The cool, the crazy, the distinctive ~ every artist and album has a shot here. In this section, we celebrate music that’s clearly different from the competition. Experiments don’t always work, but here they have; these risks have produced rewards. In most cases, these albums seem different from the very start, featuring artwork that is pleasantly unusual.
These might not be the albums one would take home to mom. Instead, one might hide them like a dirty secret. Over time, they cast a different sort of spell; when the dust settles, they may end up being unforgettable.
And now, in alphabetical order, A Closer Listen presents the Top Ten Experimental Releases of 2015.
Aki Onda with Loren Connors & Alan Licht ~ Lost City (audioMER)
Aki Onda is well known for his soundscapes exploring the limits of memory, utilizing unmarked cassette tapes recorded throughout his travels around the world. Here he does much the same but adopts the role of composer and conductor. Using a score comprised of photographs taken in the months after 9/11, Onda creates a score by which to direct improvisations, here enlisting fellow NYC avant-gardists Loren Connors and Alan Licht. The two engage in a duet across side A, while the flip-side features Connors solo. The treated guitar sounds are fa removed from the finds of sounds that Onda traditionally works with, but the ebb and flow is familiar. Recorded in 2007, the 8 year delay itself contributes a level of removal while still feeling cathartic. Unlike Onda’s unlabeled cassettes, the images that populate the accompanying videos function on a very different level of abstraction. Onda has often explored the relationship between specific places and the malleability, and fallibility, of memory, but in re-approaching the trauma of 9/11 and representing the feeling that overtook the city and the nation in the aftermath, Lost City is grounded in a way that makes it much more powerfully evocative. (Joseph Sannicandro)
Baldruin ~ Portal (Wounded Knife)
As one might guess from the cover, Portal is a highly unusual album, traveling the sea from ambient to industrial and stopping at multiple ports in-between. Johannes Schebler has been working his way up to this set over the course of the last three releases, and this is easily his finest achievement to date: an album that decides to have it all, and wins. (Richard Allen)
Drunken Sufis ~ Cotton Candy Cluster Bombs (Bad Friend Records)
From the cover, you might think ‘flamethrower to a Battles record’. That is actually not a million miles away. Add a pyromaniacal visual element (the accompanying video is key to this record’s success) and you’re almost there. Drunken Sufis this time have aimed their maths-punk machine guns at the alphabet, producing 26 anarchic tracks averaging just under a minute, as well as a video for each. Truly unique. (Chris Redfearn)
Kammerflimmer Kollektief ~ Désarroi (Staubgold)
Another new lineup yields a tenth album for the consistently impressive Kammerflimmer Kollektief. As I wrote in my review earlier this year, there’s a big difference between dropping names and being the name that people drop. This group is the latter. Not at all concerned with public opinion or acclaim, the band continues to blaze its own path, and in so doing clears a trail for others to follow. (Richard Allen)
Leafcutter John ~ Resurrection (Desire Path)
Leafcutter John makes a long-awaited – and triumphant – return with the aptly titled Resurrection, inspired by aerial footage of the 2011 tsunami catastrophe in Japan. The record focuses on the positive aspect of rebuilding that which has been destroyed – an approach mimicked in the construction of these five pieces, as musical flotsam was scraped away, weathered, piled up and re-ordered. The result is a fascinating and serene blend of organic and artificial sounds. (Chris Redfearn)
Matana Roberts ~ Coin Coin Chapter Three: river run thee (Constellation Records)
My own favorite album of the year is a true original. The third chapter of a promised twelve, Chapter Three clears the boards again, starting from scratch with a single performer and a host of samples and loops. Roberts has never been content to rest on her laurels, and her fierce intelligence emanates from every groove. If there’s a more powerful album this year, I haven’t heard it. (Richard Allen)
She Spread Sorrow ~ Rumspringa (Cold Spring)
‘Powerless electronics’ might be the most apt way to describe the disturbance of She Spread Sorrow’s Rumspringa. It inverts the mastery and will to domination at the core of the genre, in its revolt finding sonic ways to grind away its overwhelming virility, subjecting it to decadence, to the pleasures it forbids itself. In the violence of ritual it plays with disgust and shame, emitting chilling electronic screams that bear an equal measure of pain, regret, desire, and joy. This is radical industrial music at its best, inviting the listener to explore the sensuality of the forbidden, the ‘unknown pleasures’ awaiting at the heart of damage. (David Murrieta)
Utu Lautturi ~ Nielu (Pale Noir)
This highly unusual Finnish artist is not afraid to try new things: long watery passages, fierce drones, static and song. It all comes together on Nielu, an album as thick as an unmapped forest. This particular forest is one of the mind; Lautturi battled the black dog, and for at least the length of this album, survived. As a result, the listening experience is therapeutic, a balm to the afflicted. (Richard Allen)
Various Artists ~ One Minute Older (Virgin Babylon)
With 50 tracks in 70 minutes, One Minute Older is overflowing with energy and life. All of the label’s main acts are represented, and many newcomers get a minute to strut their stuff. One never knows what’s coming next, which is part of the pleasure; listening is like waking from a decades-long coma and pressing the Scan button to see what one has missed. (Richard Allen)
Walks on the Beach ~ Adoption Tapes (Scioto Records)
Experimental sounds wash up on the shores of the electric guitar. Its lovely sound sparkles in the sun (it lends itself to a crisp, clear sound), but there are other things here, too. Uninvited guests, shall we say. Static scurries along, like crabs along the sand. Vocals dip their toes in the soupy sound, which is muddied by a suble, inexplicable tension. Intermittent, dreamy lyrics punctuate the sound and help to produce the uneasy, queasy mood. The music’s perfect for some strange, sunny Walks On The Beach. In his review, David said it best: “…like one of those surrealist paintings of sunshine in the dark.” (James Catchpole)