Every year since we started, we’ve done an end of the year list of our favorite albums of the year. No, not a best of- that’d be us trying to objectively pick something that’s highly subjective. We instead put together a list of recommendations, in case you missed any of these albums when they came out. We hope you find something you like on this list! Happy Holidays!
Moron Police, A Boat On The Sea
Moron Police popped up on my radar a few months ago, thanks to my publicist friend Roie Avin. This album is smart, quirky, and though it tackles some pretty intense themes like death, drone strikes, corrupt politics, and dog psychology, it does so with an incredibly infectious sense of joy that I haven’t heard in ages. Also, the album art is incredible.
The Tea Club, If/When
If you’ve known me for the last few years, you’ve probably heard me say that The Tea Club is one of the best new progressive rock bands out there. If/When is the perfect album for The Tea Club’s natural progression/maturation as a band, with their trademark melodicism and pastoral sounds. This album is overflowing with hooks, and even features an epic track, “Creature” which is about a half an hour long.
The Mercury Tree, Spidermilk
How do you write an album using xenharmonics without sounding like you’re trying too hard? Ask The Mercury Tree, who released Spidermilk this year. Though the record is probably more challenging than the average album, it’s surprisingly melodic. I’ll say that this record grew on me over time, and the microtonal notes and dissonant clusters took some getting used to, but this album deserves praise as being truly progressive in a genre that is sometimes ironically set in its ways.
Periphery IV: Hail Stan
I listened to a lot of metal this year, but one album I kept returning to was Periphery’s HAIL STAN. Nothing I had heard from Periphery had grabbed me until I checked out the opening track, “Reptile”. It was epic and intense and brilliant, and the album doesn’t fizzle out as it goes on. Tracks like “Blood Eagle”, “Garden In the Bones” and “CHVRCH BVRNER” continue to blow my mind and my car stereo.
Bent Knee, You Know What They Mean
Boston-based avant-rockers Bent Knee have only been around since about 2011, when they released their self-titled debut album. But thanks to a nearly relentless schedule or recording and touring (to say nothing of band solo projects), the band already mature sound has grown by leaps and bounds, making them sound like they have been around at least twice as long. You Know What They Mean is the band’s first true collaborative album, with everyone building each song from the ground up. Between that and a great deal of time spent touring with bands like Thank You Scientist, Haken, and Leprous, Bent Knee has brought forth their heaviest sounding record to date. Based on the two live performances I saw this year, they are only getting stronger. In a musically just world, big things lie ahead for this group.
Stephan Thelen, Fractal Guitar
As one-fourth of Sonar, Stephan Thelen’s clean trio-tone guitar is part of an intricate collaboration creating progressive rock at the highest level. With Fractal Guitar, Thelen allows himself to augment his clean sounding guitar with delays and other effects, which are then augmented with sounds from talented musicians like David Torn, Barry Cleveland, Henry Kaiser, and Markus Reuter. The result is a dark, brooding sonic soundscape that hammers away continuously while allowing room for remarkable pyrotechnics as part of the overall musical scheme. I loved this record from the moment I heard it, and that feeling has only grown stronger since.
Bryan Beller, Scenes from the Flood
Bryan Beller is the bassist top-tier musicians call upon when they need that particular chair filled for their projects. With an epic, 2-CD concept album on his hands, Beller turned the tables and called on his friends to assist him with the recording of this remarkable album. Featuring the likes of Joe Satriani, Mike Keneally, and John Petrucci (among a HOST of others), Scenes from the Flood takes the concept album to its highest level, featuring beautiful playing that is jaw-dropping without becoming self-indulgent. This is one of those albums a true music fan must include in his collection.
Adrian Belew, Pop-Sided
As a long-time devotee of Adrian Belew’s musical efforts, I made a conscious decision to shelve his work for a bit, so I could focus on newer, unestablished artists. But here’s the thing: there’s no shelving Adrian Belew! Sooner or later, he comes off the shelf to remind me just why I have been a fan for more than three decades. Pop-Sided is no exception. Even with a scant 30-minute run time (no doubt a habit developed from his Flux efforts), we are still able to experience “The Full Adrian,” as he runs the gamut from pop to prog, with a few stops in between. And while the sounds are familiar, Belew cannot be accused of treading musical water. His adventure (and therefore ours) is forever ongoing.
The National, I Am Easy to Find
The secret is almost completely out: The National is one of the best American Indie bands going. I Am Easy to Find seemed to come rather quickly on the heels of Sleep Well, Ghost, the band’s 2017 release. I mean, how deep can the well of individual pathos and deep musical brooding go, I wondered? Plenty deep appears to be the answer to that question. If the band was as stuck as they claimed to be at first, the injection of feminine voices appeared to break the logjam beautifully, as the band continues to inch closer to major-league commercial viability. That’s great for music fans, even if it isn’t all that great for me, given my love of seeing bands like this one in smaller, more intimate venues.
We Lost the Sea, Triumph & Disaster
Australian post-rockers We Lost the Sea faced a daunting challenge in following up their epic 2015 release Departure Songs. But the band was able to cast aside its collective self-doubt, embrace a sobering all-encompassing global topic, shift its overall sound ever-so-slightly, and come up with a new epic in Triumph & Disaster. Set around the concept of a mother and son attempting to enjoy their last day on a dying Earth (expressed through a children’s poem, no less), the band pulls no musical punches and takes on its topic with the muscle of the finest rugby player, head-on. The result is a deeply emotional recording that (hopefully) will get us to think about the way we treat our planet, and how generations behind us will have to live with the fallout.
Sonar, with David Torn, Tranceportation (Volume 1)
Speaking of Sonar, their latest effort is a face-melting, heart-pounding, ear-blistering bit of sonic joy that will be handed out to us in two parts (Volume 2 is due in May). As the band’s producer for Vortex, master sound manipulator/guitarist David Torn found himself in a position to improvise over the Swiss quartet while bringing their musical efforts to life. This time, the band has intentionally left room for him, and Torn makes the most of the opportunity to enhance the already brilliant Sonar sound. All hail the musical forces that brought these two elements together.
Thank You Scientist, Terraformer
The only thing better than music that defies definition, is definition-defying music enhanced and improved upon by a deeper level of group collaboration. New Jersey’s Thank You Scientist opened their sonic door a little wider, resulting in a highly groove-alistic balls-to-the-wall sound captured remarkably in the studio, and nearly outdone when played live. Driven by the voice of Salvatorre Marrano and the brilliant guitar work of Tom Monda, Thank You Scientist is an air-tight collaborative unafraid of venturing into the toughest musical territory, coming out with a brilliant product on the other side. The secret will be out about this band soon, too, I think. My days of seeing them from six feet away might be coming to an end.
Old Solar, See
Another epic bit of post-rock, this time originating in Raleigh, North Carolina. Old Solar has created some positively gorgeous music marking the changes of seasons. While sweeping in scope, the music is also deeply emotional, taking us to unexpected places in our mind while the sound washes over us. Fans of Explosions in the Sky and This Will Destroy You will find another musical home with this group.
TOOL, Fear Inoculum
Many fans griped when the 13-year wait for a new Tool album that sounded to them like more of the same. My response to this statement was essentially, “And …?” Tool has a signature sound. To deviate excessively from that sound — to change for the sake of changing — would not allow the band to be true to who they are. I, for one, have absolutely no problem with that. Is this the greatest album I’ve ever heard in my life? No. But it’s TOOL! And what they gave us will more than tide me over for awhile. That being said, how about we not wait another decade-and-a-half for the next one, guys?
no-man – Love You To Bits
Eleven years after their latest release, no-man (Steven Wilson & Tim Bowness) came with a new album; Love You To Bits. My personal favourite of the year, but I might be a bit biased because I’m a big no-man and Tim Bowness fan. Is it prog? Not really. It is very refreshing music that combines disco with Steven Wilson’s instrumental ideas, and Tim’s beautiful voice as icing on the cake. Love You To Bits used to be a track the gentlemen created back in the nineties but was left on the shelf. The original idea bloomed, and is now a beautiful work of art.
Note: Tim Bowness already released his solo album named Flowers At The Scene earlier this year, which is definitely worth checking out!
Jolly – Family
Another album that took some time to create is Jolly’s album Family, but it was worth the wait. Six years after their previous album, and teasing fans with releasing several tracks over the years, the full album is finally out, and it’s a great one. A perfect blend of prog, metal, and fresh ideas from other music genres. Get the special edition of this album featuring extra songs, because those tracks are definitely worth it as well.
Northlane – Alien
Not a prog band, but definitely progressive in the metal genre. This album is stuck in the car’s CD player for a good reason, but I would recommend to keep an eye on your speedometer and not get taken away by the energy of the album. It’s a mixture of modern djent and late 90s/early 2000s industrial metal, and it became a tasty cocktail. For people who like it loud, this is definitely worth to check out!
Bruce Soord – All This Will Be Yours
The second solo album of The Pineapple Thief’s frontman. A must have for every TPT fan, and something to give a couple of spins if you’re not a fan of the band. Of course, Soord’s voice makes it sound like it could be another TPT album, but music wise it does go a different path. Bruce has ideas don’t fit in the style of the band, and those ideas can now be heard on All This Will Be Yours.
Klone- Le Grand Voyage
Klone – Le Grand Voyage: Sounding a little like Riverside and a little like Katatonia, but with their own distinctive sound, French proggers Klone have delivered what is my top album of 2019. The album is a deliberately paced collection of songs with clean guitars (high on reverb), providing a foundation for the chunky and oft-syncopated rhythm guitar and bass to interact with drum fills to create a wave of sound to wash over the listener. But the true star of the show on this album is vocalist Yann Ligner. His melodies are lovely and his delivery absolutely top-notch.
Honorable Mention: Leprous – Pitfalls: The first time I listened to this album, I was not at all sure I liked it, and the somewhat poppish nature of a track or two caught me somewhat off guard. However, as I have listened to the album, it has gradually grown on me until it is one of my favorites of the year. As with bands like Opeth, Anathema, Riverside, and Klone, Leprous have stepped away from the more ‘metal’ aspects of their sound and embraced something quite different. The terrific drumming remains, as does Einar Solberg’s distinctive vocals, which are completely effective at delivering on both delicate and powerful passages without the use of growl vocals, which I always felt was not his true strength.
What are some of your favorite albums from 2019? Please leave them in the comments.
Really glad to see Bruce Soord, Sonar, and Stephan Thelen on the list! Kind of pleasantly surprised by The National (really don’t think of them as prog IMO). But a bit disappointed not to see anyone pick Opeth’s “In Cauda Venenum,” as it is their best effort since “Pale Communion” – and possibly their best of their post-metal prog phase. Also, a shout out to IQ’s “Resistance.” They never seem to get the love.
For a sound that’s totally the alternative to any alternative try the very heavy Life/Metal by Sunn O)))!