Twelve Great Post-Rock / Psychedelic / Jazz / Avant-Garde / Experimental Albums That Are Perfect For Thinking About Life & Other Important Stuff

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, January 9, 2018 07:47pm | Post a Comment

By Michael Henning

This list is a bit eclectic musically, with a number of styles and genres represented. However, the albums here are held together by a common thread: they all contain music that is excellent for thinking. Sure, you can think while listening to pretty much anything, but these 2017 releases are guaranteed to take your mind on a journey through inner space. They will undoubtedly lead you to some interesting places, so check them all out and see where your mind goes... just close your eyes, relax, and float away on a cloud of sound.

Cornelius, Mellow Waves

12.  Cornelius - Mellow Waves (Warner Music Japan)

A triumphant return for this Japanese artist, his first new proper (non-soundtrack) album since 2006's Sensuous. As the title perhaps indicates, this new one finds him mellowing a bit, but his penchant for slightly skewed pop music is still here. Some odd time signatures lead to interesting places, and his distinctly Japanese sensibilities are on full display again. Overall, this is an enjoyable and pleasant ride through the universe of quirky electronic-tinged pop we are used to from him. Although it might not be his best record, it is a very strong effort, and it fares quite well when compared to his earlier masterpieces Fantasma and Point.
Do Make Say Think

11.  Do Make Say Think - Stubborn Persistent Illusions (Constellation)

Also returning after a bit of a hiatus, this Canadian quintet is back with another great album, their first since 2009. These Montreal post-rock stalwarts and Godspeed You! Black Emperor label mates show again why their formula continues to work nearly two decades later. They are masters of a certain type of progressive instrumental jam, milking the quiet to loud dynamic as good as anyone else, and with epic chord progressions to match. If you're a fan of any of their earlier works, you'll almost certainly enjoy this one too.
Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble, Return

10.  Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble - Return (Innova)

An excellent collection of works from three composers working in the realm between modern classical and ambient sound art. Intellectual without being highbrow, and very conducive to interesting thoughts. Very nice work in a variety of modern modes. Go deep with this one...


Ensemble Et Al

9.  ensemble, et al. - The Slow Reveal (Clandestine)

A propulsive journey with rhythm at the forefront, this Brooklyn band's second full-length release is a wonderful selection of highly groovy explorations featuring all kinds of percussion, from drums and shakers to vibraphones and glockenspiels. Some of the tunes hint at Gamelan music, while others bring to mind the heyday of their native Chicago post-rock scene legends Tortoise. If you miss the early albums by that band, or just enjoy rollicking drum jams, you should dig this.


Goodspeed You Black Emperor, Luciferian Towers

8.  Godspeed You! Black Emperor - Luciferian Towers (Constellation)

As always, GY!BE gives us an album with huge contrasts between languid beauty and wildly anthemic crescendos, all excellently navigated by the large Canadian ensemble that has yet to make a bad record. Here, they sound as energized as ever, and while this relatively concise statement offers little change to their trademark sound, it does feel more hopeful and positive than much of their previous work. Top notch sound quality, as always, and great track titles and liner notes. Thank you, based Godspeed!



7.  Esmerine - Mechanics of Dominion (Constellation)

Another great release from Monteral's now legendary Constellation label, this alternates between moody melancholy themes and crushing dynamic swells. Usually it's somewhere in the middle, with lovely interplay between cello or viola.... piano, guitar, drums, and percussion. Very cinematic in nature, this album sounds like it could be a score to a charming yet somewhat sad film by some artsy European director, but works equally well for the films behind your eyelids.


Bing & Ruth

6.  Bing & Ruth - No Home of the Mind (4AD)

After a couple of nice albums on RVNG, this Brooklyn ensemble release their first album for 4AD, and the step up suits them well. Their "chamber ambient" sound encompasses a number of styles, a delicate and intricate melange of quietly cinematic beauty. Led by supple, organic piano motifs and with a handful of other instruments as ornamentation, these pieces are great for getting to an inner world or simply enhancing the outer one.


Hauschka, What If

5.  Hauschka - What If (Temporary Residence)

A masterful album by this German pianist, and one which inhabits the unique intersection between film score, ambient electronics, and avant-classical minimalism. Taking the formula that has served him well through his previous albums, he creates a fascinating soundworld using little more than a piano and some electronic machine rhythms. He utilizes mostly simple harmonic structures and a magical sort of minimalist repetition with polyrhythmic variation, building a series of cinematic mini-epics that sound absolutely wonderful and help spirit you away to another place.

4.  Colleen - A Flame, My Love, A Frequency (Thrill Jockey)

Eschewing her trademark viola da gamba this time around, Colleen creates a beguiling set of electronic songs and vignettes using a small assortment of analog synthesizers. Some tracks are instrumental, with percolating bubbles of synth sounding a bit like an underwater odyssey of sorts. Others feature her delicate, breathy vocals, lending an intimacy to these recordings that makes them feel very wintry. Overall a very nice record, and great to see her reaching for and succeeding in mapping out new horizons within her always-magical oeuvre.


Bitchin Bajas, Fresh

3.  Bitchin' Bajas - Fresh (Drag City)

Don't let the name scare you away! Bitchin' Bajas are one of Chicago's finest bands, and they're back with another 2xLP / 2xCS romp through their continuously expanding universe. Mixing kosmische electronics and new age drones with loose jazz aesthetics and avant-classical minimalism is harder than one would imagine, but these guys do it perfectly, generating nearly 80 minutes of wildly adventurous music in the process. There is a certain sprawling feeling to much of the work here, and these mostly long-duration tracks may not be for everyone, but open-minded journeyers with an ear for the aforementioned styles will find much to enjoy. Their cover of Sun Ra's "Angels and Demons at Play" is a real treat too.
Joe Henderson, The Elements

2.  Joe HendersonThe Elements (Fantasy)

Newly reissued on vinyl for the first time since it was originally released in 1974, this amazing, organic jazz album features an all-star cast including Alice Coltrane, Charlie Haden, Michael White, and Kenneth Nash. There are four pieces, one for each of the four elements: Fire, Air, Earth, and Water. They match their namesakes beautifully, and the overall effect is perfectly balanced and harmonious. This is one of my favorite jazz records of all time, and the new pressing sounds amazing too! It's still available on CD too, so grab a copy on your preferred format today and groove to the sounds of this cosmic classic.
X.Y.R., Labyrinth

1.  X.Y.R. - Labyrinth  (Not Not Fun)

After several cassette-only releases, the somewhat prolific Russian synth wizard Vladimir Karpov makes his vinyl debut on LA's Not Not Fun imprint. Karpov is known for creating albums based on themes, and Labyrinth is fittingly dark and mysterious. Exotic, hazy electronic excursions that lead to dead ends and more curious corridors. Feel the visions calling you from inside the maze like the siren's song... oh, and X.Y.R. stands for Xram Yedinennogo Razmuwlenuja, which translates as "Temple Of Solitary Thought" in Russian. A fitting moniker for this music, which is absolutely perfect for taking journeys inside one's mind.


Relevant Tags

Hauschka (2), Bing & Ruth (1), Michael Henning (9), Esmerine (1), Jazz (143), Best Of 2017 (19), Post-rock (3), Avant-garde (6), Experimental (11), Cornelius (4), Do Make Say Think (1), Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble (1), Ensemble Et Al (1), Godspeed You! Black Emperor (4), Colleen (2), Bitchin' Bajas (1), Joe Henderson (1), X.y.r. (1)