There are many definitions that have been associated in the last decades to progressive and psychedelic rock. One of best, in my opinion, is the one which says that this is music composed and performed to be “listened”, and not for dancing. And in fact I like to place prog rock and punk rock in the extreme sides of a scale which see many other styles in the middle (indie, alternative, …): on one hand we have a kind of sophisticated music, plenty of details and with spasmodic attention to the quality of sound, which has the effect of making you travel with the eyes closed; on the other extreme we have a raw and more immediate style of rock that awakens our natural instincts to jump, dance, and free the inner energy, something that has the capacity to interrupt everything you’re doing in that specific moment and which can give you real moments of musical euphoria.
This article is dedicated to the first of the two genres of music I introduced before. You’ll find here a group of albums that will make you dream and fly over distand, magic and sometimes “stoned” worlds. This is the list of the best progressive and pshychedelic rock we heard so far in 2018. Enjoy this chart, and browse to the end of the page to find a link to the Progressive Rock playlist that I’ve created on Spotify to collect the best songs that have been released in the last couple of years.
#1) “Vortex” by Toundra
Instrumental rock is a challenging genre of music and, in general, you love it or hate it. But when you find yourself in front of such an intense and passionate work like Vortex, which is the last album by Toundra, even the most skeptical could be captured and impressed by the quality of the music composed and performed by this Spanish band. Ther new record, which is the fifth of their interesting discography, develops over long and articulated infrastructures of sounds, full of atmospheric sections and changes of rhytms, along with many other elements that keep your attention awake, something which is not trivial when there is no voice to guide you along the music. But what does makes this record special? Well, it’s basically the talent that these guys show on every song of the album when it’s time to create stunning cinematic passages and breathtaking “walls of sound”. In these sections of their songs, the band manage to capture completely the listener’s attention: whatever you are doing while listening to Vortex, there will be many of these moment where the music gets you away from the real world and you’ll find yourself projected into dark and gloomy caverns, or bright landscapes of light… at least until the sonic tension will be dissolved in a moment of relative tranquility and you will be again in condition to focus on your routines. Believe me, this is a really strong record from a band which has not yet achieved the fame they deserve.
#2) “III” by Weedpecker
Weedpecker are a relatively new psychedelic stoner band from Poland. In the relatively short timespan of six years since their formation the band has already released three full-lenght LPs, all of them of absolute value. The last one, named III – as the position that the album has in the discography of the band – is a joyful ride through desert soundscapes burned by the sun. There are many different influences in their sound but these guys from Warsav still managed to maintain a unique style and direction in their music, which may be summarized as a dirty and fuzzed version of stoner rock. A couple of songs of the album (Embrace and Liquid Sky) may be considered real masterpieces of this particular style of music.
#3) “Legend of the Seagullmen” (S/T)
The publication of the self-titled debut album by the rock supergroup Legend of the Seagullmen was certainly one of the most anticipated events in music of the first months of 2018. Expectations for this release were so high because of the unique composition of the formation: Tool’s Danny Carey on drums, Mastodon’s Brent Hinds on guitar, director Jimmy Hayward on guitar, David Dreyer on vocals, Zappa Meets Zappa’s Peter Griffin on bass, and Chris DiGiovanni on synth. The first tracks that were shared on the media also contributed to fuel the hype and everything was ready for a total success. When the album was eventually released and I had the possibility to listen ot it with more calm and attention, the opinion I made waas that of an interesting and – to some extent – “bold” record, but in the end the overall value of the work was a little lower than the masterpiece that I was expecting at the beginning. The album is all impregnated with the music of the past: from its “concept-album” structure to many other stylistic choices that are clearly inspired to the legacy of the seventies (in many moments it seems really to listen to Led Zeppelin). Legend of the Seagullmen acquires a greater sense if it is interpreted as a tribute to the music of the great masters of rock, rather than a “genre destroying album” as it was presented by the PR. There are very nice songs, interesting atmospheres, plenty of classic and psychedelic rock, but nothing really fresh and revolutionary as it was initially promised.
#4) “AKULA” (S/T)
It’s not easy to find many details about Akula, this new band from Ohio, in the U.S., which dropped an intriguing album of psychedelic rock mixed with sludge and post-metal. The material included in this homonymous debut LP is extremely interesting and provide the listener with an absolutely innovative approach to this kind of music. Some elements of their songs, such as the clean vocal sections, are absolutely brilliant and in some moments create a very special contrast with the hardness of the guitars. The album consists of only 4 tracks – very long – and it’s basically divided in two sections: a radio-friendly first half with the most accessible music, and a more experimental second part where the band plays with more articulated rhythms and more dissonant and atmospheric sounds.
#5) “La Muerta” by Subsignal
Started as a side project, Subsignal have today arrived at the release of their fifth LP. La Muerta, the latest album from the German rock band, won’t be a masterpiece of prog rock but it’s still characterized by a number of features which makes it a solid and valid representative of the current scene of progressive rock. On of the most appreciable aspects of the record is the stylistic choice to compose the album as a sequence of relatively short pieces – short when compared to the average lenght of prog rock songs – which makes the record easy to listen, enjoyable and extremely varied from the beginning to the end. All the constituting elements of prog are present (layers of keyboard, guitar solos, virtuosisms, …), but there is an overarching drift towards pop-rock which on one side adds freshness and accessibility to the songs, but on the other it often takes away the depth and complexity that we would have expected from the new album from the band.
#6) “Andromeda” by Undercover Rabbis
Undercover Rabbis is the name of an American trio of musicians which play an intriguing mix of progressive, post-rock and sludge. The band has already released a few interesting works and this year, in the early days of January, they dropped a new EP, called Andromeda. The EP, which has however a duration of more than 40 minutes, confirms the capacity of this band to generate beautiful musical atmospheres that oscillate between moments of experimentation, almost psychedelic, and other sections that are definitely more rough and intense. The rhythms are extremely slow, but the sound is never obsessive and in these songs you feel always a vein of optimism and positivity. In summary, this long-EP / small-LP is definitely enjoyable to hear and quite characteristic because of the many influences that are merged together. The last tracks of the record, in particular, are those which I appreciated the most.
#7) “Repeater” by King Buffalo
King Buffalo is a trio of extremely talended psychedelic rockers from New York, in the U.S. Three years after their formation in 2013 the band released their first full-lenght work, Orion, which gained in short time a relevant consideration, initially limited to the underground scene but which rapidly expanded to an international audience. These musicians play in fact a beautiful kind of psychedelic rock with many elements from blues, stoner and sludge. Early in 2018 the band published a short EP with three tracks, named Repeater, that in some way may be seen as an extension of the previous album. The title track, in particular, is an hypnotic and psychic anthem which grows along 13 minutes of pure musical beauty.
As anticipated, it’s possible to enjoy all the best progressive and psychedelic rock songs of the last couple of years (including most of those that were introducted in the article) by listening to “YELLOW EYES”, the playlist that I made on Spotify and which is frequently updated with new tracks. Access it through the widget and follow it!