Thank You Scientist, Stranger Heads Prevail [prog/jazz] (Evil Ink)
I was blindsided by Thank You Scientist’s unique brand of prog. I missed their 2012 debut, Maps of Non-Existent Places entirely, and I largely ignored the existence of Stranger Heads Prevail until some arm-twisting forced me to give it a whirl. There’s a quirkiness to the brassy arrangements that gild the album, but the execution is so polished it never comes across as corny or irritating, akin to tasteful usage in bands like Mr. Bungle or The Mars Volta. I get queasy at the idea of ska, but the pep and stylistic assortment provided by the horns (and violin) here are crucial to the success of the record – accenting breakdowns, coloring passages with dramatic effects, adding soul, and funkifying their mathy and proggy base – making it as fun as it is challenging.
Key Tracks: “The Somnambulist,” “Mr. Invisible,” “The Amateur Arsonist’s Handbook”
Vektor, Terminal Redux [thrash/prog] (Earache)
This is the only thrash album that anyone should be talking about on a year end list. That should say all you need to know, but even if thrash isn’t your bag, the technicality and songcraft on display is stupefying enough to impress even the geekiest of prog nerds. This isn’t keg party re-thrash, but it’s not 20-sided die nerdy, either. It fits somewhere between, and in doing so, Vektor have found a perfect balance for experiments in the extreme. The mind-boggling riffing and otherworldly shred are confounding, but left me enamored after every listen. An instant classic.
Key Tracks: “LCD (Liquid Crystal Disease),” “Pillars of Sand,” “Recharging the Void”
ALBUM OF THE YEAR:
Cobalt, Slow Forever [sludge/alternative/metal/punk/folk] (Profound Lore)
Slow Forever is unapologetic, raw, and ruthless. It’s not out to defy any expectations. It’s not trying to be subversive. It’s just primal, crushing, pissed-off metal. Charlie Fell proves to be an exceptional replacement for former vocalist Phil McSorley, offering an utterly voracious and repulsive performance that melds on an emotional level, adding layers of depth and personality that never made their way on previous records. Multi-instrumentalist/project mastermind Erik Wunder displays a refined capability to write with pure yet intellectual aggression. It is nothing short of spectacular; taking inspiration from sources as diverse as earthy Americana and hardcore punk, Slow Forever builds tension with progressive structures – essentially baiting listeners for visceral sonic strikes – but remains active in the present, making something immediate and violent while creating a persistent unease. It also helps that Slow Forever happens to be one of the best sounding records of the year. The grating guitars, throaty, growling bass, and hefty drumming create a simultaneously fascinating and disturbing wasteland of a record, one that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who doesn’t mind a little grit and grime, ‘cuz this sucker is filthy.
Key tracks: “Beast Whip,” “Elephant Graveyard,” “Final Will”
Goes Cube – Shadows Swallowed the Flood (Old Flame/Greenway Records)
Sumac – What One Becomes (Thrill Jockey)
Hyperion – Seraphical Euphony (Black Lion Productions)
PUP – The Dream is Over (SideOneDummy)
Void Omnia – Dying Light (Vendetta Records)