Though others may not feel this way, 2013 was the best year for progressive music in a long time.  I had trouble condensing my “best of” lists simply for the reason that, every time I made a list, I would remember another album that really should be on the list.  It’s frustrating, really.  However, I’ve made my list, and I hope that it inspires someone to listen to these albums.

10. Votum – Harvest Moon

One of Poland’s finest, Votum came out swinging in 2013 with a heavy, dark album featuring my favorite bass performance of the year.  The band cites emotion as their primary focus, and it comes across in the amount of melancholy, angst, and feeling that we experience.  However, this emotional focus is not on its own; the album is full of deep guitar work and loads of atmosphere and instrument fireworks.

9. Riverside – Shrine of New Generation Slaves

Probably the most famous progressive band from Poland, Riverside chose to explore a 70’s vibe on this new release.  While it isn’t my favorite album from them, the band still shows unusual songwriting ability, interesting lyrical concepts, and a united front in instrumentals.  Riverside is my favorite band, and their continued evolution only highlights why that is.

8. Bader Nana – Anthology

This little known solo artist from Kuwait plays all the instruments on this his second album.  Not only is this album extremely mature, but it also features one of my favorite songs of the year, “The Discovery.”  Full of incredible keys, stuttering riffs, and surprisingly inventive drumming, Bader Nana has done it again with another catchy album that rides the edges of the subgenres.

7. Oblivion Sun – The High Places

Classy, elegant prog rockers Oblivion Sun released the biggest grower of the the year.  The High Places is funky and almost humorous musically, but also exquisite and vocally extraordinary.  The six part title song is an awesome example of some of the year’s finest.  Oh, yeah, the album also has my favorite cover art of the year—so evocative.

6. Echoes of Giants – At the End of Myself

Last year was a year full of fine debut albums.  Echoes of Giants produced an excellent prog rock album that not only featured amazing drums and splendid guitar bits, but it also contained my favorite keyboard work of the year.  It’s deep and personal lyrical concept makes for an emotional experience, full of knowing nods and tears.

5. Hibernal – The Machine

Probably the most interesting and original album on my list, Hibernal’s debut album features a simple concept: post-rock style, guitar-driven instrument pieces that surround a story told through the spoken word.  The album could have been a total cheese fest, but the high quality voice actors, the dark and soaring music, and the outstanding story all came together to make something truly special.  Not only is it my #5 album of 2013, but it also contains my favorite concept of the year.

4. The Twenty Committee – A Lifeblood Psalm

Another debut album, “A Lifeblood Psalm” came out of nowhere to blast me with my favorite lyrics of the year.  It’s modern take on progressive rock is influenced almost as much by theater and pop as it is by 70’s prog rock.  The combination is extremely satisfying, though, as it features my favorite guitar work of the year and both a catchy yet complex style.  Meaningful, heady, and original; The Twenty Committee is a band to watch.

3. Sound of Contact – Dimensionaut

Still another debut album here, Simon Collins’ take on progressive rock is also influenced by pop; more specifically, his father’s legacy.  Spacey, catchy, and instrumentally incredible (this Collins can drum, too), “Dimensionaut” is a concept album full of mystery, beauty, and texture.  While the keyboardist has since left the band, I really hope to hear more out of this outstanding group.

2. Projected Twin – Earth vs. World

This Aussie project is the brainchild of Shaun Holton.  He and some volunteer friends recorded this album of alternative guitars, intense drums and bass, and sweeping textures pierced through by Shaun’s angelic voice.  Interesting and mature song structures abound within this delicious treat of an album that also contains my favorite song of the 2013, “The Ritual”.

1. Haken – The Mountain

Honestly, I’d be crazy not to pick this album for #1.  I’m a huge Haken fan, and they just can’t seem to go wrong.  “The Mountain” is the fusion of many influences with the band’s funky personality and thoughtful lyrical content.  The Mountain is a journey and an experience about life and a variety of musical styles.  One of the best songs of the 2013, “Cockroach King,” is the standout representative of this fantastic, spunky release from one of the biggest young bands on the scene today.

 

All in all, 2013 was a year of many great releases, disappointments, dream concerts (Riverside in Chicago), new experiences (established a growing, unique Facebook page called The PROG Mind), and growth in both myself and in the progressive community.  The prog world is expanding at an unmatched rate, and the next few years look to be very exciting.  Enjoy the ride.

by Jason Spencer