We were planning to have a little get together on New Year’s Eve. I packed a cute top I bought during a frivolous moment in spring 2020. The rest of the story goes like many stories have gone since March 2020: We canceled the gathering, put on comfy clothes, and watched TV until the ball dropped. It was a quiet start to a new year, but that’s alright. If living life has taught me anything, it’s that quiet moments can mean as much as loud ones as long as you’re listening.
January was definitely a quiet month, but the good kind of quiet. The kind of quiet where you have time to cook food that tastes good, get sucked into good music, good books, and good movies. The kind of quiet where you can stop and appreciate the love around you for once.
Welcome to 2022. Who knows what it will bring. One thing’s for sure, though: There will be lots of music to enjoy, which means that I’m bringing back my monthly roundup of my favorite experimental releases. Here’s January’s installation, as always featuring ample context and links to listen.
Acid Mothers Reynols, Acid Mothers Reynols Vol. 2 (Hive Mind Records)
Acid Mothers Reynols is a psych rock lover’s dream combination. The group comprises two heavy hitting bands—Japanese group Acid Mothers Temple and Argentinian group Reynols. They released their first album in 2020, uniting each ensemble’s knack for vibrant colors and jubilant improvisation. Acid Mothers Reynols Vol. 2 picks up where they left off. The material for both albums comes from a South American tour in 2017, in which the two groups started improvising together. Volume 2 is everything you’d want from this duo: sparks of fiery, free sound, far-out rhythms, and pure ecstatic explosion all around.
Armbruster, Masses (Dear Life Records)
Connor Armbruster (aka Armbruster) recorded the cavernous Masses in one day at St. Paul the Apostle in Troy, New York. The album is born from just his violin and a looper, weaving together endless, spacious drones that repeat and layer, all tinged with hints of drawn-out fiddle melodies. There’s a hidden character in the music, though: The church’s empty hall. It drives the album’s occasionally haunted, always reverberant sound. Masses is a snapshot of a moment that moves from darkness back into light.
Beast Nest, Sicko (Ratskin Records)
Beast Nest shines psychedelic vibrations onto expansive meditations and pulsing grooves throughout Sicko. The album was developed in the aftermath of Oakland’s devastating Ghost Ship warehouse fire and features years of ideas in one cohesive, otherworldly package. The music feels amorphous throughout, shapeshifting from urgent beats into sunshiney contemplations that glisten with a feeling of hope and healing. It shimmers in every rhythm, from the bleakest moments to the brightest.
Christina Giannone, Zone 7 (Room40)
New York artist Christina Giannone explores the subconscious on Zone 7, an album made of reverberant drones accompanied by breathy waves. Escapism inspired her—which isn’t an uncommon inspiration as the pandemic continues. But here, she straddles the idea of escaping the mind into a serene, ambient vortex and dealing with the innermost anxieties and desires head-on. Her music is at-once drifting and tranquil, direct and ominous.
Tyler Kline, Orchard (Neuma Records)
Kentucky born, Cincinnati-based Composer Tyler Kline launched a commissioning consortium project for piano in 2018 that eventually became Orchard, a 50-track album recorded by 14 different pianists. Each piece he wrote for the project takes inspiration and a title from a different fruit, ranging from granny smith apples to ghost peppers. These textural vignettes take on subtle characteristics of their namesake fruits, bringing in notes of their bitterness or sweetness or softness or crunchiness. But what’s most striking about Orchard is its gentle balance of delicate and virtuosic moments, making space for both intense rigor and soft grace—each piece is a tiny package that treats silence and boisterousness with equal footing.
Piotr Kurek, World Speaks (Ediçoes CN)
On World Speaks, Warsaw-based composer and multi-instrumentalist Piotr Kurek manipulates and mangles chanting vocals, organ melodies, and reeds to make music that’s at times sweeping and contemplative, and at other times off-kilter and dissonant. The album was inspired by a photograph in which people stood in a circle. The music we hear imagines what might have been going on in that circle, bringing to life long gone conversations and faded memories in a series of muted, inquisitive vignettes.
Stephanie Lamprea, Quaking Aspen (New Focus Recordings)
Quaking Aspen showcases Colombian-American soprano Stephanie Lamprea’s incredible range. The new works on the album, which were composed for Lamprea and highlight poetry by female writers from the 19th through 21st centuries, feature everything from exquisite melodies to jagged-edged squeals to ominous hums. The focal point throughout is Lamprea’s vocals: She effortlessly switches tones and styles on every track, painting theatrical, detailed pictures that only need one thing to feel vivid—her voice.
Alicia Lee, Conversations with Myself (New Focus Recordings)
Clarinetist Alicia Lee wanders through meandering rhythms and melodies across Conversations with Myself like she’s speaking her random stream of consciousness. While recording the album, she felt like she was monologuing: speaking to herself and to no one and everyone at the same time. The music she chooses here, which highlights modern composers of Asian descent and a work by post-war pioneer Pierre Boulez, feels interior, built on meandering rhythms and unexpected patterns. Her playing probes the multiple, at-odds feelings of isolation—from inner turmoil to meditation and everything in between.
Maria Moles, For Leolanda (Room40)
On For Leolanda, Maria Moles unites percussive melodies with wavering drones to form music that finds a distinct groove while sprawling out. The Melbourne-based percussionist and composer foregrounds her family roots on the album, drawing inspiration from Kulintang music of the Philippines to write many of the record’s rhythms. She pieces together the natural motion of synthesizers and singing bowls with the driving beat of her drum kit, savoring moments of motion and pensive rest in equal measure. And in the moments of pause, For Leolanda starts to feel like an album of reflection—music made of memories that have just bubbled back up to the surface.
Shane Parish, Viscera Eternae (Ramble Records)
On Viscera Eternae, North Carolina-based guitarist Shane Parish presents two longform solo explorations that wander through urgent melodies, brimming with a constant current of potential energy. The two-track album features one steel string improvisation and one acoustic improvisation, and each track blossoms from repeating fragments into full-bodied layers of sound, channeling Parish’s experiences in avant-rock, traditional folk, and free improvisation. Where the first track deals in cloudy melodies, the second offers a ray of sunshine, blooming from the urgency of the first 21 minutes into the laid-back rest once the anxiety subsides.
Patrick Shiroishi/Jeff Tobias, s/t (Topos Press)
Patrick Shiroishi and Jeff Tobias come together on two sopranino saxophones in an uninhibited conversation on this self-titled record, which they recorded in 2021 during a first meeting in Los Angeles. Their improvisations swarm with chaos, swimming through extended techniques and fast-paced runs with explosive energy. It’s a nonstop race that sees each musician at the height of their free exploration, but in the few moments of slowdown, they’re also able to access calm, a resting place made of blown-out drones and airy, barely-there yet ever-present whispers.
Salomé Voegelin, Paint your lips while singing your favourite pop song (Flaming Pines)
Sound artist and writer Salomé Voegelin wants to foreground how music is a conversation in her compositions. Paint your lips while singing your favourite pop song codifies this idea by featuring a series of artist responses to her text-scores, each of whom create textural vignettes that illuminate the feeling of Voegelin’s words as they hear them. They’re in conversation with each other and Voegelin, each making music from an inner world and inviting us to join in. (Author’s note: My full review can be found in the Wire, edition 456)