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The Best Avant-Garde and Experimental Music of 2017

The personal is political, the local is global, and privacy is passé. Our musical experimenters are mere soldiers, fighting the good fight in the name of a brighter and weirder tomorrow.

5. Luiza Lian – Oyá Tempo (Selo Risco)

The combination of high and low culture in music is no longer anything remarkable. "Art pop" would seem to reflect this fact, though few oscillate between extremes as high and low as Luiza Lian does in Oyá Tempo. The contradiction is evident even from the album cover, an 8-bit image of an urban landscape foregrounded by a Greek marble statue. Likewise, mixed in the complex compositional web are traces of more disposable musics, vitally, vaporwave—perhaps the style most committed to its own disintegration. But Oyá Tempo was made to last, evolving from a poetry collection to a multimedia project, complete with an album, a movie and an animated site. The São Paulo artist told Noisey that the lyrics of her second album contemplate the spirits of our online past, decision trails burned into electronic record.

A great rift exists between the vocals and the rhythms that support it. Lian's voice, clear as crystal, seems angelic (and a little demonic), while the contributions of producer Charles Tixier sound sloppy and artfully aloof. This mixture creates a unique and disturbing beauty. Even in its lighter moments is an oppressive darkness, ghosts lurking just out of sight.

Only 25 minutes and eight songs in total, Oyá Tempo should be heard/seen in a single sitting to appreciate the extent of its eclecticism. But an analysis of its complexion or the contents of its stomach shouldn't be necessary. You don't need to know art pop or vaporwave or Vanguarda paulista or funk carioca to enjoy this album... though a little Portuguese might help.

4. Iglooghost – Neō Wax Bloom (Brainfeeder)

"It's weird that a lot of journalists are saying that this is a concept album because all this stuff actually happened.".
-- Seamus Malliagh

Ch. 1: Pale Eyes – Seamus is tending to his tomato plants when he spots the gelatinous worm, Xiangjiao, perched upon a stalk. "It's happening again," the worm communicates to him.
Ch. 2: Super Ink Burst - The portal opens up before Seamus, and all the invisible colors begin to spill out into his garden. He can see inside, and all the way around. The crater left by the giant eyeball crash-landing is even vaster than the blind witch Lummo let on.
Ch. 3: Bug Thief – Ahh, Uso—a trickster in disguise. Yet this time he reveals himself in full. The tune whistles down from the swirling heavens. Seamus can sense the scarabs changing colors and forms..
Ch. 4: Sōlar Blade – Starlight reflects off the gathering pink clouds, casting a fiery glow across the plains and valleys. All life forms are now buzzing to this new frequency.
Ch. 5: White Gum – Mamu is in trouble without a doubt, the handiwork of an all-knowing, chaotic overseer. The vibrations fold in on themselves, and Seamus is blinded by their force. The watering can falls from his hand.
Ch. 6: Purity Shards – A deafening silence overtakes Mamu, sucking vibrations even from beyond the opening of the portal to Earth. Time has been shocked into a standstill. The kaleidoscopic scarabs begin to pitter-patter for the mountain with a collective urgency.
Ch. 7: Zen Champ – Even the angels atop the mountain cannot believe their eyes. The chaotic force of vision has infected the balance with total uncertainty. The angels disperse upward into the mist. They're lucky.
Ch. 8: Infinite Mint (feat. Cuushe) – Won't somebody, anybody, flatten out this expanded dimension? O mighty Eyes, return us! A voice softer than the stillest wind hums the tune deep beneath the crust. It can be felt, and the bugs scatter with explosive energy.
Ch. 9: Teal Yomi / Olivine (feat. Mr. Yote) – "It's so strange. Can't you see?" it asks. The pink mist burns away as Yomi descends from high. For the first time, the eyes swivel in their immovable sockets.
Ch. 10: Peanut Choker – Seamus still cannot see, but he can feel, stronger than before. He grits his teeth and a powerful grinding resounds through Mamu. The crust begins to tremble. The tune is deafening now.
Ch. 11: Göd Grid – The eyes lift off the ground, pause, and beam through the portal with a flash that chars Mamu in bright white. Seamus regains his sight as the portal seals. Xiangjiao lies motionless and eyeless atop the flowerbed.

3. Circuit des Yeux – Reaching for Indigo (Drag City)

Much has been made of this remarkable album's backstory: how it was inspired by a mysterious moment of physically debilitating epiphany in Haley Fohr's life which, among other things, left her seeing colours with a painful intensity for several months. [The Quietus] Fohr, a powerful baritone with four octave range, is a great singer: a torrential force which can potentially overtake anyone in the vicinity. [Drowned in Sound] Several songs fold her voice into repetitive string and keyboard figures and swinging rhythms played by members of Bitchin Bajas, Natural Information Society, Matchess and Spires That In The Sunset Rise. [Dusted] The musicians excel at creating a grand, expressive sound from a seemingly limited palette—early highlight "Black Fly" is a mini spaghetti Western-esque epic that begins with stately mandolin strumming and gradually builds up squirming synths and crashing drums, and ends up with strings that buzz exactly like insects. [Allmusic] Every chapter is fast-paced fantasy, with every song transition coming at the apex of highest tension. [The Skinny] "Philo" is overtly minimalist, resembling Terry Riley or La Monte Young piano works, whereas "A Story Of This World Part II" (referring back to Part I, on Fohr's 2015 album In Plain Speech) is pure post-punk, a jam with a propulsion that makes it feel longer than it is. [Tiny Mixtapes] Even when Fohr steps away from the microphone—as she does through most of "A Story Of This World Part II"'s psychedelic storm—the world she crafts feels entirely based around the slow, heady cadence of her baritone. [Pitchfork] Fohr details her cathartic experience with a smothering array of droning textures and clashing orchestral elements, where she succeeds at making sense out of her cosmic encounter. [No Ripcord]

2. Colin Stetson – All This I Do for Glory (52HZ)

Colin hums and wails songs of the ancients

Forging human pattern recognition

Death and devotion our entertainment

Religious practice Colin's affliction

The man whittles twigs to line the trenches

Elephantine murmurs hush mousy might

Overtones knotted into the clinches

One man in the ring creates that much light

His spindrift programmed, a cache to refresh

His fires reminders we're not alone

Brazen woodwinds screaming sear hair from flesh

Dance floor high beams streaming strip flesh from bone

Hum and wail, Colin, tell us the story

Breathe once more all that you've done for glory

1. Kirin J Callinan – Bravado (Terrible )

Nobody gotta leave tonight

Just another song about drugs

Everybody can believe tonight

Just another song about drugs

…thus begins the avant-garde party anthem of the year, "S. A. D." by Aussie artist Kirin J Callinan. It's a walking contradiction, depicting the dark side of the druggie lifestyle while sincerely embracing it. It mocks EDM artifice while gleefully appropriating it. With its squeaky-clean production, pitch-up vocals, swells and drops, "S. A. D" is undeniable rock candy. Yet the regular key changes and exaggerated energy shifts make it, well, really strange.

Track after track, Callinan makes a sport out of reconciling these contradictions. The artist carries pop tropes to their logical conclusion, which should result in flimsy satire—were Callinan not an impossibly earnest and expressive songwriter. Believe it or not, his persona—a calculated sum of, say, Mike Patton, Bruce Springsteen and Riff Raff—oozes of sincerity, of a commitment to a life of conscientious audacity. Call it "an act", but Bravado comes closer to universal truth than much of the introverted soul-excavation music concerned with its "own truth".

With Bravado, Callinan is clearly unafraid to ask for help, enlisting a full ensemble of collaborators: major players on the Australian circuit, Alex Cameron and Connan Mockasin, as well as North Americans Owen Pallett, Mac DeMarco and Weyes Blood on "Friend of Lindy Morrison" alone.

Despite the many voices and liberal stylistic shifts, the album achieves strong thematic consistency, tackling the notion of ego at the smallest and largest scale. It's so packed regional name-drops and multicultural optimism, the whole thing feels like an ode to globalization. The title track and finale, with its hook "it was all bravado," encapsulates the Bravado's prevailing message: Bold self-discovery is earned in the face of fragile masculinity. And if the lads can't get down with that, they can bugger right off.

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