There is no shortage of instrumental EPs and albums put out by guitarists. Many of these releases tend to be self-indulgent and focused on technical soloing. Because of that trend, it’s always a refreshing change of pace when I run across someone like Xander Naylor, who functions more as a composer who just so happens to play guitar, rather than a guitarist composing pieces for his instrument.
Continuum is Naylor’s debut full-length record, and it reminds me of Steve Hackett’s solo material. Not so much in sound, but more so in that while there’s plenty of skillful instrumentalism, it isn’t to the neglect of structure or vision.
Band: Days Between Stations | Album:Giants | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Though technically not a member of the band, ex-Yes multi-instrumentalist Billy Sherwood produced and contributed heavily to this album. This band is extremely Yes-y, almost to the point of distraction. It’s a skillful aping of Yes’s sound, but it does leave me wanting a bit more originality at moments. I’m also not wild about Sherwood’s production; this album sounds thin and washed-out. However, if you’re craving something in the vein of (good) ‘90s Yes, these guys are a decent way to scratch that itch.
Band: Enslaved | Album:Utgard | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp
This is certainly an Enslaved album. It’s melodic black-ish metal with frequent intrusions of harmonized clean vocals and prominent keyboards. Enslaved’s albums tend to grow on me over time, but they’re also often structured significantly differently. This record feels like Enslaved are trying to be more accessible. The songs are shorter than usual, and the band’s black metal background is played down. When RIITIIR (my favorite release from this band) came out, it didn’t click with me at first, but I felt the itch to revisit it. I don’t think I’ll be having much urge to put this album on repeat.
Last year, New York-based bassist and composer Louis de Mieulle released Side$how, an instrumental, improvisation consisting of himself, a drummer, and two keyboardists. That album was one of my most pleasant surprises of 2019, given my usual leeriness about instrumental records. He deftly blended a jazzy backbone with proggy flourishes and touches of krautrock, zeuhl, and even electronic music.
On Sid€show 2, de Mieulle follows the same general template. Himself, a drummer, and two keyboardists improvise over a preconceived structure, employing the musical vocabulary of both jazz and progressive rock. Despite the similarities in how these two albums were composed and recorded, they have vastly different characters. Side$how had a bright, sunny atmosphere, but Sid€show 2 has a colder feel to it. Continue reading “Album Review: Louis de Mieulle – Sid€show 2”→
Band: Ak’chamel, The Giver Of Illness | Album:The Totemist | Genre: Krautrock, Psychedelic folk | Bandcamp
The Totemist is a swirl of ritualistic atmosphere and repetition. The murky aura augments the contrasts between the sharp notes of the acoustic instruments and the omnipresent, sinister drone. The compositions morph in naturalistic ways, and subtle touches of jazz are worked in amid the faux-shamanic folk, resulting in something quite creative.
This instrumental Ukrainian band reminds me a lot of Liquid Tension Experiment. The roots of the act’s sound clearly derive from Dream Theater-style melodic prog metal, but jazz plays a large role here too. The individual musicians flaunt their chops on the three songs here, but the soloing always comes off as purposeful. Each track is full of surprising twists and turns, with few ideas sticking around for more than about a minute at a time. Somehow, it avoids feeling disjointed.
Band: Guranfoe | Album:Sum of Erda | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Guranfoe are an instrumental act who draw heavy inspiration from the ‘70s prog giants, most notably Genesis and Camel. They’re good at keeping the momentum up on this album, and the songs are chock-full of neat little flourishes and some great solos. Folk and jazz touches are deployed to great effect. However, as with many instrumental albums I cover, most of these songs feel too long, and some of the extended solos, in particular, leave me looking at my watch. If the band were to tighten up the songs a bit, I think they could put out a really great album.
Band: Karfagen | Album:Birds of Passage | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Antony Kalugin is an incredibly prolific Ukrainian composer and multi-instrumentalist, and Karfagen is one of his myriad projects. Birds of Passage is Karfagen’s 11th album in 14 years, and most of it is focused on the 44-minute title track. It’s mostly bright, sunny prog in the style of acts like Spock’s Beard and Moon Safari. Organ and synthesizer dominate on the first half, while the second half reduces the bombast (initially, at least). It can feel long-winded at times, but the songs have enough distinct movements that that’s only an infrequent issue. If you’re a fan of the 21st Century brand of symphonic prog, definitely check this album out.
Though this blog is only about a year old, I’ve been publishing music-oriented year-end lists on my personal Facebook since 2010. Those lists have usually covered all releases—albums and EPs—as well as music from genres outside the progosphere. Since starting this blog, I listened to more new music in 2019 than I had in any previous year, and it was even more skewed toward prog and prog-related output than in years past.
To save myself from having to write (and you from having to read) a 100-plus-entry list full of mediocre releases, I’ve instead opted to publish TheEliteExtremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2019. This post will cover entries 50-26. Part 2, covering the top 25, will be published on Monday.
I’m not publishing album scores here, and past album scores should not be read into too much. Reviews generally reflect something of a first impression, and after months of listening, albums’ standings rise and fall. This list also features some very good albums which I just never reviewed in full.
As a disclaimer, I’m sure there are some excellent albums not included. This 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, either through this site, via email, or through my Facebook page. Continue reading “Top 50 Prog Albums of 2019, Part 1: 50-26”→
Welcome to the first of three planned installments for this site’s best of 2019. Starting things off is TheEliteExtremophile’s Top Prog EPs of 2019. The vast bulk of what I listen to for this blog is full-length albums, and the assorted prog-related genres tend to be long-winded. As such, this list contains only five entries, but all five are highly recommended.
As a disclaimer, I’m sure there are some excellent releases not included. This site is my personal pet project, 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, either through this site, via email, or through my Facebook page. Continue reading “Top Prog EPs of 2019”→
I’ve been pretty open in my general hesitance toward instrumental albums. I’m not the kind of person to pay attention to lyrics, but the human voice adds so much character to music, which can be quite difficult to make up for with just instruments. I don’t believe I’ve discussed it in any great detail on this site—though I’ve made a few comments about it on Reddit—but I am also not a fan of the current zeitgeist of jazzy, instrumental rock and metal epitomized by acts like Intervals, Plini, and Sithu Aye. So much of it just sounds like aimless, speedy noodling. Thank God this album avoids those pitfalls magnificently.
French-born bassist and composer Louis de Mieulle’s newest album, Side$how, is a constantly-engaging blend of ambitious instrumental progressive rock with many trappings of jazz. Touches of electronic genres and krautrock crop up throughout this release’s 41-minute runtime. Consisting of eight songs, titled “Bed of Nails, Part 1-8”, the music was mostly improvised and recorded live by de Mieulle, a pair of keyboardists, and a drummer. Continue reading “Album Review: Louis de Mieulle – Side$how”→
Guy Hatton is a prolific multi-instrumentalist specializing in high-energy jazz, jazz fusion, and progressive rock. His previous releases have had significant funk and Latin influence, featuring bouncing bass, congas, and rich synth textures.
Here, Hatton plays guitars, bass, and keys and programs all the drums. A pair of guests are also brought on for this album to play saxophone and additional keys. The album title is taken from a quote by Salvador Dalí, “It’s true I am eccentric, but in the same time, I am concentric!”, which features in both the opening and closing tracks. It’s a fitting quote to inspire this album—the music is weird, wonky, and off-kilter. At the same time, it’s carefully constructed and complexly layered, with guitars and synths piling up to make an intricate mesh. Continue reading “Album Review: Guy Hatton – I Am Concentric”→