Houston's Five Best Experimental/Noise Records of 2014

B L A C K I E's Imagine Yourself... called out racist cops before the recent police-involved killings in Ohio and New York City.
B L A C K I E's Imagine Yourself... called out racist cops before the recent police-involved killings in Ohio and New York City.
Photo by Marco Torres

5. P.L.X.T.X., P.L.X.T.X./Spathic split tape "Check!" yells like a sound of an alarm clock reminding us that being awake is simply not enough; awareness and action are integral parts of our human existence. And "Slumber Youth" chokes and shakes you out of indifference. Chants of "Fuck you! Fuck this! Fuck everyone!" lurch forward with vitriol.

P.L.X.T.X.'s sound rips away the vestiges of Atari Teenage Riot and Aphex Twin's spurious breakbeats of the mid-'90s. By embracing the vocabulary of past masters instead of reinventing it, Bradley Munoz closely examines the sonic trajectory of the future through meticulous use of noise as accents and gates as shallow breaths.

Three songs spanning just over 15 minutes, the split tape includes "HAHAHAHA," Spathic's P.L.X.T.X remix, plus "5 a.m. Instrumental," which resonates as if it permanently on repeat. Aware and inventive are rare characteristics in music today -- here's hoping that P.L.X.T.X can continue to develop and maintain those traits in the future.

Jandek performing at Mango's in 2012
Jandek performing at Mango's in 2012
Photo by Jim Bricker

4. Jandek, Ghost Passing Six CDs that are each one hour long, Ghost Passing features six separate fantasies, each a song of regret, woven together by stretches of hazy narratives with piano and Theremin, as beams of light barely pierce through the clouds with resolutions arrived at through reflection and suffering. Lines like "Now I have some steps to take/ And I couldn't change it if I wanted/ So I'll take those steps/ And I'll look back and see you/ And beacon that you walk my way" painfully echo mistakes that memory zooms in on with precision.

Listening feels like watching a videotape of an embarrassingly shameful scene over and over, hoping that the end result will change. These are Jandek's blues, and with the once-reclusive elder statesman facing the twilight of his existence, he is unwaveringly taking mortality head-on.

Houston's Five Best Experimental/Noise Records of 2014

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3. Tanner Garza, I Can Do It 4 Yor Hear T The sound of dissolution at the end of the world, a last hymn and prayer before the crisis is unflinchingly confronted. The loops and phrases awaken the ability to endure past the ache of the past. "Rock Island Ave." creates a tension but never provides a release. "Summer Haziness" picks up where "Rock Island Ave." leaves off, but like a lover who cannot let go even though the relationship disintegrated long ago; it is the sound of trying to push someone away while lacking the physical strength to do so.

Uncompromisingly, "Remembrance" claws deeply into a recurring nightmare that adds more rooms to an already unsettling ambient setting. With the patience of a monk tortured by the logic of suffering, Garza's compositions never find the peace they seeks. Even when the songs are over.

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2. Cop Warmth, Womanizer Jack Gomez's growl, filled with a rabid froth, takes prisoners only for its own amusement. His shouts scatter like shrapnel and embed themselves in places where they cannot be removed. Just over 15 minutes long, Cop Warmth's punk masterpiece belongs alongside their forbearers Brown Paper Dog and Rusted Shut.

Noise skillfully sculpted so sharply that each track provides a different abrasion, the band's relentless pressure never lets up. "Selena," the standout song, reveals Cop Warmth's effort to fold cacophony into carefully carved structures. And as the album ends, the closest thing to a confessional surfaces only to be forced back down into the water until the very last air bubble pops.

Houston's Five Best Experimental/Noise Records of 2014

1. B L A C K I E, Imagine Yourself in a Free and Natural World In a year underscored by gross racial injustices, from a cosplaying 12-year-old kid in Cleveland gunned down by a reactionary cop to Eric Garner's last gasp for mercy, Imagine Your Self in a Free and Natural World emerges as the soundtrack of a society that is choking on its own catharsis. Unapologetic, it bends the listener's will by the ear, pointing out fires set by those too often ignored.

Abandoning any previous formulas, B L A C K I E embraces elements of bebop and free jazz while crafting phrases and cadences unheard anywhere else in rap music. The album's climax, "Cry, Pig!", captures the essence of Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite and releases all frustration from its decrepit cage. Except where Abbey Lincoln's wordless vocals emanated frustration, B L A C K I E says today what she couldn't then with the same frustration and the resistance to accept "no" for an answer.

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