You may (or may not) have noticed that things have ground to a halt here at Prog Talk. Now I can’t speak for every admin, but a deadly cocktail of all-consuming academia, a dab of stress and a deviating taste away from prog has left Prog Talk untouched for some time and Cerpin throwing up over the side of the settee. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
Dare I say that prog just doesn’t interest us anymore? No, that’s not quite right – there are still a number of progressive rock albums from 2017 that have duly impressed me, but there’s been a lot more that haven’t. However, it’s prog’s sister-genres: avant-garde, experimental, and jazz fusion that have really piqued my interest so far – so you have some catching up to do, prog.
As we’ve just entered the second third of 2017, I thought it would be fitting to give a brief roundup on my highlights of the year up until now, and a shout-out to future albums that we may expect to be just as excellent. Remember: This is just my opinion, I do not speak for the rest of the team at Prog Talk.
Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar (Synthpop)
Following 2016’s psychedelic post rock ATGCLVLSSCAP, nobody expected Ulver to pull this maneuver. The Assassination of Julius Caesar is a synth-heavy, macabre ode to tragedy that’s oozing with groove, with themes spanning from Ancient Rome to the death of Princess Diana. Other than the closing track with some eye-rolling spoken word, the album is impeccable with its gorgeous vocal harmonies and a strong contender for Album of the Year.
Although the album is not strictly ‘prog’ in itself, it’s another example of Ulver‘s re-invention of itself over the course of 25 years – and that, is what true progression should be considered to be.
Arca – Arca (Electronic Minimalism / IDM)
Venezuelan electronic producer Arca‘s eponymous album is gut-wrenching. Having worked with Bjork in the production of her 2015 break-up record, Vulnicura, Arca was urged to incorporate vocals into his eerie instrumentation. The result is an album of improvised Spanish vocals that form an emotionally raw thread throughout the thick, unsettling ambiance. It’s simply a beautifully chaotic record, and I don’t understand a word of it.
Azure. – Wish for Spring (Progressive Rock / Art Pop)
One of the few prog albums to really wow me so far this year – solo artist Azure. revitalizes the traditional prog aesthetic with narrative-driven marathons and fantasy concepts in debut album, Wish for Spring. Azure.‘s vocals are to die for, ranging from the angelic chorus in ‘Friends’ to the brooding ‘My Body’ that ultimately act as the common thread through the diverse tones through the album. Though the progressive songs are excellent, it’s the poppier tracks like ‘Piglet’, ‘Friends’ and ‘Tell Me It’s For Absolution’ that are the most captivating.
Read more on what I thought of Wish for Spring in my review
Saagara – 2 (Jazz / Traditional Indian)
Indo-Polish group Saagara ties Western music with traditional Indian instrumentation, where in 2, the addition of electronic producer mooryc gives the album a little extra flair to an already impressive record. The highlights are the clarinets’ range from mind-bending solos in ‘Spring Fever’ and ‘Uprise’, to the smooth and moving in ‘Ebb and Flow’; and the album’s pinnacle: the hyponotic, post rock-esque ‘Daydream’ – definitely one of the most enticing tracks from the year.
Forest Swords – Compassion (Ambient Dub / Experimental)
Electronic artist Forest Swords‘ second LP sees the return of Matthew Barnes’ blend of electronic and tribal music; where songs feature the likes of trip hop beats, tribal vocal samples and an ambiance of mystique and the occult. Though it’s the most recent addition to this list, it’s a striking album that will undoubtedly hold up.
Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory (Avant-Garde / Jazz Fusion)
After Stetson‘s magnificent Sorrow, a re-imagining of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony from last year, he returns to his more ‘contemporary’ solo works; which here means utterly bewildering to anyone observing outside of Stetson‘s discography. All This I Do For Glory is nothing ground-breaking relative to his other works, but the heavy bass groove in the title track and the airy ambiance of ‘Spindrift’ are distinguishing tracks in the album. Essentially, it’s Stetson doing what Stetson does best – dirty, gritty saxamaphoning.
Kairon; IRSE! – Ruination (Progressive Rock / Psychedelic Rock)
Admittedly, I was taken aback when I first heard Ruination, and not exactly in a good way. Kairon; IRSE!’s 2014 album, Ujubasajuba, was a masterful display in post rock and shoegaze, working its way up to be one of my all time favourite albums. Cut to 2017 – the clean vocals, the restrained bass ostinati and cheesy synth intro in ‘Sinister Waters II’ are worlds apart from the aggressive snare count-in and dreamy guitars in Ujubasajuba opener, ‘Valorians’. Even the ending to ‘Sinister Waters II’ sounds like something off of Yes’ Relayer, and I keep asking myself: “Is this the same band?”
In Ruination, Kairon; IRSE! have adopted a more reserved approach, substituting shoegaze for psychedelic prog with a lot more subdued sections. But oh my Lord when ‘Sinister Waters II’ and ‘Starik’ kick in with their distorted riffs devouring the vocals, all doubts questioning Kairon; IRSE! are blown away. Whilst I still prefer Ujubasajuba, Ruination has proved itself a worthy addition to the band’s discography, and to the progressive genre as a whole.
John Zorn – The Garden of Earthly Delights (Avant-Garde / Jazz Fusion)
I’ve never really gotten into John Zorn or his infamous band, Naked City, but I’ve definitely taken towards his latest album, The Garden of Earthly Delights. From the get go, ‘Angels and Devils’ and ‘The Infernal Machine’ are rife with heavy riffs and intense guitar and keyboard solos that are as delicious as they are frantic.
Though if the avant-garde elements intimidate you, songs like ‘Paean to the Prince of Hell’ and ‘Mirror Image’ are more palatable in composition but are just as instrumentally solid. ‘Eve and Adam’ and ‘Out of the Eternal Sphere’ provide much needed breathing space within the otherwise scatterbrained album, with some of the most tranquil songs that I’ve heard from this year so far.
And what about the rest of 2017? Only time will tell – though there have been a few bands who have confirmed album releases later in the year, so here are the ones I’m most looking forward to hearing:
(N.b. – we at Prog Talk are aware that a few of these have leaked, but we are good boys who condemn taking advantage of this)
Bent Knee – Land Animal (Baroque Pop / Art Rock) [releases June 23rd]
Igorrr – Savage Sinusoid (Death Metal / Baroque-core) [releases June 16th]
Anathema – The Optimist (Post Rock / Progressive Rock) [releases June 9th]
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Murder of the Universe (Psychedelic Rock) [releases June 23rd]
Ex Eye – Ex Eye (Black Metal / Jazz Fusion) [releases June 23rd]
Alt-J – Relaxer (Indie Rock / Electronica) [releases June 2nd]
Leprous – 5th studio album (Progressive Metal, probably) [release date TBC]
No single yet, hopefully we’ll be hearing one soon
Well there you have it, Cerpin’s roundup of 2017 so far. What do you make of what 2017 has had to offer us up until now? Do any of these albums tickle your fancy too? Tell us what you think in the comments section below!