ACL 2021 ~ Top Ten Experimental

Our Experimental section boasts the widest dynamic contrast of all the fields we cover.  From near-silence to curdled wails, children’s classes to looped drums, every nook and cranny is explored and excavated. Where else might one discover an examination of the Torah’s patriarchs next to a treatise on the interment of Japanese citizens during the Second World War?

While these composers may look to the past for inspiration, their sound is intensely futuristic.  By making unexpected choices, they break boundaries and set new standards for creativity.  With apologies to Ecclesiastes, there is something new under the sun.  To take a trip through this musical multiverse, start streaming the releases below!

Christopher Chaplin ~ Patriarchs (Fabrique)
The Patriarchs of the title are Adam (yes, that one) and his descendants via Seth through to Noah; an ambitious sequence to inspire an album. Thankfully Christopher Chaplin is up to the task, with dense, brooding arrangements that draw on a plethora of instruments and voices. There’s percussion clanging, electronic burbling, birds cawing. It’s a work that feels suitably widescreen and epic; with very little biographical detail to draw on for many of these patriarchs, Chaplin has plenty of space in which to create his narrative. It’s an accomplished work that ends on a note of optimism amongst an apocalypse. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Fire-Toolz ~ Eternal Home (Hausu Mountain)
Everything has the potential to become a window to the sacred. But the sacred is not an otherworldly abstraction: it is made of everyday memory, its architecture an emotional projection digitalized, its warmth that of computer screens bathing us with enlightened comfort deep at night. We (myself included) have constantly been getting Fire-Toolz wrong, not because it is the music of the future, but because it flows forth from the very depths of our present subconscious, full of memes, catchy soft jazz riffs and “easy-listening” music; the intensity of our feelings make those things growl and rage with the wisdom of being both at ease and against a world that binds us. And yet it is the only one we have – that dissonant blast beat and that new age soundscape converge into a unique sense of peace: the sacred is beautiful, and it is everywhere you look and listen. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Jacob Cooper & Steven Bradshaw ~ Sunrise (Cold Blue Music)
A hundred years after the last pandemic, Jacob Cooper and Steven Bradshaw turn to the music of the early 20th century, resurrecting the influenza gem “The World Is Waiting for the Sunrise.”  The piece is even more poignant now in its new form; its suspension of syllables and notes embodies a sense of abeyance.  The sadness turns to choral majesty before falling back into the great cloud of unknowing.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Jeremy Young ~ Amaro (Thirsty Leaves)
When is a solo album not a solo album?  When one invites a host of friends to keep one company.  Amaro is a variety pack of delight, replete with field recordings, film reels, voiceovers and a host of guest instruments, the most memorable being the percussion of “The Duchamp Bicycle Wheel Resonator.”  Young has always been in love with sound, and on this album his enthusiasm proves contagious; a bonus EP is the icing on the cake.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Johanna Elina Sulkunen ~ Terra (Tila)
Terra is the second part of the Sonority project, which began with last year’s Koan and will likely see completion in late 2022.  Writing from Copenhagen, the composer muses on the loneliness of lockdown and the cloud of climate change, nestling her voice in banks of brass and strings.  The sense of foreboding is palpable; given the trajectory of world events, we suspect the composer is building to a sonic apocalypse.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Lucy Railton & Kit Downes ~ Subaerial (SN Variations)
A crystalline beauty of kaleidoscopic depth is condensed under the air, its grandeur an expressionist mineral vision. Railton’s cello and Downes’ pipe organ, recorded in an Icelandic cathedral, resonate not with the flash of divine light but with the steady, slow mortality of stone. This album is moving in a way parallel to how some expressionist minimalist works are, by means of tectonic shifts achieved through long durations weaving together as one, sometimes producing volcanic activity, sometimes just ever-so-slightly shifting a rock formation into new, almost imperceptible shapes. If you’re looking for a breathtaking view, look no further. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Machinefabriek ~ With Drums (esc.rec.)
With drums is right – and there’s a lot of drums involved here. A lot of drummers too, three per track, identified by their initials. Much of the music we’ve listened to since the advent of sampling has featured the sound of old drums and drummers, to the extent that it is now over-familiar. Taking a fresh approach, Machinefabriek has invited a legion of sticksmen to contribute phrases and fills (recorded quickly and without fuss) that he has then shaped into a beat-tastic rhythm fest. There are some big names among the 40 drummers involved here, as well as some you might not have heard of – there’s a real sense of equality as these 24 tracks rush past. It’s exhilarating on first listen; then you can go back and work out who is playing what and where. It’s a joy.  (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Maja S.K. Ratkje ~ Vannstand (Motvind)
The cover art for Vannstand is so on point, it is almost uncomfortable. The painting of a pained Mother Earth figure is an apt jumping-off place for Maya S.K. Ratkje’s work, which takes its inspiration from the Norwegian coastline, the tides, and the inevitability that the vannstand (sea level) will rise. The painting’s title translates as ‘The world and everything we have rests on our children’, which ties in with Ratkje’s use of children’s voices on the tracks, and of young musicians who interpret the score with real thought and grace. By involving those who will be affected by the current dereliction of adults, Vannstand makes an important political point about who will be clearing up the environmental mess we are currently in. Pass it on to any climate change deniers and pray that the subtle message finds its way through. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Pan Daijing ~ Jade 玉观音 (PAN)
Look not to Pan Daijing for accessibility, but for depth.  The composer stares into the abyss on Jade 玉观音; the abyss stares back, she flinches, and then writes about the experience.  This dark set is harrowing, yet honest; allusive, yet direct.  The cover image makes the artist seem like a survivor, but just barely; her flagrant vulnerability comes across, counterintuitively, as a show of strength. (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Patrick Shiroishi ~ Hidemi (American Dreams)
Hidemi is named after Patrick Shiroishi’s grandfather (that’s him on the cover with his son, Patrick’s dad) and takes its inspiration from his experiences after the concentration camps that housed Japanese-Americans during WW2. It’s a subject that allows for some optimism to shine through alongside the focus on a historical evil. Shiroishi is a one-man saxophone army, layering his instruments into an impassioned outpouring of sound. At times, he is delicate, tuneful, conveying much emotion in a concise running time. There’s also the occasional blast of dense, righteous, cacophony, a reminder that mistreatment of Asian Americans continues to this day – something to grieve, but also an opportunity for lasting change. (Jeremy  Bye)

Original Review

One comment

  1. Pingback: 2021 Best of Lists from Around the Web: Part VI – Avant Music News

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