Top Prog EPs of 2021

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.

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Odds & Ends: December 6, 2021

Band: Devour Every Star | Album: Antiquity | Genre: Progressive metal, Trip-hop | Bandcamp

This is certainly one of the more distinctive genre fusions I’ve run across. Buzzy black metal merges with spacey instrumental hip-hop passages to forge a distinctive sound. It’s spooky and laid-back, and it’s definitely worth looking into. As a whole, it feels a little long; I think this style may be better suited to a 20-minute EP. Nonetheless, it’s quite unique, and this act shows ability beyond simply being a curiosity.

Score: 70/100

Artist: Ehsan Gelsi | Album: Ephemera | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This instrumental piece was commissioned by the city of Melbourne to celebrate Melbourne Town Hall’s 150th anniversary, thus it prominently features the town hall’s grand organ as its primary instrument. Ephemera is grand and majestic in its harmonious marriage of reedy organ and lush, liquid synthesizers. The whole album is quite warm, and it feels midway between Mike Oldfield and Rick Wakeman. Elements of classical and electronic music are regularly incorporated, making this a surprisingly diverse record despite its limited sound palette.

Score: 80/100

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Album Review: Regal Worm – The Hideous Goblink

Band: Regal Worm | Album:The Hideous Goblink | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2021

From: Sheffield, UK | Label: Republic of Music

For fans of: Caravan, Diagonal, Egg, Wendy Carlos

Bandcamp

Regal Worm is a solo project by Jarrod Gosling, one half of the duos I Monster (trip-hop) and Cobalt Chapel (psychedelic rock). Regal Worm blends Gosling’s usual psychedelic leanings with more progressive and ambitious song structures. His last release under this moniker, 2018’s Pig Views, was my favorite album that year, so I naturally had high hopes for this release.

The album cover for The Hideous Goblink lives up to its name. It is an ugly piece of art and not nearly as enchanting as the art on his past releases. However, this is an instance where that old axiom about book covers and judging them holds true.  Regal Worm’s fourth full-length release is a fantastic collection of songs which sound like one unified whole. The six compositions here all work in harmony with each other to deliver something fantastic.

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Album Review: Diagonal – 4

Band: Diagonal | Album: 4 | Genre: Progressive rock, Space rock | Year: 2021

From: Brighton, UK | Label: Cobblers Records

For fans of: The Soft Machine, Gong, Hawkwind

Bandcamp

Diagonal had a quick turnaround between this album and their previous release, 2019’s Arc. Compare that timeline to the five-year gap between their self-titled debut and their sophomore album, or to the seven-year hiatus following that. Needless to say, I’m glad they’re putting out music at a brisker pace than they have in the past

I’m also glad that 4 is an improvement over Arc. Arc wasn’t bad by any means, but good chunks of it felt unfocused or needlessly drawn-out. On this new release, the band sounds energized and full of new ideas, and that musical vigor shines through in the five compositions present here.

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Album Review: Kesem – Post-Terra

Band: Kesem | Album:Post-Terra | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2021

From: Los Angeles, USA | Label: Sentient Recordings

For fans of: Astra, Gong, Hawkwind, early Pink Floyd

Bandcamp

Kesem’s debut EP was my EP of the year for 2020. It was a mind-bending trip of 21 minutes that blended progressive rock and space rock with the rawness and energy of classic garage rock. The songs on that EP feature sudden shifts in tone, texture, and mood; and the ample deployment of trumpet made them stand out.

Their first full-length-release, Post-Terra, follows in the same path as their self-titled EP. It feels more polished with smoother edges than its predecessor, but that doesn’t mean the sound is watered down at all. There’s still plenty of astral odysseys and surprises packed into this album.

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Odds & Ends: September 6, 2021

Band: Antinode | Album:The Canary the Named the Stars | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

The three songs on this long EP/short LP are solid, spacey progressive rock with subtle touches of jazz, metal, and indie rock. I’m a big fan of the instrumental tones and textures, and despite the songs’ lengths, they never feel like they’re dragging. There’s significant internal variation on all three tracks, and there’s a natural flow to the way the compositions evolve.

Score: 81/100

Band: Big Big Train | Album: Common Ground | Genre: Neo-prog, Progressive rock | Bandcamp

I have never understood the appeal of Big Big Train. They’ve got the occasional decent song here or there, but I’ve never enjoyed an entire BBT album. They often come off as saccharine and glossy, like a worse version of Spock’s Beard. Maybe I’m too much of a dour Debbie Downer to enjoy such unashamedly major-key music, but the opening “The Strangest Times” exemplifies my lack of fondness for this act. It’s bright, sunny piano-pop that doesn’t strike me as particularly proggy in any definition of the word. Successive tracks are significantly better, though it’s still not exactly my cup of tea. Much of this album comes off as soulless and plain, to say nothing of the bloat. The band sounds stuck in the mid-’90s’ prog scene, a sound which was fine for its time but was rightfully cast aside at the turn of the century. The lushness hobbles the band’s ability to make any real splash, and everything on here has been done much better previously by other artists, often half a century ago.

Score: 51/100

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Odds & Ends: April 5, 2021

Band: Grorr | Album: Ddulden’s Last Flight | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

Grorr are clearly trying to conjure up vaguely “Eastern” aesthetics on this album. The band’s logo evokes Chinese seals, and the album art draws from Chinese and Japanese styles. This continues in the music, though the influences are muddled and slapdash. The opening track is mostly scene-setting, but it give the listener musical whiplash by swirling together the entire continent of Asia. It’s got throat singing (from Mongolia and southern Siberia), sitars and tablas (from the Indian subcontinent), and the melodies are stereotypically “Chinese.” (Instruments which sound like guzhengs and erhus can be heard later on the album.) Moving beyond this mish-mash, Ddulden’s Last Flight is an alright album. The metal is melodic, and there are some inventive riffs. I’m especially impressed with the textures and timbres deployed here. After a while, though, the Oriental instrumentation becomes distracting. I absolutely hated the sitar by album’s end. And that’s unfortunate because Grorr demonstrated that they’ve got a creative vision and that they’re capable of composing some strong cuts. Ultimately, this record’s overbearing and half-baked Asiatic flare is what does it in. I really wish they would have toned it down a bit, or at least shown a bit more geographic restraint.

Score: 58/100

Artist: Jean Pierre Louveton (JPL) | Album: Sapiens – chaptire 2/3: Deus ex Machina | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal, Jazz-fusion | Bandcamp

When I saw JPL is the leader of the band Nemo, I didn’t get my hopes up. Nemo is an alright act, but I classify them in the same group Spock’s Beard and other schlocky, overblown retro-prog acts. Thankfully, this album wound up being a pleasant surprise. Sapiens is a bit more metallic than Nemo’s usual fare, and while there’s plenty of pomp and show-off-y instrumental moments, it mostly avoids needless indulgence. Jazzy touches are present throughout, and the overall bloat is minimal.

Score: 75/100

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