ACL 2022 ~ Top Ten Experimental

This year’s selections are eclectic and exciting, and feature an array of uncommon instruments, radio transmissions, field recordings, experimental voice and even opera.  These artists represent the cutting edge of music ~ the outer fringe that may seem strange today but familiar tomorrow.

In an unusual twist, to win support across the board from our staffers, even the wildest music needed a window of accessibility.  As unusual as these albums may be, each is inviting rather than off-putting, best defined as curious, intriguing and beguiling.  One is even advertised as a set of sonic bedtime stories! While this music might not allow one to sleep, it invites one to dream.

Baldruin ~ Kleine Freuden (Mappa)
A collection of 34 tracks in about as many minutes suggests that Kleine Freuden might be a messy, hurried album. Thankfully the opposite is the case; these are beautifully layered miniatures that could have been considerably longer without anybody complaining. The record label bills this as an album to fall asleep to and, sure, some tracks sound like lullabies. But the invention and variety across these pieces will surely keep people awake marvelling at the richness within. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Bekah Simms ~ Bestiaries (CMC Centrediscs)
Turning the notion of an ensemble on its tail, Simms offers a set of enthralling devices that turn like clockwork yet move like animals.  One can imagine a bestiary of unidentified creatures, some extinct and some alien, clamoring for attention and perhaps for blood.  Every instrument sounds like it wants to eat the listener.  Will the symphonies of the future sound like this?  If so, we can’t wait.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Daniel Bachman ~ Almanac Behind (Three Lobed Recordings)
Almanac Behind is like a documentary in the form of sound, if documentaries chronicled the future. Splicing field recordings and folky instrumentals, the album is reminiscent of collage pop pioneers The Books. Daniel Bachman overlays fading fingerpicked strings with samples of torrential rainfalls and scratchy voices through a radio to create a foreboding tone. The album is a disconcerting listen, and an essential one at that. (Maya Merberg)

Original Review

Felicia Atkinson ~ Image Language (Shelter Press)
Maybe if I just keep going… is the message on the sleeve (a painting by Aidan Koch), and there is a sense of inner strength powering through Image Language. There’s a sense of wanting to be surrounded by the familiar, whether it be a house, art, or poetry. Félicia Atkinson crafts a spacious and subtle weave of sound and field recordings into a musical shelter. Her soft soliloquies wander through various rooms, touching on the lives of Agnes Martin, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Sylvia Plath. Although it doesn’t feel like it to begin with, Image Language grows into a comforting listen. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Hatis Noit ~ Aura (Erased Tapes)
What if the weight of the past were turned into a boon for the present? Landscapes and myths of different traditions populate this Aura, pouring into the artist’s voice, the nexus of a myriad intersections of intercultural expressions. Singing styles from across traditions coincide into a fiery cosmopolitan collage, lightening the load represented by the long-gone spirits of each one, and forging an aura that is not solely the time-travelling locus of ancient authority: these songs speak through them, not the other way around. The angel of history can’t yet turn around, but the catastrophe it contemplates hides the fact that it is no longer a totality, and that the restoration of the aura can be potentially mobilized in favor of difference. This music is a vital reminder that contained within the voice is an ocean, and that its tides can sweep history itself away. (David Murrieta Flores)

Original Review

Hekla ~ Xiuxiuejar (Phantom Limb)
The theremin is a notoriously tricky instrument to master and no-one has done as much with the instrument’s haunting timbre, both relying on its familiarity and playing with its limits, in recent years than Hekla. Hekla hails from Iceland, and as we noted in our original review, Xiuxiuejar sounds better in the waning light.  Although the theremin is the ostensible center, and star, of the album, Hekla’s compositions play as much with silence, rumbling bass, aching cello, and otherworldly vocals. Across the album’s ten tracks the artist crafts eerie, haunting soundscapes that synthesize scraping dissonance and ethereal beauty. (Jennifer Smart)

Original Review

Nyokabi Kariũki ~ peace places: kenyan memories (SA Recordings)
Nyokabi Kariũki is one of this year’s most refreshing new discoveries, splitting her time between Nairobi and Maryland, missing one while living in the other.  On this LP she creates a third place of memory, a gorgeous retreat in which her mind can rest.  By incorporating field recordings and the voices of friends, she creates a sonic diary, an aural oasis, lush with such space and life that others may find a home there as well.  (Richard Allen)

Original Review

Pan Daijing ~ Tissues (PAN)
Upon hearing the title Tissues, one envisions something human. The composition of the human body, or the soft paper used to comfort someone sick or crying. Tissues was performed as an experimental opera, which is indeed an art form as human-centered as it gets, featuring human bodies dancing and voices resounding. The recorded adaptation of this performance redefines the genre by adding in an intriguing and delightful electronic twist. One doesn’t have to understand the work’s story to enjoy its emotional effect. (Maya Merberg)

Original Review

Park Jiha ~ The Gleam (Glitterbeat)
An album with the passage of a day as its central concept is not a new idea. But Park Jiha brings a freshness to the approach by using only a few sounds and allowing the light to flood into the space that she leaves. The instruments she plays hark back over the centuries to the times when the night was free from light pollution and every hour of daylight mattered. So the opening “At Dawn” builds up to an alarm call, and the closing “Temporary Inertia” weaves its way through the last moments of daylight. The Gleam shines bright as the sun. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review

Širom ~ The Liquified Throne of Simplicity (Glitterbeat)
How to describe this album? The titles, track lengths, and format (five tracks across double vinyl) suggest that it might be a prog album. Listening to it is a different matter altogether. It was recorded last year, but it sounds like it could have been made in a commune sometime in the 1970s and then included in Nurse With Wound’s infamous list. The trio who make up Širom play a bafflingly wide array of instruments, pulling in all manner of influences, from psychedelia to traditional folk, to make epic explorations in sound. So let’s describe this album: it’s immense. (Jeremy Bye)

Original Review


  1. AF

    Hip hip hurra for sirom, another immersive album, but worst cover design of the year!

  2. Pingback: 2022 Best of Lists from Around the Web: Part V – Avant Music News

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