Surreality Check: 10 New Experimental Albums You Need to Hear

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Surreal, unexpected, and compelling: the ten albums that follow hover somewhere around the experimental/avant-garde divide, musically speaking. They range from drifting textures born from manipulated guitars and vocals to more traditional verse/chorus/verse arrangements that nonetheless threaten to implode into a squall of noise. What they share is a fondness for pushing into unexplored territory, and sometimes recombining disparate elements into a unified whole.

Julianna Barwick The Magic Place (Asthmatic Kitty)

The second album from Julianna Barwick relies on the manipulation of looped, haunting vocals. It feels more structured than her debut, 2009’s Florine. And on a few of these pieces — notably “Bob In Your Gait” and “Flown” — Barwick incorporates additional instrumentation into her sound, to a beautifully jarring effect.

Download: “The Magic Place” (Right click + “Save As”)

Release Date: February 22

Tim Hecker Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky)

The sixth album from the Montreal-based Hecker continues his exploration of the gulf between ambient bliss and static-infused towers of noise. Along for the recording is Ben Frost, who also knows a few things about the bliss/noise divide.

Download: “Hatred of Music I”

Release date: February 14

NovellerDesert Fires (Weird Forest)

Desert Fires, the latest in Noveller’s series of compelling studies in electric guitar drones and ambient textures, saw its initial release in 2010. Next month, Sacramento’s Weird Forest Records will issue the LP version. In terms of format, this is a fine choice: Desert Fires is indeed an album well-suited to turntable listening and quiet contemplation.

Download: “Almost Alright”

Release date: February

BelongCommon Era (Kranky)

The latest album from the New Orleans-based duo Belong, Common Era finds them moving out of the surreal ambient soundscapes that they’ve previously created (as heard on labels like Carpark and Table of the Elements) and towards something almost song-like. Walls of transcendent noise and piercing basslines make for an unique listening experience that, like everything this group has made to date, feels as immersive as a landscape.

Release date: March 21

DucktailsDucktails III: Arcade Dynamics (Woodsist)

The latest album from Matthew Mondanile, who can also be heard playing guitar in Real Estate, takes Ducktails’ sound away from the lo-fi instrumentals of his earlier work and towards something intriguingly fractured. Arcade Dynamics abounds with fragmented numbers that split the difference between four-track anthems and his other band’s pastoral pop.

Download: “Hamilton Road”

Release Date: January 18

Parts & LaborConstant Future (Jagjaguwar)

Constant Future, the fifth album from Brooklyn’s Parts & Labor, is a more concise work than its predecessor, the found-sound-rooted Receivers. Yet it’s as thrilling as anything they’ve made, with a primal punk-rock urgency fending off, and sometimes consumed by, walls of noise.

Download: “Constant Future”

Release Date: March 8

All Tiny CreaturesHarbors (Hometapes)

Led by Thomas Wincek and Andrew Fitzpatrick, All Tiny Creatures create nuanced and textured music. As with some of the other groups Wincek has spent time in (notably Volcano Choir; Justin Vernon of said band and Bon Iver contributes vocals here), their work balances accessibility with sonic and textural exploration. Wincek can also be heard on the upcoming album from Collections of Colonies of Bees, due out in April on Hometapes.

Download: An Iris”

Release Date: March 29

Eternal TapestryBeyond the 4th Door (Thrill Jockey)

Slow-burning psych-rock is the focus of Beyond the 4th Door, this Portland group’s debut for Thrill Jockey. The five pieces heard here encompass everything from fuzzed-out guitar workouts to ominous blasts of unrestrained sound to resonant ambient drift that evokes Eno’s “Spider and I.”

Release Date: March 15

Rob Moose, Clare Muldaur Manchon, Shara Worden, and Mustafa ZiyalanLetters to Distant Cities (New Amsterdam)

Letters to Distant Cities is an unexpected collaboration, an album and set of photographs that also includes musical contributions from My Brightest Diamond and Clare and the Reasons. For the bulk of the album, My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden reads the poetry of Mustafa Ziyalan, while Rob Moose’s subdued compositions hover in the background; it’s one part multidisciplinary experiment, one part pop album.

Release Date: March 29

ZsNew Slaves Part II: Essence Implosion! (The Social Registry)

In which the long-running Brooklyn-based experimental group Zs follows last year’s New Slaves with an album combining new work and remixes. There’s skronk aplenty to be found here, but also some surprisingly lively moments; JG Thrilwell turns “New Slaves” into a riotous cousin of his Venture Bros. soundtrack work, while Cex reassembles “Acres” into something suited for an esoteric dancefloor.

Download: “Acres RMX (Gabe Andruzzi Remix)”

Release Date: January 25