It's that time once again! The fabled Progressive Music Awards are tomorrow night, and I've spent the last few weeks getting myself familiar with the best of the best in this year's progressive scene. Here are my thoughts, predictions, criticisms, and general sputterings about this years' selections.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
I'll start with the category everyone is watching, and that's the prestigious Album of the Year award. Last years went to Rush's excellent Clockwork Angels, and while they totally deserved it, it did set something of a precedent—clearly fans like the legacy acts a bit more than their contemporary ones. On that, I'm putting my money on Steven Wilson's The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories). While he's not an older artist, The Raven is essentially a love letter to '70s progressive music, written and played faithfully to sound like Genesis or Yes in their early years. He also has the benefit of being one of the highest-profile musicians in the modern prog scene (being the frontman for Porcupine Tree does have some fringe benefits). None of that is to say that The Raven doesn't deserve that distinction—I personally think it's the best progressive album released in the past year. But there's no denying that Wilson has some very specific benefits on his side, and, no matter how cynically, that will do a lot to sway the fans.
I actually suspect that's part of why Steve Hackett's Genesis Revisited II received its nod for album of the year. It's a fantastic album, no doubt, but the fact that it's two discs of Genesis “covers” probably had a lot to do with that decision. I really do love Hackett's fresh interpretations of his old work, but let's be honest, a covers album really shouldn't be considered for an “album of the year”, even if it is the kind of stuff fans like to hear.
I'm actually stunned at the huge presence of post-progressive music at this year's awards. I thought it might have been a fluke when Anathema's fantastic Weather Systems was given a nod last year, but the inclusion of both Big Big Train and Amplifier this year seems to show that they've embraced the movement wholeheartedly. Which is good, because Amplifier's (Part Two), as opposed to (Part One). While I did enjoy the second half of the album immensely, (Part One) was leagues better than its successor. In fact, it was probably the only album that had a serious chance of swaying my opinion over The Raven as my personal favourite. That's not to say (Part Two) is bad, mind you—just that it was worse than part one.
It's also nice to know that the PMAs are beginning to recognize progressive death metal acts, even if they are on the fringe of what constitutes “death metal”. Though I'm not surprised they were nominated (especially after winning the Emerging Artist award last year), TesseracT also received a nod for their fantastic Altered State, one of the few truly impressive albums to come out of the djent movement. Though it's still not up to the standards that produced, say, Vildhjarta's måsstaden, it's still one of the first albums that takes advantage of djent's progressive roots, and it sounds all the better for it.
THERE WERE SOME LESS DESERVING ALBUMS THIS YEAR AS WELL
The fanservice to legacy acts turned up a couple of unimpressive nominations from otherwise fantastic bands. The Enid's Invicta and Marillion's Sounds That Can't Be Made both struck me as lacklustre, if still enjoyable, albums from bands very late in their career, and far from the best they're capable of. There was also the nod towards Spock's Beard's Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep, and while they're not really a relic from the '70s, they're still one of the few major names in the scene today, which makes me believe that their nod also falls into the "appeasement" category. And though I didn't think it was a bad album, the inclusion of Tame Impala's Lonerism is also a bit of a stretch. Though progressive rock is a vast genre, Lonerism never quite seemed to fit into it for me; it's a great psychedelic album, a great pop album, even a great rock album, but I don't think I could call it a great progressive album.
One thing that seriously bothers me about the nominees this year is that, while they're beginning to reach out towards post-progressive music, there are still no post-rock or post-metal albums to be found. This is a bit distressing, because near-perfect albums like Vertikal, Sky Burial, Pelagial, and 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend! have seemingly no chance in hell of getting noticed. And that's without even talking about progressive death metal. Though TesseracT did get a nod, let's face it, they're only death metal in the most lenient sense of the term. Albums like Between the Buried and Me's fantatsic The Parallax II: Future Sequence have almost no chance of getting the attention they deserve here. And though they do seem to be branching out into some more esoteric subgenres with Lonerism, it'll still be a while before, say, One of Us Is the Killer gets its fair shake. (And this is another one of those albums that might have been discluded by the ambiguous cutoff date, but man, it would've been nice to see Sunbather up there.)
THERE ARE ALSO SOME OTHER CATEGORIES
Here are a few of my idle thoughts on the other, much less important categories:
I GUESS THAT'S IT, REALLY.
This has been Sarah, your local prog snob, and join me next year when I complain that Kayo Dot's Hubardo didn't make the cut.
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