My Musical Album of the Year 2020 (and more!)
It’s time to declare the winner of this year’s prestigious prize: the felixleger.com album of the year!
Working from home since March, you can bet that I have listened to a multitude of genres of music in order to help with the moody reality of the pandemic. At the last quarter of every year, I love to go to progarchives.com to see what are the highest rated albums of the current year. These fellows dig deep to find their material.
This year, I was caught by surprise by Sadako e le mille gru di carta (translation: Sadako and the thousand paper cranes) from Italian band LogoS. While the users of progarchives rank Sadako in third place at the moment in their top 100 albums of the year, it managed to run away with my heart. The album is in the Rock Progresivo Italiano (RPI) subgenre of progressive rock, and is obviously in Italian. I have not yet read deeply into the (translated) lyrics, but the album has a theme revolving around a true life story involving origami and a sick child that survived the Hiroshima bombing disaster. That should be enough to grab anyone’s interest!
One thing I like in particular about Sadako is that it sounds both more complex and more simple than it truly is. While I like to listen to the album from front to back, my favorite highlight is Il sarto (track 4). The calm between two storms, it also reminds me in part to the music of Beau Dommage, a band that achieved mainstream popularity in Quebec in the 70s. The ending of the next track, Zaini di elio, is bombastic and tasteful. Upon hearing the impressive church bells, you would be forgiven for thinking it is the end of the album, when over twenty minutes remain in the final tital track. The album has many moments that flow into each other, and uses slow-paced leitmotifs under different instrumentations that manage to sound both fresh and familiar.
I don’t quite know how they do it, but artists in the RPI subgenre are excellent at creating ambiances that sound out this world: but incredibly beautiful and haunting. Even in more quiet parts of the music, the energy is always present and almost menacing. No other genre of rock makes me feel quite as invested in their quiet parts. After a few listens, when you learn to trust this menace (nothing bad will happen! These tensions will get resolved, I swear!), the music just becomes an immense bed of feathers waiting for you to dive into. In regards to Sadako itself, if you enjoy music from the band Camel and give it an Italian twist, it might give you a good idea of the sound of the album.
Before listening to Sadako, this used to be my top 3 RPI albums:
- Zarathustra (Museo Rosenbach)
- Per un amico (Premiata Forneria Marconi)
- Maxophone (Maxophone)
I don’t want to risk comparisons between past masters of the subgenre, but I can honestly say that even after six listens, I keep getting drawn back to Sadako. We will have to wait and see where it places in the top 3 after many repeated listens. As for 2020, though, I won’t bother waiting for December to roll around.
A special mention - Theo Katzman
Before the pandemic changed our lives, I was in love with Theo Katzman’s Modern Johnny Sings: Songs in the Age of Vibe, so much so that I had bought tickets to see him play the album in person. I’m saddened that covid had other plans, but I still want to give my appreciation to Theo Katzman for creating such a rich album.
A playlist of songs I aggregated during the year
During the beginning of the year, I started accumulating “modern psychedelic-pop” songs in a playlist I called “Soar with me”. If you like this genre (think Beatles-like, but more indie with a modern spin), give this playlist a listen! https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1iZEDzF689EY3PUDCeHtZY?si=TpuikavhSgalTeHqf7Sjkg
My Past Albums of the Year
Since this is the first time I create a post to award a musical album, I couldn’t declare a winner for any of the past years. In order to remedy this, let me award two more official awards, this time for the years 2019 and 2018. It feels like a lifetime ago, but I managed to remember what managed to win my heart back in those days:
2019 - Twenty Twenty (Djo)
Believe it or not, Twenty Twenty was released in September 2019! If only 2020 was as sweet as Twenty Twenty… The album is nothing revolutionary, but it takes many of the best ideas from the past (it is apparent that Djo is a fan of the Beatles from his song structure) and wraps them up in an honest package that feels genuine and effortless. It’s a cool album. I’m looking forward to more content from Djo (aka Joe Keery, aka Steve from Stranger Things (!!)). I’m already tapping my feet to his new single, Keep Your Head Up.
Congratulations, Djo! I’m still waiting on that vinyl version to release!
2018 - Darlène (Hubert Lenoir)
Talk about a national sensation! Hubert Lenoir is an artist who is younger than me (I’m not used to that) and creates music in Quebec city, about 3 hours from where I live. His music feels both incredibly personal and relatable. Off the stage, his personality turned off a lot of people who heard about him and his shenanigans, but I believe we have to separate art from the artist (and I believe the artist himself has his heart at the right place, regardless). I don’t know if it qualifies as traditional progressive rock, but it is clearly rock with a transitional nature, if not with a bit of pop on top. The sound production is absolutely crisp, too. I like to say this album reconnected me to my inner teen.
Congratulations, Hubert! Looking forward to whatever else you have in store. No pressure!
2017 - ????????????????????????
Coming soon when I remember what it was! 😄
2016 - The Similitude of a Dream (The Neal Morse Band)
The less I say about this band, the better will be your surprise. These old rockers still got it. It’s one of the few albums I had the privilege to see played live, along with 3 of my friends who discovered the band thanks to this album. It’s ok if you don’t care much for the theme, at least give the music an honest chance. You just might be surprised! I, for one, find the theme very fresh in these modern times. Few artists do what Neal Morse is doing at the moment (other than Neal Morse himself). I hope I made you curious enough to check it out! The album has a great cast of characters and many moments that will keep you coming back for more.
Note: If you like this album, a sequel named The Great Adventure was released in 2019. To me, it does not live up to the incredible heights of Similitude, but it is still a worthy listen.