2018: Top 10 Experimental/Avant-Garde Releases of April.

Here I present a grip of essential and bizarre experimental music, some metal-related releases and others not, from the month of April in the year 2018. I’ve chosen them entirely based on their difficult to categorize nature, their deviance from the norms of pop/rock music structures and instrumentation as well as just general trip-inducing experience. Overall the month of April featured so many strong releases from well established artists and I wanted to feature the weirdest stuff that would have otherwise gotten lost in the shuffle. These will function in place of more extended reviews because as I began to draft each of them separately I felt all I was doing was sitting there and using my imagination to hallucinate up words and images that don’t always make for good reading. Instead of conjuring up thousands of words for each, I’d rather just explain what each recording is and why I think each is interesting and worthwhile. Enjoy!


cover_1517935517724542

Artist Bruce Lamont
Title [Type/Score] Broken Limbs Excite No Pity [Full-length/3.0]
Follow Bruce Lamont on Facebook BUY/LISTEN on War Crimes Records’ Bandcamp!

I know this was a late March release but it really fit onto this list and I hadn’t reviewed it yet. Lamont is perhaps best known for his vocal/saxophone work in Yakuza and more recently as part of experimental industrial band Corrections House. His distressed and wailing saxophone work has included memorable contributions to records by Sigh, Minsk, and Nachtmystium. On this second solo record Lamont explores a mix of dark ambiance, dissonance, neofolk, and even resembles Tom Waits a bit on my favorite track “Goodbye Electric Sunday”. This should really please fans of Michael Gira‘s larger body of work as Bruce’s voice has similar register at times, and any die-hard Swans fan should tune into ‘Broken Limbs Excite No Pity’ immediately for it’s mix of modern art rock aesthetics and sound collage.


pre final digi

Artist KZOHH
Title [Type/Score] 26 [Full-length/3.25]
Follow KZOHH on Facebook BUY/LISTEN on KZOHH’s Bandcamp!

KZOHH is a five piece Ukranian avant-garde post-black metal project formed in collaboration with members of Ulvegr, Khors, and Reusmarkt. The instrumentation is more reminiscent of shoegaze and post-rock but with an aggressive black metal aesthetic and an odd desperation and darkness in it’s themes. There is an unusual mix of gothic metal, blackgaze, and electronic music to be found within each of the two 18+ minute songs here, each named for coordinates. I know that atmospheric black metal permutations are numerous and often strange, but this is entirely different from what you’d expect. Use of samples, electro beats, desperately spoken poetry, and what sounds like footsteps in the snow create a truly unique soundscape across each song. You’ll have to wait for the release of ’26’ (April 26th) to hear any of it as nothing goes up for sale, or on bandcamp, until release day.


245037

Artist Pohjonen Alanko
Title [Type/Score] Northern Lowland [Full-length/3.0]
 Preview on YouTube BUY from Svart Records!

Well, this was something I couldn’t have seen coming. Pohjonen Alanko is a collaboration between Finnish accordionist Kimmo Pohjonen, sound designer Tuomas Norvio, and vocal artist Ismo Alanko. Each of them is extremely weird and Finnish in their own work and this collaboration is a multiplication of their oddest ideas formed into vocally driven improvisational performances. But hold on, it isn’t just arranged alien mouth noises and tribal ambiance and the visual element of their performances is equally surreal. I’ve linked a ‘preview’ above which is a full live performance from 2017 but I also highly recommend the eight minute video by Klaus Welp that was created as accompaniment/introduction. You must watch it first before listening to the EP. CLICK HERE to watch the short film. I had no idea how to even approach reviewing this post-modernist electronic/vocal EP and it fit best on a list like this. The improvisation of melody is just incredible on the EP compared to the short film, but you’ll get the general idea.


a1827563187_10

Artist Epos Nemo Latrocinium
Title [Type/Score] Iter Itineris III [Full-length/2.75]
Learn more on ENL’s Website BUY/LISTEN on Epos Nemo Latrocinium’s Bandcamp!

Epos Nemo Latrocinium is an improvised collaboration between a small group of a handful of Seattle, Washington’s crowded avant-garde music space. Spearheaded by Casey Jones (noisepoetnobody) and completed with vocalist Joy Von Spain, violinist Tim Swafford, and percussionists Tatsuya Nakatani and Dean Moore the third iteration is a bit like a field recording set in a bedroom with a creaky bed that in use by a busy prostitute… at least for the first ten minutes where bed-springs and percussion make rushed, anxious work behind the loosely tickled piano work of Jones. Because it sounds genuinely improvised their third collaboration doesn’t feel like growth but rather a random collision of skill without any one person diving in to riff beyond Jones‘ ideas. I really enjoyed the under utilized Von Spain‘s performance on “Vocalize B” more than previous entries in the series. There is a point where improvised recordings begin to resemble important and evocative works for museum installation and ENL are clearly conceived on that level, making sincere art meant for a performance hall setting. I didn’t personally connect with this entry as much as the previous, the grating effect of creaky bedsprings and metallic percussion just isn’t for me.


Layout 1

Artist Dreamfire
Title [Type/Score] Atlantean Symphony [Remaster] [Full-length/3.0]
Order from Minotauro Records’ Website LISTEN on Dreamfire’s Website!

There is absolutely nothing experimental or avant-garde about Dreamfire‘s 2012 new-age neoclassical keyboard driven fantasy soundtrack, and the 2018 remaster with extra songs is just a bigger, better version of it. ‘Atlantean Symphony’ is a cinematic fantasy score pulled from the mind of one man over the course of decades now as he reworked the original into something more professional. I’ve included it here because there is no other place, and very few words to offer, for music like this. It is grandiose, ethereal, and lush in it’s watery ambiance and regal symphonic tracks. Echoing acoustic guitars, constant storm and rain effects, all of it offers the depth of a high-budget video game soundtrack. And I suppose that is where it’s major appeal comes in as a frolicking, fantasy-forward new age piece. Think of it as if Jeremy Soule hadn’t gone off into his weird crowd-funding silence after Skyrim and instead worked on a sequel to his Oblivion soundtrack with the lost city of Atlantis in mind. The original was fine but this remaster has a Game of Thrones theme cover and some other extras in it’s extended form. Nothing mind-blowing but a nice slow new-agey thing to listen to in the background.


a4005105028_10

Artist Leila Abdul-Rauf
Title [Type/Score] Diminution [Full-length/3.5]
Follow Leila Abdul-Rauf on Facebook BUY/LISTEN on Leila Abdul-Rauf’s Bandcamp!

I will still likely give this recording a full review, but it fit perfectly with the rest of the recordings on this list as an outlier but offers less an experiment, and more a precise and honest meditation. Leila Abdul-Rauf is best known for her incredible guitar work and vocals in death metal band Vastum as well as more recent Hammers of Misfortune recordings where she additionally contributed trumpet performance. Her solo work has long been out of metal journalism’s oeuvre but this one has struck a deeper chord, perhaps simply due to different marketing and increasing thirst for the ‘different’. Abdul-Rauf sets the tone for the recording with a harrowing statement about the death of all things, beginning with the devaluation of art forms and ending with the lowering value of human life on Earth. As such ‘Diminution’ is a funeral for outsider art lost in the bustle of cheap and exploitative industry. It is exceptionally personal in tone with her vocals somber and the fluttering echos of her trumpet work offering a sad, but demure echo of the void. Is it all darkness? No, tonally this doesn’t resonate as a hopeless degradation towards nothingness. In fact much of it is ethereal and actually quite pretty with her vocalizations largely angelic in tone. I suppose I’ve sat on the review for this because it offers such a challenge with such open interpretation. Yes I could run with Abdul-Rauf‘s statements but any honest analysis becomes personal rather than authoritative. I consider that a compliment to the intent of the work itself.


sustain_front_670

Artist Chaos Echœs with Mats Gustafsson
Title [Type/Score] Sustain [Full-length/4.0]
BUY from Utech Records Click HERE to read my REVIEW

France’s high-concept improvisational leaders, and technical death metal masters Chaos Echœs teamed up with saxophonist Mats Gustafsson for what has become one of my favorite recordings of 2018. The picture they paint is ominous, apocalyptic and conjured images of desert wastelands and hell on Earth for me. If Chaos Echœs ‘Mouvement’ was just too strange for you earlier this year then this will be even more ‘outside the box’ with wild saxophone dirges and some incredible improvisational interplay throughout. This release was largely the inspiration for this list as it fired up a dormant interest in the avant-garde and improvisational side of music.


a0593382895_10

Artist Sect Pig
Title [Type/Score] Crooked Backs [Full-length/2.75]
Click HERE to read my REVIEW BUY/LISTEN on Nuclear War Now!’s Bandcamp!

This one is the most amateur and abrasive of anything else on this list as it seems to be a collaborative bedroom project made by war metal/black metal musicians from different parts of the world. The drumming is programmed and features noisome growls, spitting and reverb/echo soaked yelling that often follows the percussion. The guitar work is pushed in the background and often trails off into ranting solos and nonsense with the intention of disorientation. Each EP from this project has disturbing and thought provoking samples or themes this one is on the long history of eugenics in the United States and features samples from case studies on selective breeding in humans. The intended effect of the release is to disorient and stymie the listener into a hallucinatory state of dissociation. It works, but the recording and instrumentation is largely cheap and shallow mixed, feeling like a barely composed, week long one-man goregrind project.


cover_1519935436650576

Artist Dan Weiss
Title [Type/Score] Starebaby [Full-length/3.75]
Follow Dan Weiss on Facebook BUY/LISTEN on Pi Records’ Bandcamp!

Should you know who Dan Weiss is? No, I mean yes, but honestly if you’re just a metal douche like me you might randomly know that he played drums for Bloody Panda years ago. Who the hell is Bloody Panda? I dunno, a Profound Lore experimental drone/doom group. So who cares about Dan Weiss? Well, the larger jazz music scene really does, and he is considered one of the finest drummers alive within the jazz headspace and he’s ignited an ‘improvisational supergroup’ on his latest project. Weiss‘ drumming is the directional force combined with Trevor Dunn (Mr. Bungle, Fantômas) on bass as well as keyboard wizardry Craig Taborn and Matt Mitchell. The only real thread here is an appreciation for the dark forms of avant-garde extreme metal a la Gorguts, Meshuggah, and Confessor which they translate into a Zorn-like twisted set of jams that range from 3 to 15 minutes. Improvisational jazz fusion, sludge rhythms, and impressive runs eventually surface as ‘Starebaby’ plays out and darkens as it progresses towards the last three tracks. You have to hear the last three compositions here as the project goes far more extreme than I’d expected it would by the time “Episode 8” and “The Memory of My Memory” play out. What starts out like a subtle hipster jazz fiddle-fest eventually works itself up into a redeeming improvisational fury.


sperm_50th_erection_1_cover

Artist Sperm
Title [Type/Score] 50th Erection I: Collected Works 1967-1970 [Full-length/3.0]
Preview on Svart Records SoundCloud! BUY on Svart Records Website

The first project of Finnish/European psychedelic underground legend Pekka Airaksinen was The Sperm aka Sperm. This archival volume collects the first album ‘Shh!’ and other pre-‘Shh!’ outtakes/experiments. ‘Shh!’ is widely seen as an important release in the realm of improvisational music, psychedelia, as well as drone music. The ‘Shh!’ record itself is far more listenable than the two discs of experimentation and outtakes that follow but, once you’ve absorbed their great work the extras are a nice addition. When I began to write a longer review for this compilation I was stuck on describing the sounds and my thoughts on them really weren’t worth reading. Much of the recordings here are literally just someone hitting notes randomly on an out-of-tune guitar while a phaser-fed amplifier loops and the occasional bongo drum hits. It really reaches beyond the limits of my musical vocabulary and that is what I loved about it. Even if it is an archaic set of recordings it still holds the same sort of value fifty years later despite the limits of technology. The sounds they were creating might seem ridiculous or pointless but in fact a lot of this was visionary experimentation. I suppose that is my biggest takeaway from the avant-garde and the experimental side of things with April. The releases collected have expanded my sonic vocabulary and enriched the scope of music’s effect upon me by giving new languages to work with.


Did I miss your favorite experimental album released in April 2018? Tell me about it. This list is representative of my opinions and personal reactions taking into consideration influences, innovation, replay value, arrangement, cover art, production style, nostalgia, and quality of experience. There are surely more experimental releases from the month and I might have overlooked something amazing, let me know. Don’t worry, no piece of music is ever too old to review! Again I want to thank the bands, labels, and hardworking PR folks for their support and contributions! This is a dream for a longtime fan and collector like me.

Please contribute to my Patreon$1 USD per month ($12 a year) to help keep me in front of the computer writing about metal. Thanks.

Support Grizzly Butts!

If you like what you read, please consider donating directly to PayPal or to my Patreon: patreon.com/GrizzlyButts

$1.00