I will be the first person to admit I’m a bit out of my depth when it comes to folk music, especially of the one-guy-with-an-acoustic-guitar variety. It’s normally not my sort of thing. I have repeatedly discussed my deemphasization of lyrics, so lyric-focused genres often fail to resonate with me. Every now and again, I’m able to find something in this field which I like. Such releases, though, always feature inventive, original music, which is what draws me in.
You Belong There is the first full-length solo release from Daniel Rossen, lead vocalist of the indie rock band Grizzly Bear. I listened to a bit of Grizzly Bear’s output before writing this review, and there are certainly some common threads. This takes a much more somber and introspective route than the band’s output, though, with the instrumentation being nearly entirely acoustic.
Band: Cró! | Album:Buah! | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp
On such a short album, this Spanish quartet manages to cover a huge amount of territory. The title track strongly reminds me of classic Italian acts like PFM or BDMS, and “Coia” is slow-moving and creepy. Other songs touch on alt-rock, funk, and jazzy art-rock. It’s a wonderfully diverse release, and all those different styles are played excellently.
Band: Envy of None | Album:Envy of None | Genre: Post-rock | Bandcamp
Envy of None is Alex Lifeson’s new band, and it sounds absolutely nothing like Rush. I went in expecting that, based off the lead single. I knew it was going to be a lot spacier, more atmospheric, and mellower. And while there are a few good songs on the album (“Look Inside”, “Spy House”, “Dog’s Life”), most of this album is a bore. It reminds me of trip-hop–a genre I’m really not crazy about–but without much creativity. Most songs are slow and relatively unvaried. This might be good background music, but I was hoping for dynamism.
I hesitate to use a label more restrictive than “rock” to describe King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. These astonishingly prolific Aussies have one of the most diverse back catalogs in modern popular music, ranging from garage rock to prog to thrash metal to synthpop to microtonal music and beyond. Their latest release is a dizzying encapsulation of their always-shifting style. The appropriately-titled Omnium Gatherum (a faux-Latin phrase meaning “a collection of many different things”) is a sprawling, 80-minute record that has a bit of everything.
Path of Might’s self-titled debut was one of my earliest purchases on Bandcamp. I loved the intelligent song structures and the visceral intensity of their playing. I apparently missed their 2017 sophomore album, but now it’s 2022, and they’ve got a third full-length release for the world.
The overall sound I remember from their debut is still here in this new release. The music is powerful and unrelenting, often evoking early Mastodon. But they have also become more refined. They’ve added keyboards to their music, and that addition has brought new richness.
Hamtaï! Welcome back to Deep Dive, my series where I explore the extended studio discographies of the giants of progressive rock and metal. I’ve got a weird one for you today: Magma, the founders of zeuhl.
For those who don’t feel like reading massive entries in their entirety, I’ve included a TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end of this piece. I’m opting to explore albums chronologically, as opposed to a ranked-list format. The context in which albums were made is important, and this contextual element is often overlooked in many ranked-lists.
Magma has always been a weird band. I’ll delve into what exactly zeuhl is below, but even beyond the structural strangeness of their music, the band’s composition has varied wildly over the years. At the time of writing, Wikipedia lists 12 current members and 22 former members; and Rate Your Music names 11 current members with a staggering 89 former members. Much of this can be attributed to their frequent shifts in sound, ranging from their very wind instrument-heavy first albums, to mid-career funk experiments, to later albums which prominently featured vibraphone. Multiple vocalists have always been a signature element of their sound as well.
Magma has been incredibly consistent across their career, in terms of the quality of their work. Even their worst album isn’t all that bad. I’ll also give a quick shout-out to their live performances. I saw Magma on their 2016 US tour, and that was one of the absolute best live shows I’ve ever seen, only seriously challenged by my experiences seeing Rush and Moonsorrow. This column only covers studio output in any depth, but the live albums Hhaï and Retrospektïẁ (I-III) are some of their best work. I’m a big enough fan that I personally own the 12-disc live box set Köhnzert Zünd.
Before we get going, though, I’m sure those of you unfamiliar with Magma are asking…
One of the great things about the decentralization of the music industry has been the ability of niche record labels to proliferate. As evidenced by the minuscule amount of good zeuhl from the 1980s, if you played an unpopular genre of music, it was tough to get your recordings a proper release. Now, though, I can name several labels that either specialize in or put out a significant amount of zeuhl. Soleil Zeuhl is the oldest of these, founded in 1999. More recent ones include Dur et Doux, Guerssen (primarily doing reissues of obscure past releases), and today’s focus, Baboon Fish.
Baboon Fish Label is a French zeuhl label that, lately, has averaged about one release a year. What this label lacks in quantity, they make up for in quality. They released an album by Nebulous Sun last year, which made it onto my year-end list; and I also am quite fond of their 2017 release from The Orvalians. The most recent release from this label is the self-titled debut from self-described “angular rock” band Cratophane. That “angular” label describes a lot of what Baboon Fish specializes in, and it’s especially fitting for this experimental instrumental act.
Besna hails from Slovakia, and they play a variety of melodic black metal and post-metal which artfully weaves together multiple musical ideas. Each of the six songs on this album sprawl without being overlong. The passages blend together seamlessly, and the emotional intensity makes these tracks that much more impactful. I’m also glad that this band sings in their native language, as I quite like the sound of Slovak (and Czech, since they sound so similar, aside from that terrible ř sound the Czechs have).
Artist: Tanshuman Das | Album:Progress Report | Genre: Progressive metal, Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Tanshuman Das is a bassist and composer from India who writes music in the vein of ‘90s Dream Theater and similar acts. The music on Progress Report is epic, dramatic, and cinematic. The compositions are intelligently-assembled, and the playing is skillful. This album is a bit longer than it needs to be, but that’s a pretty common issue in this style of music. Overall, though, this is a fun, enjoyable release.
Records like this one are why I’m glad I decided to lump music released in December 2021 with 2022 for my year-end list-making purposes. I’m often in a bit of a rush getting my draft lists off to my editors, and trying to find new music in the midst of that is a fool’s errand. Somalgia’s debut album–Inverted World– was released in mid-December, and it’s a fantastic blend of genres, including progressive rock, black metal, trip-hop, and psychedelia.
Somalgia is an English duo who go so far as to label their music “post-genre.” It’s certainly a diverse release, especially as far as progressive rock and progressive metal go; but they’re not doing the stereotype of pretentious prog-rockers any favors with this sort of posturing. The lyrics are also a bit 14-year-old-who-just-saw-The-Matrix-and-is-now-a-conspiracy-theorist for my taste. The band has used the NPC wojak meme multiple times on their Instagram, as well as engaging in some 5G conspiracy. I get the feeling it would likely be unproductive for me to engage in political discussions with whomever wrote the lyrics.
Political gripes aside, Inverted World has a lot of fantastic music on it; and it’s situations like this one where I’m glad I’m good at just tuning words out most of the time.
Searching “progressive rock” or “progressive metal” on Bandcamp (my primary means of finding new music) will yield an abundance of stoner acts labeling themselves as prog. Most are nothing special. Songs running 19 minutes does not a prog record make. To be sure, though, there are examples of bands that take the stylistic trappings of stoner rock and successfully meld it with the technical skill and structural ambition of progressive rock. Elder is probably the best-known example, but I’ve covered others, such as Howling Giant and Little Jimi.
Humanotone, a project based out of Chile devised by sole member Jorge Cist, is another strong example of a stoner metal-based act that makes complex, intelligent music. Compared to their rough-around-the-edges 2017 debut, A Flourishing Fall in a Grain of Sand is much more refined. The songs are put together well, and the individual elements of these long compositions flow together smoothly.
Artist: Stewart Clark | Album:Journeys | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Stewart Clark draws noticeably from the classic prog giants, most obviously Yes and Genesis. The music is rich and grand, and though the playing is hardly flashy, the songs are creatively and thoughtfully structured. The folk elements are especially nice. Some cuts do drag on a bit, but this is an overall enjoyable release.
Band: Cyril | Album:Amenti’s Coin – Secret Place Pt. II | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
If you’re looking for some well-made progressive rock in the vein of acts like Transatlantic or The Flower Kings, these guys aren’t a bad choice. It’s highly melodic with a lot of strong instrumental performances. The band does occasionally veer into overwrought balladry, and I can’t say there’s anything particularly novel being said here. Despite that, sometimes you just want some lush, classic-style prog.