Proglodytes Picks: 2021

2021 was still full of challenges, but music helped us get through it all. We at Proglodytes each decided to share our favorite albums of the year 2021. We sincerely hope you check out these albums and support these artists! Click on the album name to listen to and buy the recommendations.

Cedric

Dave Holland – Another Land

Bassist Dave Holland has been a jazz legend for more than five decades. His trio effort with guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire is a brilliant reminder why. Their interplay is a continuous smoldering burn that never loses control, even if the listener is always on the verge of doing so. Understatement is still a statement, and this album is a master class on how to do it.

Khu.eex’ – WOOch

As great a final statement as one is likely to hear. Driven by the brilliant collision of funk, R&B, and Indigenous American sounds, the Seattle-based band makes the most out of the last studio efforts of keyboard legend Bernie Worrell, who passed away three months after starting this project. Bassist Preston Singletary, saxophonist Skerik, and the rest of the band solidify Bernie’s musical legacy with a passionate effort

Kick the Cat – Gurgle

My choice for the most fun record I heard this year. The Chicago-based fusion act combines its Zappa, Brand X, jam band, etc. influences to create a sound full of pyrotechnics and death-defying dexterity while never seeming to be full of itself. Listening to this album reminds one why music is such a great pursuit.

Hedvig Mollestad – Ding Dong. You’re Dead.

A heavy dose of earth-shaking fusion from a highly innovative band cashing in on its collective influences and what it brings to the group’s already unique sound. The music grooves, stomps, weaves, and floats from one moment to the next, never allowing the listener to get completely comfortable. Lucky us.

The World Is A Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – Illusory Walls

A gloriously atmospheric Indie record with progressive rock tendencies, played to the hilt by a highly ambitious band. The aggressive guitar work (distorted or not), driving rhythms from the bass and drums, ethereal keyboards and earnest vocals make for a remarkable combination that make even the epic-length tunes seem to pass in the blink of an eye. This is music designed for candles and lava lamps.

Iris

VOLA – Witness

When this band released their debut album Inmazes back in 2015 I knew they would be conquering the hearts of djent fans quick. Their third album named Witness shows that the band evolved into a solid heavy progressive metal band. More and more enjoyers of solid heavy riffs start to discover this band, and now it’s time for you to give them a good spin as well. You won’t be disappointed!

Frost* – Day and Age

When Craig Blundell announced he left the band right before the recording of this album started I was crushed. His drum performance on Frost*’s Falling Satellites was phenomenal. Who is going to be able to replace such an amazing drummer? Well, not one, not two, but three drummers stepped up and all three did an amazing job on Day & Age. Core members Jem Godfrey, John Mitchell and Nathan King delivered a gem of a prog rock album along with Pat Mastelotto, Kaz Rodriguez, and Darby Todd on the so called pots and pans. If you want a good taste of modern progressive rock, then this album should be on your list!

Kristin

Ross Jennings – A Shadow of My Future Self

A Shadow Of My Future Self is a refreshing new sound from Ross Jennings as a solo artist, with styles of nostalgic artists like Yes, U2, and Pink Floyd blended into his work. The flow of eclectic sounds is an excellent representation of the current generation of music: a singer-songwriter approach that celebrates various genres and still fuses together smoothly.

The most impressive element this album displays is how genuine it is. Each song is expertly and purposely executed as intended by the inspiring creative process that Jennings took. The main theme of the album is relationships, but there are more underlying themes any listener can relate to as well. Whether you choose to listen to this music as enjoyment, an outlet, or as an inspiration, you will find what you’re looking for.

Max Mobarry (Others By No One, Flummox, Solo Artist)

Sloppy Jane – Madison

Just moments after one of my first performances since the pandemic I was approached by a lovely young woman, with eyes wide like flying saucers, professing and gushing to me that my band had reminded her of “the girls from Sloppy Jane.” She was definitely on acid. I’ll never forget that moment where I was first introduced to Sloppy Jane.

Signed by one Phoebe Bridgers, Grammy-award nominated popstar and former member of Sloppy Jane herself, “Madison” bears the integral distinction of having been recorded in “Lost World Caverns” – Yes, this album was recorded far underground in a cave, and the weight of that atmosphere is ever-present throughout its runtime. Composer, lead vocalist, and group mastermind Haley Dahl assembled enough musicians here to make Slipknot blush (a Sloppy Jane staple; live videos on YouTube yield footage of 10+ musicians cavorting about onstage) including a slew of orchestral performers, brilliantly filling out a sound that I have lovingly dubbed “symphonic cave-core.” In all honesty, I’m still not sure how to succinctly describe this record in a way that does justice to its undertaking, and so I shall leave it in your hands; All I can say is that this is a record whose impact will resonate within me for a long, long time.

Oh; and if the ten-minute epic “The Constable” doesn’t make you cry at one point or another, you might not have a soul. I don’t make the rules. Happy new year!

A timeless avant-chamber pop tour de force, “Madison” is brimming with stories, experiences, humanity, plastic horses, and spirit that was an instant must in putting this list together.

Lingua Ignota – Sinner Get Ready

One of the most breathtaking releases of the last few years (personally, even the past decade) was 2019’s dark masterwork Caligula by Lingua Ignota, otherwise known as American musician Kristin Hayter. A resounding declaration of hatred, sorrows, traumas, and abuse that acutely affected and influenced me, ever since its release I’ve been waiting with bated breath to see what elements of that classically-informed cataclysmic noise odyssey would carry over to her next effort.

Sinner Get Ready strikes at the heart more in a spiritual sense than through sheer intensity of performance this time around, with only the opening opus “The Order of Spiritual Virgins” resorting to the aggressive and shocking noise attributes of its predecessor (serving as a suitable transition out of the previous record). Not that Kristin holds herself back here; Her pained and strained vocals permeate the record as always, notably in tracks such as the building onslaught of “I Who Bend the Tall Grasses.”

Where Caligula burns and seethes, Sinner Get Ready reflects and actively seeks a different kind of peace, with religious imagery brought even more to the fore in downbeat piano-driven, hymn-like laments like “The Solitary Brethren of Ephrata” and a 2021 highlight, the elegiac slow-burn that is “Pennsylvania Furnace.”

While Caligula stands tall as a powerful statement of profound grief and agony reeking with the pain of human experience, Sinner Get Ready follows that up in a surprisingly concise and haunting fashion that isn’t meant to and shouldn’t try to replicate the anguish recounted in her preceding work. I think Kristin has been doing wonderfully finding catharsis through these records and I am thankful we get the opportunity as listeners to share in her journey and in those struggles; I look forward with great interest once more to whatever it is she gets up to next.

Genesis Owusu – “Smiling with No Teeth”

This, the debut effort from Ghana-born, Australian-raised hip-hop artist Genesis Owusu stole my heart and a spot on this list early on in 2021. From track to track you’ll find Genesis drawing a line from classic rap, rock, pop, R&B, and more across the decades, cementing “Smiling with No Teeth” as an ambitious and biting contemporary commentary delivered through a delectably diverse lens. If you’re an enthusiast of anything in the aforementioned series of genres this album spans, I’d bet there’s something here for you. My personal favourite is “A Song About Fishing.” 🙂

Thomas

Meer – Playing House

One of my absolute favorite discoveries in 2021 was Norway’s 8 piece art rock ensemble Meer. Their unique sonic blend features multiple vocalists, lush strings and arrangements that are deceptively complex. They write brilliant, thoughtful tracks that are highly accessible but also extremely clever. Playing House was an easy choice for this list- just listen to “Beehive” and tell me whether or not it made it onto your playlist.

nightlife – new low

One of my favorite EPs from this year was from Baltimore-based nightlife. Despite the fact that this EP only has 3 songs and one is a cover of Rob Thomas’s “Lonely”, the band make a huge sonic impression with a soulful but heavy blend of r+b and metal and pop and funk- all these genres I adore but rarely get a chance to hear all blended together. I am truly excited to see what is in store with this group. Buy the digital album and donate a few extra bucks- their Bandcamp donates proceeds to GoodKidsMadCity Baltimore, a nonprofit dedicated to eliminating violence in communities of color.

Bent Knee – Frosting

Bent Knee’s latest album, Frosting, took us all by surprise in 2021. It was announced in early October, and was released less than a month later. As I mentioned in my review, Bent Knee guitarist Ben Levin claimed that this album would be “dangerous”, which was likely in reference to the stylistic shift that can be found on Frosting. But, as someone who loves bold, adventurous, unique music, this album was exactly what I needed. From the gleeful and absurd intro track “Invest in Breakfast” to the hypnotizing closer “Not This Time”, this album projects the image of a band playing to each member’s strengths, and maturing without losing spark.

Wyatt

Turbulence – Frontal

A concept album based on the story of Phineas Gage, the railroad worker who survived getting an iron rod getting shot through his skull, destroying much of his frontal lobe of the brain? Yeah, sign me up! Accompanying this emotional rollercoaster of a narrative is some of the best musicianship I’ve heard in progressive metal this year. In fact, this album offers just about everything you could want in the umbrella term that is “progressive metal.” Long passages, crazy time signatures, orchestral accompaniment, epic solos, rhythmic breakdowns, soaring vocals—it’s hard to pass up the sophomore album from this Lebanese band.

Vocalist Omar El Hage gives one of my favorite vocal performances this year, blending a mix of rawness of Daniel Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation) and the sheer power of Ray Alder (Fates Warning). Co-founders Alain Ibrahim (guitars) and Mood Yassim (keyboards) convince me they are disciples of anything prog, having constructed some of the most eclectic musical sections 2021 had to offer in the genre (they also shred like crazy). If you throw on this album, listen closely to the bass playing by Anthony Atwe; for a heavy record, he sure knows how to add a Pastorius-like touch to the music. And let’s not forget drummer (and psychiatrist) Sayed Gereige, who unfortunately was unable to tracks drums for the album, but nevertheless was still able to arrange the intricate parts that we do hear. Do check this album out; from start-to-finish, it’s a masterpiece of progressive metal. Favorite tracks: “Faceless Man” and “A Place I Go to Hide”

Shagohod – Tin, Gold, Lead & Blood

Buddies since high school, Drew Bligh and Dave Coffey started Shagohod back in 2013 as a joke, per their Bandcamp bio. That joke may have went a little too far, as it spawned a 67-minute progressive metal concept album, The Treading Behemoth, loosely based off the 2004 PlayStation 2 game Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Fast forward more than four years later, and the New England duo has struck again with another 67-minute concept album, this time loosely based off of—you guessed it—another 2004 PS2 game: Red Dead Revolver. Tin, Gold, Lead & Blood was independently released on December 10, 2021, so it may not be on a ton of people’s “Best Albums of 2021” lists, but do not let that fool you: this is a monstrous piece of art. Drew and Dave are multi-instrumentalists, with both of them tracking bits of guitars, bass, vocals, and keyboards; Drew primarily takes on the role of electric guitarist on top of everything listed, and Dave tracked all the drums and percussion. Additionally, guitarist Ben Lane lays down several leads a solos for this record. It’s a whole thing, I know. But now you all know!

As goofy as their backstory is, Drew and Dave are really passionate in delivering people an epic listening experience. With undertones of the American Wild West of the 1880s, this album incorporates beefy riffs that segue into saloon piano breaks; synthesizer builds alongside acoustic guitar “cowboy” ballads; melodic passages you’d find similar to tracks by The Dear Hunter and Coheed and Cambria, mixed with… djent blues? Honestly, you just have to give it a whirl yourself. These guys provide a weird, entertaining, and emotionally thrilling adventure all wrapped up into one album. Favorite tracks: “Burning Arrow (or A Football on the Floor of the Night)” and “Faith (or The Broke and Buried)”.

What were you listening to this year? Leave your favorite albums of 2021 in the comments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.