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”→
Entomology isn’t entirely new ground for progressive rock. The 2015 album Hivemind from the band Plank is about bugs. And while perhaps not the exact same branch of science, the band Slugdge have built their whole career around mollusks, including slugs and snails, which are colloquially grouped together with insects. Opsi, however, focuses on a specific entomologist, which is more distinct.
Based on his great-great-grandfather’s diaries from his time studying butterflies in Siberia, folk musician Jens Carelius pairs his unique style of finger-picking and strumming with rich synthesizers to create evocative soundscapes. Opsi is far more daring in its song structures and textures than Carelius’s previous releases. Elements of his smart folk-pop still manage to shine through, making this album both complex and surprisingly accessible. Continue reading “Album Review: Jens Carelius – Opsi”→
Odds and Ends is a segment where I do brief reviews of albums I either didn’t prioritize for longer-form reviews, or ones for which I don’t have that much to say.
Band: BLASTAR | Album:Construct | Genre: Progressive rock, Jam band | Bandcamp
I really loved BLASTAR’s debut album, so I was very excited when I saw them announce their latest release. On Construct, they’ve opted to go fully instrumental. The music is cosmic and high-energy, and the overall sound has shifted more in the direction of jam bands like Aqueous or Umphrey’s McGee, with jazz and folk tones. As I’ve frequently said, it can be tough to make an instrumental album consistently engaging, but this does a good job of holding the listener’s attention. That’s not to say it doesn’t have faults, but it’s enjoyable on the whole.
I have an inexplicable affinity for Eastern Bloc progressive rock. I suppose it extends to music from oppressive regimes more generally, but Communist Europe had a rather thriving artistic scene (outside of Albania). Epos was among the most distinct groups to come out of the Soviet Union, a bizarre blend of cosmic synthesizers, earthy strings, and haunting vocal arrangements. That being said, there is almost no information available about the band. The musicians’ names are listed on the back of the record sleeve, but the (English-language) internet holds very little background about the group. Even looking through the first two pages of Russian-language Google results didn’t yield anything at the time of writing.