Tracks of 2014: The Prog's Bollocks

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Our look back at the best tracks of the year continues with the maestros of progressive music.

Yes - Subway Walls While many Yes fans remain resistant to the notion of any lineup without the talismanic Jon Anderson, the prog legends’ first album with new vocalist Jon Davison – a dead sonic spit for Anderson – seemed to tick enough boxes to keep the faithful happy. A bona fide Yes epic, Subway Walls encapsulates that understated triumph with aplomb.

Opeth - Cusp Of Eternity Unperturbed by polarised reactions to 2011’s metal-free Heritage, Opeth returned in 2014 with another modern progressive rock masterpiece, replete with dashes of country rock and lashings of orchestral oomph. At their core, however, the Swedes remain a heavy band with a wild imagination and Cusp Of Eternity was Pale Communion’s irresistible entry point.

Syd Arthur - Hometown Blues Masters of wonky-eyed British psychedelia with broad progressive streak, Syd Arthur grew in stature in 2014, releasing their third album – the boldly colourful Sound Mirror – and establishing themselves as major contenders in an increasingly vibrant UK scene. With big but subtly eccentric tunes like Hometown Blues, how could they fail?

Flying Colors - Mask Machine For the unstoppable Mike Portnoy, there is no such thing as “one band too many” and now he has another revered ensemble to occupy his restless limbs. Flying Colors became the finished article on their second album, revelling in collective chemistry and becoming more adventurous and distinctive as a result. A sublime mix of the virtuoso and the vital.

The Pineapple ThiefMagnolia Despite not conforming to any of the genre’s standard traits, Bruce Soord’s crew have risen to the top of the Brit prog heap in recent years, largely due to their leader’s extraordinary songwriting skills. The title track from the band’s 2014 album oozes weather-beaten soul and almost unbearable melancholy. In a parallel universe, this band are selling out stadiums.

Amplifier - Named After Rocky UK prog’s resident square pegs, Amplifier veer from opulent concept albums to ravenous rock bravado with the ease of champions. 2014’s Mystoria belonged in the latter camp, but its inherent oddness and sense of untamed joy made it a prog milestone by default. Most importantly, songs like Named After Rocky kicked a large quantity of psych-rock arse.

Anathema - Anathema It remains a mystery why Anathema are not one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, but a lack of lucky breaks has made no difference to their ability to conjure aching pathos amid a squall of ingenious ideas and exquisite melodies. This eponymous torch song from Distant Satellites strummed countless heartstrings in 2014.

Bigelf - Alien Frequency Resolutely bonkers and imbued with the spirit of Queen, ELO and Atomic Rooster, Damon Fox’s theatrical crew remain one of prog’s best kept secrets but the rest of the music world must surely succumb eventually. Alien Frequency has it all: big riffs, bigger melodies, an exhilarating air of unpredictability and a heart of purest psychedelic mania.

Messenger - The Perpetual Glow Of A Setting Sun A beautiful bolt from the pastoral blue, Messenger’s debut album Illusory Blues garnered frothing plaudits by the skipload last year and reduced many to tears of euphoria, not least due to the wonderfully timeless sweep of songs like this Jeff Buckley-tinged analogue reverie. Rock music seldom resonates with such humanity.

Gazpacho - I’ve Been Walking (Part 1) The Norwegian prog scene has been gaining momentum of late, and Gazpacho are firmly established as its shimmering figureheads. A towering epic from the fearless Demon album, I’ve Been Walking (Part 1) exuded elegance and a hint of menace, as this unique band appeared to morph, in real time, into ever more compelling shapes.