ACL 2013: Top Ten Experimental

The Gardens of BomarzoWhat’s new?  The Experimental field has the answers: tortured tapes, disturbing images, military drums, a garden of monsters brought to life.  This selection is where to turn for the most creative and original music of the year.  You’ve been warned!

There’s nothing wrong with making good, solid music.  But when it comes to pushing the boundaries, artist experimentation is key.  Those who choose this path are well aware that they are taking risks.  They may push too far.  Audiences may not follow.  But this isn’t a genre that seeks to be popular; it seeks to be something that others are not.  Thanks to these artists and others in this field, music keeps moving forward, and we owe them a debt of gratitude.

And now, in alphabetical order, we present A Closer Listen‘s Top Ten Experimental Releases of 2013.

0011011001111000 ~ [6x] (Self-released)
One could spend days lost in these labyrinths.  0011011001111000’s magnum opus is a combined CD/DVD package filled with snippets of sound, hidden doors, dead ends and Easter eggs.  It’s the least accessible of all the albums on this list, which is saying quite a bit.  It’s also the most addictive.  The amount of time spent on this project boggles the mind.  It’s well worth the trip, if you can make it; and after the last physical copies have long disappeared, the abrasive music will still justify the ridiculously low cost.  (Richard Allen)

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Clorinde ~ The Gardens of Bomarzo (Self-released)
Before hearing this album, I’d never heard of the Gardens of Bomarzo; afterwards, I went searching for the book.  Not only is this an amazing subject for a concept album, it’s also an amazing album, period.  By blending multiple genres, Clorinde reflects the haphazard angles of the garden itself, created by a sculptor who was hired by a grieving prince.  His sculptures are called monstrous, but grief is its own monster, and sometimes it takes a bigger monster to swallow it.  (Richard Allen)

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Jayne Amara Ross, Frédéric Oberland and Gaspar Claus ~ The Freemartin Calf (Gizeh)
Another DVD/music project, this one on vinyl, The Freemartin Calf film + score has been on the minds of collectors ever since FareWell Poetry brought the work of this ever-changing collective to a larger audience.  One of two spoken word albums on our year-end list, the album demonstrates the power and the potential of the format.  The black-and-white images are enhanced by an evocative score, narrated by Jayne Amara Ross’ brilliant poetry.  A success on every level, The Freemartin Calf is an original vision brought to life.  (Richard Allen)

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Gabriel Saloman ~ Soldier’s Requiem (Miasmah)
The relatively simple constituents parts of Soldier’s Requiem are carefully crafted and layered, an evocative work that haunts the listener long after the final sound fades away.  Without realizing it until it’s too late, an eerie quiet is overcome by distorted cloud, the rhythm of a marching drum driving us forward, a mournful melody just a faint memory.  One might hear echoes of Saloman’s past as a Yellow Swan, but unlike his solo work enacts a narrative quality that grants it a formidable emotion weight, all the more so when that narrative is only implied.  Metaphorical or otherwise, this requiem of a soldier is frighteningly vivid.  (Joseph Sannicandro)

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The Holocene ~ Scars (Self-released)
There’s no shortage of folks doing the damaged tape collage thing out there in Experimental Land, but what makes an album like Scars stand out is the innate sense of melody, as well as that creeping feeling of slowly-building tension unique to this project. The Holocene had a stellar year of releases, no more so than this crowning jewel of cassette-warped majesty.  (Zachary Corsa)

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Jerusalem in My Heart ~ Mo7it Al-Mo7it (Constellation)
The long jams and experimentalism of psychedelic music have always carried an air of adopted mysticism and prayer, which is why the journeyed fusion of Arabic traditions and Western electronic compositions feels so natural on Jerusalem In My Heart’s debut. A near decade of production experience puts this record in the “timeless” realm.  It sounds like nothing you’ve really heard before, and yet it could be mistaken for something lost from the 1970’s. Radwan Ghazi Moumneh’s emotive vocals are rock and roll prayers shot through tape echoes and subtle distortions. The music acts like a gentle desert breeze or a white hot crown chakra of self awareness. The band’s performances use music and film projectors to create a uniquely visceral experience.  (Nayt Keane)

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Lost Trail ~ Holy Ring of Chalk (Wounded Wolf)
Lost Trail’s music is haunting. Radio static seems to crawl with the sound of disembodied voices, calling out from the local woods. In Clover, Virginia, the abandoned streets scream their music, forgotten by modern America. The drones lie low, beaming out their supernatural lights on a road that was once choked with traffic. Serene ambient passages that are nonetheless eerie in their sound lie against the light hiss of nostalgia. The buried photographs of a long lost, sepia family continue to haunt the township. Lost Trail will haunt you with their beautiful desolation. Among the trees, the entity walks: something horrific and yet transfixing, captured on their tape recorders and handheld camcorders.  (James Catchpole)

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Richard Chartier ~ Interior Field (Line)
Interior Field reflects the wider world; field recordings from across the globe, expertly crafted into a unified whole, particularly the focus on a post-industrial site in the second part, where the sense of decay is palpable. Originally conceived as a multi-channel installation piece, there may be some loss when transferred to plain old stereo, but such is the density of the layering – even on the calmer sections – that it isn’t noticeable. Detached from their environment, the sounds take on different natures; what could be a thunderstorm becomes timpani, what could be static becomes rain, and vice versa. It’s an enthralling experience. (Jeremy Bye)

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SaffronKeira + Mario Massa ~ Cause and Effect (Denovali)
Weighty in concept but wraith-like in presence, SaffronKeira’s third LP sees the self-proclaimed sound researcher collaborate with trumpet player Mario Massa – a partnership whose magnetism seems as strong as that which binds Earth to the Sun. Like the planets it alludes to, Cause and Effect is in perpetual drift, moving slowly between different shades as tenuous and quick to disperse as a cloud of dust caught in light. It is not for every mood, but the moments of human warmth that emerge from the abstract – evoking the sublime alignment of astral bodies – are among the finest to reach these ears this year. (Chris Redfearn)

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William Basinski + Richard Chartier ~ Aurora Liminalis (Line)
Evidence that typecasting is inherently unfair is peppered throughout the expansive, always rewarding discography of William Basinski. When he’s paired with Richard Chartier, as he is here for the second memorable occasion, the results are staggering. From rumbling drones to gentle beds of sound, Aurora Liminalis is one hopeful step further on the path to making Mr. Basinski more than just the ’09/11 Tape Loops Guy.’  (Zachary Corsa)

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  1. Pingback: Press Play: “The Gardens of Bomarzo” By Clorinde | Art is Life

  2. Pingback: Best of 2013 Lists: Part V | Avant Music News

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