PapaJ's Top 10 CD's of 2006

 1 - Frost* - Milliontown

FrostIts hard not to be jaded by the fact that this group flashed so brightly then quickly burned from the prog landscape. I haven't been as excited by a new band/release as Frost* since I first discovered Spock's Beard in the 90's. And I know that many people are bitter (yes, including us at CalProg) about the fact that what appeared to be the most promising band on the horizon, booked then cancelled a number of dates. But if I put all that aside (and even if I don't) there's really no competition for the top spot of prog album of the year that even comes close. This record contained all of the elements that make prog rock so special to me. It was exciting, inventive, up beat, complex, harmonically logical, intellectually compelling and I could go on and on. The album opener Hyperventilate is possibly one of the best prog songs I have ever heard. When I listen to that, after the swirling introduction by the time the whole band comes in together I AM hyperventilating, and it's like taking a shot of adrenalin in the heart. Similarly, Blacklight Machine takes so many twists and turns and covers so much audio terrain that it's like a mental road-trip. To top it off, the 26-minute title epic Milliontown could go toe to toe with classics like The Light or even Close to the Edge. I know those sound like impossible comparisons, and we'll only really know that if it stands the test of time, but my feeling of excitement is as intense with it as it was with the others back when I first got into them. It's hard for me to imagine any die-hard prog fan not being stirred by this record. I'd even go so far as to say that this is the best prog record in this century. How unfortunate it is that they have already thrown in the towel as I really felt that Jem was one of the most compelling new talents to hit the prog scene in quite some time. I really hope that at some point he decides to venture back, even if only for studio projects. If you don't have this record, you HAVE to get it.

2 - ACT - Silence

act big coverMany of you have heard me talk about the PRAT (progressive rock acid test). The PRAT premise is that due to the complex nature of prog, you can't really make a judgment on a prog record until you have listened to it at least 3 times, focusing on the music (not as background music to housecleaning or something). This CD is a prime example of why that is important. On first listen my tendency was to dismiss this as just "more of the same" from their last CD. But on subsequent listens I started to pick up recurring melodies and musical themes and it became much more cohesive to my mind. I think they are incredibly inventive in their construction of melody lines, and very upbeat and quirky overall. I know many people are put off by the lead singer's voice, but personally I don't mind it at all. Outside of Milliontown, this CD got more of my listening time than anything else this year.



3 - Sylvan - Posthumous Silence

You wouldn't think an album about a father finding the diary of his recently deceased daughter would be much fun to listen to, and you'd be right, this isn't really a FUN album at all. Dark, brooding and moody, this CD grew on me as I discovered the story hidden in the lyrics and the recurring themes throughout the recording. It has been my experience that some of the best prog albums are the ones that don't have much initial appeal, but that keep getting better and better on repeated listens. This is one of those. As long as this German band continues to crank out great music like this I will continue to follow them. 

 4 - Flower Kings - Paradox Hotel

Perhaps I was influenced by the superb live show these guys put on this year, but I found this release to be one of the best from the Kings of the last few years. There are many very strong songs like Paradox Hotel, Hit me With a Hit, End on a High Note and the epic Monsters and Men (to name a few) that rank with some of their all time best work. Being a double CD, there is some music on there that could have been left on the cutting room floor IMHO, but still this turned out to be one of my favorite records of the year.

5 - Vanden Plas - Christo

I'm not much of a metalhead, but when there are great keyboards and a symphonic element as found in this CD, I love it. The vocalist in this band is much more pleasing to the ear than most of the over-the-top screamers that you find in more popular metal bands. Vanden Plas just keeps cranking out music that I really like, and this is no exception. If you have a symphonic metal craving from time to time, I highly recommend this CD.

6 Drama Gods - Love

This project featuring the writing, guitar playing and vocals of Nuno Bettencort (Extreme) took me completely by surprise. It probably is a stretch to call it a prog CD as it's more accurately categorized as just straight ahead rock and roll. But there are some catchy rockers as well as some exquisite acoustic work that made this a favorite in my CD player for quite some time. I never realized that Nuno was such a strong vocalist in his own right.

7 - Pure Reason Revolution - The Dark Third

I kept hearing people talk about these guys but didn't get their CD until late in the year, but it still managed to make it's way into my top 10. The interplay of male/female vocals is particularly appealing. At times they remind me of Pink Floyd in that their music tends to be almost hypnotic. There's no shredding to be found here which isn't a bad thing at all. Instead there are plenty of harmonies and grooves to dig into. I think they potentially have broad appeal and if they follow-up with another strong CD, I think they could become a huge force in the genre. Very solid.

8 - Magenta - Home/NY Suite

I'm still not clear on what the strategy was behind releasing these as 2 separate CDs at virtually the same time, other than the fact that they seem to be of different styles. Home tends to be mostly straight ahead AOR, while New York Suite is decidedly more progressive sounding. You can still hear frequent nods to Yes and Genesis in their music, and Magenta continues to be on my list of groups I'd really like to see live.

9 - Puppet Show - The Tale of Woe

This revitalized band from the 90's released this new CD following some tumultuous times that included the loss of one of the original members. But to my ears this is much stronger than their earlier work. The music is heavily synth oriented, and reminiscent of the original prog wave of the 1970's. You can hear elements of early Genesis from time to time, but there is strong and original writing and playing throughout.

10 - FluttrEffect - Marking Time

This unusual art rock band from Boston first came on my radar because of a few enthusiastic reviews of their live performance as openers for The Flower Kings at one of their dates this past year on the east coast. The band consists of 3 girls and 2 guys, and the music is quite proggy in places. Unusual instrumentation including an electric midi marimba and cello mixed with strong vocals and unusual compositions made this one of the best new finds of the year for me.

Honorable Mention: Carl Hupp Project - Hyper Statue

This band, though primarily jazz in flavor, was a very tight contender for the top 10. Pristine performances and melodic instrumentals made this CD a pleasurable listen while driving to and from work.