Music

The Best Avant-Garde and Experimental Music of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

5 - 1

Artist: Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld

ALBUM: Never were the way she was

LABEL: Constellation

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/s/stetson_and_neufeld.jpg

Display as: List

List Number: 5

Display Width: 200

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.

 
Artist: Oneohtrix Point Never

ALBUM: Garden of Delete

LABEL: Warp

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/g/garden_of_delete.jpg

Display as: List

List Number: 4

Display Width: 200

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.

 
Artist: Blanck Mass

ALBUM: Dumb Flesh

LABEL: Sacred Bones

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/news_art/b/blanckmass_albumreview_thumb325.jpg

Display as: List

List Number: 3

Display Width: 200

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.

 
Artist: Lil Ugly Mane

ALBUM: Third Side of Tape

LABEL: self-released

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/l/lil-ugly-mane-album-2015-200x200.jpg

Display as: List

List Number: 2

Display Width: 200

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.

 
Artist: Clarence Clarity

ALBUM: No Now

LABEL: self-released

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/reviews_art/c/clarence_clarity-album-2015-200x200.jpg

Display as: List

List Number: 1

Display Width: 200

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.

Prev Page
Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

"I'm an Audience Member, Playing This Music for Us": An Interview With Keller Williams

Veteran musician Keller Williams discusses his special relationship with the Keels, their third album together, Speed, and what he learned from following the Grateful Dead.

Books

Shintaro Kago's 'Dementia 21' Showcases Surrealist Manga

As much as I admire Shintaro Kago's oddness as a writer, his artistic pen is even sharper (but not without problems) as evident in Dementia 21.

Music

Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad Proclaim 'Jazz Is Dead!' Long Live Jazz!

Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad bring their live collaborative efforts with jazz veterans to recorded life with Jazz Is Dead 001, a taste of more music to come.

Film

"I'll See You Later": Repetition and Time in Almodóvar's 'All About My Mother'

There are mythical moments in Almodóvar's All About My Mother. We are meant to register repetition in the story as something wonderfully strange, a connection across the chasm of impossibility.

Music

Electropop's CMON Feel the Noise on 'Confusing Mix of Nations'

Pop duo CMON mix and match contemporary and retro influences to craft the dark dance-pop on Confusing Mix of Nations.

Music

'Harmony' Is About As Bill Frisell As a Bill Frisell Recording Can Be

Bill Frisell's debut on Blue Note Records is a gentle recording featuring a few oddball gems, particularly when he digs into the standard repertoire with Petra Haden's voice out front.

Music

The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 4, James Chance to the Pop Group

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part four with Talking Heads, the Fall, Devo and more.

Music

Raye Zaragoza's "Fight Like a Girl" Shatters the Idea of What Women Can and Can't Do (premiere)

Singer-songwriter and activist Raye Zaragoza's new single, "Fight Like a Girl", is an empowering anthem for intersectional feminism, encouraging resilience amongst all women.

Music

VickiKristinaBarcelona Celebrate Tom Waits on "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" (premiere)

VickiKristinaBarcelona celebrate the singular world of Tom Waits their upcoming debut, Pawn Shop Radio. Hear "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" ahead of tomorrow's single release.

Television

'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.

Music

Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.