Top 20 Best Experimental/Avant-Garde & Electro Albums of 2016

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From S U R V I V E to The Body, from Ulver to Matmos, it was again hard to pick just 20 albums, but here’s our Top 20 (in no specific order whatsoever) Experimental/Avant-Garde & Electro albums of 2016 along with our thoughts on them.

Our main non-genre-specific ‘albums of the year’ list is coming soon, we want to give it some more love and make sure we don’t miss out anything . Stay tuned, more lists are going to be unveiled in the following days… Enjoy!


Anna Meredith – Varmints (Moshi Moshi)

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“Nautilus” begins Varmints with a rallying fanfare on repeat, akin to Philip Glass lost in a time loop as battering ram beats begin to smash through sturdy wooden doors. It would make the perfect soundtrack for a giant behemoth-like submarine rising from the depths of the ocean to wage war. Yet, despite her background in classical composition, this collection of music from Meredith is very much an assembly of song types. “Taken” is knottily intelligent indie-pop, “Scrimshaw” a cello-driven electro elegy which rises in mournful triumph before self-combusting into scattershot pulses and “Something Helpful” twinkles like early Aphex with choir girl vocals lending it a Young Marble Giants feel. Varmints is the perfect title for this grab-bag and deliberately incohesive assortment of songs which exist in separate dimensions from one another and find themselves forced to interact.

(Euan Andrews) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Ulver – ATGCLVLSSCAP (House Of Mythology)

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Consistently divergent, it’s in keeping with the band’s chameleonic ethos as it subtly shifts from Kraut minimalism and thunderous metallic stomps to mystical flourishes and droning solemnity, not only bringing on board elements from Ulver’s recent endeavours (Shadows Of The Sun fans in particular will find plenty to celebrate about), but also those of its players in its subtle shades of Grumbling Fur and the even more free-floating Æthenor. It’s a genuinely exciting record, creating an exciting and emotionally charged listening experience that captures the energy of their live output and the depth of their studio work. Even by Ulver’s high standards, this is an outstanding work of art.

(Dave Bowes) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Goat – Requiem (Rocket Recordings)

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In World Music, Goat created one of the most exultant debuts of the decade, a dervish-like rush of colour and sound that you couldn’t help but shake your ass to – in comparison, Requiem is a kick-back-and-contemplate-existence kind of effort, based more in the realm of the spirits than of the senses. It’s a smooth album that picks up on the braver stabs of Commune and develops them fully, experimenting with texture and tone in a way that they had hitherto not dared; if World Music harnessed the chaotic power of fire and Commune the steady, sometimes wavering flow of water, this is air – moving imperceptibly and effortlessly, blessed with the strength that only comes with perfect focus.

(Dave Bowes) // Listen at Bandcamp.

S U R V I V E – RR7349 (Relapse Records)

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An elegantly spacious collection of atmospheric electronica that is, by turns, eerie, gorgeous, dreamlike, catchy and shot through with subtle malevolence, in RR7349 the Texan quartet have created something that rivals, and in some ways transcends, the albums from which they take their cues. Given their choice of instrumentation and texture, there’s a naturally cinematic feel – one minute a masked killer is stalking his ground, the next a desperate family are beset on all sides by vicious thugs – but on the whole, S U R V I V E never seem bound by such aesthetics, nor by their vast array of influences. Instead, they are shaping a world, a sonic cosmos that operates according to their rules – it’s a dark place, but the sense of wonder and mystery makes it a joy to traverse

(Dave Bowes) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Fatima Al Qadiri – Brute (Hyperdub)

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Coming adorned with sleeve art which seems to feature a placid teletubbie creature clothed in the garb of riot police, Brute makes plain its investigation into a passive-aggressive global politic identity hidden behind a friendly facade. Al Qadiri’s work has regularly focused on the liminal spaces opening up between technological evolution and physical reality, the dangerous illusion we’re weaving around us of safety in a world controlled by murderers. “Endzone” begins with a mesh of alarms sounding and frantic voices yelling in fractured communion, before “Blood Moon” twinkles with breathy synthetic sighs and electronic washes as if to reassure us everything will be OK. “Breach” and “Curfew” are both more stridently militaristic, placing us in a dystopian cityscape with overhead snipers and police sirens piercing the sloping breakbeats which shatter like bones under coshes. Reality begins to pierce through the cocoon.

(Euan Andrews) // Listen on Bandcamp.

Kayo Dot – Plastic House On Base Of Sky (The Flenser)

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Trying to chart the evolution of Toby Driver’s main squeeze is a futile endeavour – it’s much more pleasurable to let whatever new developments sweep across the eardrums and synapses. Plastic House… is a neo-futurist marvel, an ethereal bringing-together of New Wave synthworks, dystopian visions and the dreamlike tenor of Driver, but buried under all those heady analogue tones are hints at something more traditional. In a sense, it’s a pop record at heart but its streaks of neoclassicism and straight-up rawk are concealed within so much aural subterfuge and skewed tempos that if you’re drawn too much on the surface textures, you might just miss its true essence. It’s a complex beast – emotionally, texturally and instrumentally – but for Kayo Dot this is yet another natural detour.

(Dave Bowes) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Matmos – Ultimate Care II (Thrill Jockey)

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Ah, the pleasantly mundane procedure of everyday life. You spin the dial around to the correct spin cycle and temperature setting, punch a button and then leave the machine to its own musings as it fills up with water and inner cylinders begin to clank and whirr into living motion. While you’ve wandered off to more pressing concerns, leaving the stolid robot in your hall cupboard to take care of washing and rinsing duties, all kinds of electronic mayhem and jiggery-pokery could be taking place inside tiny cogs and circuits you’ve unwittingly set in motion. After a few minutes of this album-length piece, in which Matmos continue their examination of our domestic surrounds, rhythm and backbeat have been formed from the gush and roar of a redundant washing machine. What could be a sterile exercise in the electroacoustic dissection of modern life becomes instead a playfully ebullient electro-boogie voyage into the soul of the most plain and taken for granted apparatus.

(Euan Andrews) // Listen at Bandcamp.

John Carpenter – Lost Themes II (Sacred Bones)

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The spirit of his 70s nostalgia-bothering classics is unmistakably present but the hard-rock-oriented punch of his 90s work also sees a notable recurrence, “Dark Blues” fizzling guitar solos striking as one of the album’s most arresting moments. The album remains committed to its concept throughout, each ‘theme’ presenting a distinct identity and subconsciously-rendered visual association, but by utilising a combination of dread-fuelled atmosphere and strident rock, Lost Themes II feels less like a series of vignettes and more of a concrete progression – this is isn’t a rock opera, it’s the scoring of the most epic John Carpenter movie that never existed.

(Dave Bowes) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Wrekmeister Harmonies – Light Falls (Thrill Jockey)

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Wrekmeister Harmonies’ records tell grandiose stories. JR Robinson and Esther Shaw, the heart of Harmonies, destroy, resuscitate and move through worlds relying on cooperative contrasts. In the first part of the title piece, Robinson repeats, “stay in, go out, get sick, get well, light falls;” these words echo feelings of movement throughout each song. Light Falls was inspired by anti-fascist Primo Levi’s memoir of his year in Auschwitz, If This Is a Man. Robinson transformed Levi’s assertions, that inhumanity stems from slow changes that rational people inadvertently accept, into the album’s theme: an audible change that mimics the sunset’s transformation into darkness. The transitions from subdued violin to vehement guitar convey their intended message of metamorphosis. Joined by only five guest musicians this time, Harmonies are perhaps more intricate and anecdotal with their sounds than ever before.

(Teddie Taylor) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Virus – Memento Collider (Karisma Records)

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More often than not side projects and super groups tend to be nothing but a simple rehash of old ideas, and recycling of old songs that didn’t make the cut. Fortunately, this project from former Ved Buens End members is something completely different from other so called bands. Surely there are many similarities between the previously mentioned band and this one, but that should be perceived as a band that is as much a natural extension as a reaction to the fearless experimentation of Ved Buens End. To call this a metal album would be a very risky proposition; this is fearlessly experimental music with the jazz leniencies of Voivod mashed together with early eighties experimental post-punk.

(Dave Bowes) // Listen at Bandcamp.

The Body – No One Deserves Happiness (Thrill Jockey)

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When you have a band as heavy, weird and abrasive as The Body stating that they have set out to make “the grossest pop album of all time,” then it’s because something special or cringe worthy is on the way. No One Deserves Happiness is sickening at times – almost comparable to Pharmakon’s Bestial Burden – and unbelievably beautiful because of Chrissy Wolpert and Maralie Armstrong mesmerizing voices – a track like “Adamah” needs to get some fucking recognition. In one hand, there’s the harsh and violent soundscapes, and on the other there’s the electronic mixed with the dance-influenced industrial beats. It’s an album of contrasts that represents the eclectic tastes of the duo. In the midst of their prolific career The Body are crafting a unique path.

(Tiago Moreira) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Horseback – Dead Ringers (Relapse)

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There is a faint but indelible string tying England’s pastoral folk roots and the industrial/post-punk movement that followed decades later, but it’s taken an outsider to pick up the thread so fully in the 21st century. Horseback’s aptitude for contrast again drives these compositions, but rather than positing harshness and void, the opposition here lies in its utilisation of synthesised textures and organic melody, showcasing a strangely alien vulnerability that proves more affecting than the most maudlin of singer/songwriters. It’s folktonica’s weird cousin, the one that dabbled in too many psychedelics and made themselves at home on the other side of the looking glass, and whether it’s lolling in the fields or rocking out to squirrely synths, Dead Ringers sounds content to be out-there.

(Dave Bowes) // Listen at Bandcamp.

dälek – Asphalt For Eden (Profound Lore)

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Harking back to the days of A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy, but soundtracked by his cohorts DJ rEk and Mike Manteca with a violent disregard for clean, generic beats and shiny sonic production, it is a messy, muddy, dense and angry mix underneath and on top of his vocals. Samples that defy expectation and the obvious, and an impish, belligerent charm that highlights this as one of the most dazzling Hip Hop records of recent years. If you even have a passing interest in the genre and scene, you need this in your life like you need kidneys. It’s a masterpiece.

(Andi Chamberlain) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Caïna – Christ Clad In White Phosphorus (Apocalyptic Witchcraft)

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Carefully excising the most acidic elements of past works and bringing them together to create a genuinely unsettling tableau, the latest full-length of Mancunian BM project Caïna is an indefinable work of rage and art, free-noise salvoes and droning ambience pitted against scathing black metal to devastating effect. The contributions of Integrity’s Dwid Hellion and experimental noise duo Warren Schoenbright, as well as the increasing (dis)comfort of vocalist Laurence Taylor in his miasmic role, has opened up the abilities of Andrew Curtis-Brignell further than ever before, allowing him to create a work that is nihilistic, beautiful, disturbing and truly daunting in scale. Whether this is the ‘ultimate’ Caïna release is up to personal preference, but by all standards, it isn’t far off the mark.

(Dave Bowes) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Swans – The Glowing Man (Mute)

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The fourth “official” album since that surprise renewal of the Swans name and the third in a row comprising a mammoth two-hour running time to drag you head first through varying degrees of intensity. The work of Gira and his cohorts has come to increasingly resemble the densely-packed and weighty cinema of a filmmaker such as Nuri Bilge Ceylan, with each release growing in magnitude and scope as it determinedly scrutinises and chips away at the vast unknowable rock-face of human emotion. With this comparison in mind, The Glowing Man is Swans’ “Winter Sleep”. An essential piece of work, it demands your time and attention. In return, one day it may fully give up all its secrets.

(Euan Andrews) // Listen at Bandcamp.

Tim Hecker – Love Streams (4AD)

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Here is the sound of a dark angelic mass crowding out the light from the sky while ruptures shake and quake under the listener. There is quite a strain of blockbusting maximalism in electronic music today, whether it be in headphones-shaking chart fodder or the batter and slash of grime reborn, and the work of Tim Hecker continues
to play ever increasing odds on building its own apocalyptic levels of dimensional instability. If Love Streams was a film, it would be akin to the beautifully rendered but spiritually bereft manifestation of pain that was The Revenant. As with the music of Visionist and Burial, disembodied voices tumble like lost souls into your head, but here they come in waves which aim to batter and overwhelm with IMAX precision and fury. The grandiosity is bracing, but can’t help feeling ever so slightly empty.

(Euan Andrews) Listen at Bandcamp.

Minor Victories – Minor Victories (PIAS)

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Comprised of Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite, Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, Editors’ Justin Lockey and his brother James, Minor Victories are what we may can call a supergroup. Produced and engineered by Justin, and featuring the likes of Mark Kozelek and James Graham from The Twilight Sad, it’s fair to say that this is far more than a side project for its members. Minor Victories transcends ambition, there is this sort of delicate precision in every single detail, crafting an absorbing and explosive effort. Pushing new boundaries, experimenting and discovering new sounds is quite something nowadays. Having the ability to travel through uncharted waters is always kind of special. With Rachel Goswell’s delicate voice leading the way, Minor Victories oozes minimalism, simplicity and honesty. A cinematic, passionate and stunning experience.

(Fausto Casais) // Listen at Bandcamp.

65daysofstatic – No Man’s Sky: Music For An Infinite Universe (Laced Records)

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In order to capture the vastness of both No Man’s Sky and the concepts it embodies, 65daysofstatic have delivered two albums that are visceral and danceable on one hand, but also able to move the heart as well as the feet. Infinite Universe… is borne of urgency, Rob Jones’ percussion spurring the band through glitchy swells and hooks that ebb and flow through a series of emotional climaxes, but the material on “Soundscapes” is a more unexpected venture for the band. These compositions are less about momentum than the moment, an IDM chill session that serves as a deconstruction of the album’s opening bursts. Taken together, this is a considerable, cohesive work that makes achieving the impossible seem like the most natural thing in the cosmos.

(Dave Bowes) // Listen at Spotify.

Saul Williams – MartyrLoserKing (Fader)

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Saul Williams provides us with a refined journey through one of the best sonic sequences of his versatile discography. MartyrLoserKing is hot and cold at the same time because it lives between the exaltation of his written emotion and the rigid certainty of (in)human purpose. In a world becoming again purposefully polarized, Williams is not giving it a chance. He saw the root of problems in our century and he is assuming the new Messiah message alerting us to the vulnerabilities exposed by our social networks. Nevertheless, is the way we connect something that separates us or near us? Something that eludes us for a non-existent reality? Or this will be a solution to a larger problem in which politics tries to erase our past? Williams does not give us the answers, only confronts us with our nowness. He knows that one day the narcissistic bubble will burst into a revolution.

(Rui Correia) // Listen at Soundcloud.

Khompa – The Shape Of Drums To Come (Monotreme Records)

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Though the title of Khompa’s debut album seems to carry with it an air of arrogance, if anything it’s being humble. The project of Davide Compagnoni, a drummer whose technical abilities have developed in step with his lofty ambition, it pairs tight hip-hop beats to a kit and an intricately-assembled array of triggers and sequencers to create melodies that are both atavistic and futuristic, dreamlike bursts of synth exploding and shrinking with each unerringly precise strike. It’s a unique method of construction but Khompa’s appeal lies beyond gimmickry; it’s biomechanical psychedelia at its most invasively catchy and if this is what fate holds for drummers, then we’ve got an exciting future ahead of all of us.

(Dave Bowes) // Listen at Soundcloud.
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