If you know one thing about me, you probably know that I love Caligula’s Horse. The act was one of the first I had the pleasure to discover through the blog, from before I was even a part of it. Their unique mix of progressive metal, djent, metalcore, and more is something they still carry off with such aplomb as to set them apart from the many other bands trying to nail that same mix of styles. Their 2020 album, Rise Radiant, is not just a further exploration of that mix of styles but the band pushing themselves to new levels, taking their sound, composition and production to new levels.
A lot of this new-found energy has to do with the addition Dale Prinsse on the bass. He replaced (equally talented and accomplished) Dave Couper in the band’s roster back in 2019 (otherwise known as The Before Time) and I’ve been anxious to see what he brings to the table. The answer is a resounding “a whole lot!” Rise Radiant has some of my favorite bass line from Caligula’s Horse, ever, and the dynamics Prinsse’s playing brings to the album is a big part of why I loved it so much. Don’t get me wrong, I probably would have liked it anyway, if I’m being honest; they are one of my favorite bands around. But Prinsse’s expert and deft playing brought things together for me and is a big reason that I’m still playing this album on a weekly basis.
All of that to say that I was incredibly thrilled when Dale wrote me back on my offer to have a Caligula’s Horse Guest List this year, the result of which can be seen below! It has some albums I was expecting, like the inclusion of prog-brothers-in-arms Haken and Australia’s finest guitar export, Plini, but also albums I’ve never heard like Olafur Arnalds Some kind of peace or Nils Frahm. Taken together, the list showcases, once again, what a fantastic year 2020 was (for music and only for music, give or take) and how much great music was made under so many amazing genres and labels.
So, dive back into the year with Dale’s list and don’t forget to check out Rise Radiant if you still, by some grave error I cannot bear to imagine, haven’t yet.
Olafur Arnalds – Some kind of peace
I’ve been a fan of Olafur Arnalds’s work for a little while now, and particularly his 2017 album re:member. He has this incredible ability to paint these dreamy and reflective scenes with a hybrid of electronic and acoustic elements. Some kind of peace is an album that sounds like it departs from his darker, sombre tone in past albums and instead projects solace and peace. He’s got some great vocalists on the album with a gorgeous opening track featuring from one of my favourite electronic artists Bonobo. I’d strongly recommend checking out “Loom” and “Woven Song” off this album, but as a cohesive flow of songs the whole album works so well.
Plini – Impulse Voices
Flawless. Truly Plini’s magnum opus, and some of the most sophisticated song writing in instrumental music at the moment. I’ve really enjoyed watching the trajectory of Plini as his overall sound has become a bit gentler in places, you certainly see a stylistic divergence on a track like “Flaneur” from his last EP. Everything that you’ve come to love about his ability to translate beautiful, emotionally powerful, and nostalgic melodies through his guitar is amplified on Impulse Voices, and particularly the title track. “Perfume” also pokes out as a total highlight for me, really pungent melodies that waft in and out of home with some gorgeous chords in there. I think “Glass Bead Game” takes the cake for me, I’ve waited a long time to see what Plini can do with a track in a much longer form and it’s just the incredibly creative journey that he manages to construct – you get a sense of euphoric completion at the end of Impulse Voices that’s really satisfying as a listener.
Glass Ocean – The Remnants of Losing Yourself in Someone Else
These guys are incredible and have flown under the radar for too long. There are a lot of unique qualities that define Glass Ocean’s sound, I think the one that stands out is Toby’s unmistakable and remarkable voice. His conviction and power have always sold me on Glass Ocean, but this album brings in new levels of song writing that again I think really constitute the best work so far from these guys. I find myself running back to tracks like “Pride”, “Burn”, and “Beyond Us” for repeat listens. Those choruses are impossible not to work their way into your head for the rest of the day once you listen to them.
Nils Frahm – Empty
Nils Frahm had two releases this year, and they’re equally as good as one another, I just think the mood of Empty was more fitting for own state of mind this year. There’s a lot about his iconic soft felty piano sounds that have seeped into Caligula’s Horse’s production over the past few years. My favourite parts about Frahm though are his consistent ability to let a mood just sit and envelop you. His minimalistic style has shifted to include a lot more world building and soundscapes over the last few years, and breaks the imaginary of classical piano production in a completely idiosyncratic way. Previous favourites of mine like Trance Frendz (an Olafur Arnalds collaboration) have incredibly tense and suspenseful moments on them, but Empty focuses on sparsity by keeping to these very human sounding performances; you can hear the click of piano keys, the lifting of foot pedals – it’s gritty and organic and real, and I love it.
Ebonivory – The Long Dream I
While unfortunately defunct since the release of this album, Ebonivory were pinned as my favourite heavy music release for 2020. Their approach to heavy music is full of Periphery and Animals As Leaders style technicality in fairly concise song forms. It’s youthful, vibrant, with dark lyrical themes, and standout instrumental performances (Dave’s drum work consistently makes me guffaw). The introduction to the album has a Devin Townsend style kick down the door attitude that pre-empts a stack of different motifs and themes across the album, but my go to tracks are “Persist” and “A Colour I’m Blind To”; I fall hard for the return of the chorus melody theme in Persist at the very end.
Tigran Hamasyan – The Call Within
As a piano virtuoso and revolutionary for the djent style, Tigran has a rich and prolific release history as a jazz musician. I’m fairly new to his music, but everything I’ve heard so far is so invigorating to listen to. He uses a drummer and bassist in his band, and is pushing some pretty awesome boundaries with jazz’s approach to rhythmic hooks. Tigran leans a lot more into his voice in recent releases, something I noticed him touching on many albums ago. I love the contour of his voice that’s really influenced by his Armenian heritage. I’d strongly recommend anyone to listen to the opening theme of “Levitation 21” from the new album and not be convinced almost straight away. You get this ‘sampling’ style performance on “The Dream Voyage” that feels like a jazz harmony approach to hip-hop. For anyone looking for the jazz/djent package to be tied up nicely the track “Vortex” has a feature with Tosin Abasi that’ll satiate many appetites. I’d recommend checking Mockroot as well as A Fable from Tigran too.
Haken – Virus
Haken are another band who I’ve followed for a long time, and I remember in Australia while touring Vector in 2019, they got to the end of “Nil By Mouth” and I was just jaw to the floor impressed, like properly jazzed. Virus is such a sick follow up to Vector in so many facets. I love the straight up metal explosion with “Prosthetic”, and their long form track “Messiah Complex” is a grandiose journey that I’ve come to love about other epics from Haken. “Canary Yellow” actually blew me away with its emotional conviction, it was such a great point of difference in the range of singles they released. These dudes are continually a band who we continually use as a metric for band tightness.
Pain of Salvation – Panther
Somehow after decades Pain of Salvation manage to keep outputting something fresh, flipping things on their head, and approaching their music in innovative ways. I felt myself forgetting who I was listening to at a few moments across this album, particularly “KEEN TO A FAULT”, then you know…Daniel’s voice comes back in again and grounds you to POS. I really enjoy the rhythmic hooks that they’ve been pushing out over their last two releases, including some truly weird head scratching stuff that feels natural underneath these new aggressive synthesizer sounds. There’s an intimacy to Pain of Salvation that endures though, and that’s where a lot of my fascination with them lies in the canon of progressive music. There’s a lot of music dealing with themes of love and loss, but no-one quite touches sexuality in a way that Daniel Gildenlow does.
Jacob Collier – Djesse Vol. 3
Jacob Collier’s continual expansion into new areas fascinates me. This is arguably his most pop oriented release, despite the first track’s obvious aversion to that statement. It’s crazy to think that Jacob can fit all of his trademark style in the diverse styles across Djesse Vol. 3. The songs are easy to listen to and there’s so much substance and depth with wicked crazy groovy moments that seemingly appear out of nowhere. His ability to gear change and hit hyper speed at the flick of a switch is second to none, but he has an incredible ear for restraint too.
Something For Kate – The Modern Medieval
So, this album probably comes a bit left of centre, but I’ve loved Paul Dempsey’s song writing for many years now. After almost 25 years as a band, I find it as incredible as I do with Pain of Salvation (though in a different way) that a band can keep their music sounding so fresh. From the outset of the album “All The Great Minds” sets you up for a mood that I always find myself reaching for with music, that contemplative and reflective sombre mood. It’s a nice listen for rock oriented folks.