I covered Toboggan’s debut EP back in 2019, and I really liked what I heard. It was jazzy, funky, and high-energy instrumental zeuhl. Toboggan’s guitar/keyboard player, Etienne Mazoyer, is in another zeuhl band, ZWOYLD, which draws more heavily from traditional prog and psych tones. There’s a lot of shared DNA between these acts, so if you like what you hear here, I strongly recommend checking out ZWOYLD. (Especially their 2016 album, ZGOND.)
The cover art of Première Descente suits the music quite well. The twisting, spiral slide gives a sense of the wild, swerving nature of the songs. Structurally, the individual tracks follow a long-short pattern, with long cuts running 9-14 minutes, followed by sub-two-minute breathers.
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: Abstracción | Album:Abstracción | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp
The debut EP from this Spanish septet draws heavily from the sound of Jethro Tull’s early material, and the liberal inclusion of sitar adds a late-‘60s psychedelic folk feel to the mix. Swirling Hammond organ and echoing electric guitar lines keep the atmosphere lush, while vocalist Catalina Requena’s willowy delivery occasionally bleeds into the instrumental elements. Each song is distinct, but the tonal continuity between the pieces keeps this recording cohesive and coherent.
Band: Ars de Er | Album:La Métamorphose | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
I’ve run across more Belarusian prog bands while writing for this site than I ever anticipated. The latest of these is the one-man act Ars de Er, which incorporates hefty doses of classical and jazz. Strange harmonizations predominate on La Métamorphose, drawing comparisons to the original big names of avant-prog and RIO. Heavy, metallic guitar lines underpin moments of furious soloing and chaotic rhythms. The atmosphere on this record is oppressive. The strange, diminished chords and haunting keyboard textures make for an anxious, claustrophobic feel.
JG Thirlwell is an Australian-born, Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist best known as the man behind the industrial act Foetus. He also acts the composer for the TV shows Archer and The Venture Bros, the latter of which is one of my absolute favorite shows. (It also made progressive rock a central plot element in one episode.) Simon Steensland is a Swedish multi-instrumentalist and composer with a long history in modern avant-garde rock music.
In addition to avant-garde and progressive rock influences, this duo makes extensive use of orchestral music. Much of this album sounds like it could have been the score for a creepy arthouse film. Atonal strings and minor key woodwinds dominate on this record, filling up most of the space not occupied by traditional rock instrumentation. Continue reading “Album Review: JG Thirlwell & Simon Steensland – Oscillospira”→
One moment this album is brimming with squirmy, atonal synthesizers with eerie vocal arrangements, and the next it’s mellow, artful pop rock. Despite hailing from Chicago, there’s a very British sense of weirdness to Cheer-Accident’s work, most comparable to the inimitable Cardiacs. Strains of post-punk and folk merge seamlessly with progressive and pop rock to create something truly distinctive.
Band: Dai Kaht | Album: Dai Kaht II | Genre: Zeuhl | Bandcamp
I like Magma a lot. They’re one of my favorite bands, and I’m positive I’ll eventually do a Deep Dive entry on them. However, their shadow is nearly inescapable in the world of zeuhl (outside Japan, at least). Dai Kaht are a Finnish act who draw a huge amount of influence from Magma. Their sound is more guitar-centric than Magma ever were. On a technical level, the musicianship and compositions are complex. For all its oddness, it’s surprisingly catchy, and it is somewhat unusual for a zeuhl act to have guitar as its main instrument. But in the end, this release mostly sounds like an updated version of Attahk. If you like zeuhl, give it a listen, but don’t expect anything groundbreaking.
Band: Handwrist | Album: The Golden Swan | Genre: Progressive rock, Zeuhl, Avant-garde rock | Bandcamp
The Golden Swan was originally envisioned by its composer to have a choir sing in Basque and for there to be symphonic orchestration. Due to budgetary and logistical constraints, these ambitions had to be shelved, but the result is a distinct blend of rock, jazz, and classical music, nonetheless. The four movements of this album flow together seamlessly. Elements of the Canterbury sound are evident, and the jazzy atmosphere makes me think this would have been even better had it been recorded as originally intended. Moments on this album do meander, but those shortcomings are well worth it.
Band: Chaos Over Cosmos | Album:The Unknown Voyage | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp
Chaos Over Cosmos’s debut album draws heavily from acts like Fates Warning and Symphony X. The music is fleshed out with lush synths. There’s no shortage of power metal cheese, both vocally and instrumentally. The songs themselves tend to be pretty long, but they do a good job of keeping the momentum up and not overstaying their welcome.
Artist: Richard Henshall | Album:The Cocoon | Genre: Progressive metal, Progressive rock | Bandcamp
The latest album from Haken’s guitarist/keyboardist is exactly what you’d expect. There are tons of speedy, intricate riffs, and smart contrasts of metallic heaviness with moments of jazzy and poppy levity. The soloing is restrained, avoiding the common pitfall of virtuosic masturbation that you often find in this corner of prog. My one real complaint here is that Henshal’s vocals are pretty weak. His chops as a guitarist are solid, but his voice is often weak or strained.
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”→
Magma are the founders of the zeuhl genre. Over the span of their 50-year career, they’ve been remarkably consistent in both their strange character and high quality of output. Strongly rooted in jazz and heavy on hypnotic jamming, their studio recordings were often taken to new heights in live settings, such as the version of “Köhntarkösz” on their album Live/Hhaï. Live performances have also seen epics be debuted and developed before reaching a studio album. Their 2009 album Ëmëhntëtt-Ré began life in the 1970s at live shows, and “Šlag Tanz” was debuted live several years before it was recorded. “Theusz Hamtaahk” as yet remains unrecorded in the studio. Zëss similarly began as a live-only epic in the ‘70s.
“Zëss” struck me as an odd choice for Magma to record. The live recordings I’d heard came off as long-winded, meandering, and repetitious, and this was a critique I’d seen elsewhere online. I think the band may have been aware of this criticism, so they enlisted the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra to add some texture and dynamism. Distinct to Zëss, band founder Christian Vander takes lead vocals over the span of the entire album. There are the usual female vocals in the background, but Vander remains at the forefront. He also does not play drums here, another first for the band. Continue reading “Album Review: Magma – Zëss”→