ACL 2016: Top Ten Experimental

ultimate-care-iiHere’s our fun section; few will be able to predict the contents. Haunted ballrooms, washing machines, stuttered poetry and mythological black dogs all find their place under the experimental umbrella.  Some people may call this “different” or “difficult” music; we call it a series of alternate universes, each accessible by speaker or headphone.  What was once considered avant-garde is now the mainstream, and these albums provide possible paths to the future.  While we can’t imagine them in the Top 40 right now, who knows what the future holds?  All we know is that these artists prefer to throw out the rulebook and blaze their own paths, daring others to follow but not caring if they do.

And now, A Closer Listen presents The Top 20 Experimental Albums of 2016!

AGF ~ Kon:3p>UTION to: e[VOL]ution (AGF Produktion 021)
Different shape!  Different color!  Different pitch!  Different tone!  Yes, this is what we prefer to hear, and Antye Greie-Ripatti continues to thrill with every release. Her latest set is uncategorizable, but not inaccessible; political, but not subversive; wild, but not berserk.  If something sounds interesting to AGF, she tries it, producing fascinating results.  Is this the evolution (sorry, e[VOL]ution) of music?  If so, sign us up for more.  (Richard Allen)

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Charbel Haber ~ Of Palm Trees and Decomposition (Discrepant)
The terrain described by Charbel Haber in his latest release lacks welcome or delineation, and is all the more captivating as a result. This is an unsettling and hazy place, much of it seemingly submerged under ruinous water. Formed entirely of guitars fed through synth modules, Of Palm Trees and Decomposition offers gentle inclines of melody, outcrops of dissonance and seabeds of warming drone; but after three lengthy tracks of aural esoterica, its comparatively cleansing ending implies some hope of salvation. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

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Daniel Wohl ~ Holographic (New Amsterdam)
The New Amsterdam label has cornered its segment of the market, and we couldn’t be happier.  Their artists continue to push boundaries and challenge mainstream assumptions.  Daniel Wohl is one of their luminaries, and he is joined here by an amazing array of performers that include Lucky Dragons and Bang On a Can.  The artist’s forays into percussion and mood may lead to unexpected places, but Holographic as a whole is not inaccessible; it pushes against the mainstream as hard as it can while continuing to pull listeners close.  (Richard Allen)

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Ian Humberstone and David Chatton Barker ~ Black Dog Traditions of England (Folklore Tapes)
Another winner from Folklore Tapes, Black Dog Traditions of England also appears in our Best Packaging feature and offers a wonderful combination of history and myth.  Are these black dogs real?  How powerful are they?  What do they sound like?  By presenting this sonic and written document, Folklore Tapes cements their place in the common culture and preserves their stories for years to come.  This box set is a delight: a keepsake to savor during the darkest of nights.  (Richard Allen)

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Machinefabriek ~ Crumble (Self-Released)
Crumble is a single, 34-minute piece that unfolds in parts, highlighting not only the electronic contributions of Rutger Zuydervelt, but the violin of Anne Bakker and the voice of Edita Karkoschka.  The music sounds like modern composition, but the construction is experimental.  Each shift brings a small frisson; there’s no predicting what’s around the corner.  Machinefabriek continues to be one of the most prolific and diverse artists we cover, and recordings like this enhance an already-cemented reputation.  (Richard Allen)

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Matmos ~ Ultimate Care II (Thrill Jockey)
When we heard that Matmos was about to release an album comprised entirely of washing machine sounds, we were already intrigued.  Like Crumble above, this is a single track, using the washing machine to travel through various eras of music, from concrete to komische: a sonic version of the hot tub time machine.  Now Matmos is preparing to go on tour, bringing the washing machine along; this may be the first time a musical instrument will cut down on cleaning bills.  The entire project is fun, from idea to execution to tour, and it brings smiles to our faces with every cycle.  (Richard Allen)

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Michael Begg | Human Greed ~ Let the Cold Stove Sing (Omnempathy)
The success of Michael Begg’s latest work, essentially a compilation of recordings, lies in his sensitive handling of its multiple styles – drone, field recordings, composition and experimentalism are all united across pieces written for varied theatre and gallery settings. As implied, Let the Cold Stove Sing is remote and often fantastical, with eerie noises undefinable creeping alongside sounds of children at play. Its remoteness is key – the set is all about space and absence, and the patient decay of piano notes and ambient swells affords much. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

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Molnbär av John ~ The End (flau)
The End is an innovative and cluttered collection where old 78s and string loops escape from their mummified vaults. These ancient sounds haven’t been aired for a long time, and they’re dying to be let loose. Innocent Disney this is not; it’s Fantasia gone gaga. It is, at times, a lot darker than the traditional, comfortable orchestras as seen in the 1940’s, and the piano loops are deeper than a subway line. It’s a little offbeat and a little crazy in the coconut. Tropical flavors and romantic strings crash into a number of black and white cartoon situations and characters, making for a loopy and yet coherent record. If it were not for some lightheartedness, the music would fill an asylum’s halls with its eerily disturbing crackles and broken record players.  (James Catchpole)

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Ricarda Cometa & Dario Dubois Duo ~ DDDRC (Self-Released)
A title like a business acronym cannot disguise the free-spirited, avant contents of this collaborative LP, as unlikely as it is joyous. Only slightly does the frenzied improvisation of Ricarda Cometa overlap with the cleansing deliberations of DDD, yet these Latin American mavericks explore it voraciously – guitars percussive and psychedelic, dual drummers pulsing and shimmying relentlessly. DDDRC is somehow restrained yet raucous, soothing yet energising, comprehensible yet completely baffling. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

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Valerio Tricoli ~ Clonic Earth (PAN)
“Beauty will be convulsive, or it will not be”, wrote André Breton in 1928, which is to say a violent and confused movement born from neurological damage: a clonus. Valerio Tricoli’s albums are undeniably complex and dense in thematic material, with Clonic Earth representing the subjection of acousmatics to surrealist seizure – the absence of context is not meant to affirm an essential humanity of sounds but, perhaps, to place them into the realm of the overwhelmingly involuntary, the purely irrational and senseless, the truly divine. Regardless of your approach to his experiments in music, it might be safe to say that it undeniably dwells, with utter brilliance, within a nightmare full of stars. (David Murrieta)

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2 comments

  1. Pingback: 2016 Best of Lists from Around the Web: Part VII – Avant Music News

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