Top 50 Prog Albums of 2022, Part 2: 25-1

Welcome back to The Elite Extremophile’s Topg 50 Prog Albums of 2022. In case you missed it, Part 1 can be found here.

#25: uKanDanz – 4 Against the Odds | Jazz-fusion, Ethio-jazz | Bandcamp

Though 4 Against the Odds sees the departure of their amazing vocalist, uKanDanz’s latest release is a major improvement over their previous effort. Keys and saxophone weave crunchy leads over slinking, jazzy backdrops. The individual tracks range from subtle and subdued to brash and aggressive. The Ethiopic modes and scales deployed here meld naturally with the proggy jazz-rock foundation. 

#24: Mellow Beast – Waiting Room | Progressive rock | Bandcamp

Waiting Room is a focused, to-the-point record. The songs here flow together seamlessly into one another, and musical motifs are revisited numerous times over the duration of the album. The melodies are catchy, and this album’s dreamy atmosphere matches its phantasmic theme perfectly.

#23: Raze the Maze – 7 AM Dream | Progressive rock, Progressive pop | Bandcamp

This southern Oregon-based duo blends smart, poppy hooks and glistening instrumental tones with surprising song structures and intricate vocal arrangements. Tones of jazz and metal arise occasionally alongside the more pop-influenced moments. The band also does a great job of toying around with meter and rhythm in unusual ways, and that does nothing to impede the strength of the hooks. The short length of the songs gives this album a sense of forward momentum; ideas make an impression without overstaying their welcome. 

#22: Bubblemath – Turf Ascension | Progressive rock | Bandcamp

Bubblemath’s latest release is a fun synthesis of the sounds of ‘90s prog with more modern sensibilities. The music on Turf Ascension is mostly light and melodic, with lots of complex, inventive instrumental passages. When the occasional darker passage crops up, though, it’s impactful. Guitar and keys often trade the lead effortlessly, and these four sprawling tracks feel organic.

#21: Moon Letters – Thank You from the Future | Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This Seattle-based band’s sophomore LP is a glittering blend of rich synths, crunchy guitars, and classic prog sounds infused with modern energy. The songs are smartly-structured, bright, and energetic. There is an amazing amount of focus here. The tracks all feel purposeful, and there’s nearly no bloat. This album was a bit of a grower for me; I liked it on my first listen, and each listen has given me something new to enjoy.

#20: Karcius – Grey White Silver Yellow and Gold | Progressive metal | Bandcamp

The latest album from this Quebecois group is a great example of Elder-inspired heavy prog. Though less overtly stoner-y than Elder, there are numerous sonic parallels. Karcius, however, manages to escape that shadow on GWSYG. The songs are long, complex, heavy, and engaging. The longer cuts especially are full of all kinds of exciting musical twists. The individual tracks all work together excellently to make a very satisfying whole.

#19: Elder – Innate Passage | Progressive rock, Heavy psych | Bandcamp

Innate Passage is a welcome improvement over the somewhat disappointing Omens. The sound is unmistakably Elder’s unique blend of stoner, psych, and prog, but the band sounds invigorated in a way they didn’t on their last album. The songs cleverly weave threads together in highly-satisfying ways. The five songs here are epic, and I greatly appreciate the increased variation in texture and color.

#18: WIZRD – Seasons | Progressive rock | Bandcamp

Energetic, bouncy guitar lines keep this album buoyant and fun. These Norwegians artfully mix tight, mathy riffs, surprising structures, clever lyrics, and engaging jamming. The end result is accessible but exciting. The longer songs on Seasons in particular are good encapsulations of this band’s skills as songwriters and instrumentalists.

#17: Голуби и Безумные Кашевары – Нора | Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This Russian ensemble draws from a diverse set of influences. There are plenty of the typical progressive tropes you’d expect to be here, but many more abound. Klezmer music, post-rock, Tuvan throat-singing, jazz, punk, and others all fuse into a stunningly cohesive whole. This album ranges from laid-back to eerie to quite intense, but never do things feel incongruous.

#16: Kevin Wulf – Dorilton | Progressive rock, Alternative rock | Bandcamp

Dorilton is the second album of the year from multi-instrumentalist Kevin Wulf. The music is often brooding and channels ‘90s alt-rock and grunge. Wulf’s fairly flat vocal affect works well here; that’s a style that often fails to land. Saxophone lends a lovely character to the songs, and the way these compositions evolve and unfold is great. The influence of early ‘70s King Crimson and Van der Gaaf Generator are evident in some of the album’s jazzier moments, and prog-folk flavors can be heard in quiet passages. Some songs do run a hair long, but that’s a minor overall gripe.

#15: Gospel – The Loser | Progressive rock | Bandcamp

Gospel’s second full length album (released 17 years after their first) blends some familiar sounds together while still maintaining a fresh energy. The band’s post-hardcore roots shine through in these songs, and they’re full of raw energy. Wiry guitars and lush keys tangle around each other in satisfying ways. If you were disappointed by The Mars Volta’s new album, this should hopefully scratch your itch for something in that vein.

#14: An Abstract Illusion – Woe | Progressive metal, Death metal | Bandcamp

This hour-long song cycle flows together quite smoothly, giving the impression of one unified piece. Moments on this album range from delicate to pounding and mournful, to cautiously hopeful. Alongside their death metal base, the band mixes in bits of jazz, folk, and electronica to strong effect. Though there is a bit of bloat on this album, it’s a minor issue in the grand scheme of things. When the music here is strong, it’s very strong.

#13: Path of Might – Deep Chrome | Progressive metal, Sludge metal | Bandcamp

Sludge metallers Path of Might’s newest album is a furious onslaught of complex, exciting, and dynamic music. The riffs are churning and complex, synthesizers go a long way in fleshing out the overall sound, and the vocals are powerful. Each song contains great twists and surprises, and the album as a whole is like a lusher version of Blood Mountain-era Mastodon.

#12: Paul Draper – Cult Leader Tactics | Progressive pop, Art rock | Bandcamp

Cult Leader Tactics is the type of album Steven Wilson wishes he could make. This is, at its core, a pop-rock record, but the pop is artful, clever, engaging, and inventive. Many of Draper’s lyrics have a dark satirical edge to them, and the songs’ arrangements display a deep level of thoughtfulness. There’s no shortage of infectious hooks or ear-catching melodies. The production is clean and slick, though it doesn’t cross over into saccharine glossiness. The title track and “You’ve Got No Life Skills, Baby!” are especially strong examples of Draper’s songwriting.

#11: Harpo Jarvi – Babushka Noir | Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This keyboard-centric trio has charted out a distinct space in the modern prog scene. Their sound is quite modern, and they draw upon elements of jazz and electronica. They balance extended jamming against smart structuring and engaging vocal melodies to produce a deeply enjoyable fusion.

#10: The Light in the Ocean – Deep Reef Dream | Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

The Light in the Ocean’s third full-length release demonstrates some of their strongest, most focused songwriting yet. The music varies from the punchy, catchy opener, “Things Inside,” to the Mexican-flavored “Tijuana Sunset,” to the slow, lurching “Psyclops”. This album is propulsive, cohesive, and above all else… fun. Despite being mostly instrumental, the band effectively maintains throughlines in the compositions, and the balance of adventurousness and accessibility is fantastic.

#9: The Physics House Band – Incident on 3rd | Jazz-fusion, Progressive rock | Bandcamp

After three EPs over the span of a decade, The Physics House Band finally released a full-length album in December 2021, and it is fantastic. The band was always rooted in math rock, but jazz elements were hardly uncommon in their music. Incident on 3rd is their jazziest release to date. The songs are masterfully played and engagingly structured. Sax is often the focal point, with keys and guitar often trading duties on co-lead. Flashes of doom metal, ambient electronica, and classic prog are present at various points throughout this release, leading to a diverse and solid listen.

#8: Daniel Rossen – You Belong There | Progressive folk, Chamber folk | Bandcamp

Daniel Rossen’s solo debut is an artful meditation. There’s a sense of ragged weariness running through this release, and his delicate vocals mesh well with the intricate folk backing. Guitar lines are often askew, rhythms are unorthodox, and arrangements are inventive. Rossen blends progressive song structures with the sound palette of chamber music and folk to make a release that is gentle, yet impactful.

#7: black midi – Hellfire | Avant-prog | Bandcamp

Hellfire is an oppressive, disorienting adventure full of blistering, jazzy riffs juxtaposed against gentle and sweet passages drawn from genres as diverse as country and showtunes. It’s an incredibly ambitious album that crams a million ideas into under 40 minutes. This is an exciting experience which leaves the listener breathless.

#6: Anarchÿ – Sentïence | Progressive thrash metal | Bandcamp

This blazing, blistering journey of lightning-fast riffs, literary themes, and gratuitous umlauts is a wonderful demonstration that prog-thrash can still be vibrant and vital in today’s musical landscape. Though the 32-minute “The Spectrum of Human Emotion” is the clear show-stopper of this album, the other tracks fit in excellently. There are a million surprising, exciting ideas built into this record, and this duo demonstrates incredible skill and creativity.

#5: Phaneronaut – Anabasis | Zeuhl, RIO | Bandcamp

This album contains a strange blend of zeuhl, electronica, world music, and more. It makes for an odd, otherworldly atmosphere, which suits the hallucinogenic concept of the album quite well. Weird synths, brash brass, and elements as diverse as banjos and gongs somehow manage to meld into something creepy, inventive, and well worth revisiting.

#4: Moura – Axexan, espreitan | Progressive rock, Galician folk | Bandcamp

The second full-length album from this Galician act follows in the same vein as their debut. There is a heavy, occult, psychedelic ambiance to the whole record, and the inclusions of Celtic-tinged Galician folk work wonderfully. Bits of krautrock have found their way into the mix, too, and the focus on terser song structures paid off in allowing Axexan, espreitan to more easily cover a lot of ground.

#3: Knekklectric – Alt blir verre | Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This was one of my most pleasant surprises of 2022. These Norwegians play a fairly light and gentle variety of progressive rock which manages to be both accessible and complex. The strong pop sensibilities lead to catchy melodies and smart arrangements, but the songs tend to be long and complex. Themes are brought up and revisited throughout the longer pieces, leading to a strong sense of continuity.

#2: Ashenspire – Hostile Architecture | Avant-garde metal | Bandcamp

Hostile Architecture is a challenging and dense record, but it’s well worth your time. The scouring black metal, brash jazz elements, and cynical lyrics blend together into a righteous, furious storm. The music here twists in unexpected manners. One moment you’re being battered by pummeling metal, and the next the arrangement has stripped down to something minimal but impactful.

#1: The Mighty Orchid King – Mycelium Music Volume I: “Pinedemonium Awakes” | Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp

Self-proclaimed “mushroom-prog” act The Mighty Orchid King has made an impressive statement with their debut full-length record. It’s a swirling, psychedelic slurry of folk, psych, prog, and art rock flavors. Themes rise, subside, and reemerge, lending an impressive sense of wholeness and cohesion to this record. Inventive song structures and unexpected musical influences are paired alongside strong hooks and enchanting vocal harmonies. For the third year in a row, a debut album nabs the top spot on this list; this record truly makes an unforgettable impression.

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