ACL 2018 ~ Top Ten Experimental

Musically and geographically, these albums are all over the map.  This year’s picks include an album comprised of other albums, a band whose instruments are made from vegetables, a score to a film about lives erased under Stalin and a gleeful exploration of piano guts.  In the Experimental category, anything goes ~ the more creative the better.  This music won’t appear at the Top of the Pops, but there’s nothing like it on the market. This is the genre for originals, boundary breakers and the appealingly strange.  The only thread that unites these releases is their rejection of the mainstream.  Those in search of “what’s new” will find it here.

And now, A Closer Listen presents the best experimental music of 2018!

Lea Bertucci ~ Metal Aether (NNA Tapes)
It’s surely no coincidence that Metal Aether was most highly rated by reviewers who saw Lea Bertucci in performance this year, and it’s also noteworthy that she was often on the same bill as Terry Riley: there is a touch of Poppy Nogood in Bertucci’s album. But comparisons aren’t the point – this is a striking work, utilising just a saxophone and magnetic tape to create a sound that could fill a cathedral. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Sarah Davachi ~ Let Night Come On Bells End the Day (Recital)
Surrendering to transformation, letting a distant sound announce the coming of the new. Davachi’s work is always interesting, but here she’s created an aural tapestry that threads the history of Western music into a moving, serene complex that does not depend on density but on its emotional contour. It is night music at its best, the short time when sleep is death, not in a final sense but in the sense of a cyclical renewal, the trace of our dreams corresponding to the trace of our last, and first, breath of life. The drones here do the same, melting and melding together with romantic piano, a warm nocturne in the age of endless, cold light. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Efrim Manuel Menuck ~ Pissing Stars (Constellation)
Exhaustion pervades Pissing Stars, an unsettling but enthralling listen both musically and in how it presents the mindset of the post-rock talisman in his second solo outing. Fuzzy guitars, droning synths and plaintive vocals lay the foundations for this decidedly un-pock-rock set, with Menuck eschewing the groove-based rhythms of GYBE in favour of motorik pulses like a palpitating heart, to convey the ‘giddiness of enervation’. But this does not equate to total despair – whether nihilism or resolve from exhaustion he found, a few shafts of light disperse the gloom to remind us that stars shine even beyond their death. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

Original Review

Paul Nataraj ~ You Sound Like a Broken Record (Self-Released)
You Sound Like A Broken Record is one of the most distinctly original releases of the year. Playful, sentimental, and nihilistic, it delves into personal stories and unique memories, all held together within vinyl grooves. Fourteen volunteers gave up a record that had special importance in their lives. They were later interviewed and their personal stories were etched onto the surface of the vinyl. The experimental work stands out because of this process, but it’s also an important peek into the mechanics of music as memory, as well as ‘bringing into relief the dialectical position the record plays as both icon of the music industry but also symbol of musical rebellion’. The music has been reconstructed, too, the heart spilling out through the speakers in a fascinatingly disjointed but spirited way. The records are varied: Stevie Wonder, Bowie, Duran Duran, Brotherhood of Man, and Lil Louis are all distorted and rearranged according to personal memory, making this at once a record of intimacy and growth, speaking of the industry at large with million-selling popular records and the industry’s loving fixation on vinyl. You Sound Like A Broken Record opens a ‘productive dialogue between industry, user, artefact, artist, music, and society’. Vinyl hiss never gets old. It holds a special place in the heart, and a digital file can never replicate that. Love shapes this recording – a love for music, and a love for the spice and colour it gave to a moment, affecting someone’s life. It doesn’t get much better than that.  (James Catchpole)

Original Review

Attilio Novellino & Collin McKelvey ~ Métaphysiques cannibales (Kohlhaas/Weird Ear)
Musique concrète ages well due to its unusual internal mechanisms.  The moving parts make it hard to pin down.  Novellino & McKelvey’s LP sounds like a grandfather clock suffering from Tourette’s.  This extended work invites one to lean forward and listen to the gears.  Who knows what secrets may be revealed in the patterns one discerns?  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Psychological Strategy Board ~ Penny Slinger: Out of the Shadows (Front & Follow)
It’s not entirely uncommon that a soundtrack can also be a great album, but it’s not that common either, and Penny Slinger: Out of the Shadows is as special as soundtracks can get. The surrealist mixture of scientific and occult implications is reflected here by the noisy interventions of clear-cut electronics and processed instruments (reason) that aid to obscure the music’s flow; an underlying Gothicism makes the subtle blasts of sound and lower-key electronics seem sinister, all those machine sounds an antechamber of horror. To have made a soundtrack to match the power of Penny Slinger’s artwork is no small feat, and it is an enduring testament of surrealism’s capacity to question everything. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Ricarda Cometa ~ Ricarda Cometa 2 (Nefarious Industries)
Improvised and acerbic, Ricarda Cometa’s second album proper rejects the notion of ‘less is more’. Reducing from a trio has honed the South American duo’s avant-math/jazz-rock sound, making guitar and drums more incisive and yet more frenzied. The dissonance is clinical; the propulsive rhythms play to their own (lack of) meter, yet somehow the two entwine; the pair are sonically controlled yet completely unhinged. This short set is full of apparent contradictions, yet the revitalising energy pounding through it implores you to attempt to dance. For those brave souls, its jagged extremities will run you ragged. (Chris Redfearn-Murray)

Original Review

Andrea Taeggi ~ Noméri — Tere (Präsens Editionen)
There’s a big difference between playing the piano and playing with the piano, which Taeggi does with enormous glee.  The instrument offers so many timbres; why stick to the keys?  Taeggi opens the hood, plucks the strings, smacks the sides and ends up with one of the year’s best piano albums.  Should we write about this in the same breath as Arnalds and Frahm?  Perhaps so; it’s the same instrument, after all, and there are still new discoveries to be made.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

The Vegetable Orchestra ~ Green Album (Transacoustic Research)
Joining the respectable company of other ‘color’ albums (I am talking, obviously, of… Weezer’s Blue Album. Which other did you think I was talking about?), the Green Album shows the Vegetable Orchestra at its most comedic, which is to say, also, at its most serious. The experimentalism of tracks like “Perfect Match” grows out of an impulse to play, its quirky voice groans and electronics an integration of nature and artifice. It’s a practice of sound sculpture in a traditional sense, carving out the essential aural qualities of plants and reinforcing them with an avant-garde approach to electronic music. It verges on the wondrous strangeness of vanguardist outsider music like Moondog or bands like DVA: in short, it’s a grower. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Rutger Zuydervelt with Ilia Belorukov and René Aquarius ~ The Red Soul (Sofa)
Reminiscent of Anthony Marra’s novel The Tsar of Love and Techno, this album is the score to a film about the Soviet relationship with Stalin during and after the age of terror.  Russian nationalism has an enormous pull on the populace, which continues to love its leaders, even when ruled by an iron hand.  Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek) uses samples of Stalin’s speeches and Soviet song to paint an evocative picture of the tug of war between patriotism and humanism.  Belorukov and Aquarius’ textures make the music linger like memories of loved ones whose names can never be spoken.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review


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