It's difficult not to admire composers whose work is so recognizably fearless. French performer Bérangère Maximin produces recordings that are consistently — dramatically, even — outside of what most of us would recognize as the mainstream of electronic music.
Her new album, Frozen Refrains, captures a gifted artist at or at least near her creative peak. Since opening her own studio in 2008, Maximin has sat down next to John Zorn, Fred Frith, Christian Fennesz, Rhys Chatham and others. Frozen Refrains suggests it's exactly the company she belongs in. This new disc is difficult, complex and at times even unsettling. There are sounds on these seven tracks that will bother you, no question. But to the extent that you have a taste for the genuinely avant-garde, you will welcome these moments.
"Free Verse" begins the proceedings with what can only be described as Darth Vader in a deep sleep. We go next, seamlessly, into "Sky Contraction," which builds on the opener with harshly unmusical electronics. The intensity continues to build on the album's first major work, "Wax Melody." Featuring one of the most unpleasant sounds recorded this year — a kind of muffled drilling noise that repeats throughout much of the piece — it is by far the album's most demanding effort.
This isn't a criticism, though. Maximin has produced an extraordinary, inspired album; the fact that it's not an easy listen only adds to its appeal. (Independent)