January 2020 in Experimental Music


Starting in 2020, The Road to Sound will be compiling a list of each month’s experimental releases for your perusal. As always, ample context will be provided for your reading and listening enjoyment.

With that said, let’s rewind January 2020. Here’s a smattering of new releases from last month to start listening to.


Chromic, lightless

Expanding upon a quote from the serene Icelandic indie group Sigur Rós’s “Fjögur Piano,” Chromic’s new piece lightless is a meditative ode made of bubbling texture, subtle release, and a sense of free-flowing improvisation. Chromic is a project of New York-based pianists Dorothy Chan and Lucy Yao that explores the possibilities of the grand piano and electronic toy piano. With lightless, they create a steady ascension, building upon a slow-moving bass line and trills that timelessly echo across each other. The atmosphere is tranquil, but hints of piano burst at disparate times as if a memory is popping out at random. Through its soft undulation, lightless is a moving ballad for the moment of letting go. 


Charles Curtis, Performances & Recordings 1998-2018 (Saltern)

Charles Curtis is a cellist who has worked with a “who’s-who” of experimental music over the decades, perhaps most notably with minimalist pioneer La Monte Young. Performances & Recordings 1998-2018 provides both a glimpse into his musical career and into the history of music, through its inclusion of a wide breadth of works from the 14th century to current times. Each recording is stunning, bringing us into the world of whatever the music is attempting to accomplish stylistically. Opening with Éliane Raidgue’s Occam V, a 17-minute slowly changing drone, the record moves on to the melancholy of Guillaume de Machaut’s Hélas! et comment, a movement of Messiaen’s eternally yearning, timelessly enchanting Quartet for the End of Time, and more. This is a record that reveals new territories with each listen, captivating with its juxtaposition of musical styles that are each rendered to perfection.


Jennifer Curtis and Tyshawn Sorey, Invisible Ritual (New Focus Recordings)

Violinist Jennifer Curtis and composer, multi-instrumentalist, and 2017 MacArthur Fellow Tyshawn Sorey have collaborated before through work with the International Contemporary Ensemble. Invisible Ritual brings their fruitful creative partnership into the world of recording for a set of eight tracks of that explore multiple pairings of style and genre. Traces of frenetic fiddling traditions blend with a swishing drumset beating in off-kilter rhythm on “I;” a piano subsumed in darkness pounces as a violin tremolos in pianissimo on “III;” piano and violin play in an impressionistic, melodic duet on “VI.” While the instruments often exist in their own sonic boxes, they move together in a quirky sort of sync, exploring a wide variety of atmospheres and styles through free improvisation. Invisible Ritual is an energetic, virtuosic conglomeration of styles, ideas, and sounds. 


Alex Dowling, Reality Rounds (Carrier Records)

Auto-tune: pop music’s best friend and Alex Dowling’s muse on Reality Rounds. A mix of avant-garde electronics and melodic choral sensibility, the record is an enthralling trance of live-processed vocals and synthesizers. Recorded with four voices, the album mixes ambient textures with pop melodies and echoing hockets. “Channeling,” the opening track, begins with one note that forks off into dissonant directions and climaxes in glitches. “King of Thumbs” begins with a soft reflective pitch, only to explode with a bass drop into synthesized sonic experimentation. As a whole, the record is contemplative, and each work within it provides new atmosphere to explore. 


And, here are two other fleeting thoughts from January…

I can really get behind Mitski’s new noise aesthetic. But I really can’t get behind The Turning… Perhaps this is Twilight part 2 — terrible movie, shockingly good indie soundtrack.


The new Soccer Mommy singles are fully addictive, as gnarly and brutally emotional as ever. I’m really looking forward to their new album, color theory, slated for release at the end of February.


Listen to all the new releases mentioned here on The Road to Sound‘s playlist below:



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