Welcome to the January Progress Report, and Happy New Year to everyone out there. As with most Januarys, the prog output is a bit underwhelming, but there are a couple of gems to help us get the year going. Take a look at our first half-dozen albums of the year, and see which ones click for you.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Atsuko Chiba – Water, It Feels Like It’s Growing (Mothland)
Montreal’s Atsuko Chiba get the year started for us with their third full-length offering Water, It Feels Like It’s Growing. The quintet merge progressive rock, post-rock, krautrock, and more into a uniquely hypnotic brew, expertly performed across six tracks. Lyrically the album juxtaposes the divisive nature of today’s culture with hope and love, and a desire to live in peace and harmony.
Perhaps the standout song is “Seeds,” which makes one think of the more menacing, pulsating sound of latter-day Swans. The rest of the album maintains this high level of quality writing and performances, though, and the forty-two minutes fly by. Fans of bands that love to experiment (again, Swans) will love Water, It Feels Like It’s Growing.
Draken – Book Of Black (Majestic Mountain)
Oslo’s Draken are next up with their second album, Book Of Black. A good old-fashioned drum-bass-guitar trio, they attempt to push their progressive take on metal into something unique. Draken are a very strong group musically, and their songs draw from such varying genres as jazz and sludge.
There are plenty of grooves and riffs spread across a svelte thirty-eight minutes. Of particular note is the excellent bass playing from leader Hallvard Gaardløs, but the shouty vocals may prove polarizing. If shouting instead of singing is your cup of tea, Book Of Black is your album. For these old ears, the shouting definitely detracts from the great music.
Our second entry from Canada is Pathogen, the debut from London-based prog-power outfit Flidais. This is a concept album centered on the idea of viruses that actually originate in the mind. If looking for a quick comparison, Watchtower comes to mind, although Flidais are perhaps a couple albums away from attaining that level.
While there is a lot of potential on Pathogen – enough that I suspect they could easily draw record label interest – the album does come across as a very DIY project. Many of the songs are well written and performed, and hampered only by rough production and vocal arrangements. More spit and polish, and a bit more seasoning, and Flidais can easily become a top-notch band in the genre.
Heavy Blanket – Moon Is (Outer Battery)
J Mascis is best known as the creative force behind Dinosaur Jr, but he has also released several solo albums and of course played on numerous other projects. Heavy Blanket are a trio consisting of Mascis and a couple of high school friends, Pete Cougar and Johnny Pancake. Moon Is is their second album, coming ten years after their debut.
Moon Is is a psychedelic, noisy instrumental jam. The thirty-five minutes fly by in somewhat repetitive fashion, as Cougar and Pancake lay down a solid foundation over which Mascis solos continuously. This Heavy Blanket release will certainly appeal to Dinosaur Jr fans and completionists, and the solos do kick ass, but overall Moon Is doesn’t have a lot of staying power.
Mask Of Prospero – Hiraeth (ViciSolum)
Mask Of Prospero are new to me. Hiraeth is the Greek band’s second album, and it is a dark, moody offering that is primarily grounded in djent and metalcore. They do strive to push beyond these limits, though, with plenty of cinematic arrangements and stylistic flairs. Hiraeth is a Welsh word implying mourning, and a yearning for things that have passed, and the album lives up to that mood.
There are some deft songwriting touches throughout, with some mellow moments to offset the metalcore aspect. Mask Of Prospero certainly have the musical chops and vision to succeed. But as is often the case with this style, one has to accept the vocalist shouting at you for most of the album, and if that works for you you’ll dig this one.
Riverside – ID.Entity (InsideOut)
Riverside are the seasoned veterans in this month’s column, with ID.Entity being their eighth studio album. 2018’s Wasteland was a somewhat mournful release, as it followed the passing of guitarist Piotr Grudzinksi. This release sees Maciej Meller fully on board, and the band once again creating vital, energetic progressive rock.
ID.Entity features Riverside’s usual high quality of songwriting, with superb performances across the board. Mariusz Duda’s vocals are in fine form, but lyrically I fear they may be dating themselves here, as the songs get very topical. Will we want to hear about Instagram filters in five years? Time will tell, but for now ID.Entity is our pick of the month.