We can still expand our horizons while practicing social distancing.
Try spending these days and weeks (not months, hopefully) tackling these wildly experimental albums that span into the genres of hardcore, ambient, pop, and beyond.
GAS — Pop
Wolfgang Voigt’s entire career has centered around stripping ambient music to its bare essentials. It’s with GAS, though, that the co-founder of the microhouse label Kompakt really flourishes with his streamlined soundscapes. Pop is the undisputed centerpiece of the whole GAS/Voigt canon, a heady synthesis of churning atmospherics and shimmery sonic magic that defines his mission statement of “bringing the forest to the disco.” This is an album for losing one’s center of gravity. It’s a slow saunter through sounds that both comfort and confront. It’s a real journey into the woods. Luckily, you won’t need hiking boots.
The Locust — The Locust
The Locust’s music is so profoundly disturbing that I once saw a large brindle pit bull run and hide as 1998’s self-titled LP blared from a friend’s speakers. Emanating from SoCal, where punk and hardcore carry a special sheen of grit and intensity, The Locust’s grindcore is grating on a truly physical and emotional level. But it’s so much more than snarling vocals and pulverizing guitar licks. The Locust’s infusion of bug-centric lyrics and sci-fi tropes add a much-needed novelty to all the aural violence. It’s the soundtrack of an alien invasion by 50-foot praying mantises.
The Residents — Freak Show
You could pick almost any album in The Residents’ 55-plus-year career and enjoy the methodical deconstruction of modern pop music. But there’s something especially significant about Freak Show. For one, it was recorded almost exclusively with a MIDI, and that shift to electronic music-making imbues added nuance and subtle textures. The album was also packaged as a CD-ROM, where users click around an actual freak show and peer into the creepy personal lives of circus folk. It’s an experience that’s as artificial as it is organic, whimsical as it is unnerving.
Dorian Concept — “Trilingual Dance Sexperience” b/w “Tropical Hands”
Austrian composer Oliver Thomas Johnson likely never outlined an agenda before making music as Dorian Concept. If there were one, it would likely involve chopping up everything from jazz and ambient to hip-hop and rendering the pieces back into some magical collage that never before existed. “Trilingual Dance Sexperience” and its B-side “Tropical Hands” exemplify this approach, a buckshot of sonic ideas held together by dance-ready rhythms and an air of organic spontaneity. This isn’t techno, trance, or even some hybrid of jazz, but a glorious marriage of energies that seep into the cerebellum note by note.
Fennesz — Becs
Christian Fennesz approaches music much like a fine craftsman. He deliberately blends both ambient and glitch to create these dense soundscapes that challenge the listener while also mesmerizing the ear. Becs is the best entry point: 44 minutes of multilayered sonics that shapeshift from the gentle and ethereal to sturdier, borderline aggressive offerings. All the while, Fennesz maintains a steady grip, pitching the tones and the emotions with grace to demand the most energy and attention possible. Fret not, though, this 2014 record is more than worth all the extra effort.