Best Album Releases of 2013 “Calling the Experimental Quarts Pt. II”

20Dec13

Greetings Music Lovers,

It’s that time again, when I get the pleasure of summing up my favorite musical moments of the year.  I just wanted to take a moment to thank CKTK for letting me voice my opinions!  In this same moment I thought I would take the time to explain where I’m coming from.  My name is Christopher Friesen, and I’m a musician and producer from Portland Oregon.  You can find out more about me at my website (linked above.)

There are a few resources I thought I would share so that you could find your own favorites from the year.  The main source I use to discover music is AllMusic.  They release “editor’s choice” listings every month of outstanding records in each genre.  With that website alone it’s easy way to stay up to date with new releases.  Another great method that is well known is Pandora.  All Music and Pandora both rely on a system of ratings.  Both will “learn” your tastes, and the more you rate, the better your recommendations will be.

Now, about this list in particular.  I didn’t try to stay within any particular genre, but as I listed the albums I wanted to cover, they all ended up as “experimental.”  To me, that term is more of an approach than a genre.  Just be aware that I’m a bit scatter-brained, and this list covers just as much of the spectrum.

As a side note, I chose not to mention particular tracks, and the reason being that I wanted to feature albums, not songs.  These recordings deserve to be listened to as whole pieces, which might be rough for listeners accustomed to the $0.99 era of music.

WATER

I’ve gotta say, I super glad the world didn’t end with the Mayan calendar.  If it had we wouldn’t have heard AMOK by Atoms for Peace.  The super group dropped the record on Feb. 25th.  I think the best way to describe the vibe is experimental rock.  It’s heavy with grit from synths, and odd percussions.  The guitars and vocals tend to glide over the top of all the glitchiness with simpler motifs creating a very smooth ride.  Speaking of vocals, Thom’s enunciations are clearer than ever.   It features moments of expansive reverb and über wide stereo imaging to create an expansive room for the listener to float in.

As far as songwriting goes, it was very well crafted.  Taking a riff, and changing the harmonic rhythm to generate new sections of tunes seems to be a commonly used tool.  As a whole the record seems to be centered on textures more than clarity of the form.  It can tend to leave you wondering things like, was that a bridge, was that processed, what rhythm was that?  At just under forty-five minutes of music, I felt like there was never a weak point in the album.  There are enough variations to create a constantly morphing curve throughout the entirety that keep listeners from feeling like they’ve heard that song before.  Yet there isn’t so much to disorient the soul of the record.

Just for an idea of how the group came to be, it formed as the band to perform Yorke’s The Eraser, and over time and three days of jam sessions AMOK came into being.  Yorke brought Radiohead’s engineer Godrich, Flea from RHCP as a bassist, Waronker to play drums from REM, and Refosco as a percussionist from Forro in the Dark.  It really does feel like another Yorke record despite the eclectic line up.

Three singles were unveiled over the span of seven months prior to the official release.  The album was very well received, ringing the bell at the top of the billboard charts for Electronic, Independent, Modern Rock, and Rock albums.

“One of the things we were most excited about was ending up with a record where you weren’t quite sure where the human starts and the machine ends.” – Thom Yorke

EARTH

Trentemøller’s Lost is the second record I’ll be reviewing, which came out September 24th.  To be honest I haven’t been a Trentemøller fan for long.  It was just this year that I fell in love with his debut The Last Resort, and what a pleasant surprise it was to hear how he had grown over the past seven years.  Again, the best way I can describe this record is experimental techno, blending elements of acoustic folk and indie rock with his natural gift of glitched out house soundscapes.  Any die-hard fan is definitely going to think they put in a different record when the album starts with its vocal heavy melancholy tune.

Don’t get me wrong, the album gets dark and grimy with tunes like Trails and Morphine, but this record does seem to feature songwriting more than previous releases.  It not only features more vocals, but puts them at the center of attention.  His use of vocals is very reminisant of the french band AIR.  As a listener of modern jazz, I found it interesting that Anders Christensen was the bassist for the album.  The K. Rosenwinkle fans out there will probably recognize his name.  In that sense it really is a genre-blending treat from the Danish producer.  Another interested side note is that Trentemøller is the sole composer of only 5/12 of the album, which implies more group writing than ever.

The album was revieled live while opening for Depeche Mode, which was one of Trentemøller’s favorite groups in his pre-teen years.  To be honest, I’m a little concerned how the music would translate live.  It can be so ambient at times that some of it might need to be omitted or re-written to keep the audience awake.  I’m a huge fan of mood music, and Lost is very moody at times.  My best advice with this album is to let go, don’t be afriad of the emptiness presented at times.  There has to be tension for a resolution to be effective.  If there is one thing Trentemøller is great with, its builds and drops, be patient and let him take you on the journey.

“… but for me, it could be the beautiful thing about being lost in the music, or lost in love you know, cause that is a great thing sometimes is to loose your self control and give in…” – Anders Trentemøller

P.S. Don’t forget to listen to the entire thirteen minutes of Hazed, (there is a hidden track.)  At first I thought my computer had slipped over to my Erik Satie collection.

FIRE

The next record we’ll look at is Kneebody’s The Line.  The textures in this album are perfect for the vibe the quintet has been developing.  They’ve been writing as a unit for twelve years now, and unveiled their fourth studio record on September 24th.  It’s an all-instrumental recording of pop, rock, electronic, and funk genres heavily influenced by the improvised technique so prevalent in jazz music.  They operate with a system of musical cues that any member can trigger to change key, meter, or section of the tune.  The result is modern avant-garde songs with awe-full high energy soloing.  All the members are extremely proficient with their instruments and comfortable with the ambiguous forms leading the listener to settle into dissonance that would typically be off-setting.

The band has really mastered the use of effects.  Ring modulation is a tricky one to be musical with, and they’ve tackled it.  The types of spaces they create for their music with delay and reverb is very tasteful as well.  Great examples of volume swells, distortion and fuzz can be found throughout the album.  The utilization of effects is very broad, from subtle to in your face!

With all of the odd meters, rhythms, timbres, and harmonies the listener can constantly be surprised with moments of “ah ha, I never would have thought of that.”  As a whole the record is well balanced between intense up-tempo, and ballade-esque relaxed moments.  The compositions are strong, that being said, the conversation between the musicians is a main focal point for the record.  The horn players are amazing, but the rhythm section steals the show with rhodes, bass, and drums being the core of the ensemble’s sound.  Then again, I’m a bassist…

I got the pleasure of seeing them live a few months back at the end of the album release tour.  I would highly recommend seeing them live if you get the chance.  This album is great, but live is a completely different level of performance.

Go into this one with an open mind, and I’m sure you’ll be inspired.

AIR

John Zorn has never been an artist for the faint of heart.  Just thought I would put that out there as fair warning.  We’re stepping further out with Dreamachines than any of the previous records mentioned.  This album is an alchemical concoction of free, avant-garde, conceptually composed aural genius (or madness!)  John Zorn’s role is the composer/conductor of this ensemble built upon upright bass, drum set, vibes and piano.  There seems to be very little effects used on this acoustic music.  A few moments where the vibes felt like they were processed through an LFO, but it’s very subtle.

Now, about the music itself, I find this one in particular difficult to put into words.  This might be due to the fact that Zorn’s work is very new to me, and it relies so much upon elaborate conceptual composition.  As a result, a lot of this review is going to be stated from the first person, rather than the third.

In comparison to other Zorn records where the music is jolted between genres this is varied, yet maintains the consistent vibe necessary to build a concept album.  The shape as a whole has a very nice flow.  I wouldn’t dare call myself a connoisseur of free music, but I will step out on the limb and say that I felt the free moments are well executed.  It moves in and out of free improvisation with enough “taste” that I don’t loose interest.  It never seems like the musicians are stepping all over each other, rather, the space is respected.

The feelings it inspires have moments of release where the chaos dissolves into modalities that resemble the Middle East with instruments associated with the West.  One of my favorite techniques in this album is when an arpeggiated line is repeated over shifting harmony.  It reminds me of meditation, when one is heavily rooted, yet soars to places unknown.

I think this record stood out for me because it’s a guide into the unknown.  I would encourage listeners to give it a chance, more importantly listen to it a few times and see if it can be digested.

Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this collection of experimental music.  To sum all this up, I hope you can take a square and pull on the corners till you have a circle.

Peace & Truth,

Christopher Friesen

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One Response to “Best Album Releases of 2013 “Calling the Experimental Quarts Pt. II””

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