By Kostas Barbas, Meletis Doulgeroglou, Nikos Filippaios, Dimitris Kaltsas, Christos Minos, Petros Papadogiannis, Tasos Poimenidis, Kostas Rokas, Panagiotis Stathopoulos, Alexandros Topintzis, Giannis Voulgaris, Giorgos Zoukas
Translation: Alexandros Mantas
2018 is behind us and a new year already goes by in the hope that it will bring with it even better music and highlights from the entire musical spectrum. Not few albums outside the territory of prog were included not only in our final list, but also in our personal ones and in spite of the initial negative conclusion, it is now commonly agreed that quality releases are a lot more than what we originally thought. The momentum of music on a world-wide level is not exogenously mobilised anymore, at least not to the extent that it used to. In a time when information is accessible to all, but profuse compared to the past, it takes a lot of research – especially in the underground scene- to spot thrilling stuff.
With an emphasis on albums we came to love because they differentiated themselves gracefully from the rest, we present you a dozen of them with our personal taste as the sole judge in the hope that there is a meeting of minds before, but most importantly after reading the following texts.
(The albums are presented in chronological order they were released)
Anna von Hausswolff – Dead Magic
[City Slang, SLANG50139P]
The telltale usage of the pipe organ that was part and parcel in the previous works of the Swede Anna Von Hausswolff would, obviously, play an important role in her fourth and counting album. Dead Magic consists of heart-wrenching compositions that effortlessly spawn eerie images and feelings of terror. Anna approaches the vocal territory of Kate Bush both in quieter moments or when screaming; especially in the single The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra, the only accessible song of the album, she sounds like a possessed PJ Harvey. The music maintains a cinematic and simultaneously ritual dimension. I’m pretty sure that Diamanda Galas would crack a sardonic smile as reward if she listened to her artistic brainchild. The drone influences are instantly perceptible (behind the board of the producer is the very Randall Dunn (Earth,Sun0)))), nevertheless I would assess the final outcome as a contemporary version of the darker groups of the 4AD of the 80s. Music straight from a fallen angel dedicated to divinities of the underworld.
Dungen, Woods – Myths 003
[Mexican Summer, MEX244]
Admittedly, I have never walked the streets of Brooklyn in a sunny day, nor have I travelled to the wintry Stockholm, but all the same the collaboration of the Americans Woods with the Swedes Dungen plunges the listener directly into the imaginary scenery of these two cities. The two bands straddle masterfully pop melodies, grafted with American and Scandinavian folk patterns of course, with inspired krautrock improvisations. As a result, they renew the interest, free of mimicry or being wedded to past forms, for the rich and warm sound of the 60s and 70s and along with it the timeless ideals of this era. In essence, a musical defence contrary to exploitation, brutality and -even if this word is somewhat worn out due to its wide usage- fascistization of society is setting up within Myths 003; and this very defence, exempt from rhetoric and didacticism, is genuinely and unconventionally artistic.
Returning back home from ringing in the New Year, first thing I did was to listen to the hopeful song Jag Ville Va Kvar…
Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
[Metal Blade Records / 3984-15575-1]
It is an honour to know our name the owl, the primeval symbol of wisdom. Rivers of Nihil transubstantiate wisdom into a coherent and multifarious listen which falls into the category of extreme and atmospheric prog/tech death metal, in their third work no less. Their musical virtues unfold into lucid structures which are clothed with mathematical certainty by the impressive transitions and the various styles. In this release there is room for atmospheric sounds, sporadic clean vocals but also the bronze notes of the saxophone. The main question is, what is this that differentiates Rivers of Nihil from the majority of the bands of this flourishing scene? The answer is simple: wisdom and they know exactly their thing. They don’t lose themselves in technical farragos, instead they opt to walk a straight line, dodging bewildering labyrinths while simultaneously the tour the listener takes is adorned by blooming, withered, bleak and melancholic soundscapes, justifying their presence in the progressive ledger and making it one of my top favourites of 2018.
Sons of Kemet – Your Queen is a Reptile
[Impulse! / B0027970-01]
In a time of extreme political polarization in one of the most important crossroads England has ever been to, it makes absolute sense that one of the most political albums of the year comes from the new British jazz scene, one of the most interesting and growing scenes on a global level. The mainman of Sons of Kemet, Shabaka Hutchings juxtaposes a black woman who fought for woman rights with the female symbol of British monarchy in every song. This results into a highly interesting mixture of jazz, funk and afrobeat. The minimal approach with regard to arrangements (saxophone-tumba-percussion) allows the formulation of a solid sonic frame throughout the album. The outcome is, mutatis mutandis jazz and funk propositions, quite raw and aggressive, reinforcing the political denunciation ventured. The most astonishing is that even though you are listening to an album which was recorded in London, you get a feeling that you can dance to it around a fire somewhere in Africa and this sensation adds to the credibility of Your Queen is a Reptile’s political stance .
Black Salvation – Uncertainty is Bliss
[Relapse Records / RR7403]
The release of a psych album by Relapse didn’t strike me as something unusual. Times have changed and the sales of sludge, grind and hardcore are nowhere near as they used to be. What did impress me was that the label spotted a very special case, meaning that Black Salvation’s Uncertainty is Bliss is one of the surprises of the year. With their melodies remaining extraordinarily solid around simple themes, yet never wearing out the listener in any case, the trio from Germany throws in post-punk rhythms, the vocals recall a gothic band right from the 80s, while in many a song krautrock techniques are applied and the final results becomes even more spacey. Though we could surely tag them as retro-lover (the tone of the guitar sounds like that), yet what Black Salvation pull off to do is to sound different in a certain style that there is a lot of hype around it, for the wrong reasons.
Loop Vertigo – Neocortex
[Black Athena / BLACK15]
Well, I’ll come out and say the way I think it is: On the one hand, we have UK jazz which comes back with great momentum and affects the global music scene. On the other, there is a branching out in jazz-funk and jazz-rock sound with profound references to Herbie Hancock. The influence, on the other hand, of hip-hop to modern sound has reached its peak and while artists come and go with incredible speed, there are also groups and musicians that are here to stay and they have invested a lot of effort in their sound, honing and calibrating it constantly.
Certainly the dark times we live in leave nobody unaffected and therefore interesting proposals pop up which carry in their quiver all these aforementioned elements, plus political awareness. This is where the Greeks Loop Vertigo fall into; a sound based on the drums of Alexandros Stavropoulos and the drums of Dimitris Moutsios which creates intricate, diverse, dark and luscious compositions. One of the most pleasant surprises of the year!
Emanative – Earth
[Jazzman / JMANLP 099]
Emanative develop their dotted from introspection and spirituality jazz/funk structures via multicultural forms of melodies and rhythms. In a sonic body of work where aside the prominent figure of the creator of the project, the British drummer and producer Nick Woodmansey, also contribute the hyperactive multi-instrumentalist Idris Ackamoor of the spiritual jazz heroes The Pyramids, the saxophonist Nat Birchall who is the leading figure in modern jazz reality in Albion, the singer and important figure of Afrobeat legacy Dele Sosimi among others. The diversity that results from the interaction of the participants is such that a dialogue platform of timbres from West, East and Africa is set. Here an orgasmic communication between the wind, string and electronic instruments together with percussion and vocals is materialized which simultaneously sounds both earthly and eerie, oozing equally with primitive instincts and future thoughts about intergalactic wanderings. With improvisation coexisting with straightforwardness, the enjoyably flexible groove of the rhythmology is ecstatically in tune with a memorable melodiousness. The true descendantς of Sun Ra are multiplying; fortunately.
Night Verses – From the Gallery of Sleep
[Equal Vision Records / EVR403]
From the Gallery of Sleep attempts to retrieve the memories from the world of dreams and transfer them to the listener in an album that signals a new beginning for the band. Their singer is gone now and Night Verses are now retooled into an instrumental band. It’s impressive how successful was this change of direction, drawing influences from bands like Animals as Leaders, djent, post-rock but also an evident disposition for experimentation permeates the songs. Night Verses pull off to inject the tremendous technique that triggers impressive parts with atmosphere and melodies which impart a variety to the final result that sets them apart from many groups of the same area. The occasional usage of samples adds a particular dimension to the album which is analogous to birth and creation of a dream: certainties give way and the ride is uncertain, like the content of From the Gallery of Sleep.
Mythic Sunship – Another Shape of Psychedelic Music
[El Paraiso Records / EPR048]
The best album of the Danish band came after six albums and just a few months after the release of Upheaval. In Another Shape of Psychedelic Music, Myhtic Sunship escape triumphantly from the mass of contemporary neo-psychedelic bands and they give us another elegant piece via our beloved El Paraiso. In the 75-minute album, the band’s intentions are more than obvious. Here, the hypnotic, improvisational, psychedelic jamming character blends amazingly with the doomy, avant-garde jazz energetic and noisy style, without losing control at any point, and, most importantly, succeeding to build an endless trippy feel, which is nothing like the common drone chaos we’re accustomed to. It seems impossible for such complex and free music to sound so apt and exciting. It is difficult to remember a similar case of such a successful combination of instrumental jazz-rock and space rock. The prima facie cheeky title of the album is a fair and justified wording.
VOLA – Applause of a Distant Crowd
[Mascot Records / M75562]
Applause of a Distant Crowd is the second album of the Danes Vola and the concoction of prog-rock with meaty rhythmic parts and dashes from electronica they came up with in their debut album is still brewing. They remind me of alt-prog Australian bands (Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus) influenced mainly by Porcupine Tree, Meshuggah and Massive Attack. Melody dominates the songs but never at the expense of groove, while possessing a melancholy and traveling the listener around, and as a result listening to it is a pleasant experience. This becomes clear when it comes to songs like the title-track, We are Thin Air and Ghosts, whereas their heavier side comes out in Smartfriend and Whaler. Within the forty minutes the album lasts, they mix djenty riffs, pop refrains, technical drumming and dancing electronic music, conceiving an album with depth and a character of its own. I bumped into this record when I was in a mood of listening to something different and that is why I was blown away by it. A truly nice and modern progressive release which should be checked out by those who take a liking at alternative/prog sound.]
The Ocean – Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic
[Pelagic Records / PEL120, Metal Blade Records / 3984-15627-2]
The eight full-length album of The Ocean (Collective) is one of the best of 2018, a release in which the sophisticated and carefully crafted songwriting is always at prime of place. The technical abilities of all members are granted, but it is the songs that win over the listener. This is achieved to such an extent in Palaezoic that the listener doesn’t even notice when long compositions like Cambrian II or the astonishing Silurian are over and the eight or nine minutes they last go by in a flash. The cello of Dalai Theofilopilou stands out, the guitar are heavy and imposing while Loïc Rossetti’s vocal lines ranging from sludge to clean are absolutely interesting and the guest appearance of Jonas Renkse in Devonian is assessed successful. The album is carefully taken care of, from the production to the compositions and the 47 minutes it lasts will imaginarily take the listener to the inhospitable land of Paleozoic Era.
The Bevis Frond – We’re Your Friends, Man
[Fire Records / FIRECD540]
Nick Saloman carries on impressing us with his music. We’re Your Friends, Man consists of twenty short ad longer gems of pure psychedelic rock. In his own words, this is the best band he has ever formed and there’s no denying it since the songs are extremely tight. In the title-track and Little Οrchestras, Venom Drain, Birds of Prey, Mad Love he exposes his soul, but also a more pop-ish an celtic acoustic side. Be it single-handedly or accompanied by the band, he presents us wonderful psychedelic ballads stuffed with melody and melancholy. The band is in the pocket, Bevis’ guitar traverses our mind keeping our feelings in motion. Composition-wise is at high standards pulling off to illustrate the true, modern psychedelic sound of the guitar. A real performer who brings out his genuine personality that maintains him and us warm bounded by friendship, as the title suggests.