By Exclaim! StaffGiven the diversity and depth of the improv and avant-garde scene, instead of ranking and rating releases, we've asked regular contributors to discuss their favourite 2011 albums from the far corners of the scene. Enjoy the last list of our best albums below, and stay tuned for our list of Most Unappreciated Albums of 2012 to come.
Exclaim!'s Best Albums of 2012: Improv and Avant-Garde:
Bersarin Quartett II (Denovali)
Despite the misleading name, Bersarin Quartett represents the work of one Thomas Bücker, a composer from Münster, Germany. Bücker launched this project in 2006, and released a self-titled debut in early 2008, an album focused on the balance of cinema, the balance of good and evil, of struggle and triumph as projected through its score. After fleshing the solo effort out into a trio and touring a bit, Bücker returned to the studio last year, alone again, to record its follow-up. Time and experience appear to have worked their magic, as II radiates a profoundness toward which its eponymous predecessor only hinted, by comparison. The debut was much brighter and more beat-driven. While clearly well composed, it lacked the brooding subtlety of II. Yet, there is a clear sense of wonder about this sequel, with its sparse melodies shifting between uplifting and contemplative moods. Hints of beats swell up here and there, but rather than being the core of the music, they end up being smoothed over by fragments of strings, piano, and synthetic tone. In effect, the beats end up playing more of a textural role than one of obvious meter, though there is always an underlying sense of forward momentum, of an inevitable destination. Its elusive feeling is like that of a calm stream, constantly flowing and unraveling even when it appears nothing much is happening, hard to pin down but not purposefully obtuse. Imagine a less jazzy Cinematic Orchestra, a less doomy Bohren & Der Club Of Gore, or a less sluggish Raime, and you're almost there. Alan Ranta
Femminielli Double Invitation (Desire)
The music of Bernardino Femminielli exists in a parallel dimension, billowing from the sound system of the kosmische discotheque. Recent years have seen the Montreal mainstay hone his sound and performance into an absolute powerhouse, as documented on releases from Hobo Cult, Fixture, Robert & Leopold or his own imprint, Los Discos Enfantasmes. Now, stretched across a debut LP from France's Desire, he has delivered his opus. Double Invitation is a sinister aphrodisiac of crystalline soundscapes, scorched prog guitars and lascivious whispers delivered in Femminielli's native Spanish. Taking on a variety of telenovela-inspired personas, he switches from leather-bound bad boy to denim-decked hero to debonair devil in a slick white suit. "Actriz" sets the scene with misted electronics before a chorus of ghostly vocals and a climax from the silver-painted veins of Harald Groskopf. The album continues to strut between tension and release on the title track's sleeping state coda and the '80s sci-fi intensity of "A Que Quieres Jugar," previously plucked from the fantastic Electric Voice compilation. Yet the undeniable peak is 13-minute monolith "Performance Video," blasting off from a motorik pulse into robotic grooves a la Giorgio Moroder or, better yet, Black Devil Disco Club. "El Ultimo Tango Para Mi" drifts into the chill-out room with ASTAR manning the bar, before axe-shredder Asaël Robitaille lets loose with a solo that could make you re-evaluate Pink Floyd. Finally, immaculate closer "Chauffeur" brings it back to the seedy streets of a neon dystopia. Jesse Locke