Beat Odds & Frayed Ends: Overlooked Experimental Records of 2013

Hello Free Spacers(?). It’s been awhile, I know. I have been hella busy. My last year of college has been more stressful than my first three years COMBINED. Now that my senior thesis is bound and submitted however, I am ready for a new year of music! If you haven’t already checked it out, my Favorite 10 Albums of 2013 list is up on this site! You can check it out here. You can also check out my Favorite 50 Albums of 2013 on rateyourmusic here.

In this issue of Free Space, I would like to highlight some experimental records that I feel were overlooked (by critics, by listeners, by myself) in 2013. Some of these were acclaimed in smaller experimental circles, yet others are just some personal favorites of mine that aren’t quite cosmopolitan enough for aggregate lists thus never quite reached recognition when December rolled around. Many of these records necessitated/necessitate patience and grew on me gradually over 2013, some of these records slipped past my radar completely until recently, and others I loved immediately. In any case, ‘experimental’ music never sleeps (because sleep is what separates one day of reviews from another), and because ‘experimental’ music by nature is often concerned with process rather than listenability or repeatability, a lot of these records remain undermined. That doesn’t mean that I mined my library for unlistenable, difficult projects specifically for this list; that would be silly. All of these records certainly challenge popular conceptions of ‘taste,’ but all of these records, in my opinion, also reinforce the validity of human emotions in ways that conventional music often doesn’t(1). Below, I have written blurbs on three records that I feel were especially overlooked in 2013, even by experimental writers(2).

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Wake Up Awesome C Spencer Yeh / Okkyung Lee / Lasse Marhaug

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Another ‘experimental’ group improvisation record. Of course this got overlooked. Unless you are familiar with contemporary Avant-garde noise music, these names probably don’t mean shit, and 2013 probably wasn’t a good entry point into ostensibly aimless ‘improv’ music. Cellist Okkyung Lee’s 2013 solo record, Ghil, received mixed reviews even from ‘experimental’ critics because it reportedly lacked direction (I think it is rather visceral and singular, myself). Wake Up Awesome, however, could have changed this stagnant stereotype of ‘experimental noise music’ in 2013 perhaps if it had been released earlier. On Wake Up Awesome, Yeh, Lee, and Marhaug pretty much laugh at anybody who thinks that ‘experimental noise’ is by definition ‘difficult’ and ‘unlistenable.’ I say ‘laugh’ quite deliberately here as this session sounds like so much fun as these three masters of illusion, in remarkable synchronization, juggle dancehall samples with whimsical string accents with percussive outbursts and noisy drones with weird feedback loops with cartoony spring noises with vocal exclamations and vibrations. This is basically “Play: the Album” and it is a beautifully imperfect clash of rough and smooth, hot and cold, empty and full, free and connected. It is just plain awesome. Lol.

Wake Up Awesome is out now on Software Records

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Mo7it Al-mo7it Jerusalem in My Heart

Does Jerusalem in My Heart have that limited of an appeal, or did its early release date doom it for inclusion on year-end lists? I understand that ‘experimental Arabic music’ as a substantive genre label sounds either politically/culturally alienating or straight-up pretentious, but Mo7it Al-mo7it is neither. Jerusalem in My Heart is a multimedia curatorial project lead by a rad Lebanese dude named Radwan Ghazi Moumneh, and Mo7it Al-mo7it is a sound collage of material collected from all different kinds of cassette tapes found in various bazaars across Europe and Asia. What is so remarkable is how this personal, experiential process gives Mo7it Al-mo7it a vivacious, three-dimensional quality; Mo7it Al-mo7it, JIMH’s first recorded project after several year of live performances, presents a vast swath of sonic landscapes that pan through pastoral, pedestrian, urban, and underground. Mo7it Al-mo7it is fascinating both in its well-developed cosmopolitan concept and in its aesthetically astounding look at identity. This isn’t some cold deconstructionist nonsense, though. Mo7it Al-mo7it is a celebration of diversity that doesn’t seem didactic or academic; it moves (travels/affects emotionally) through emotive expressions and picturesque portrayals of human consciousness.

Mo7it Al-mo7it is out now on Constellation Records

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Visions / VoicesFélicia Atkinson

There are two main reasons why I think Visions / Voices was overlooked in 2013: 1) It is a compilation of original material recorded over three years, and 2) Grouper’s stylistically similar The Man Who Died in His Boat (my #11 for 2013) also came out in 2013. Although its sound resembles that of everybody’s favorite ambient folk artist, however, Visions / Voices has its own unique appeal, I think, and as far as I can tell, it is quite simple and that is why I love it; this is a record that advocates creation. Visions / Voices suggests that there are no ‘wrong’ notes, and unlike my former jazz teachers, Félicia Atkinson means it here. This may seem either reductive or obtuse, but this is an excellent example of brilliantly wide-eyed curiosity driven ‘folk’ experimentation… but it’s not really experimentation if there is no obvious hypothesis. Maybe ‘exploration’ is a better term. Yeah. I like that. Think of what you could discover if you didn’t know what you were looking for: waterfalls that wash over you yet don’t get you wet, roads that navigate infinite horizons yet run in impossible circles, nature undisturbed by human construction, does it really exist? Maybe, maybe not. What matters though isn’t scientific experimentation or even artistic discovery, but appreciation and wonder of life’s ineffable physics.

Visions / Voices is out now on Umor Rex Records

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Next time on Free Space, I will explain why and how pop music can be just as affective/effective as experimental music, if not more! Happy listening!

Footnotes:

 1) In my next column, I will prove this statement wrong and look at pop music that is just as affective as Avant-garde music.

 2) Some other experimental records that I highly enjoy from 2013, but were reasonably well covered include: Government Plates by Death Grips (experimental hip-hop), Som Sakrifis by Mohammad (drone), Innocence is Kinky by Jenny Hval (art pop/spoken word), Music for Private Ensemble by Sean McCann (drone/modern classical), Syzygy by Lucrecia Dalt (art pop/dub techno/ambient), and Total Folklore by Dan Friel (noise pop).

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Free Space is written by Jackson Scott