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.
Continue reading “Top 50 Prog Albums of 2020, Part 1: 50-26”
Band: Custard Flux | Album: Oxygen | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive folk, Psychedelic folk | Year: 2020
From: Detroit, USA | Label: Independent
For fans of: Comus, Van der Graaf Generator, Jan Dukes de Grey
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”
Welcome back to TheEliteExtremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2019. If you missed Part 1, covering entries 50-26, you can read it here. Continue reading “Top 50 Prog Albums of 2019, Part 2: 25-1”
Artist: Jens Carelius | Album: Opsi | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive folk | Year: 2019
From: Oslo, Norway | Label: Jansen Records
For fans of: Beardfish, The Strawbs, Gryphon, Peter Gabriel
Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music
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.
Score: 77/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – June 20, 2019”
Band: Эпос (Epos) | Album: Рок-Былина Илья (Rok-Bylina Ilya) | Year: 1989 | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive folk
From: Leningrad, USSR (now Saint Petersburg, Russia) | Label: Мелодия (Melodiya)
For fans of: Magma, Batushka, Sigur Rós
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.
This album tells the story of Ilya Muromets, a folk hero of the Kievan Rus. It bills itself as a “rock-bylina” (a bylina being traditional East Slavic style of epic poetry), and this album is one of relatively few that actually feels uniquely Slavic. Continue reading “Lesser-Known Gem: Эпос – Илья (Epos – Ilya)”