ACL 2012: Top Ten Experimental

Night ShiftMany artists claim to be experimental, simply since they experiment; but this does not make them experimental artists.  In order to be placed in this category, an artist must be wildly improvisational, incredibly creative, or straight out hard to define.  Originality is the common thread that unites these disparate artists: originality of vision and execution.  If you want to know the future of music, look to the experimental bracket.  Nothing here will ever be considered mainstream, but elements of these releases may be co-opted by other modern artists, incorporated in “safer” ways in more popular music for years to come.

And now, in alphabetical order, we present A Closer Listen’s Top Ten Experimental Releases of 2012.

The Average by Six ~ Polaroids (three legs duck)
Out at sea, you may find The Average By Six’s ‘Polaroids’, a 10-minute musical snapshot through the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Radio static and FM frequencies conceal the passing decades, submerged as if received from a radio station down in Atlantis, on an ocean that has seen an eclectic, yet subtle, shift in the musical spectrum. Each decade leaves a musical print on the ocean’s surface; the one constant is the view over the golden shore.  (James Catchpole)

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Charlemagne Palestine & Janek Schaefer ~ Day of the Demons (Desire Path)
This year has been great for experimental music. In terms of collaborations, Charlemagne Palestine and Janek Schaefer’s Day of the Demons is among the best, providing 40 exciting minutes of aural juxtapositions that evoke everything from old, forgotten rituals to great inner disturbances brewing amidst the normalcy of the everyday. Not only does the album use a wide variety of elements (North African-style voice pieces, droning electronics, pulsing organ chords…), it uses them to good effect in ways that will surely keep the listener entranced, maybe even enthralled to the presence of demons. (David Murrieta)

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Gideon Wolf ~ Paper (Fluid Audio)
The first release from gideon wolf was one of my favorite reviews to write this year. Wolf’s mix of searing strings, soul-brushing piano and cautiously flittering electronics makes him more than just a new experimental artist to watch in the future; Paper heralds the arrival of a significant new voice in underground music.  (Zachary Corsa)

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Golders Green ~ Suite no.2 in drone major (op.3) (BLWBCK)
This cassette may sound like a waterlogged record or a damaged CD, but it’s the result of a computer crash: zeroes and ones strewn about the digital ether.  The original sounds may never be recovered, but it’s hard to imagine them being better than the half-altered, half-recreated versions.  The suite is also a reaction to splintered faith; it’s the aural expression of tikkun olam.  (Richard Allen)

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Kreng ~ Works for Abbatoir Ferme (Miasmah)
Kreng’s work is usually very ‘cinematic’ in its quality (a sensory description, a collage in movement), so this amazing three-hour box of pieces made for theater comes as a sort of axis on which his other output might be locked upon, possessed as it is by the blackened light of places within that brim with the power of alchemical processes and magic. In movement it breaks into space, becoming physical: a set, a play, an actor or actress’ face bringing expression to life from the depths of primal waters. Beware, for here are no monsters, only a mirror-like void upon which to attempt grasping ourselves fully, upon which to attempt, like so many an artist on a stage, to become. (David Murrieta)

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Lilacs & Champagne ~ Lilacs & Champagne (Mexican Summer)
Grails meets Harvestman, sludge meets psychedelica, groove meets pastiche.  This (sadly unmixed) “mix tape” is a blend of flower-era samples and modern enhancements, playing like a drug-addled version of The Avalanches, happy with the smoke and slurred speech.  The obscurity of the samples lends the project an additional layer of excitement; from time to time, even the crate-diggers will be stumped.  (Richard Allen)

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Matthew Friedberger ~ Matricidal Sons of Bitches (Thrill Jockey)
Matricidal Sons of Bitches is the score to an imaginary horror film that will never see the light of day, because it’s not real. It’s a film where the sets keep falling down and the acting is cheaper than the actresses in a 1950’s B-movie. As noir as film noir can expect, these are experimental constructions that live inside a psychotic – and eclectic – mind. The reel of film injects strangely beautiful melodies that only quickly light up the darkest of subject matter. Cut!  (James Catchpole)

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MB + ICS ~ Vir-Uz (Farmacia)
The Book of Job is not a cheerful book, and this is not a cheerful album.  But the Book of Job is also an important book, filled with insights, yet immune to definition; and the same is true of this disc as well.  It’s a meditation on the vagaries of fate and the possibility of divine conversation, although not divine intervention; unless one wants to believe that once upon a time, God and Satan made a bet, and that we’ve been paying for it ever since.  (Richard Allen)

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Night Shift ~ Trespasser’s Guide to Nowhere (Time Released Sound)
This generous collage, originally available in an antique book, can best be described as Paarvoharju meets Solid Steel.  Movie samples vie with ethnic singing, trip-hop and drone; even the kitchen sink gets thrown in.  This buffet of sound is constantly replenished, leaving listeners overstuffed but very satisfied.  Even if one brings friends the next time, there will still be plenty to go around.  (Richard Allen)

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Nurse With Wound and Graham Bowers ~ Rupture (Cargo/Dirter)
An album that pulls no punches and makes no apologies, Rupture seeks to score the sounds of a brain following a stroke as it descends into a mass of misfiring neurons and eventually to death.  Life flashes before the eyes in a series of electronic impulses; time distorts; joy and sorrow attack each other as the oxygen grows thin.  While the album is not for the squeamish, it sound uncannily true, and as chaotic as these final minutes may be, they make a strange sort of sense.  (Richard Allen)

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