Like the seminal Swans album, this column contains an eclectic collection of experimental music recommendations, all of which provide sonic landscapes for the listener to lose themselves within. Expect offerings from the genres of ambient, drone, electroacoustic, free improvisation, post-minimalism and more.
While certainly not the most experimental decade for music to date (that would be now), the 70s spawned some of the most vital microcosms of forward-thinking musical ideas, the reverberations of which have touched on a myriad of modern genres. Krautrock, in particular, evolved from a group of bizarre German bands contorting psychedelic rock in the late 60s into a predominant school of composition for much of the following decade. It’s difficult to imagine a slew of electronic music and rock subgenres existing without the influence of krautrock’s boundaryless approach to songcraft, even if the underlying genre itself has faded from the prominence it once enjoyed.
Still, no genre is ever fully dead, and modern bands like Aluk Todolo, Circle, Föllakzoid and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard have either embraced the genre’s framework or used its defining elements of psychedelia, repetition, space and experimentalism to some degree. Like any style of music, quality is always available if you’re willing to look; the Sacred Bones Records roster alone offers two excellent examples of krautrock aesthetics in action, being Föllakzoid and now Vive la Void. With her self-titled solo debut, Moon Duo keyboardist Sanae Yamada has produced a stunning, contemplative combination of krautrock and space rock elements with a progressive electronic foundation, resulting in seven soundscapes defined by immediate appeal and endless furrows to unravel.
One of the best aspects of young takes on hallmark genres is the ability for artists to guide established, celebrated sounds along an invigorating new path. Vive la Void is a perfect example of this formula in action. Yamada’s approach to progressive electronic imagines a scenario where Spiritualized and Tangerine Dream were tasked with co-producing a sci-fi thriller directed by John Carpenter. With just modular synth, obscured vocals and bouncing rhythms, Yamada creates expansive soundscapes from relatively simple ingredients. On opener “Matter,” she conjures swirling cosmos with nothing but synth textures, weaving driving pulses with soaring melodies and flittering blips and accents. While the track sets the overarching tone of the album, Yamada hardly stays on the same course from track to track. “Death Money” is the closest we’ll ever hear to Massive Attack playing dance-punk, while “Smoke” immediately shifts the mood to a slick, infectious groove surrounded by funky dissipating melodies. “Devil” and “Atlantis” provide a powerful final one-two punch for the record; “Devil” fleshes out cascading melodies across the album’s longest runtime before fading into “Atlantis,” a tranquil foray into ambient music bookended by bursts of industrial noise. It’s the perfect sendoff for an album defined by an eclectic voice and eyes set on a limitless horizon.
Solo albums are often used as opportunities to explore either adjacent or completely different styles from an artist’s main project, to varying degrees of success. Vive la Void is cut from the same cloth as Moon Duo but sewn with fine, vibrant threads. Yamada has produced a phenomenal debut record, and she clearly has a bright future as a solo artist. Fans or newcomers of the aforementioned genres will find an album bursting at the seams with exciting ideas that prove krautrock’s lasting influence is still informing exceptional modern acts and enhancing ancillary genres. And with the resurgence of retro electronic subgenres, there likely couldn’t have been a better time for Yamada to release such a high-quality ode to the synthesizer as an endless canvas for imaginative compositions.