracks are pretty standard Riverside rock songs. The opener, Hyperactive, is notable for its interchange between heavy guitar and drums and Duda singing beautifully acapella. It really creates a great dynamic that is fun to listen to. The third song, Egoist Hedonist, is wonderful—it starts with a more laid back electronica section before becoming another aggressive rock jam complete with horns! This leads into perhaps my favorite track on the album, Left Out. This is the most mellow track on the album and is beautiful with Duda’s singing and beautiful acoustic guitar. As is common on this record though, the mellowness doesn’t last long and we are taken into another jam that really grooves with some awesome organ playing. The final track is another epic of sorts that is even heavier than the previous song and ends the album on a high note.

This is an incredible album because of the virtuosity involved with all band members. I am impressed with how much power and aggression is put into this album, and it is an exciting listen that captivates me for the whole album length. I really can’t find anything to complain about with this record, it is consistent and a blast to listen to. Definitely a contender for top album of the year.

Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My Top 100 Favorite Albums

I have not kept up with this blog as frequently as I have wanted to, so I've decided to commit to counting down my favorite albums of all time, giving the reasons why the album is so special to me. I'm not sure how frequently I'm going to do this, possibly daily throughout the summer since I have some more time. Anyways, it should be fun, I may even put up number 100 some time later today! With these entries, I will listen to the album prior to writing my entry so that I can be reminded of why that particular album is one of my favorites. The difficult thing about making such a list is that it is constantly changing, and tomorrow I may feel completely different about what my top 100 albums are. However, I am going to do my best to compile a list that represents a pretty consistent view I have with these albums. Another difficulty is that often a new album comes that will really impress me and will become one of my top 100 albums.

So, I guess what I mean by all of this is that this list is by no means a definitive list. It is ever-changing and will probably continue to change even as I'm presenting the various albums. But, I think it should be fun anyways. So, stay tuned for my top 100 favorite albums! Also, I'm still going to be reviewing new CDs as well, in fact reviews should soon be up for artists such as Dream Theater, Riverside and Phideaux. So, that is the plan, I hope it works out well!