So David Lynch’s album Crazy Clown Time is out this week, and unsurprisingly, it’s a rather strange piece of work (especially the title track, which finds Lynch whimpering “Suzy, she ripped her shirt off completely/ Then he poured the beer/ Then he poured the beer all over Sally” in a voice that sounds like a creepy child molester on way too much helium). Of course, you wouldn’t expect anything David Lynch-related to be any less than strange, and while Crazy Clown Time is suitably demented, it’s got not nearly weird enough to compete for a place in the pantheon of the all-time weirdest albums. Like the ones we’ve listed after the jump, for instance. They’re really weird.
Magma — Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh
We were roundly lambasted for leaving Magma out of our recent round-up of French bands you should know, despite specifying pretty clearly that we were referring to contemporary bands, not strange experimental prog ensembles founded in 1969. But never fear, Magma fans, we’re not going to omit them from this feature — there’s always a place in a weird album list for a freeform neo-classical piece that was inspired by a vision, is sung largely in an invented language and apparently tells the story of a group of evangelists from the planet Kobaïa visiting Earth to save us from destruction via worship of their supreme being. The music and concepts in Magma’s work are so out-there that they created an entire genre, dubbed zeuhl (which means “celestial” in Kobaïan, the language that Magma mastermind Christian Vander invented for the first Magma record and in which most of his lyrics are written).
Koenjihyakkei — Nivraym
The Japanese have quite a way with weird music — cf. Melt-Banana, The Boredoms, Zuinosin, and plenty of others — but if we had to pick one piece of weirdness from the land of the rising sun, it’d be this one. Apparently Koenjihyakkei’s music was somewhat inspired by Magma’s work, which makes sense in that both bands write lyrics in entirely invented languages, but really Nivraym sounds like pretty much nothing else. God only knows what goes on inside band main man Yoshida Tatsuya’s head, but it’s awesome.
Diamanda Galás — Plague Mass
As noted above, Crazy Clown Time is vaguely disconcerting in parts, but it’s positively PG-13 compared to the work of Diamanda Galás. We’ve written about The Litanies of Satan here in the past, and that’s certainly strange enough — but it was on her live album Plague Mass that Galás reached her weirdest and most terrifying. All together now: Unclean! Unclean! UNCLEAN!
Faust — Faust
1970s Germany was a breeding ground for all sorts of crazy musical ideas, but although Can, Neu!, Popul Vuh et al made some truly strange and wonderful music, none of them ever made anything remotely as deranged as Faust’s 1971 debut album. It consisted of three tracks, all unlike each other, and all unlike pretty much anything else. “Why Don’t You Eat Carrots?” was a rambling collage of music that veered from sound to sound with no apparent internal logic; “Meadow Meal” started as a kind of proto-industrial soundscape and devolved into a disconcerting mixture of gentle strings, hard-panned spoken word parts, and guitar wig-outs, while the closing “Miss Fortune” spanned 16 minutes and an indescribable panorama of sonic weirdness.
White Noise — An Electric Storm
Even weirder than Faust, however, was this record, made (almost unbelievably) three years earlier on the other side of the English channel. White Noise were a loose collective centered around classical bass player David Vorhaus — the initial incarnation of the group, which made this record, included, amongst others, Flavorpill fave and inspiration Delia Derbyshire. An Electric Storm is notable for using then-cutting edge tape splicing and manipulation techniques, and also for its use of the first Britsh-built synthesizer. But above all, it’s remembered for being reeaaaaally fucking strange. The title track sounds like an seven-minute field recording of a Satanic ritual, while elsewhere “My Game of Love” features the multi-layered sounds of recorded orgasms juxtaposed with a hippie-dippie proto folk tune, and “The Visitations” is 11 minutes of screams, strange synth effects and disconnected spoken word fragments. Even in 2011 it’s strange — God only knows what people must have made of it in 1968.
The Shaggs — Philosophy of the World
We discussed this album a while back in the context of strange and disturbing musical back stories, but the tale is worth revisiting here. The Shaggs comprised the four young daughters of one Austin Wiggins, who pulled them out of school and told them to start playing music after their grandmother had a palm reading indicating that her granddaughters would make up a popular musical group. The fact that the girls couldn’t play and had no desire to do so didn’t deter their would-be svengali father in the slightest, and the band duly released their one and only album — Philosophy of the World — in 1969. It was the sound of four ingenues creating their own musical world, with virtually no references to anything else that had gone on in music, well, ever. There are times when Philosophy of the World is almost unlistenable — but then, there are also times when it creates its own strange, singular beauty.
John Frusciante — Smile from the Streets You Hold
The story behind this isn’t so much strange as sad — Frusciante needed heroin money, so he made a record. But the record he made… good grief. It’s genuinely difficult listening, made at the depths of his god-awful addiction (catalogued in this similarly difficult-to-endure 1994 interview), the sound of a man so whacked that any semblance of restraint had disappeared — and as such, of all his solo records, it’s Smile from the Streets You Hold that functions as the most uninhibited and distressing window straight into his psyche. Which is a frightening place indeed.
Captain Beefheart — Trout Mask Replica
Even though it pretty much stiffed on release, Trout Mask Replica has ended up as probably the best-known, most critically acclaimed and biggest-selling “weird” album in rock ‘n’ roll history. None of this, of course, detracts from its abiding headache-inducing strangeness. The album’s strange musical landscape was largely inspired by what’d decades later be called beat-mixing — apparently one of Don Van Vliet’s friends was learning tape-splicing, and practiced by chopping together pieces of tape that had similar beats but different music, so as to improve the precision of his technique. Van Vliet listened to the tape and was hugely inspired by it, which probably explains this album’s manifold abrupt changes in mood and sound, as well as the cut-and-paste nature of the lyrics. The recording process, meanwhile, was harrowing — the album was made in what drummer John French later called a “cult atmosphere,” with Van Vliet often browbeating (and sometimes just beating) his musicians into submission. According to French, years later guitarist Bill Harkleroad (aka Zoot Horn Rollo) “had to run outside and collapse on his lawn — vomiting — from re-living the trauma” while writing his memoirs.
The Residents, generally
A few years back, The Residents headlined a festival called “What Is Music?” in this Flavorpill writer’s hometown. They were the perfect choice for such an event, as “What is music?” is a question they’ve been asking of audiences ever since they came together at a Louisiana high school in the mid-1960s. Their music has been pushing conceptual and musical boundaries for decades. And they’re still weird. Really weird.
Suckdog — Drugs Are Nice
Drugs are indeed nice. But they also make you record albums like this, a sort of concept album about (and simultaneously a record of) teenage sleepovers gone very, very wrong. Ye gods. Stay off the crack, kids.