As the 2010s have begun to wind down, I’ve started to reflect on what this decade will mean to me in terms of its music. For many reasons, I hope that it’ll chiefly be remembered for the wealth of reissues and archival material it produced. The countless number of rare, obscure, or unpublished music that came out was a constant reminder that there’s much to explore beyond the established canons we’ve inherited from critics and tastemakers of yesteryear. In a time when it’s tempting to hear music without knowledge of its context or musical lineage, these releases were very much welcome for often providing detailed liner notes and backstories of hidden histories. They were, without question, an invaluable component in the growing visibility of non-white, non-cis, and non-male artists throughout the 2010s.
Indeed, when I think about my favorite releases of the year so far, many of them are from decades past: Marvin Gaye’s You’re the Man, June Chikuma’s Les Archives, Virginia Magidou’s I Was Born a Badass Chick, Max Rambhoujan’s self-titled 12”, Jeff Majors’s For Us All (Yoka Boka), and many more. When thinking about my favorite new music coming out, a lot of it isn’t stuff that I’d say is best judged by the standards of a longplayer—rap, dance music, pop from around the world. A lot of publications will close out the decade with lists that nevertheless highlight albums. These will be incomplete retellings of our recent past.
These lists will also inevitably exclude several experimental records. One shouldn’t necessarily expect publications to be focusing on such music, but it will seem glaringly obvious in a time when there seems to be a homogenization of taste across many websites and magazines. The experimental music that will get championed will be of a few particular varieties (namely, various strands of ambient music, forward-thinking dance music, and art pop). All of this is to say that my hope for this column is simple: I want to provide a wider scope in coverage of experimental music being made today.
Despite my intentions with this list, I’ll be the first to tell you that my tastes are rather specific, and that the stress of current times makes certain experimental music more enticing than others. Last year, my favorite album was Melaine Dalibert’s Musique pour le lever du jour, a lush piano piece that I looked to as a source of comfort. François Morellet, a French painter and sculptor who influenced Dalibert, once stated, “I chose geometry because of its neutrality, the system, that would make me restrict the arbitrary nature of my decisions.” It was a self-imposed removal of self, done to highlight the innate power and beauty of art. The 25 records below don’t all follow the same line of thinking, but I do believe that they provide listening experiences that can remind people of music’s vast capabilities.