2012: Worth Celebrating

by Jason Warburg

It was the year of Prog Resurgent in some respects, with powerful albums from a pair of the genre’s current champions. Releases from big names and personal old favorites also cut a wide swath this year, albeit with mixed results. And a pair of newcomers—one truly new and one reimagined for a new age—made sterling debuts. There were both highlights and lowlights, to be sure, but all in all, 2012 was a fine year full of music worth celebrating.

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The Boys Are Back In Town Award

Ben Folds Five – The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind

No reunion was more welcome or more artfully executed in 2012 than that of Ben Folds Five, the trio comprised of Ben Folds, Darren Jessee and Robert Sledge. Losing none of their panache but gaining insight along the way, the boys returned to their roots and delivered a set of self-described “punk for sissies” that was memorable not just for its existence, but for the fresh new musical moments it contained.

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My Opinion Means Nothing Award

Bruce Springsteen – Wrecking Ball

Here is where I have to separate the personal from the broader context. This is neither one of my favorite albums of the year, nor one of my favorite Springsteen albums. But it was a damn good album and one of the most important albums of the year in the way it captured the socio-economic zeitgeist and set it to a challenging, sometimes confounding set of music. Just when you thought maybe Bruce was on the long glide to irrelevance, he made himself relevant again.

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Beating The Odds Award

Ben Taylor -- Listening

It’s hard enough following one musical parent into the business; what happens when your mom and dad are both legends in the very same genre that feels right for you? Singer-songwriter Ben Taylor does parents James Taylor and Carly Simon proud with Listening, a rangy, clever, eminently tuneful and wise set that firmly established Taylor as a creative force.

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Even When They’re Right, They’re Wrong Award
Rush – Clockwork Angels

This award actually goes to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominating Committee that finally voted Rush in (only four or five more world-class prog bands to go, you bunch of prejudiced hacks) in a year when Canada’s greatest musical export issued one of the weaker albums of their recent career. The overblown concept album Clockwork Angels was saddled with a cliché-ridden storyline that drove the music, rather than the other way around, leading to a dull, repetitive, largely melody-free snorefest.

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Old Guys Rule Award
Ian Hunter & The Rant Band – When I’m President
Simply another great album of old-school barroom rock and roll from a guy who’s done and seen it all. Not so much a return to form as an exclamation point of an album that caps a trio of great late-career releases from the 73-year-old former frontman for the immortal Mott The Hoople.



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Indies of the Year

Sorry guys, no way I can pick between these two, both debut discs, one an EP from a fresh new face, the other an LP from a reimagined but familiar voice.

Stephie Coplan & The Pedestrians -- Stephie Coplan & The Pedestrians (EP)

This EP was simply the most fun I had all year, five superb tunes from a dynamic new voice that meshes the unique musical sensibilities of Fountains Of Wayne (whip-smart, snarky power-pop) and Ben Folds Five (edgy, piano-driven rock trio) to deliver this powerhouse debut. Stephie Coplan has a voice and a vision that will not be denied: keep your eye on this one, because she’s just getting started.

Waterslide – Lincoln Signal

Iconoclastic singer-songwriter Mark Doyon donned a new musical mask this year, transitioning from Arms Of Kismet to Waterslide and delivering this dazzling ride through the mind and world of an intelligent but unstable man in the throes of a major life crisis. Full of unexpected lyrical and musical jewels, Lincoln Signal once again surprises and delights.

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Deluxe Edition of the Year

Porcupine Tree – Octane Twisted (CD/DVD)

The trend among established bands—perhaps especially prog bands—toward performing entire albums back to front on selected tour dates has produced a wide range of results, from the sublime to the yawn-inducing. With Octane Twisted, Porcupine Tree has documented with great care and artistry one of the most thrilling and worthwhile examples of this trend in recent years.  The Incident is a great album, and seeing and hearing it performed back to front by Steven Wilson’s crack troupe of modern prog all-stars is simply spectacular.

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Album of the Year

Big Big Train – English Electric Part One

Sometimes this process confounds me.  I’m not sure English Electric Part One is even my favorite Big Big Train album—probably not, as The Underfall Yard is nearly impossible to beat—and I wouldn’t call it a perfect album. Instead I’ll stick with adjectives like magnificent, moving, multi-faceted, virtuosic, and just plain superb.  There is no album I listened to more this year, or derived more enjoyment from, than English Electric Part One, a disc about which I’m still today finding new things to love.

 


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