ACL 2017 ~ Top Ten Experimental

This may be where music is headed ~ but then again, maybe not.  These artists are iconoclastic in their approach to sound.  From radio waves to distortion, puppetry to improvisation, they blaze their own trails, and those who can’t keep up get left behind.  2017 was an especially strong year for women in experimental music, as demonstrated below.  This was also a great year for stretching boundaries while so many others tried their best to squash innovation.  So perhaps the future won’t sound quite like this; but in the hands of experimentalists, we can be assured that the future will continue to be creative.  Here’s to the opposite of the mainstream.

And now, in alphabetical order, A Closer Listen presents the Top Ten Experimental Albums of 2017!

Ben Frost ~ The Centre Cannot Hold (Mute)
It is perhaps difficult (but not impossible) to find elements of the political in Frost’s past work, but The Centre Cannot Hold might be his first openly political work, creating drones and sharp electronics that delineate the base banality that is the fragile existence of the so-called virtuous center, which more than once has favored the unjust. Positions must be drawn, the noise and the harmonies assumed not as the result of battle between opposites but the very grounds for it. Frost is not ambiguous about it, either, with tracks like “A Single Hellfire Missile Costs $100,000” and “Healthcare” brazenly associating a politics with his particular style of aggressive electronics: if his works are always about a struggle, here it is at its purest form, crystal-clear, at last. (David Murrieta)

Original Review

CC ~ AM (Crooked Acres)
Shortwave radio was one of the first mass movements of amateur technology enthusiasts contributing to the development of a communications medium. Though its utility for communications has long since been eclipsed (by FM radio, mobile phones, digital and satellite transmissions) there are still those who maintain a fondness for medium, quirks and all.  Michael C Coldwell, a sound artist and PhD student in photography from Leeds, UK, explores the demise (and persistence) of shortwave radio in AM. An audio-visual project, its 30 short tracks are no less engrossing as they probe the gradual death of one of the 20th centuries most important media. Released on a limited edition cassette, another “dead medium” that has enjoyed a long afterlife, CC’s debut of shortwave hauntological vignettes is more than a eulogy for a dying medium as it is a fascinating aural meditation on the paradox of progress. (Joseph Sannicandro)

Original Review

Félicia Atkinson ~ Hand in Hand (Shelter Press)
Otherworldly experimentations went Hand In Hand with icy electronics on this brilliant album. Atkinson’s tracks were like lost episodes of an out-there sci-fi show, the electronics secreting a fictitious spoken word and creeping around like a strange creature’s feelers. The hand was like a cold December. Felicia Atkinson delivered one of the strongest experimental albums in recent years as melodies appeared on the music’s surface like alien hieroglyphics. I want to believe too, Felicia.  (James Catchpole)

Original Review

Giuseppe Ielasi ~ 3 Pauses (Senufo Editions)
On 3 pauses, Giuseppe Ielasi begs a quiet question about how we spend our time when we’re not spending it. Delivered through a sequence of grainy loops, murky and brittle, insect noises of the night conflate with human interventions: whips of feedback tangle with whirling winds (from a turbine, or perhaps a bathroom fan); crickets chirp; frogs croak; high-frequency overtones warp to wobble; and mysterious electronics burble, conjuring old arcade games on the fritz. Comprised of three 30-minute tracks—in the world of television, that’s the length of an average episode—these pauses can’t be triggered by remote control, aren’t cued by a referee on the sidelines, or mandated by a passing flu. Few pause long enough to appreciate the (e)motion of silence.  (Todd B. Gruel)

Original Review

Marcus Fjellström ~ Skelekticon (Miasmah)
The last musical will and testament from Marcus Fjellström is a fine testament to his legacy.  We wish this artist had lived longer.  In his time on earth, he produced an elegant body of work, haunted and sublime.  There was always a hint of sadness embedded in the spookiness; now real life has taken its toll, and the sadness rises to the fore. (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Markus Mehr ~ Dyschronia (Hidden Shoal)
An ill relationship to time. It’s not too adventurous to claim that music’s connection to time is universal, and that the rhythms and beats that regulate each culture vary according to their histories, so when Markus Mehr titles an album with a cover made of glitched out computerized images Dyschronia, an allusion to how we ‘Western’ moderns live time seems inevitable. It is replicated in the album’s structure and its heavily sampled dynamic of juxtapositions in which the rhythms continually get lost in textures. Still, this bad relationship parts from an organicism that does not necessarily develops from alienation, so the textures are warm, almost welcoming, an illness of comfort that in distortion and decay finds safety. It’s a trap, but we’re invited to realize how deep we’ve fallen into it. (David Murrieta)

Original Review

木目鳥 ~ Mokumedori (Dewfall Records)
Japanese performance artist Mokumedori commits fully to her role, creating alternate universes in which her size and shape are different, then performing with her alternate selves.  Her world is both fascinating and frightening, bringing to mind the toys and terrors of childhood.  On this self-titled album, she sews sounds into a quilt-like fabric, its patches connected by multicolored threads.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Pan Daijing ~ Lack 惊蛰 (PAN)
A genuine rarity in the sense that it is almost impossible to offer musical reference guides for Lack 惊蛰. A word to the cautious: there are contrasting styles between tracks, sometimes within a single piece, and as those styles include opera and industrial techno it isn’t always the easiest of listening experiences. Nonetheless, after a few listens, it fits together as a cohesive artistic statement of intent. Pan Daijing created this work over a two year period and, born out of live improvisations and field recordings, it’s a ground-breaking, cathartic and challenging experience which few albums offer. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

SAICOBAB ~ Sab Se Purani Bab (Thrill Jockey)
Wild, punk and uncompromising, SAB SE PURANI BAB throws up a psychedelic wall of raga-noise that playfully jumps around straight into your head. This trip is made for the mind, sure, but at its best it should find itself reverberating inside your limbs, your neck, your step. It is meant not to advance you into illumination but to regress you into it – an infancy of world-communion, mindlessly dancing and babbling your way towards the core truths of a cosmos altogether hidden by the illusions of reason and the constraints of logic. Let yourself go, and allow bounces and crashes be your gateway to understanding. (David Murrieta)

Original Review

Sea Charms ~ Mystery Tapes (Self-Released)
We’ve put both Mystery Tapes together as one release although they are separate entities and quite distinct from each other. Vol. 1 has a number of very short pieces, abrupt edits and quite a lot of laughter, centered around the lengthy “S”, a woozy showcase for Jess’ saxophone. Vol. II is more intense, with a denser, almost narcotic quality to the work. The tapes are clearly two sides of the same coin and the combination of joyful experimentation and deeper sonic exploration gives an otherworldly, (David) Lynchian quality to Sea Charms’ music. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

One comment

  1. Pingback: 2017 Best of Lists from Around the Web: Part III – Avant Music News

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