While listening to this playlist, my husband asked me, “Are you watching Close Encounters?” I said, “No.” He replied, “Are you attempting to communicate with aliens through music?” Sure, I get it. This music is harder to listen to it, but if you give it your time and attention you will be rewarded with a great experience. It’s best to listen to this music in the foreground without the distraction of other tasks. Much of this music has subtle moments or layers that can’t be appreciated with the road noise that accompanies driving.
Best of 2013 Experimental/Avant Garde – Highlights (50+ tracks)
Best of 2013 Experimental/Avant Garde – Full List (170+ tracks)
1. The Haxan Cloak – Excavation
- Genre – Experimental Electronic
- Fav Tracks – Excavation Part 1, Excavation Part 2, Miste, The Mirror Reflection Part 2, The Drop, Consumed, Mara
- From – Yorkshire, England
Bobby Krlic presents an interpretation of the soul’s journey after death. This is a spellbinding and gorgeous album. Krlic uses space as well as content to create the experience. The sensation of falling while listening to this work is as real as the one created by a video amusement ride. That’s impressive for an audio-only experience. If you only have the patience and/or time for one of the eccentric albums on this list, this is the one that deserves your attention.
2. Forest Swords – Engravings
- Genre – Indie Electronic
- Fav Tracks – Thor’s Stone, Irby Tremor, The Weight of Gold, An Hour, Friend You Will Never Learn
- From – England
Forest Swords is the work of Matthew Barnes of England’s Wirral Peninsula. Barnes is a music producer that holds down a day job in graphic design. He calls on guitars, techno, dub, punk, hip-hop and R&B in his albums yet somehow avoids giving the listener an experience that resembles that time you misjudged the last step of a staircase. Reviewers make the connection between the sound of his sweeping music and the windy coast he calls home. Barnes describes the music to Pitchfork as a, “balance between really intense euphoria and this almost bleakness.”
Recommended listening experience: First, Imagine you are a troubled hero at the completion of an epic battle where the distinction between right and wrong was gray. There’s a lot weighing on your mind. Perhaps, there’s also a personal loss that you’ve suffered. Next, call up Engravings on Spotify. Then, walk toward the setting sun as the credits roll.
3. DJ Koze – Amygdala
- Genre – Experimental Techno
- Fav Tracks – Amygdala, La Duquesa, Marilyn Whirlwind, Royal Asscher Cut, Homesick, Track ID Anyone?, Nices Wolkchen, My Plans, Don’t lose My Mind
- From – Hamburg, Germany
By the laws of the geekdom universe, I cannot dislike an album named after the amygdala. For my followers who haven’t studied neuroscience:
The amygdala is an area of the brain involved in integrating emotions, emotional learning and behavior. Stimulating the amygdala can lead to expressions of anger and fear. Destruction of the amygdala creates a placid person that cannot identify emotions in facial expressions. Our beloved emoticons would not be useful with a functioning amygdala.
Stefan Kozella’s Amygdala is an interesting place to be. The album incorporates a fantastic list of collaborators including the likes of Milosh and Caribou while never feeling piecemeal.
4. Julia Holter – Loud City Song
- Genre – Experimental Electronic, Avant Garde
- Fav Tracks – In the Green Wild, Hello Stranger, He’s Running Through My Eyes, This Is a True Heart, City Appearing, Horn’s Surrounding Me, Maxim’s I
- From – Los Angeles
Julia Holter is a composer and musician from Los Angeles. She attended the California Institute of Arts where she studied music composition. She is known for making albums inspired by literature. Her first full length album, Tragedy, was inspired by Euripides’ play Hippolytus. On her second album, Ekstasis, songs include quotes from Virginia Woolf and Frank O’Hara. Her third and latest album, Loud City Song, is inspired on the novella Gigi by French writer, Colette, that was adapted as a musical romantic comedy film in 1958. Two tracks on this album are named Maxim’s I and Maxim’s II. Maxim’s is a restaurant in Paris that is featured in the film Gigi. Maxim’s was founded in 1893 and is famous for its Art Nouveau decor and it’s beautiful, famous, and rich clientele.
5. Jon Hopkins – Immunity
- Genre – experimental ambient techno
- Fav Tracks – Breathe This Air, Open Eye Signal, We Disappear, Sun Harmonics, Form By Firelight
- From – London
Jon Hopkins is producer and musician. He studied piano at the Royal College of Music as a teenager, but moved into electronic music after school. Hopkins collaborated with art director Craig Ward and biochemist-turned-artist Linden Gledhill to produce a incredible videos of time-lapse crystal growth and chemical reactions to accompany this album. The Creator’s Project “how-they-did-it” feature tells us that a Canon 5D Mark II was fitted onto an Olympus BH-2 microscope to capture images at a range of 200 to 1000x magnification.
6. Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
- Genre – Experimental, Indie Electronic
- Fav Tracks – Brainfreeze, The Red Wing, Sentients, Prince’s Prize
- From – Bristol, England
Benjamin Power and Andrew Hung make up the oddly named, Fuck Buttons. Their latest album, Slow Focus, is an immersive experience and would serve well as an IMAX Dome theater soundtrack. My favorite track, Brainfreeze, is an 8 minute fanfare that I see as a modern take on Aaron Copland’s Fanfare For The Common Man.
7. San Fermin – San Fermin
- Genre – Indie Rock, Avant Garde
- Fav Tracks – Crueler Kind, Casanova, Sonsick, Methuselah, The Count, Oh Darling, Daedalus
- From – Massachusetts, Brooklyn
Ellis Ludwig-Leone is a Yale-educated composer and songwriter. He puts his degree in classical music composition to great use to give us a fantastic orchestral pop album under the name San Fermin. The music has an Indie Pop feel along the lines of St. Vincent, Dirty Projectors, Sufjan Stevens and Grizzly Bear. Ludwig-Leone directs over a dozen musicians in order to create an elaborately layered soundscape.
8. Baths – Obsidian
- Genre – Indie Electronic
- Fav Tracks – Worsening, Miasma Sky, Ironworks, Incompatible, No Eyes, Phaedra, Earth Death, Inter
- From – Los Angeles
Baths is the recording name for Californian producer Will Wiesenfeld. Wiesenfeld is a multi-instrumentalist (guitar, contra bass, and viola), but he also includes layers of clicking pens, running water and other household noises. Obsidian is the darker of Wiesenfeld’s albums. It was written after the twenty-something barely survived a bout of E. Coli sepsis, and some of the songs reflect on physical frailty and death.
9. The Knife – Shaking The Habitual
- Genre – Experimental Electronic, Avant Garde
- Fav Tracks – A Tooth for an Eye, Full of Fire, Without You My Life Would Be Boring, Raging Lung, Networking, Stay Out Here
- From – Stockholm, Sweden
The Knife is a brother and sister duo, Olof and Karin Dreijer from Stockhom, Sweden. A Pitchfork reviewer describes the new album, Shaking the Habitual, as “Moving fluidly between potent bursts of electro-aggression (A Tooth for an Eye), seductively uncoiling, meditative grooves (Raging Lung) and ambient stretches (Old Dreams Waiting to be Realized).” They touch on heavy topics like information glut, the decreased attention span of the modern age, wealth disparity, patriarchy, & environmental issues. There is even a track about fracking (Fracking Fluid Injection). When you’ve had enough serious contemplation, you can brain melt with Old Dreams Waiting which was created from splicing hours of electronic feedback recorded in a boiler room. Check out this interview that was recently published by NPR in which Olof tells NPR contributor, Ann Powers, “I think music can have that potential to hopefully suggest an emotional side to the political issues.”
10. Mountains – Centralia
- Genre – Experimental Ambient
- Fav Tracks – Sand, Identical Ship, Circular C, Living Lens
- From – Chicago, Brooklyn
Koen Holtkamp and Brendon Anderegg use both acoustic and electronic sounds to weave their sound. This album shares a name with a ghost town in Pennsylvania that has a fascinating story. The town is abandon due to an underground mine fire that has been burning since the 1962. This album wasn’t named after this town, but coincidentally the video for the track, Living Lens, is a single long take of a flame.
11. Darkside – Psychic
- Genre – Experimental House, Dance
- Fav Tracks – Paper Trails, Golden Arrow, Heart, Freak Go Home, Metatron
- From – New York
Darkside is the collaboration of composer Nicolas Jaar and multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington. It’s an ambient landscape dotted with bluesy hooks.
12. Chelsea Wolfe – Pain Is Beauty
- Genre – Experimental Rock, Goth Pop
- Fav Tracks – The Waves Have Come, The Warden, House of Metal, Destruction Makes the World Burn Brighter, Sick, Reins, Ancestors The Ancients
- From – California
- Dirty Beaches – Drifters/Love Is the Devil
- The Field – Cupid’s Head
- The Flaming Lips – The Terror
- Oneohtrix Point Never – R Plus Seven
- Tim Hecker – Virgins
- Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
- These New Puritans – Field of Reeds
- Julianna Barwick – Nepenthe
- Grouper – The Man Who Died In His Boat