Musical Fridays: As Weird as It Gets
by Richard Southard
So in these past weeks, I’ve always tried to include one (maybe two) outlandish suggestion in each category. Sometimes, their stranger aspects have been more subtle (such as some of the electronic albums). At other moments, I’ve suggested albums that I know will likely be a turn-off to many people (such as Swans’ To Be Kind). Last week, doing the post about genres has inspired me to further down the rabbit hole and suggest some of the most unusual (but still good) albums I’ve come across.
There’s always been something about the stranger music genres that has fascinated me. Ever since discovering Merzbow’s Pulse Demon, I’ve been searching for more subgenres and styles that manage to catch my interest, despite their clear departure from conventions. When I say “departure”, I don’t mean that they just take a different sound from the norm. In the case of Pulse Demon, sound is more of means of harsh noise and raw energy, as the album is a collection of aggressive arrangements of static.
While I’m not trying to damage ears, I am trying to offer something that might surprise or captivate. With that, I think a lot of them are better shown than told. So, buckle up, and let’s take a look.
Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls
Since I mentioned noise music in the introduction of this post, I knew I had to drop at least one album of it. However, unlike Pulse Demon, Frozen Niagara Falls presents itself as a far more accessible noise album than most. One aspect that shines is Prurients overall diversity with the style. “Myth of Burning Bridges” is a interesting inclusion of static overlays and sci-fi-esque synths, while “Dragonflies to Sew You Up” sounds more like a industrial metal track with its vocals. But my favorite has to be “Greenpoint”, a atmospheric track with a chilling, yet desolate sounding progression. Give it a chance, and you might find something to like (or love, for that matter).
Tim Hecker – Virgins
I suggested Tim Hecker’s Ravedeath, 1972 in the previous electronic post, but I think Virgins is a album I enjoy better overall. The first track “Prism” is a good example of the more chaotic moments of the album, but I don’t think it sells it as a whole as well as it should. Tim Hecker’s use of piano sounds is what I find most unique here. The gorgeous “Black Refraction” is repetition at its finest, while “Virginal I” and “II” are both stunning symphonies of overlapped sequences.
Comets On Fire – Field Recordings From the Sun
When I first read the title of this, I thought it was going to just be field recordings. But what it really is a crazy cross between noise rock and psych-rock. It’s chaotic, yet very dynamic. It manages to consistently surprise me even after listening to it a few times. “The Unicorn” is a nice, shorter interlude between the other longer, more epic tracks. But the entire album is an experience. It’s probably the most “psychedelic” psych-rock album I’ve ever heard (if that makes sense).
Sunn 0))) – Monoliths and Dimensions
I wanted to include this one to show how strange doesn’t always need to mean chaotic or noisy. Monoliths and Dimensions is a drone metal album (sometimes called “drone doom”, I suppose) where long, deep notes make up much of the tracks instrumentals. The album never uses drums. Instead, it sometimes makes use of distant, dark-ambient sounds to accompany the guitars. I also cannot talk about the album without mentioning the vocals; they are deep, more so than the guitars, and they set a grim, almost haunting tone throughout the tracks. Also, look at that album artwork. It describes the album excellently; dark, large, grim, but also captivating.
Captain Beefheart – Trout Mask Replica
I tried to avoid this one. When I was struggling to pick a fifth album to round out this list, it kept coming to mind. And I kept pushing it out. But then I realized that there was no album that I’ve encountered that’s more strange and puzzling than this. The vocals are wild, unpredictable, and sometimes ridiculous. The instrumentals seem just about improvised, being seemingly devoid of any structure or consistency. The overall style seems to borrow from eight or nine others, creating a sound that I cannot begin to classify with words. I’m not even sure if I like it. But hearing it, I couldn’t help but be drawn to how polarizing it was. After hearing a number of outlandish and “inaccessible” albums, I thought I couldn’t be surprised by many sounds anymore. Not only did this one manage to surprise, it confused, challenged, and left me wordless. Again, look at that album cover. Can you make sense of that?
I understand that “weird” can be quite subjective, and for that reason, I’m sure that there are plenty of albums that could be called stranger. If anything, I think that shows that the world of music is much crazier than one might believe. The word “music” is open to many interpretations. As John Cage said: “Art is whatever you can get away with.”
Whether or not you enjoy one of the suggestions here, I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey. Thanks for the read, and I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.