Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Most Important Progressive Rock Albums of the 21st Century

As you know, I'm all about the great explosion of fresh, new progressive rock music that has been occurring in the 21st Century. Here I am going to put before you a list of albums, bands, and events whose releases either caused a lot of people to sit up and take notice or whose innovative approach to musical expression should be recognized for the extraordinary creativity or achievement that they contributed to the legacy, development, and "progress" of progressive rock music (but whose albums somehow often flew under the radar). The renaissance and rekindling of excitement in music has been fueled by these artists and their albums. I would like to do my little part to promote recognition of these albums and the artists who made them through my little list below.

2000 -- With Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, Canada's GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR changed the fairly young sub-genre of Post Rock music forever. Using four songs of dramatically expanded length, form and content, GYBE sucked listeners deeply into their web of virtuosic, classically-influenced, politically-oriented music in ways that had rarely been done before.

2001 -- Richard Wileman's KARDA ESTRA quietly snuck into the Progressive Rock world through a back door with a relatively "new" sound: a kind of neo-classical acoustic-though-subtley electrified cinematic Goth music style. With no drums! Their third album, Eve, served notice that this posse of neo-classical chamber rockers had arrived and were the masters of their own (lonely) domain.

2003 -- THE MARS VOLTA debuted with De-loused in the Comatorium unleashing a raw and abrasive form of unapologetic progressive rock onto the world that simply caught everybody off guard and unprepared. With little apparent care or respect for form, sound quality, or structure, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and company flailed away with their raw and energetic--and uniquely inspired and undeniably masterful--interplay.

2003 -- After putting maudlin of the Well on the shelf, Toby DRIVER recreated himself and his music with the avant jazz-classical collaborative called KAYO DOT. The band's debut album, Choirs of the Eye, thrust breathtaking and stunningly new musical ideas into our faces, while throwing a few surprise punches into our guts--for good measure.

2004 -- Long dormant and/or playing 'underground' live concerts of music mostly composed in the 1970s, Christina VANDER and company resurfaced with their first studio album in decades. MAGMA's K.A. showed that both Magma and Zeuhl still had pull, power and something important to contribute to progressive rock music--even in the 21st Century.

2005 -- COLOSSUS Magazine and MUSEA Records' Odyssey:  The Greatest Tale showed the power of global canvassing, the enthusiasm for concept projects and for the imitation of formats of the 1970s. Three CD discs, each displaying three songs from nine bands from all over the globe, with each song using anywhere from 21 to 28 minutes to help tell "the greatest tale" of all-time. All bands display only the highest forms of creativity, composition and musicianship.

2005 -- ANTHONY PHILLIPS' Field Day showed that a solo album of 2 CD discs of 29 and 32 acoustic guitar pieces, respectively, could still "rock" the progressive world--especially if they come from one of the few universally recognized masters of the 12-string guitar.

2005 -- FAUN's third album release, Renaissance, gave the Prog Folk ("Pagan Folk") subgenre a new level of professionalism and historical and cultural research to mull over. The band's use of ancient and antique languages and lyrics sung from solo and harmonized vocals of the band's three principal vocalists--a male tenor, female alto and female soprano--all framed within the sound tapestries of ancient and antique instruments, pagan percussives and synthesized background sounds to "glue" it all together make for an unique and elevated listening and/or viewing experience in artistry.

2006 -- UNEXPECT's In a Flesh Aquarium gave notice that there was a new king of Tech/Extreme Metal--a band whose whose idiosyncratic and frenetic approach to theatric metal music include death metal growling from both male and female vocalists as well as the astounding virtuosity of 9-string bass player, ChaotH. Music that is not for everyone, but it is music that everyone should hear at least once in their lives.

2006 -- ØRESUND SPACE COLLECTIVE self-titled album and it's follow up a year later, Black Tomato, alerted the world that fresh and exciting Psychedelic Electronic Space music was still possible.

2006 -- Marcello MARINONE and Francesco ZAGO give us a new band, YUGEN, and a new record label, AltrOck Productions, that both attempt to bring light to modern RIO/Avant and Chamber music. AltrOck Productions and its soon-to-come subsidiary, Fading Records, have given wonderful credibility and exposure to numerous adventurous young musicians venturing into such territory.

Germany's ELECTRIC ORANGE served notice in the 21st Century that German Komische Musik (also known as "Krautrock") was very much alive and well--and that it could be new and refreshing! 2007's Morbus and 2014's Volume 10 were especially deep and satisfying.

2007 -- HIROMI'S SONICBLOOM Time Control gave new life, new hope and stellar virtuosity to the Jazz Fusion subgenre in the 21st Century. A Chick COREA protegée and student, Hiromi and her stellar band produce an album of instrumental music so vibrant and fresh, so exciting and emotional that one cannot help but compare it to any and all of the Fusion that came before it.

2007 -- KLAUS SCHULZE's Kontinuum gave notice that the Electronica subgenre that he and the TANGERINE DREAM team had helped to create 40 years earlier was far from dead. The advantages of modern recording and production technologies reveals Schulze's sonic excursions with clarity and emotion as never before.

2007 -- PORCUPINE TREE's Fear of a Blank Planet served as a most amazing vehicle for Steven WILSON to shine a piercing light on some of the issues facing society in these modern times--as well as serving notice that Heavy Prog had achieved its apogee.

2008 -- JANNICK TOP, an early and formidable member of the Planet Kobaïa storytellers, demonstrated with his magnum opus, Infernal Machina, that MAGMA was not the only band that could serve up Zeuhl masterpieces--and, again, that Zeuhl was neither dead nor in hiding.

2009 -- MAUDLIN OF THE WELL released Part the Second as a free online digital download. Part the Second  is important not only for the unique way in which it was funded by the band's fan base through an online fundraiser and its unusual offering as a free download but for the surprising way in which it challenged all of the progressive rock forms and structures that had come before it.

2009 -- Poland's PROGHMA-C's Bar-do Travels gave us an unique and masterful blend of MESHUGGAH/TOOL's percussive metal 'djent' combined with the stunning atmospherics of electronica.

2010 -- The Post Rock and Neo-classical/Chamber genres of modern music are given a boost as Jesey Chiang's Taiwanese acoustic quintet called CICADA debuts its first album of gorgeous, nostalgic pieces, Over the Sea/Under the Water.

Barcelona's KOTEBEL and KANT FREUD KAFKA both gave the progressive rock world true gems of symphonic excellence, the former with three albums 2006's Omphalos, 2009's Ouroboros, and 2013's Concerto for Piano and Electronic Ensemble, and the latter with 2014's No tengas miedo.

2011 -- pronounced itself one of the greatest years of progressive rock music in history--but then seemed to change its message, to serve notice that it would be merely opening the door for an entirely new and massive Renaissance of progressive rock as the ensuing years (2011-2015) would produce a number and volume of great and very good progressive rock music albums easily eclipsing both the volume and quality of the "glory years" of 1970-1975. Indeed, Prog is alive and very well, thank you!

2012 -- Out of the past, a band of time traveling wizards resuscitated themselves, arose from the ashes of a past incarnation, and delivered a collection of music so out of the ordinary, so viscerally powerful, that it either hypnotized you or repulsed you away. Thankfully, most members of the progressive rock community saw the value of what American Michael Gira and his mates in the band SWANS were trying to accomplish and rejoiced in his return to the fold! And we have The Seer and 2014's To Be Kind to show for it!

2012 --  Out of nowhere there appeared an album of piano and classical chamber instrumentation from a young duo of classical musical students from St. Petersburg, Russia, one the pianist composer/arranger, the other a young waif with the voice of an angel--or at least the equal of Tori Amos and Kate Bush. Using social media and kickstarter-like self-funding campaigns, the band clawed and climbed its way into peoples lives--where the music easily won over their hearts. Welcome Marjana and Gleb! Welcome IAMTHEMORNING!

2013 -- The year that a young man graduated from Pennsylvannia's Swarthmore College and, using his 20th century classical music mentors like Györgi Ligeti and Olivieer Messiaen and beloved prog masters like King Crimson and Devin Townsend, Gabriel Riccio gathered together musicians under the guise of the band name THE GABRIEL CONSTRUCT in order to help realize his esoteric concept album of heavy progressive chamber metal, Interior City. A devastatingly deep and many-layered psycho-spiritual journey that is as musically sophisticated as anything prog World has ever seen. Not for the light of heart but ever-so rewarding. May we see and hear a LOT from M. Riccio in his ever-so promising future.

2013 -- A new Italian band of youths from Sicily, HOMUNCULUS RES, served notice that the youth of this world want to create complex, quirky, melodic, jazzy music in the vein of the legendary Canterbury Scene of the 60s and 70s. Viva la rivoluzione! Thank you AltrOck Production!

2014 -- Norway's SEVEN IMPALE caused quite a sensation as it gave us it's debut album, City of the Sun and with it served emphatic notice that a new and highly creative youth movement was up and coming in the progressive rock world--and that they are seriously talented.

2014 -- A democratically collaborating group of graduates of Boston's prestigious Berklee School of Music gave us perhaps the finest, most truly progressive rock album of the decade, Shiny Eyed Babies. The group? BENT KNEE. Be on the lookout for this band and its talented members with all of their side projects for they are coming at you! You will become aware of them! Let the youth be served!

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