Hello, everyone — family, friends, comrades in music appreciation! It's been another eventful year here at Exposé Central, almost exclusively the good kind of eventful. We hope your year has been as full of wonderful music as ours has.
Looking back at this eventful year, one thing that all of us at Exposé would like to do is acknowledge the efforts of the record labels that do so much to bring good music to us. On one hand, it is getting easier and easier for artists to do much of the traditional "label" work themselves, but when we see something on Cuneiform or Moonjune or Fruits de Mer (just to name three), we can expect a certain level of quality. ArtrOck, Bureau B, Azafran, Cold Blue, Spotted Peccary, Projekt, RareNoise, Slowfoot, Ma.Ra.Cash, RVNG Intl., Kscope, Burning Shed... all have graced our ears with wonderful discoveries.
In 2014, Exposé published more than 350 reviews, including at least one each day since the beginning of May. And we've already got more queued up through the middle of January, 2015. So we can give ourselves a little pat on the back for keeping the new content coming.
Something that came out of nowhere and surprised me: I wouldn't say nowhere, but three surprisingly good releases came from Scandinavia this year, beginning with Push by Pingvinorkestern who make absolutely compelling music and put the ukulele to good use as well; We Are All Small Pixels by Norway's Pixel was almost expected based on their very solid debut the year before; and Black Sails by Sleepyard, also Norway. Sleepyard's been around a long time, but this is the first time they came to my attention. And Evidence by Taylor's Universe (Denmark) actually missed 2014 by only a few weeks, but it's definitely worthy of inclusion with these other Scandinavian masterpieces.
Something that I'm glad to see reissued: The first two albums by Assagai were long overdue for reissue, classic afrorock featuring drummer Louis Moholo, trumpeter/flautist Mongezi Feza, and alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana, among others. Also very pleased to see the work of Jeff Gilson and Malagasy in a deluxe 4-disc boxed set.
A concert that really shone: Now living out in the boonies in Utah (not complaining, I love it here), I don't get as much live music as I used to years ago. Seaprog in Seattle was a great showcase of talent, first and foremost featuring Miriodor from Quebec and Corima from Los Angeles, but also for numerous outstanding Seattle area bands like Zubatto Syndicate, The Pornadoes, Autumn Electric, Spontaneous Rex, Jim Bartz, and others. Mid year I had a chance to attend a guitar clinic by The Travis Larson Band in the intimate setting of the Guitar Center in Taylorsville, and only days later caught a great show in Denver by Hamster Theatre, a band I hadn't seen in years!
Something outside my normal area that I liked: That would have to be the 1992Live album by Alison Krauss and Union Station, only discovered this twelve years after its release because I had to learn to play one of the songs on it. Bluegrass? Country? Whatever it is, there's some really great work there, in the playing, writing, arrangements and more.
Something else I'd like to call out: A call out to the many great musicians who left this world in 2014, but definitely left their mark and influenced many along the way. Among them: Yusef Lateef, Jack Bruce, Johnny Winter, Joe Cocker, Pete Seeger, Charlie Haden, Nash the Slash, Clive Palmer and Glen Cornick.
2014 was an amazing year in music. All over the world, creative people are producing interesting sounds in rock, jazz, electronic music, and things that don't fit anywhere in particular. I've heard great stuff from all around the US, Italy, England, Russia, France, Spain, China, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Germany, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere.
Something that came out of nowhere and surprised me: The first thing that comes to mind is Blituri. Vincent Lachambre contacted me and asked if I would be interested in reviewing his project. When the Blituri CD arrived in the mail, I was immediately taken by the sophisticated and interesting music. There were also a number of local Seattle artists that I became aware of: The Glacial Drift, Spontaneous Rex, Kingdom of the Holy Sun.
Something that I'm glad to see reissued: Not reissued, but a recording from 1976 that's just now available is the great Gentle Giant Live at the Bicentannial. Somehow my listening this year hasn't included many reissues — one that comes to mind was The Colorplates.
Something outside my normal area that I liked: This year I discovered the amazing singer Imogen Heap. Her music pushes all sorts of boundaries, with some very innovative electronics and very clever songwriting.
A concert that really shone: 2014 was an outstanding year for live music. I was finally able to get to Mexicali for BajaProg, where I saw so much good music it's hard to choose favorites: PFM, Museo Rosenbach, Frak, Gnu Quartet... my only regret is that I wasn't able to stay for the whole weekend. And then there was the second Seaprog festival, which I helped organize, with great performances by Miriodor, Corima, Zubatto Syndicate, Spontaneous Rex, The Mercury Tree, Autumn Electric, Badwater Fire Company. Aside from festivals, the new incarnation of King Crimson put on an amazing performance of some classic material, and Ian Anderson covered both vintage Jethro Tull music and his own newest album.
Something else I'd like to call out: My friendship with Dennis Rea and the rest of Moraine has been very rewarding. Aside from seeing them perform multiple times, I was thrilled that they chose to include a piece of music I arranged for them on their Groundswell album. Call me biased, but I think it's an incredibly good CD.
2014 for me was a very exciting year in music. And like last year, I am astounded by the number of different labels and artists contacting me directly with promos and review requests. Our web site continues to grow and increase in content.
Something that came out of nowhere and surprised me: Proud Peasant. The weekly Wayside Music mail out contained a short blurb stating that Proud Peasant was from Austin, my home town. I contacted Xander Rapstine, founder and band leader, and he sent me their debut CD. It blew me away and is certainly one of the best releases in 2014. You can read more about Proud Peasant in my article and album review.
Something outside my normal area that I liked: There are two. First is the new Cunieform release Verse by John Badger. My experience with Cuneiform is that they release very good music, but mostly music that normally does not hold a lot of interest for me. I was so impressed by Verse that I felt that I simply had to review this album. And secondly, about a year ago I read The Mayor of MacDougal Street, a book about Dave Van Ronk and the folk revival in the 60s. This book was also inspiration for the Cohen Brothers movie Inside Llewyn Davis. I had always heard about Van Ronk’s influence on singer songwriters like Dylan et. al. but my only exposure to him was a short clip on the documentary about Houston’s Anderson Fair For the Sake of the Song. He was fairly old in this clip and I was not impressed by his singing, very gravely. So I never really wanted to invest time in listening to him. This year I took the plunge and purchased Inside Dave Van Ronk and Down in Washington Square: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection. These are actually two excellent sets of music and I am glad to have gotten over my initial impression.
A concert that really shone: My work life does not permit me to attend many concerts. But this year I was able to see Proud Peasant perform twice in Austin, as well as Stop Motion Orchestra. Both bands put on great shows. But it is sad that most prog fans cannot experience their music as they are only playing in Austin, TX. There is a growing prog rock community in Austin, but not many local fans as of yet.
Something else I'd like to call out: Several things... Fruits de Mer continues to release new bands and creative packaging. Their 7 and 7 Is and Postcards from the Deep boxed sets are outstanding for both the music and the uniqueness for the collector. I also want to recognize Crystal Jacqueline, Icarus Peel, and The Honey Pot as some of the very bright spots on FdM. Next to Proud Peasant, the other album that tops my 2014 list is Octopus Syng’s Reverberating Garden Number 7. And on a final note, Rob Reed’s Sanctuary is an excellently executed homage to Mike Oldfield. It could almost be performed by Oldfield himself. It held so much promise for me when I read the early promo material and watched the video clips. I just wish that Reed had taken it a bit further and made it his own instead of an Oldfield pastiche. And lastly, the excellent Psychedelic Teatime by Margin that I reviewed in October received the German Rock & Pop Award 2014 for the "Best studio recording of the year 2014.”
2014 was not great for me financially, so I won’t pretend that I’m aware of all of the new music that came out this past year. I’m sure — as these things usually go — that some of it was great, some of it was not, some of it was overlooked, and some of it got more attention than it deserved. The fact that there are still musicians making this kind of music is encouraging, whether they receive any kind of meager financial compensation or popular recognition notwithstanding.
But on a meta level, 2014 seems to continue a trend in progressive rock that’s been playing out over the past 10 years or so, with few newcomers able to break through the tremendous amount of noise generated when one of the musicians or bands from the halcyon golden era rear their aged heads and rumble into our collective consciousnesses once again.
Still, some newcomers did manage to break through. Young Canterbury whippersnappers Syd Arthur have attracted my attention since the arrival of their 2012 debut On An On, and 2014 was a very good year for the lads. It started with some US festival appearances, then a support slot backing up Sean Lennon’s Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (aka GOASTT) across the US, which then led to a support slot for Yes’ summer tour of the US, which coincided with the release of their second album, Sound Mirror, video shoots, radio interviews, “Breakthrough Artist” award from Prog Magazine, more touring in the UK, and by now hopefully some much deserved rest! Will 2015 see them consolidating this tremendous momentum? We shall see...
Speaking of Yes, they also released a new album in 2014, their first with new lead singer Jon Davison. Sadly, Heaven and Earth won’t be winning any best of awards this year, but it still generated 20 times as many pages of Internet noise as Syd Arthur’s new album. But these old bands seem to arrive with a tenfold magnitude of hype just from their name. IQ — a band that’s been around for 30 years — had a fine new album (The Road of Bones) out in 2014, but I have a feeling most punters will more easily remember Steve Hackett’s blaze-o-glory Genesis Revisited tour of the universe. Or King Crimson’s brief US tour that featured a prog fan’s wet dream setlist of early-mid 70s “hits.” Or Pink Floyd’s “new” album The Endless River (which is really a collection of outtakes from the 1993 Division Bell sessions).
I’m not suggesting that the oldsters do not deserve the recognition. They’ve certainly earned much of the continued love and support they receive, even when the wares are spotty at best. But if Progressive Rock as a genre — or progressive music as an idea — is to survive it must attract a younger audience. Many of the bands I see on people’s Best of 2014 lists aren’t likely to succeed at this (Transatlantic? Really?). So my challenge to fans of this beloved form of music is to spend a dollar (or pound, or Euro, or whatever) on as much music made by new, young musicians as the old guard. Consider it an investment in the planet’s artistic future.
There you have it, our view on 2014. Here's hoping 2015 is even better! Wishing you and yours a musical year. Keep your ears open and keep visiting Exposé to stay in touch.
Related artist(s): Ian Anderson, Steve Hackett, King Crimson, Robin Taylor, Yes, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, Moraine, Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM), Dennis Rea, Taylor's Universe / Taylor's Free Universe, Pink Floyd, Corima, Pixel, Museo Rosenbach, The Colorplates, The Mercury Tree, Travis Larson Band, Autumn Electric, Miriodor, Jack Bruce, Badwater Fire Company, Crystal Jacqueline (Bourne), Zubatto Syndicate, Syd Arthur, Yusef Lateef, Octopus Syng, Assagai, Frak, Gnu Quartet, Icarus Peel, The Honey Pot, Nash the Slash (Jeff Plewman), Sleepyard, Spontaneous Rex, Proud Peasant, Pingvinorkestern, Rob Reed, Jef Gilson, Jonathan Badger, Stop Motion Orchestra, The Glacial Drift
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