20 Best Avant Albums of 2015 - Rolling Stone
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20 Best Avant Albums of 2015

The year’s best in noise, out-jazz, contemporary classical, ambient, drone and more

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On the fringes of 2015, great experimental statements were made from Brooklyn bands, drone icons and one Academy Award winning actor.

Zs, 'Xe'

Zs, ‘Xe’

Brooklyn's tireless honk-grinders Zs have always sounded like the place where horrific skronk meets graph paper. However they've loosened up somewhat for their first album as a trio. This is underground rock playing at its most virtuosic and free enough to paint itself in an electroacoustic funhouse mirror. Patrick Higgins seems intent on getting every "wrong" sound out his electric guitar, painting in dry percussive tones, bursts of spasmodic Sightings electricity, jolts of aching plug-in or even some brief Buckethead cartoon shredding. Drummer Greg Fox is downright gymnastic, playing jazz on the Discordance Axis, hitting rubbery double strokes until his kit sounds like the Harlem Globetrotters warming up dribbles. Saxophonist Sam Hillmer distends and reverses himself into wet, expressive flapping and truly shines on the title track: Like James Chance asking his band to hit him 11 times, Hillmer soars as a clicky-clacky 6/8 meditation explodes into jazz-thrash outbursts.

Tyondai Braxton, 'Hive1'

Tyondai Braxton, ‘Hive1’

The squelches, squishes and jitters on the third album by Brooklyn composer and ex-Battles vocalist Tyondai Braxton flay similar nerves as noise-punks like Black Dice or electronic Dadaists like Autechre. But Braxton's work has the harsh, measured rhythmic discipline of 20th Century composers like Iannis Xenakis or Louis Andriessen, turning familiar rainbow squirts into an itchy, squiggly, polyrhythmic symphony. There's elements of dance music too thanks to the four-on-the-floor house beats of "Amlochly," but it's swirled in a neatly organized sputtering hurricane that's equal parts Terry Riley, Timbaland and Willy Wonka.

Liturgy, 'The Ark Work'

Liturgy, ‘The Ark Work’

The most ambitious art-rock statement of the year is an ecstatic jumble of disciplines, ideas and textures. Once a metal band (at least peripherally), the Brooklyn bluster-cullers of Liturgy still build with a blackened base coat of euphoric blastgaze. But on their third album, that's merely one ingredient in an intense mish-mash of future-minded concepts. You can imagine links to the synthetic horns blasting pastel scribbles from the vaporwave cassette underground and the monumental tone swells that earned John Luther Adams a Pulitzer Prize. Songs sputter and hiccup with disorienting digital processing — once a staple of chin-stroke-y "glitch techno," now a staple of big room "complextro" dubstep. The glockenspiels of mid-Aughts indie rock are recontextualized into shimmering walls; the triplet flows of mid-10s Southern rap are rethought as polyrhythmic alt-metal moans. Any cutting-edge contemporary movement seems up for grabs — and all aiming for some combination of transcendence and bloodshed.

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