Charles Spearin, Jon Hassell and Mountains Take Top Honours in Exclaim!'s Best Avant-Garde and Experimental Albums of 2009

Charles Spearin, Jon Hassell and Mountains Take Top Honours in Exclaim!'s Best Avant-Garde and Experimental Albums of 2009
As usual with Exclaim!'s end-of-year Destination Out list, there is no attempt to achieve consensus. Once again, we asked all our most frequent contributors to pick one album they really felt passionately about. This has always resulted in a balance of the musical elements represented within the section, with the best-of list travelling from the harshest noise to minimal ambience, and from absolutely obscure artists to those only one step removed from mainstream recognition.

Such is the case with Charles Spearin, whose The Happiness Project is streaming here on Exclaim.ca all week.

Best known as a member of Broken Social Scene, Spearin brings together many characteristics shared by this list with his Happiness Project. It's, naturally, an experimental work in which recorded voices of his neighbours' ruminations on the nature of happiness are orchestrated with brass, percussion and strings. The results follow the inherent musicality of the subjects' voices, and their moods and cadences are loudly amplified.

Spearin's project incorporates global influences in a much more comprehensive way than a simple mimicry of a culture's rhythms. These are aural pictures of individual personalities, incorporating cultural sensibilities, age-based outlooks, and differing perspectives on the acts of hearing and speaking. Another creative revision of culturally specific musical content is the improbable Bulgarian/Icelandic creation that is Storsveit Nix Noltes, who also made the year-end list.

Spearin is not the only Canadian entrant to be singled out in our best-of. Torontonians Jean Martin and Justin Haynes had one of the more original duo configurations of the year with uke and suitcase, while Viviane Houle also put out an amazing duo record with many Vancouver notables. And ex-Vancouverite Darcy James Argue continues to win fans in New York with his inimitable big band sound.

Mountains, Jon Hassell and Social Junk are not dissimilar in their missions to reimagine music technology as sound sculpture. And the G Spots compilation represents a more vintage perspective on experimentation, where synthesized experiments of the '60s are still fresh and surprising these days.

Despite the very different progeny of each of these artists, a mixtape is more than possible. Most of all, at the end of the decade, the dismissive adjective "weird" is less relevant than ever for experimental music - most Exclaim! readers are familiar with these kinds of sonic strategies through bands ranging from Do Make Say Think to Animal Collective. Take away some of those artists' beats and you can easily dive into the majority of the music on this list.

The Happiness Project by Charles Spearin will be streaming on Exclaim.ca until January 4.