Bec Plexus – Sticklip (New Amsterdam Records)
The debut solo album by Amsterdam’s Bec Plexus, “Sticklip” is a wildly imaginative romp through experimental pop sounds, heavily manipulated by electronics but with a substantial grounding in contemporary classical approaches. Most songs are based in voice and synthesizer structures, often supplemented with “real” drums and percussion. These tunes often get dense, complex with layers of information and shifting textures, but somehow they’re very catchy and compelling, too.
Horse Lords – The Common Task (Northern Spy Records)
This is the fourth official album from Horse Lords (they also have four “mixtapes” full of developmental works-in-progress), and “The Common Task” finds them continuing to refine their unique approach to music. The band works with microtonal stringed instruments, tuned to a Pythagorean temperament, and they build ecstatic structures out of minimalist-influenced repetitive patterns. What starts from minimal means often becomes quite maximal in effect, with complex interlocking polyrhythms and melodies redolent of Saharan Tuareg rock music.
Schnellertollermeier – 5 (Cuneiform Records)
This trio started out as more of a prog-influenced power trio, but with each passing album their music becomes more disciplined and more austere. “5” is a carefully composed and precisely performed album, heavy on the use of space, silence, and guitar harmonics that frequently has more in common with modern classical composition than the prog-rock one might expect to be played with guitar, bass, and drum kit. This features some of the most intricate rhythmic playing you’re likely to hear from any kind of ensemble.
Jobs – Endless Birthdays (Ramp Local)
Like Schnellertollermeier, Jobs is a band that started out making very different sounds than they are today. “Endless Birthdays” is another record made of intricate compositions, many of which carry a certain sense of asceticism: the arrangements are often lush, but there’s a kind of inward focus hanging over the record. Of particular note on this record is the percussion work of Max Jaffe, which is performed using a Sensory Percussion setup that allows for a sophisticated set of samples to be triggered by drumming. You’ll hear lots of rhythms here, but they aren’t associated with the usual sounds of a drum kit.
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion (Metal Blade Records)
French composer Gautier Serre has been producing unusual records under the Igorrr moniker for almost 15 years. Initially, his work was a playful juxtaposition of classical and baroque musical textures with the percussion assault of high-velocity IDM and breakcore music, which he wistfully referred to as “baroquecore.” Over time, he’s developed a larger audience for Igorrr, and the project has absorbed even more musical styles, including lots of metal music and Balkan and Roma influences. His latest album is the most ambitious Igorrr LP yet, a masterpiece of studio recording that features lots of guest performers from metal, classical, and progressive rock backgrounds, and songs that constantly surprise, delight, and frighten.
Neptunian Maximalism – Eons (I, Voidhanger Records)
The other records I’ve mentioned so far mostly trade in sophisticated composition. This one is almost the polar opposite of that: a nearly 3-hour mostly improvised set of music exploring the common ground between free jazz, psychedelic improvisation, drone, doom metal, and repetitious tribal percussion. “Eons” is a primal yet unpredictable romp in three movements dedicated to the Earth, the Moon, and the Sun,” and despite the extremes found in its influences, it’s a strangely compelling work that can sustain my full attention despite its sheer length.
Wendy Eisenberg – Auto (Ba Da Bing Records)
Eisenberg is well-known for creative guitar work, and for the dizzying intensity of their previous band, Birthing Hips. “Auto” draws upon Eisenberg’s phenomenal guitar playing, ranging from jazz to no-wave brutalism, and harnesses some of the rapid tempo and meter shifts in their earlier work, toward a more intimate, vulnerable set of songs. At its core, this is an album of great songwriting with poignant lyrics, but the creative arrangements take it to a whole other level of awesome.
Fire-Toolz – Rainbow Bridge (Hausu Mountain Records)
Angel Marcloid keeps making stunning albums under the Fire-Toolz moniker, and “Rainbow Bridge” somehow improves on the already amazing “Field Whispers (Into the Crystal Palace)” from the year before. This music shouldn’t work on the surface: combining cheesy 80s jazz fusion textures and black metal with moments of post-vaporwave and electroacoustic introspection sounds like a mess waiting to be cleaned up from the description, but by golly it works. In fact the more Weather Channel-sounding moments (and I mean to reference both the band and the actual channel) seem to tap into a kind of collective melancholy. You might think this music would work in an ironic way, but in fact it transcends irony altogether and becomes something new.
Brandon Seabrook Trio – Exultations (Astral Spirits Records)
Seabrook’s take on jazz often includes the most frantic, high-speed guitar playing you’re ever likely to hear (and sometimes similar flights of fancy on the banjo). In this trio setting with Gerald Cleaver on drums and Cooper-Moore on the Diddley Bow, a kind of 1-string bass instrument, he’s afforded a lot of room to work, and he uses it to great effect. There are certainly moments of bees-in-the-brain flurries, but the trio also knows how to play with space–what essentially serves as the title track, “Essential Exultations, sits at the middle of the album is is an almost ambient piece. And they can get downright funky in an Ornette free-funk kind of way, too. With some clear roots in the history of free jazz, this is fire music for modern fires.
More Eaze – Mari (Orange Milk Records)
Mari Maurice’s incredibly prolific More Eaze project continues to surprise, after somewhere around 20 albums in only five years. One can expect anything from modern classical to acoustic pop and many avant-garde electronic spaces in between on a More Eaze record, and this time around, Mari leans into very futuristic pop approaches, with percussion and synthesizer treatments that transport the music into a kind of unique, timeless space. Very dry, in-your-face production makes for an intimate experience, so even as you’re hearing the future unfold, it’s right there at arm’s reach.