20 Best Avant Albums of 2017

The year's best in ambient, noise, out-jazz, experimental electronic and more

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Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, 'The Kid'
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1. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, 'The Kid'

The gorgeous sixth album from California landscapist Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith reclaims the avant-garde from noiseniks, dronesters, moaners, skronkers, mathletes and art-punks: challenging but beautiful, pastoral but hyperactive. Recorded with early-Seventies analog synth the Buchla Music Easel, her rainbow-bursting arpeggios follow in the transcendent tradition of artists like Terry Riley or Laurie Spiegel, but her music is far removed from the repetition and simplicity of minimalism. Instead she creates pastoral soundworlds stuffed with a prismatic array of bubbles, gurgles and bloops – part Jackson Pollock, part Lisa Frank – sometimes working in tandem and sometimes creating tension. "I​ ​was​ ​curious​ ​where​ ​our​ ​hearing​ ​would​ ​evolve​ ​to​ ​next,​ ​and​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​play around​ ​with​ ​the​ ​idea​ ​that​ ​our​ ​hearing​ ​would​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​split ​so​ ​​we​ ​could​ ​hear​ ​two different​ ​conversations​ ​at​ ​once," she told Rolling Stone.​ "​And​ ​so,​ ​I​ ​played​ ​with​ ​that​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​on​ ​the​ ​album ...​ ​of​ ​having the​ ​left​ ​side​ ​and​ ​the​ ​right​ ​side​ ​feel​ ​like​ ​they're​ ​pulling​ ​for​ ​your​ ​attention​ ​in​ ​different ways." And more than her breakthrough LP, 2016's Ears, Smith imbues everything with her highly processed voice, The Kid playing like alien indie rock for an album with a "sub-theme" no less ambitious than the human life cycle.

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