Welcome to Part One of TheEliteExtremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2020, this site’s second-annual best-of list. It’s also my tenth year of writing year-end music roundups. The first eight were posted on my personal Facebook. Check out Part 2 here.
2020 was a banner year for progressive rock and progressive metal. There were so many fantastic albums released, and paring this list down to just 50 was often a painful process. Even more difficult was deciding on the exact order of these albums.
Like I said last year, I’m sure there are some excellent albums not included. This site is a one-man operation (in relation to reviewing, that is; my editors, Kelci and Dan, have been tremendously helpful), and I simply cannot listen to everything that gets released. I also have my personal biases against some rather popular trends in prog, which affected the composition of this list. But if you’ve got recommendations, do not hesitate to shoot them my way.
Artist: Andre LaFosse | Album:Karma Suppression Index | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
This instrumental album is full of twisting, groovy guitar lines and pulsing electronic rhythms. I’d recommend this album to fans of later King Crimson, especially The Power to Believe. However, despite the strengths of this album—I love the various tones LaFosse utilized, and it’s very well-produced—it does fall victim to the same pitfall as many other instrumental albums: it winds up feeling too long. Most songs don’t have a particularly clear arc or momentum, and a good groove will only carry you so far.
This Czech quintet play a noisy, chaotic blend of post-punk and prog. They make me think of a rawer, noisier Atsuko Chiba, or a more progressive Viet Cong/Preoccupations. Glassy synthesizers shine against jagged guitars, and the compositions twist and surge in exciting ways. Math rock flourishes are common, and squealing guitars contrast against a buzzing background. There are other surprising moments: the keys in the instrumental “Skelněná Krajina” give a feeling not unlike video game music at times, and the sprawling “Ken Kesey” features some electronic inclusions.
Artist: Aurora Ferrer | Album:Night Oracles and Falling Stars | Genre: Art rock, Electronic rock | Bandcamp
This album, while not strictly prog, is evocative of many prog and prog-related acts. The pulsing electronics are usually krautrock-y in nature, and the overall atmosphere is akin to acts like Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, and Pure Reason Revolution. The compositions are dense, creative, and driving. Particularly praiseworthy are the varied yet cohesive textures in each composition; the album has a distinct feel to it, but no two songs are quite alike.
Band: Catapulco | Album:Pulpo | Genre: Progressive rock, Hard rock | Bandcamp
Pulpo, the second album from German band Catapulco, opens with the 17-minute suite “Sina”. On both this song and the rest of the album, Catapulco clearly draw inspiration from early ‘70s hard rock acts, and the vocalist’s delivery has an almost Southern twang to it. Much of Pulpo sounds like Molly Hatchet trying to do prog rock. There are some neat ideas on this record, and overall I enjoyed it, but at points it is derivative enough to be distracting. The lyrics also are distractingly trite, but as these guys are non-native Anglophones, I’m more than happy to cut them some slack.
I avoided this record for the better part of a month because I confused this band’s name with that of Astronoid, a group I emphatically dislike. Once I realized this mix-up, I gave this a listen, and I was glad I did. The music is pummeling, sludgy, melodic, and exciting. I’m especially impressed with the vocal performance here. My one complaint is that this record feels a tad long. Even if they would have chopped off one song or maybe shaved 30 seconds off every song, I would have enjoyed this release more.
Germany has been at the epicenter of cosmic, experimental rock music that incorporates electronic elements since the early 1970s. The genre is called krautrock, after all. (The term was initially—rightly, in my view—rejected by German artists; the English music press invented the term in order to write off the movement.) Perilymph both adheres to and bucks this genre’s Germanness: this act is a one-man project based in Berlin, though the man behind it, Fabien de Menou, is French.