Somehow I’ve seen a few comments online about how 2011 was a crappy year for prog releases; I would have to disagree. It’s been a good year. While there may not have been a million releases by everyone’s favorite bands, there have been several phenomenal releases that I feel will gain momentum in years to come and hold up as classics in the end. Years come and go, but good prog always sticks around (and never ceases to get endless re-issues/re-masters). With that, here’s my personal “best of 2011 list.”
Best album: Wobbler (Rites at Dawn) – Ok, it does have a lot of Yes in it, but in that case, I don’t hesitate to say that this is the best album that Yes never wrote. And the best part about it is, it sounds A LOT like Wobbler.
Best Production: White Willow (Terminal Twilight) – The most natural and real sounding recording I’ve perhaps ever heard.
Most original album: Unexpect (Fables of the Sleepless Empire) – How to you continue making something original after making In a Flesh Acquarium? Well, Unexpect manages to make something that sounded fresh even after their last release, and that’s tricky.
Best album packaging/artwork: Opeth (Heritage) – Honestly, I’m not really an Opeth fan, but this album cover was spot on. Great 70’s feel with a great concept and a nice touch of personal humor.
Best keyboard arrangements: Lars Fredrik Foislie (White Willow – Terminal Twilight / Wobbler – Rites at Dawn) – I think it’s hard to argue against the fact that this guy is one of the leading prog keyboardists in the scene today. While he doesn’t pull the insane solos, I challenge anyone to find better keyboard composition this year than these 2 albums.
Best keyboard solo: Andy Tillison (The Tangent – Comm – “Titanic Calls Carpathia”) – absolutely dazzled by Tillison’s jazz piano solo followed up by some great synth leads. Can’t believe that he managed to pull off that many great solos on one song.
Best Mellotron: Nicklas Barker (El ultimo fin de semana) / Ske (1000 Autunni) – Honestly, I couldn’t decide between the two. Anekdoten’s very own Nicklas Barker managed a beautifully haunting mellotron soaked album in the vein of Morte Macabre and Goblin. At the same time, Ske pulls off some of the most creative tron use I’ve ever heard, far far far from a 70’s rip-off.
Best Drumming: Martin Nordrum Kneppen (Wobbler – Rites at Dawn) – Subtly great drumming caught my attention here, not overboard but always interesting.
Best Guitar: Michael Romeo (Symphony X – Iconoclast) – How could anyone beat Michael Romeo at best guitar? Ever?
Best Bass: Kristian Karl Hultgren (Wobbler – Rites at Dawn) – Sounds just like Chris Squire… correction… sounds better than Chris Squire (I know, I’m a heretic).
Best Flute: Theo Travis (The Tangent – Comm) – It was tough contending with the dark Scandanavian flute playing that seemed to abound this year, but in the end, Theo Travis did a marvelous job adding that jazzy/cantebury touch to the Tangent’s phenomenal release.
Best Composition: Agents of Mercy (The Black Forest – “The Black Forest”) – Sounds like The Flower Kings, but darker. Need I say more? Mr. Stolt, oh how I do love your composing, as always.
Best Live album: Banco del Mutuo Soccorso (Prog Exhibition) – I am like stabbing myself right now wishing that Francesco Di Giacomo had got a vocal recording treatment this good in the 70’s. Such a rich voice, and the upgrade in technology definitely made the phenomenal songs by this band get even bigger.
Best Live DVD: The Tangent (Going off on Two) – Everything you love about a live DVD and gets rid of everything you hate: weird camera angles, crowd shots, showing musician’s faces only rather than their playing. Basically, all bands should start recording live DVD’s in their rehearsal studio and letting their fans simply watch them play music.
Best depends moment: Mellotron M4000D arriving at my door… Oh wait, you mean in terms of an album… that’s easy: the final 45 seconds of Wobbler’s “The River”
Most pretentious lyrics: Unexpect – Fables of the Sleepless Empire) – always proggy, even when it comes to the lyrics.
Most pretentious liner notes: Ske (1000 Autunni) – He lists each specific mellotron tape rack that he uses on each track, such as “Mellotron Russian choir/watcher” on the track “Scrupoli”
Best Video Game Music: Earthbound Papas (Octopus Theory) – While not technically video game music, it is covers of game music and is a prog rock album, so I thought it fit the bill. Plus, the legendary Nobuo Uematsu is a big fan of ELP, King Crimson, and Pink Floyd, so yeah, I think this was the most obvious pick.