Last year's assortment of experimental/alt-classical/unclassifiably weird new releases received a succinct two-word comment from reader Outa-Spaceman: "Astonishing stuff!" Like last year's roundup, these are new(ish) commercial releases that are well worth your hard-earned dollars/francs/pounds/heads-of-cattle/etc., with album moods ranging from Carton Sonore's charming toy-pop and the krazy kovers of Hanna Peel and Misfit Toys, to chin-stroking Afro-tronica and new avant-chamber music; from modern-day high holy masses to Neon Lushell's creepy "No Religion" - we're covering a lot of territory. And when was the last time you heard music performed entirely on beer bottles? Prepare to be astonished!
1. Paddy Steer - "A. Welson Senior II": reader Phil C. hepped me to this Mancunian cat with this description: "He's a crazy one man moog/ glockenspiel/drumkit band with a penchant for paper maché robot/creature heads. I saw him at a tiny little festival a couple of years ago (he was on after the band I was with) and it was the best and strangest thing I've ever seen. For the whole of his set I felt like I was having an acid flashback." One of the best albums I've heard in recent years. Was very hard to pick representative tracks, they're all doubleplus good. Watch the vids on his label site!
2. Misfit Toys - "Alone Again Naturally": from the ridiculously entertaining debut album "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is," a mad collection of '70s covers performed on banjo, bowed banjo (?!), marimba, oboe and clarinet, among others, radically reinventing Stevie Wonder, Chicago (as you may have guessed by the album title), Tony Orlando and Dawn, Black Sabbath, Talking Heads, the Gilbert O'Sullivan song featured here, and more. Transcends novelty, but still a must for any Maniacs' party.
3. Neon Lushell - "Black Confetti": I really liked these Midwesterners debut "Modern Purveyors of Filth and Degradation" and their new one (to be released Oct 8) is just as good - two-discs bulging with experimental ambient evil, as dark as goth or metal but without those genres' kitschy cliches.
4. Mammane Sani et son Orgue - "Bodo": hypnotic '70s Space-Age organ instrumentals from Niger, Africa; who knew such things existed?
5. Gunnelpumpers - "Bottley Functions": The six musicians of this Chicago-based avant/improv group perform here only on beer bottles. From their new one,"Montana Fix."
6. Gunnelpumpers - "Buffalo Jump": groovy percussion with three double-basses; that's like, what, 6 basses total? (boom-tish!)
7. Hannah Peel - "Electricity" - Peel's splendid 4 song EP "Rebox" performs '80s hits by Soft Cell, New Order, Cocteau Twins, and the song featured here, OMD, on sampled antique music box. May be corny as hell, but I love it.
8. Phil Kline - "John the Revelator - Sanctus": We reviewed this NYC composer's Christmas music for massed boom-boxes previously, and reader James C. recommended the Catholic inspired "John The Revelator;" the eclectic music sometimes doesn't immediately suggest a mass, tho it does get a bit Gregorian at times; quite lovely.
9. Kurosounds - "Manège d'éléphants": Fantastic hypnogogic ambient soundscapes; looped delayed instruments echo rhythmically as dreamy sound effects drift in and out; owes as much to psychedelic dub as it does to Minimalism.
10. Bruce Cropley - "March Into April": This Aussie's excellent album "Modal Podal" is almost all instrumental, exploring a wide variety of styles that aren't necessarily all that weird; which makes it all the more unique - he's not afraid of risking his avant credentials by throwing some perfectly pleasant jazz fusion-type stuff in with the almost Zappa-like quirkiness; makes one realize how even "strange" "experimental" music can be predictably formulaic.
11. Bruce Cropley - "Modal Podal": Copley's is also the man behind the super-swell "Quirky Music" on-line radio station
12. Juan Blanco - "Musica para Danza": Was I surprised to find this album in my PO box - "Nuestra Tiempo" is a retrospective of Cuba's electronic music pioneer, Juan Blanco. Cuban electronica? As in, with those infectious Latin rhythms? Yes, on one almost 14 minute -long track. The rest of the album doesn't offer much mamboing, just tasty analog bloopiness, like this track from 1961, the very first piece of electronic music ever recorded in Cuba, available for the first time.
13. Tino Contreras - "Santo": Perhaps not as historically startling as the Blanco album, but "El Jazz Mexicano de Tino Contreras" is another worthy reexamination of an overlooked Latin American artist from decades past; this one unexpectedly veers from psych Afro-Latinisms to exotic international styles, to such oddities as numerous tracks from his groovy '60s a-Go-Go Catholic mass, like the track featured here that mashes up Latin (in the original sense of the word) chanting with Brubeck-esque cool jazz and sleazy electric organ. Que pasa?!
14. Paddy Steer - "Stun phlogiston"
15. Carton Sonore - "The Mexican Roads": The latest from France's adorable "naive music" toy-pop maestro.