The 10 Best Experimental Albums Of 2022
Oneohtrix Point Never produces the Weeknd, A.G. Cook links up with Beyoncé, and Rosalía, well, sounds like Rosalía. Pop music sizzles with electronic noise, R&B holds the most wave-making avant-garde around, and contemporary rap music stretches rhythm like a putty no longer anchored to a pocket. All of which begs the question, “What exactly counts as Experimental Music in 2022?” The answer is, of course, “Who cares, the world is on fire, no one reads introductions to music lists, please just shut the fuck up and tell me about some good drone albums.”
If you are a fan of traditionally “out” music — modern composition, free improvisation, musique concrète, noise, minimalism, sound art — 2022 was as good a year as any. Improv artists like Bill Orcutt, Patrick Shiroshi, Sheng Jie, the art-metal band Sumac, and the roster of the Astral Spirits tape label, seemed to lead a muscular new charge of free music. Kali Malone and Sarah Davachi made wildly popular cases for patient drones. Claire Rosay and Vanessa Rosetto exploded the world of collage into places — respectively — more insular and more widescreen.
This list is not an attempt to collate these narratives into a neat summary. Instead, it’s a chaotic, personal selection of chaotic and personal music.
Elías Merino & Daniel del Río - Structures For Wave Field Synthesis (Superpang)
This January 1st drop set a high bar for the nearly 50 releases (so far) spilling out from electronic vanguard label Superpang. I haven’t explored them all, but Superpang currently stands tall as the most exciting next-level computer tweakery imprint working in the tradition of Mego, Raster-Noton, and Pan. Played on 192 speakers, this work of “algorithmic synthetic sound” tinkers with space and perspective, resulting in a vibrant clatter that sounds like undulating bamboo sticks, digital cicadas, moist guiros, screeching digital string sections and industrial trash piles.
Vanessa Rosetto - The Actress (ErstSolo)
Following years of beguiling, enigmatic sound collages, Texas-based musique concrète cinematist Vanessa Rosetto releases her magnum opus, a two-hour suite where the mundane meets the alien. I could not tell you what The Actress is about, but if it is actually about an actress, she works somewhere between the dream logic of Mulholland Drive and the dream decaying of Sunset Boulevard. Rosetto travels in Lynchian storytelling as her Actress runs, hides and gets wrapped in noise: threatening birds, snippets of news broadcasts, overheard conversations, menacing machinery and the too-close-for-comfort ASMR clicks.
The fifth album by human Molotov cocktail Tanya Tagaq sharpens her electric combination of Inuit throat singing and prismatic art rock into her most pointed, political, and punk rock fang-bearing yet. Her crack live band, drummer Jean Martin and violinist Jesse Zubot, wages war against industrial noisescapes courtesy of Saul Williams and Gonjasufi. Tagaq unleashes terse, razor-sharp indictments: Taking aim at the Canadian foster care system, she threatens “Touch my children and my teeth welcome your windpipe.” It’s not the righteous anger or the Suicide-minimal throbs that provide the furor and agony but the visceral distending of her voice.
The violent, full-contact flutework of New York woodwind-manhandler Laura Cocks cuts a savage, visceral path across five compositions. These pieces by composers like Bethany Younge and Joan Arnau Pàmies force Cocks to navigate an obstacle course that feels like extensions of already extended technique: clicks, clacks, spectrum-swallowing walls, panicked screams and piercing noise. In Younge’s “Oxygen And Reality,” she’s inflating balloons. Over the harrowing 24 minutes of Pàmies’ ‘Produktionsmittel I,’ it sounds like Cocks is trying to battle or devour her instrument, throatily squawking like a wounded animal and then grunting out a final death rattle.
Two outré free-improv guitarists provide a long, unfurling scroll for Wadada Leo Smith, one of our greatest living trumpeters. What starts as mournful American primitive drift shape-shifts into a 55-minute journey of Sonic Youth feedback, prepared-guitar clank, floorboard-vibrating country blues, and prickly little constellations of sound. Smith doesn’t arrive until nearly 11 minutes in, squeaking like a door coming off the hinges. Between fragile microtones and assured blasts, it’s often like Ornette Coleman kicking up dust on a late-period Earth album.
Éliane Radigue & Frédéric Blondy - Occam XV (Organ Reframed)
This 44-minute crescendo/decrescendo, courtesy of composer Éliane Radigue’s voluminous 21st Century experiments with acoustic minimalism, features French pianist Frédéric Blondy massaging a cosmic throb from an organ that’s nearly 150 years old. The vibrations in the air make their own rhythms, which feel like the pulse of matter itself.
Sheng Jie & Shen Jing - Parallel Weaving (WV Sorcerer)
This gorgeous splatter of sound, a cross-continental collaboration between Beijing-based cellist Sheng Jie and London-based percussionist Shen Jing presents noise and percussion in a dance of ecstasy, an improvised freak-out that creates sheer euphoria from chaos. Jie’s electric cello provides air-raid drones, amplified scrapes, shoegaze blasts and Tyrannosaur rumbles while — eight time zones away — Jing provides kitchen sink drums and gamelan somewhere between Han Bennink and the Boredoms.
Derek Bailey - Domestic Jungle (Scatter)
“You’re probably going to think this is absurd,” Derek Bailey, titan of free-improv guitar, told an interviewer in 1995, “but I’ve been playing along with jungle on the radio. … [I]t’s nice to play long with, particularly as opposed to free jazz situations where the pace is often very slow. I’ve found it fantastic to practice with.” These unearthed bedroom recordings show Bailey providing further counterpoint to the frenetic skitter of UK jungle techno blasting out from UK pirate radio. These seemingly disparate disciplines find both common ground and lively dissonance as Bailey explores the pockets and crevasses of his instrument, harmonics that howl and blow out the cheap recording. A post-modern thrill.
Kevin Drumm - Future When It Comes (Self-Released)
The Kevin Drumm Bandcamp subscription is a gift that keeps on giving, not only providing access to the ambient/noise/soundscaper’s voluminous catalog, but also a constant flood of new releases. The second of more than 20 Drumm drops in 2022 is Future When It Comes, a set of three glacially shifting drones that finds the ever-shifting composer in ultra-minimalist mode. From a squeal to a shimmer, these pieces evoke everything from church organ to patient feedback to flickers of voices to dueling Basinskis.
On her audacious debut LP, Berlin-based composer Maya Shenfeld blasts off with what could be described as “power melancholy”: a bold, loud, lonely sadness where electronic processing meets brash brass. This is a decidedly physical take on electronic vibrations much like Thrill Jockey labelmates Emptyset — and the duo’s James Ginzburg lends a hand on “Mountain Larkspur,” where the Bethanien Youth Choir is stretched into an ambient meteor shower. Tense and brittle throughout, vintage synth arpeggios join the clarion calls of trumpeter Kelly O’Donahue, sounding like the Roman Games held in the ENCOM mainframe. It’s all the warmth of Brian Eno’s Apollo Soundtracks but here the moon is a cold, dead place.
- John Luther Adams – Houses Of The Wind (Cold Blue)
- Oren Ambarchi – Shebang (Drag City)
- Bondi D’Incise/Blutwurst Ensemble – Zgodność (Insub)
- Tyondai Braxton – Telekinesis (Nonesuch)
- Dikeman/Gonzalez/Håker Flaten/Horne – Texas Butt Biters (Astral Spirits)
- Flower-Corsano Duo – Halcyon (VHF)
- Xavier Garcia & Lionel Marchetti – Symphonie (Stellage)
- Keiji Haino – My Lord Music, I Most Humbly Beg Your Indulgence In The Hope That You Will Do Me The Honour Of Permitting This Seed Called Keiji Haino To Be Planted Within You (Black Editions)
- Infernal Mosquitos – Antigua (Superpang)
- Jóhann Jóhannsson – Drone Mass (Deutsche Grammophon)
- Gábor Lázár – Boundary Object (Planet Mu)
- Nyokabi Kariuki – Peace Places: Kenyan Memories (SA)
- Kali Malone – Living Torch (Portraits GRM)
- Merzbow & Lawrence English – Eternal Stalker (Dais)
- Moth Cock – Invisible Pranks (Hausu Mountain)
- Bill Orcutt – Music For Four Guitars (Palilalia)
- Jim O’Rourke, Eiko Ishibashi, & Joe Talia – Patrick (Self-Released)
- Bill Nace – Through A Room (Drag City)
- Peter Rehberg – At GRM (Portraits GRM)
- Patrick Shiroshi & Jeff Tobias – Patrick Shiroshi & Jeff Tobias (Topos Press)
- Aaron Turner – To Speak (Trost)
- White Suns – Dead Time EP (Orange Milk)
- Wild Up – Julius Eastman Vol. 2: Joy Boy (New Amsterdam)
- Zimoun – Guitar Studies I-III (Room40)