ACL 2014: Top Ten Experimental

SP016_Cover.inddThe Experimental section is our home for improvisors, alchemists, and pioneers.  These composers are never satisfied with the status quo.  They seek to push music forward, and they prefer progress to popularity.  Some may eventually receive a small amount of fame, albeit delayed.  Years may pass before the public appreciates what they have been doing, and by the time their works are appreciated, they’ve moved on to the next phase.

The selections below disprove a popular misconception: that experimental music is by nature inaccessible.  In fact, the opposite is often true, as old and new sonic approaches are combined in creative and unexpected ways.  We recommend a look back through the year by pressing the Experimental link on the top of our site; it’s a great way to discover the breadth of modern music.

And now, in alphabetical order, A Closer Listen presents the Top Ten Experimental Releases of 2014.

Cliff Dweller ~ The Dream in Captivity (Patient Sounds)
Cliff Dweller’s esoteric creation indeed plays out like the dream referenced in its title, resplendent with disturbing sounds of hard-to-place provenance and jarring changes of musical scene. We are led into the heart of a vast, industrial city created by field recordings and sound design as well as more traditional instrumental fare. Whatever the means, all sounds point to this journey being against our will. A viola that starts to sing is suddenly interrupted, as though we have suddenly been submerged or witness to a drastic power failure; frantic drums make an isolated intrusion in the final piece, but are fractured and accompanied by siren-like strings. By the time a gate slams on us at the record’s close, we can only wonder at what sort of city we’ve just been shut out of – or locked inside. (Chris Redfearn)

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Erik K Skodvin ~ Flame (Sonic Pieces)
Far from leading us through a raging inferno, Erik K. Skodvin of Deaf Center fame instead fixes our gaze to a lit candle, encouraging us to focus on the glowing wick, the dancing tip and the surrounding undulations. Such are the images conjured with Flame, whose smouldering compositions are based mainly on somnolent piano, crunching guitars and scattered percussion, around which writhe clarinet and strings. Listening to Flame, I get the sensation of strolling through Twin Peaks – not only is there an occasional sonic similarity to David Lynch’s guitar-based music, but the atmosphere created is menacing in a truly ineffable way. I feel ill at ease, but I don’t know why – it’s just a candle, after all. (Chris Redfearn)

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Felix Kubin ~ Chromdioxidgedächtnis (Gagarin)
Felix Kubin’s love for the cassette began in childhood, a fact underlined by the inclusion of old home tapes among the sonic debris.  A cassette, disc and lovingly-crafted mini-magazine are presented in a cardboard box, like an old shoebox containing one’s favorite toys.  As much as Kubin enjoys playing with sound – looping, manipulating, time-distorting – listeners will love the results, which may inspire experiments of their own.  (Richard Allen)

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Loren Connors ~ My Brooklyn (Analogpath)
Loren Connors is one of the great experimentalists of the past few decades, and this experience shows in My Brooklyn. His improv skills are as good as they ever are, and he leads us through a thematic series of pieces about Brooklyn with a care and profoundness that can truly transpose the listener into another time and place. Make no mistake – music like this is hard and challenging, but the rewards are multiple and more than worth the time spent sitting down and doing nothing but listening just how a man with a guitar can express what he believes is the essence of his city in purely instrumental, purely experimental terms. (David Murrieta)

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Marcus Fjellström ~ Lichtspiel Mutation 2: Alechsis (Dronarivm)
An imaginative and productive reimagining of the plot of a 1948 film now in the public domain, Alechsis is a rewarding listen. Even free from its original context as part of a live audio-visual performance, the absent narrative makes itself felt in the structure of the piece. An achievement of narrative storytelling with abstract sounds.  (Joseph Sannicandro)

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Nicola Di Croce ~ Fieldnotes (Oak Editions)
Fieldnotes is a unique album, and not merely because it was issued as a download printed on a limited edition Risograph. In contrast to often somber records recorded alone, Di Croce’s music is full of vitality and vigor, deftly layering field-recordings, electronics and acoustic instruments into a coherent, focused, and musical whole. Di Croce’s is an engaged practice, and the openness and collaborative nature of this project is palpable in every second.  (Joseph Sannicandro)

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Public Speaking ~ Within Patterns (Self-released)
A case study in polyrhythm, Within Patterns can be enjoyed through a lens of dynamic focus, taking either a broad landscape shot or zooming right into the matter and the structure that makes it up. Although mathematical, the album exhibits a vibrant array of mood and tone, helped by a selection of instruments that innately balance melody with rhythm. Piano, glockenspiel and marimba are the stalwarts, but other percussion and creative production make the instrumental range feel broader. Despite this, Jason Anthony Harris is most in his element when focused on one instrument – during moments such as the multilayered, piano-centric “Pattern 7”, Within Patterns is as thrilling as it is intelligent. (Chris Redfearn)

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Squanto ~ Basement Tropic (Lily Tapes and Discs)
Basement Tropic isn’t just a pretty unusual or eccentric album – it’s psychotic. The loops, which have been pasted together, squirm into the recesses of the mind, decaying and undulating in pitch thanks to that lovely, distorted tape tone. Somehow, though, the music’s mutated. It becomes something hypnotic, under the influence of a banned substance. It almost destroys itself, dragging the music to the point of annihilation, but as strange as it seems, it’s something you could probably dance to.  (James Catchpole)

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United Bible Studies ~ Doineann (A Year in the Country)
Dave Colohan and Company have always had an ear to the ground of their particular Irish surroundings, and Doinnean is yet another accomplished slice of pagan Irish hauntology to please your ears. Joined by frequent compatriots Richard Moult and Michael Tanner, every instrument is given space to breathe, from careening hurdy gurdy to delicately rough-hewn vocals. A fine addition to an ever-growing discography of ghosts, Dionnean is sure to take root in your soul.  (Zachary Corsa)

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Valerio Tricoli ~ Miseri Lares (PAN)
Miseri Lares is a spooky, whispery album, filled with chains, clanks and rustles.  Its evocative nature is so strong that we included it in our October article, Music for Haunted Houses, where it stood its own against albums decades old.  The ghosts in these grooves are yearning to be set free; we recommend keeping an exorcist nearby, because listeners won’t be able to resist playing these tracks again … and again … and again.  (Richard Allen)

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