The Best Avant-Garde and Experimental Music of 2015

by A Noah Harrison

10 December 2015

 

5 - 1


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Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld

Never were the way she was

(Constellation)

5

Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld
Never were the way she was

In April, a couple of Constellation instrumentalists—Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld—got together to produce the craggy shambler Never were the way she was. The two have occupied close quarters in the past (in Arcade Fire, Stetson was a collaborator and Neufeld a core member). Here, the two position themselves outside the formal constraints of classical and jazz, though the traditions inform their work as much as any others. Never were the way she was tells the story of a girl “who ages slow as mountains; excited, exalted, and ultimately exiled in her search for a world that resembles her experience.” “The sun roars into view” roars into view from a ghostly wisp into a Lovecraftian beast, and “In the vespers” is a jubilant breaking free from a wildwood enclosure. And few song titles more adequately describe their own effect than “With the dark hug of time”. Between Stetson’s torrential blasts and clacks of bass clarinet and contrabass sax—waves smashing ceaselessly on the shore—and Neufeld’s relentless flourishes of string—an epic weaving of linen tapestry—Never were the way she was implores us to contemplate our journey rather than plow through it. To adequately hum these tunes, your entire lymphatic and digestive systems must hum as well.

 

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Oneohtrix Point Never

Garden of Delete

(Warp)

Review [9.Nov.2015]

4

Oneohtrix Point Never
Garden of Delete

The influence of Oneohtrix Point Never, aka vaporwave godfather Daniel Lopatin, is difficult overstate. Amidst a decade of music often described (though somewhat inadequately) as progressive electronic, Garden of Delete stands out as one of Lopatin’s finest records, a famously polarizing body of work. Some will recoil at the dated synths and hairpin excursions; others will find them irresistible. This album could provide an excellent starting point for those willing to take the plunge. It’s a striking union of compositional complexity and wonderfully simple hooks, proving an expressly maximalist direction for the artist. It’s crushingly heavy yet intensely purifying, as if you commissioned Tim Hecker to create a work using only air horns and unlimited digital processing. Highlights include “Sticky Drama”, with its blissful, pitched-up vocal line, and the closer, “No Good”, which could strip parts off the International Space Station. Garden of Delete is guaranteed to leave you asking, “What the hell is that sound?” once every few seconds, and in the best way possible.

 

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Blanck Mass

Dumb Flesh

(Sacred Bones)

Review [12.May.2015]

3

Blanck Mass
Dumb Flesh

Blanck Mass, aka John Benjamin Power and one half of esteemed psych-mammoth-drone duo Fuck Buttons, released his second record in May of massive scale—with a cover that looks like…we’ll leave that up to you. (The duo’s “Sundowner” was the theme of the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, so if the Olympic committee liked it…) Dumb Flesh could be described as industrial, EDM, and noise—it’s brooding, all-encompassing, and will swallow you up. At points, it sounds like music by HEALTH, though is perhaps closer to Tim Hecker. Enter the tantalizing abyss via “Loam”, with the haunting beauty of its slowed vocals, then move into “Dead Format”, which compacts you into the second dimension. And you couldn’t avoid the monstrosity of “Atrophies” if you tried—perhaps the best dance song of the year. Although the album does not flow perfectly, the experienced is best consumed in full. Just make sure you have a glass of water and a potty nearby.

 

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Lil Ugly Mane

Third Side of Tape

(self-released)

2

Lil Ugly Mane
Third Side of Tape

The six-track, two-hour Third Side of Tape is the culmination of what sent esteemed 20-year-old Floridian hip-hop producer into retirement. It starts out like something by the legendary J Dilla or DJ Shadow but quickly becomes a catastrophic and exquisite jumble of sounds, a literal “I’m out” retrospective of Lil Ugly Mane’s short but mindboggling career, and it will go down as one of the most eclectic hip-hop albums in history. The massively varied record races down alleys between Memphis rap, cloud rap, indie, trap, hardcore, house, nu metal, plunderphonics, and noise. You can see straight through to the haunted, lean-ed out soul, the prolific shadow, the extraordinary collaborator known as Lil Ugly Mane, aka Travis Miller, aka Shawn Kemp, aka Lordmaster DJ SK the Subterranean Suspect, etc. Take in the wonders of the climactic, ‘90s-style swansong roughly 16 minutes into SIDE ONE-A, the feely slowcore roughly 16 minutes into SIDE ONE-B, or the beautiful, Oval-esque glitch pop that immediately follows. It’s a horribly cumbersome album that obsessive types should probably just chop into its component parts. But for three bucks, you can have years of unreleased gold at your eardrums: sometimes gorgeous, sometimes unlistenable, always Travis.

 

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Clarence Clarity

No Now

(self-released)

1

Clarence Clarity
No Now

On his masterful 20-song debut, London-based musician Clarence Clarity poses sleek and sexy R&B hooks alongside demented noise to the point where all genre confinements fly out the window. The music oscillates rapidly between unabashedly pop melodies of *NSYNC and progressive compositions of Oneohtrix Point Never. His repeated chanting of “oops!” in “Those Who Can’t, Cheat” evokes a pig-tailed Britney Spears, circa 2000, while its South Asian-tinged breakdown affirms the ease of musical appropriation in the Internet Age. Likewise, the visual style of his videos—the gouged out eyes of Justin Timberlake on a magazine cover in “Bloodbarf”—speaks to his love-hate relationship with mass-produced excess. In an implosion of bytes and latex, he foists upon us the oppressive weight of information readily available to anyone with a Wi-Fi connection. In a strange resurrection of cultural detritus, No Now effectively bridges the worlds of the avant-garde and corporate pop music, reminding us that the same sound systems that spill chrome-plated R&B into our urban malls also amplify the tradition of Western art music.


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