Band: Ak’chamel, The Divinatory Monkey and the Sovereign Plumed Serpent | Album:A Mournful Kingdom of Sand | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Progressive folk | Bandcamp
Ak’chamel is back with a slightly altered name since I last covered this band. The music’s a bit different, too, and I like this album more for it. It’s less murky, and the instruments are more able to shine through. There’s still a hazy, incense-filled atmosphere to this record, but it’s easier to discern individual elements. Wiry guitar lines, hypnotic rhythms, and assorted non-European flavors swirl together. Some songs are relaxing, and others have a mood that portends doom.
Band: Atsuko Chiba | Album:Water, It Feels Like It’s Growing | Genre: Post-rock, Post-punk | Bandcamp
The latest release from this Quebecois act is a hazy, somewhat droney excursion. The music is often abstract and shifting, but the compositions are strong enough to give the songs identifiable and enjoyable structures. There are still plenty of driving, energetic riffs, but they’re often coupled with ethereal atmospheres to make for a haunting effect. There’s a sense of menace to a number of these songs, and everything gels into a cohesive whole.
Band: Call Me Ishmael | Album:Cosmic Travellers | Genre: Progressive folk, English folk | Bandcamp
This is some pretty enjoyable prog-folk, with a very heavy emphasis on the folk part. I’m not an expert in the folk music of the British Isles, but when I think of “English folk music,” something not too far off from this pops into my mind. Mixed into that, though, are smart, inventive structures and melodies. And aside from a rather regrettable synth-brass tone on one track, the tonal choices are pleasant. This album does feature the eight-millionth version of “The Unquiet Grave,” though, and this band doesn’t bring anything new to the table there.
Artist: Paul Gunn | Album:The Ludwig Suite | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
This is a lovely little EP. The music incorporates bits of jazz and classical music, and Gunn has a distinctive voice. I get echoes of acts like Gentle Giant, Bubu, and Magma throughout, and I appreciate that this release doesn’t try to do too much. It’s 15 minutes of thoughtful progressive rock that focuses on a few strong ideas. Most of this release is instrumental, but those cuts maintain a strong sense of purpose while weaving together diverse influences
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.
Bands: Elder & Kadavar | Album:Eldovar: A Story of Darkness & Light | Genre: Progressive rock, Heavy psych | Bandcamp
Even though I wasn’t wild about Omens, I would consider myself an Elder fan, so I was intrigued when I saw the announcement for their new project. Kadavar, though, was a complete unknown to me. Had I not been told that this was a collaboration record, I likely wouldn’t have guessed it was anyone other than Elder, aside from the vocals on certain tracks. Eldovar has lots of spaced-out prog and psychedelic melodies, and it’s mostly pretty strong. There is almost no metal on this record, with the overall sound being rooted more firmly in classic prog.
This instrumental album tactfully blends progressive rock with folk and jazz flavors for an enjoyable experience. The 24-minute title track is especially strong, featuring jagged guitars and buttery-smooth saxophone in wonderful complement to one another. I would recommend this album to fans of Agusa or Änglagård.
Welcome to the third installment of The Elite Extremophile’s Top Prog Releases of 2021. We’re starting off with the Top 5 Prog EPs of 2021. The Two-part Top 50 Albums list will be posted next week.
I listened to more EPs than usual this year, but it was still a relatively small crop, so I decided to keep this list limited to five entries.
As I have stated in the past, I’m sure that I’ve missed some excellent releases. 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, email, or my Facebook page.
As I referenced in my Scheduling Note back in November, this list only addresses EPs put out between January 2021 and November 2021. Next year’s list will cover December 2021 through November 2022.
In the early ‘70s, progressive rock’s center of gravity was clearly in the UK, with the Italians having carved out their own distinct niche as well. In the ensuing decades, prog was largely dominated by Brits and Americans, but since the turn of the century, Scandinavia has become a leader in the genre, with acts like Opeth, Wobbler, and Beardfish.
Jordsjø, a Norwegian duo, follows in the path of their spiritual predecessors, Änglagård. Both acts draw heavily from acts like Yes and King Crimson, but distinctly Norse melodies are woven into anAnglo-prog-inspired backdrop. They’ve been consistently stellar over their career, and 2019’s Nattfiolen was one of my personal favorites from that year.
“Retro-prog” does not necessarily need to be a negative term. It usually is, and I most often deploy it when describing unoriginal Yes and Genesis clones. But there are acts who manage to successfully evoke certain elements of the first wave of progressive rock without being derivative. The most enjoyable of these draw from oft-overlooked corners, such as the Italian scene and progressive folk acts like Comus and Gryphon.
Harvest is the third record from Greek septet Ciccada, and it is easily my favorite of theirs so far. All the prog tropes are here—long and obtuse song structures, retro-futuristic synth tones, and top-notch musicianship—but they’re blended with under-utilized and unexpected influences. The eclectic inclusions range from jazz to Greek folk to the Canterbury scene to Baroque music, and beyond.
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.
Custard Flux is the brainchild of Detroit-based multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Gregory Curvey, and this is one of the more unique acts currently active in the progosphere. Custard Flux is a (almost) fully-acoustic band, with electric instrumentation being limited to a small number of guitar solos on this band’s first two albums. Acoustic guitar and harmonium have been the primary instruments this act’s sound has been built around.
Oxygen is Custard Flux’s third album in as many years, and it’s their best and most diverse yet. While the sound is still primarily acoustic, it’s been augmented with ample saxophone and violin. Electric guitar—in its rare appearances—feels more integral to the compositions, rather than being a solo laid on top of a fully-acoustic piece. The compositions are also the most daring and progressive they’ve recorded yet. Continue reading “Album Review: Custard Flux – Oxygen”→