Blocland is in full-on list season mode. We’ve ranked our favorite albums of year and we have more year end list goodies ready for you this holiday season. It’s starting to bleed into our personal lives and it’s a cause for concern. We’re constantly breaking into unprompted ranked lists at home and the office. We’ve ranked everything from Frank Stallone’s illustrious solo output to our immediate family members. Arguments have been had, relationships are strained, and we’ve lost a fair amount of sleep to bring you the highest quality year end content we humanly can. To further the problem, I compiled a list of ten experimental albums that put a vice grip on my imagination and questioned what music could be in 2017.
Caterina Barbieri Patterns of Consciousness
The ultimate goal of genres like techno and house is to get you moving. We listen to dance music because its much more appealing to get lost in a beat than our heads. There’s always been a kind of hypnosis going on at techno clubs. By no means does Caterina Barbieri make dance music, but there’s a similar trance at work on Patterns of Consciousness. On Patterns of Consciousness, minimal synth melodies are held together by thick drones and expanded upon with continuous loops. Instead of dance for our bodies, Barbieri creates dance for our brain waves.
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith The Kid
Something feels reductive about calling Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith an electronic producer. I mean, obviously that’s what she is, but “gardener” feels like a more apt descriptor. I have a much easier time picturing Smith burying seeds in a sun-drenched patch of dirt than sitting behind the artificial glow of a MacBook. There’s no way The Kid is a product of just synth loops, bass hums, and processed vocals. These compositions were given ample sunlight, a healthy amount of water, and fertile soil. Someone put patience and, most importantly, love into these tracks. The Kid eventually grew, tangled together, and aligned into a perfect coexistence mirroring the natural world.
Space Camp Force Femmed
Space Camp’s Force Femmed is neon-coated hardcore filtered through a fun-house mirror. The Connecticut band manages to be every bit as confrontational as their peers, but in vastly different ways. Where we’d typically get a guitar driven breakdown, we get a trombone honk. Where we’d get a throat-ripping roar, we get cartoonish growls. Conceptually, Space Camp use Force Femmed to tackle issues relating to gender and sexuality. On “Dolphin On the Sidewalk” the lyric “I ain’t never seen a gayer swan” is shouted with enough force and confidence to feel anthemic. Thankfully, the ultra-masculine world of hardcore has been experiencing a recent insurgence of female, queer, trans, and non-binary voices. Space Camp’s politics alone would make them an important force in hardcore, but it’s the way the band toys with the genre’s musical conventions that makes them exceptional.
Black Mecha I.M. Mentalizing
I.M. Mentalizing is pretty much what you’d expect the minimalist techno from one half of the blackened noise duo WOLD to sound like. It’s pretty much what you’d expect minimalist techno from a guy who goes by the name “Fortress Crookedjaw” to sound like. I.M. Mentalizing isn’t quite as intimidating or aggressive as WOLD’s Screech Owl, but it’s still a grim and cobweb covered affair. Tracks like “Psy Fall” and album closer “Mental Picture” present a pitch black, emotionless vacuum where Crookedjaw tests the physical limits of his loops. Opposing melodies are slammed together until they either merge into an impenetrable wall of sound or break down into the album’s nothingness. This result is a record that sounds like 80s computer software devouring itself.
Richard Dawson Peasant
Peasant is mid-00s freak folk if the likes of Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom placed far more emphasis on the “freak” part. Richard Dawson’s mutated opus presents intricate, ear-worm melodies that ooze puss, walk with a severe limp, and probably reside under bridges eating billy goats. Acoustic guitar strings are struck like they offended him and absolutely nothing about Dawson’s finger picking can be described as delicate. Peasant is a folk monstrosity bent on twisting as much ugliness out of the genre as possible. Medieval cautionary tales are belted out with the precision and glee of the village drunk. It would be easy to accuse Dawson of escapism if he wasn’t so damn cruel to his subjects. “Ogre” tells the story of a severed hand and kidnapped child. “Masseuse” concerns a member of the working class who’s bitten off far more than she can chew. The binding thread throughout is a dying community in disarray, which is pretty damn familiar in 2017.
Margaret Chardiet’s second album under her Pharmakon moniker Bestial Burden was inspired by an excruciatingly long hospital stint. Naturally, the release was characterized by themes concerning the body shutting down and actively trying to end itself. On the followup Contact, Chardiet is concerned with the mind. More so, where the mind transcends the body and becomes free of its constricting vessel. Pharmakon’s cacophonous power electronics and white knuckled screeches are still intact, but Contact is Chardiet at her most serene. Well, as “serene” as someone who describes mankind as “a rabid dog, straining at it’s leash of morality with bared teeth” can possibly be.
Mark Templeton Gentle Heart
Mark Templeton’s third full length Gentle Heart works like memories. There’s enough information to get the basic shape, but pieces are missing. We fill in the blanks and the results are often clunky and improperly sequenced. Templeton’s compositions stutter, halt, and interrupt themselves. Samples ranging from pedal steel to horses are bent and warped into resembling waterlogged heirlooms recently dug out from the attic that no one has bothered to dust off just yet. Much like these relics, Templeton’s expert craftsmanship makes it impossible to fully understand the context of these samples outside of the present. Gentle Heart’s achievement lies in its ability to be recognizable yet far removed from our own reality.
Prurient Rainbow Mirror
Since it’s conception, noise has often been viewed as music’s antithesis. Whenever I describe it to the uninitiated I always say “It’s exactly what it sounds like. Just fucking noise”. In no way is that meant to be an insult. Many, if not all, of the genre’s architects would probably whole-heartedly agree. I mean, this is a genre that got a boost because Lou Reed trolled guitar nerds with an album of nothing but feedback. Yet, it seems as though Dominick Fernow, noise’s leading figurehead, has been doing all he can to bridge the gap between his genre of choice and what’s readily accepted as music. Under his Prurient moniker, Fernow has spent the decade incorporating everything from cyper-punk to John Carpenter dance floor rhythms into his thick noise squalls.
The three and half hour Rainbow Mirror is the most adrift Prurient release in quite some time. The hulking piece is comprised of highly textured ambient leaning noise odysseys that rarely shy away from the fifteen minute mark. Sound is built into colossal proportions, static rips atmospheres to pieces, and noise is contorted into amorphous structures. Now, three and half hours is quite the undertaking for anything, much less a noise album. Fernow is well aware of this. Rainbow Mirror is very much an exercise in discomfort and endurance, but there’s enough variety and meticulous detail in these noise sculptures to warrant close inspection. If nothing else, track’s like “Lazarus Flamethrower Sleepwalk” or “Walking On Dehydrated Coral” prove once and for all that Fernow is unparalleled at titling things.
Alejandro Gheri’s ascendance over the last few years has been something to behold. The Venezuelan producer first brushed public consciousness in 2014 by having a hand in the spaceship electronic of FKA twigs’ LP1. He rode that notoriety to his official debut album Xen. Xen was fairly in line with his work on LP1. Sleek and somewhat bizarre electronic rhythms provided a vague sense of what the future of the genre may hold. His followup, Mutant, gave us a much stronger sense of who Gehri is and what his true intentions with Arca are. Mutant was Xen placed into a test tube and subjected to countless unethical experiments ending in an escaped lab creature wreaking havoc on a small, rural town. Things have only gotten stranger.
This year alone, Gheri’s production credits have popped up on Björk’s love drunk Utopia and the futuristic, android-sex r&b of Kelela’s Take Me Apart. Yet, here’s Arca sitting at number two on an experimental albums list. Surprisingly, working with artists that are a bit more in tune with the industry hasn’t softened him up at all. If anything, they’ve given him a better sense of his own vision. This time around, Arca finds himself at the absolute nexus of the pop sensibilities he’s picked up and the strange, terrifying directions of his internal compass. We’ve reached what is altogether his most most violent and dramatic installment thanks to the inclusion of his vocal chords. Incredibly capable operatic wails soar above grisly action and dive down deep where they’re pulled apart and reshaped into something inhuman and beautiful.
According to Brian Eno “Ambient music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be ignorable as it is interesting”. Maybe that’s exactly what’s to be said about a genre that owes everything to Eno’s discomfort in airports. Narkopop, GAS’ first album in seventeen years, very much fits into Eno’s explanation of the genre. So much so, it’s weird to place Narkopop in 2017. There was no shortage of massive, confrontational, and statement shouting music, yet a bulk of my listening habits centered around this ambient excursion. But, the thing about ambient is: you don’t have to interact with it for it to interact with you.
Narkopop is ignorable. This album is barely even there. Voigt is constantly washing us with vaperous synths and string sections without offering up much to latch onto. He doesn’t have to. The magic of Narkopop lies in an all-engulfing, unobtrusive omnipresence that’s much more in line with stepping out into the open air than listening to music. These movements stir with life as each bass thump rumbles below the Earth. Atmospheres feel immaculate until they’re broken apart by subtle glitches revealing gorgeous imperfections. Narkopop is a carefully constructed ecosystem where every inhabitant, every shrub, every rock, and every minor detail serves the purpose of benefitting the whole. So, what about Eno’s second requirement? Is the album interesting? Yes and no. Narkopop is all at once boring, calming, engaging, and enthralling. A perfect distillation of the world around us.