As the year draws to close, it's hip for people to put together their "best of" or "retrospective" lists for 2005. Who am I to buck that sort of trend? Here is a sampling of my favorites from my year in tunes.
New Releases in 2005
Porcupine Tree - Deadwing: PT's major-label followup to the brilliant In Absentia was firmly in the same vein, but equally impressive. As such, there's plenty of crunchy guitar backed up with more mellow, acoustic passages. And the extended Floyd-type stuff is there, too, most strongly on the excellent "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here." It's not a concept album, but was inspired by a screenplay co-written by band leader Steven Wilson. Supposedly the band was recorded for a DVD release on their recent tour. A live video document is about the only thing they lack at this point.
echolyn - The End Is Beautiful: After you produce Mei, a massive 49-minute epic, what exactly do you do for an encore? If you're echolyn, you re-recruit a wayward bass player and get back to work, producing an album that takes your sound to places it's never been while still being unmistakably yours. While a very dark album, lyrically, it's very vibrant and diverse musically (I didn't know the "P" in "P-Funk" stood for "prog" until I heard "So Ready"). More proof that echolyn Mach II is one of the most interesting bands on the planet.
Adrian Belew - Side One / Side Two: I think the original plan for Belew was to release three short albums in 2005, each different in approach and style. It looks like Side Three won't make it out until the new year, but if it's anything like these two, it will be worth the wait. Side One is the heavier and more direct of the two, featuring a manic power trio of Belew, Daney Carey (Tool), and Les Claypool (Primus) in addition to the Grammy-nominated "Beat Box Guitar." Side Two is a little more experimental and employs more electronics in the sonic palette.
New-to-Me Releases in 2005
Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention - Freak Out! (1966): For some reason, I resisted/ignored the earlier Zappa/Mothers for a long time, but I finally broke down and picked up the debut disc this year. While it's not all my cup of tea, I can see why it caused such a stir back in the 60s. It reinforced my theory that Brian Wilson's Smile, originally conceived around the same time but delayed until 2004, is overrated, at least in terms of being "groundbreaking." Freak Out!'s mix of pop, weird doo-wop, modern orchestral music and musique concrete is so much more interesting.
Umphrey's McGee - Anchor Drops (2004): I knew nothing of this Chicago band until I saw a news blurb that they had signed to the Inside Out label in Europe. I/O is mostly a prog label, so I was intrigued. I saw this disc at the local Border's and picked it up sight unheard. Very glad I did. Definitely in the American jam-band tradition, but with strong song writing, nice instrumental interplay (dual guitars - very nice), and cool harmonies. Definitely need to explore their stuff some more in 2006.
The Tangent - The World That We Drive Through (2004): The Tangent are another in the long line of prog "all star" bands, for which I generally have little use. I got their debut due to the presence of Van der Graff Generator's David Jackson in addition to the "younger" guys, curious as to the kind of music that might produce. I liked that one so much that when I found the this, their second, album, I picked it up even though Jackson has moved on. The music is firmly backwards looking symphonic prog, with Canterbury flourishes here and there, but it's very very good, in a less bombastic way than, say, Transatlantic was.
OK, that's it for tunes. Film tomorrow.