From locked grooves to dueling drummers; from abstract voices to plastic instruments; from stories of slavery to modern African drones, the Experimental category represents creativity at its best. These artists follow their own paths, abandoning the marked roads, more interested in what lies beyond. Years from now, their sounds may filter into the mainstream, but long before then, they’ll have moved on to other things.
One of the most amazing thing about this year’s list is the number of artists who have remained vital over the course of decades. Matmos is now celebrating its 25th anniversary, Machinefabriek his 15th and Hecker and AGF somewhere in between. And yet, each still has something new to say. We remain in awe.
And now, without further ado, A Closer Listen presents the top ten Experimental Albums of 2019!
Adrian Corker ~ Music for Lock Grooves (SN Variation)
Although loops may drive some people mad, they are central to music genres ranging from electronica to drone. They are also the stimulus behind Adrian Corker’s EP Music For Lock Grooves. Adrian invited guests to elaborate upon acetate record loops of less than two-seconds (the time it takes a record to revolve one time), building hypnotic compositions using piano, percussion, violin, and voice. If the first side, “Inflows,” burns densely in the high-end, the second side, “Outflows,” drifts through something airier. Regardless of Adrian’s conceptual framework—the dialectic between man and machine, or creation and degradation—it’s still humbling to hear someone build a world upon a single revolution. (Todd B. Gruel)
AGF ~ commissioned work (Self-Released)
One of the most exciting releases of the year has one of the least exciting titles; but don’t judge this book by its cover. commissioned work is in love with sound, from the endangered Indri to amplified mushrooms, from ice hockey to syringes. There’s so much texture here that one is continually asking, “What was that?” Antye Greie has an amazing ear for acoustics, and today she’s proud to share her treasures with the world. (Richard Allen)
Hecker ~ Introspection II (Editions Mego)
Rarely does an album hold the potential to produce a truly extreme reaction, which is exactly what Inspection II aims for. Dislodging the self, understanding noise beyond its commonplace associations with disorder, attempting to listen to nature unmediated by humanism, and conceiving of the absolute alien qualities of a true other: Hecker undertakes a difficult task, but the result of the experiment, whether successful or not, is astounding. Here’s a “music” of genuine terror, an incisive attempt on the life of the ideals whose materiality binds our perception to dullness. This is life, and it is surrounded by infinite cosmic blackness. (David Murrieta Flores)
Machinefabriek ~ With Voices (Western Vinyl)
Inspired by a Taipei dance company, Rutger Zuydervelt reached out to a number of artists and asked them to contribute their voices. Using the voices as source material, the composer then proceeded to chop, loop, elongate and otherwise distort these fragments until they were in some instances barely recognizable. The result is a lovely swirl of vocal textures that sings without the presence of a song. (Richard Allen)
Matana Roberts ~ COIN COIN Chapter Four: Memphis (Constellation)
The COIN COIN project is shaping up to be one of century’s definitive releases, and we’re not even at the halfway point yet. Roberts changes her musical approach in every chapter while continuing the narrative thread. The newest collage traces her family’s history through slavery to the present day, inciting white privilege while leaning on the everlasting arms. The album is a harrowing listening experience, but essential, especially now. (Richard Allen)
Matmos ~ Plastic Anniversary (Thrill Jockey)
While their studio antics are now well known— to the point of potential cliché— Matmos have comfortably grown into whimsical wizards in a scene full of self-serious experimental producers. Their latest is a sweet, humorous reflection on love through the endlessly imaginative vessel of, well, what else but plastic! The duo, who are also celebrating 25 years together as a couple, process, warp, and string together the sonic properties of plastic to reckless abandon. M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel create a confetti plastisphere that raises awareness of consumer waste while indulging us in the sheer fun of creation along the way. (Josh Hughes)
Mukqs ~ SD Biomix (Orange Milk)
The “biomix” presupposes a natural, hierarchical dreamscape of the real and the hyperreal coexisting, with each component symbiotically retaliating at what came before. Mukqs garbles MIDI nonsense and superficially pits it against our inner drives for the sanctity of organicism, cheekily telling us through surface complexity that, actually, everything is a bit more complex than that. The synthetic sonatas give way to mangled systems of authenticity, checking our identities at the door and telling us that technology is now invariably included in the multiplicities we rely on to navigate ourselves. (Josh Hughes)
Valentina Magaletti & Julian Sartorius ~ Sulla Pelle (Marionette)
Sulla Pelle is a rare outlier in instrumental music, in that it is both inarguably virtuosic and thematically fascinating. Drummers Valentina Magaletti & Julian Sartorius combine their limbs and create lengthy processional polyrhythms that are undoubtedly organic and human, but sound already existent as abstract, internalized patterns found elsewhere in the world. That is to say, over four tracks of searing percussive density, the pair tap into something pleasantly universal and approachable that defies easy categorization. It is a cacophonous record that curiously soothes just as much as it invigorates.
V/A ~ Anthology of Contemporary Music from Africa Continent (Unexplained Sounds Group)
Unexplained Sounds Group strikes again! Following up the great anthologies from last year was no easy feat, which is exactly what Contemporary Music From Africa Continent does. It articulates a modernist, avant-garde panorama in translation, a striking set of pieces by artists from different parts of the African continent. They are transgressing both national and international barriers that would have you believe there is some sort of essential unity to a wide range of peoples and places, and they are doing so radically. We can’t wait to hear more from all these artists! (David Murrieta Flores)
YATTA ~ WAHALA (Purple Tape Pedigree)
If background were enough to establish legitimacy, YATTA would already have it: black, trans, Sierra Leonean-American, raised in an evangelical setting. But labels are insufficient to describe this artist or this music. WAHALA is the sound of the *what?* amplified through a cornucopia of voices set against a cavalcade of settings. Could it be that the only way to find one’s place in an unstable world is to be a chameleon? If so, YATTA is finally at home. (Richard Allen)