Prog Conservatism?

I remember a discussion a few months back with The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis where I suggested that the aggregated best-of lists that appear in many music publications tended to be boring and predictable. They often end up reinforcing a lowest-common-denominator consensus, and frequently exclude the more eclectic choices of individual contributors. For example, none of Dom Lawson’s excellent choices made The Guardian’s top 40 of 2012

The top 15 of 2013 from The Dutch Progressive Rock Page seems to bear this out. Despite containing many great albums that also appear on my own best of the year list, it does give the impression that it takes a very narrow definition of “Prog”. It’s true that Riverside, Steven Wilson, Haken and Big Big Train have all made great albums that deserve to be honoured. But there’s no place for the likes of The Fierce and The Dead, Luna Rossa, Ihsahn or even Fish, all of which fall under the broad spectrum of progressive music, but don’t fit a narrow neo-progressive template. It’s also notable how male the list is; only one band out of the 15 (Magenta) have a female lead singer.

It would be easy to blame this on musical conservatism on behalf of the site’s contributors, but I strongly suspect that when a list is defined by what it excludes, it merely demonstrates that such aggregated lists are of limited usefulness.

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8 Responses to Prog Conservatism?

  1. Dave C says:

    I’ve thought similar myself. Aggregated lists can end up looking like a bit of a Frankenstein’s monster by their very nature, and I think that was noticeable in the Prog magazine overall top 20 this year. There were albums showcased that hardly featured in individuals’ lists at all, which appeared odd.

    Best to identify writers, bloggers, or in fact anyone with a love of music that share your tastes – that’s where the real interest is for me. As you’ve suggested Tim, lists from individuals work best.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    The list-by-committee approach tends to favour the records many people like rather then the ones some people love.

    Of course, the downside of individual lists is that they’re restricted to the music the lister has had the chance to hear over the year.

  3. David Lack says:

    Interesting piece, I think Prog was a seemingly ‘dirty word’ for a such long time, it made some people quite defensive in the musical outlook, sometimes going as far as to criticise artists who tried to distance themselves from the genre a while back. Perhaps this is where some of the conservatism stems from? I don’t know if I’d call myself conservative in my musical tastes but then again most of my 2013 ‘discoveries’ (Haken, Airbag, Leprous, Days Between Stations, Dead Letter Circus) have at least one toe in the Prog door. Some of those however, have come from looking at these lists and exploring from there, so they do have some merit I guess.

  4. Tim Hall says:

    There was definitely a bit of a “Circle the wagons” approach a few years back, and that attitude dies hard. I don’t think that sort of tribalism really does any good, but I can understand why it exists.

    One thing I’ve noticed of late is that the more a band’s sound is “prog”, the less they want to identify with the label. And there is some logic to that; if a band are already well-known in the “scene”, calling themselves prog risks limiting their potential audience, while for a straightforward melodic rock band, calling themselves prog may get them on prog fans’ radar. Nowadays I try to avoid using the p-word in reviews for artists with a lot of crossover appeal.

  5. PaulE says:

    The method of creating the aggregated list is designed to remove unusual selections. None of them have stated their method, but I suspect a simple linear scoring system – 10 points for 1st place to 1 point for 10th place. Which makes one 1st equal to 10 10ths, 5 9ths or 2 6th places. Albums scoring consistently across all lists (even in the bottom half) will overhaul those scoring high on only a few lists.

  6. Tim Hall says:

    If the result is a predicable and conservative list, what’s the point?

  7. PaulE says:

    The point ? I could be really cynical and say (a) to fill a few pages of a publication easily and (b) to give the readers something to complain about. :)

  8. Tim Hall says:

    A bit like this blog post, then?

    Bollocks! I’ve been rumbled :)

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