A couple of months back, our own Kathleen Massara celebrated the release of Peter Nadas’s weighty novel Parallel Stories with a selection of 10 epic novels that we dared you to finish. Of course, this also got us thinking about equivalents in other art forms, whether it’s film (Charlie Kaufman’s interminable Synecdoche, New York springs to mind immediately), theater… or, inevitably, music. The history of music is full of albums that are awfully difficult to sit through in their entirety, whether it’s because they’re “difficult” or just because they’re damn long. So here are 10 albums we dare you to finish. Have you got any challenges for us?
Miles Davis — Bitches Brew
Look, no one is denying that Miles Davis was a genius. And even if he wasn’t a genre-inventing, era-defining jazz legend and all that, he’d still deserve a place in history on the strength of his rejoinder to Nancy Reagan when she asked him what he’d done to warrant being asked to the White House for dinner (“Well, I’ve changed the course of music five or six times — what have you done except fuck the President?”). But here’s the thing: genius or not, Bitches Brew gives us a headache. Yes, we know it’s the one Davis album that pretty much everyone considers compulsory listening, and that it pretty much invented jazz/rock fusion, and it’s a 20th-century masterpiece, and all that. But it still gives us a headache, and we have nothing but admiration for anyone who can do it in one sitting.
Throbbing Gristle — TG24
Speaking of doing albums in one sitting, Throbbing Gristle’s Chris Carter was so concerned about Guardian critic Alexis Petridis’s plan to listen to their entire 24-hour box set in one go that he telephoned him and tried to talk him out of it. Petridis wasn’t to be swayed, and did indeed manage to last through a whole day of Throbbing Gristle — we dare you to do the same, although we also hereby absolve ourselves of any and all responsibility for whatever may ensue as a result.
Lou Reed — Metal Machine Music
Oh come on, you’ve never sat through the whole thing. Look, it’s OK — neither have we.
Venetian Snares — Rossz Csillag Alatt Született
Samples of old songs, mixed with delicate neo-classical instrumentation… along with stomach-churning bass and ear-bleeding breakbeats. Come to think of it, this could have quite happily have featured on our recent selection of weird albums, but for now, let’s just say that sitting through 45 minutes of this — let alone making head or tail of what you’ve just listened to — is something of a challenge at the first time of asking. Particularly taxing is the third track, which is a reworking of Billie Holiday’s take on cheery suicide anthem “Gloomy Sunday” (you may also know Diamanda Galás‘s version of the same song) — it manages to be depressing and noisy at the same time. Woohoo!
Aphex Twin — Drukqs
Like Bitches Brew, this is definitely a work of some strange twisted genius — but like Bitches Brew, it’s also likely to catalyze the onset of a migraine. This was Richard D. James’s first release after the relatively radio-friendly “Windowlicker” single, and it was no doubt an almighty shock to any of the casual fans he might have acquired via that song and the glorious video that accompanied it. Even to hardcore glitch-lovin’ types, 30 tracks and 100 minutes of Aphex Twin is… well, you have to be in the mood, put it that way. Drukqs isn’t all head-melting electronic apocalypse — there are some really quite beautiful moments throughout the record — but James’s music comes from such a completely different dimension that trying to absorb so much of it in one go can be completely overwhelming.
The Flaming Lips — Zaireeka
This isn’t so much an album we dare you to finish as an album we dare you to start — sadly, we’ve never had the equipment (or, to be honest, the inclination) to get four CD stereos into one one room and then hit “Play” on all four simultaneously. This kid on YouTube, however, has done all the work for us. Bless him. (If it still all sounds too difficult, you can just listen to the band’s recent 24-hour song instead.)
Ergo Phizmiz — The Faust Cycle
Right, no more messing around with “difficult” albums here — this is just long. All of 15 hours long, in fact. It’s the work of one Ergo Phizmiz, who describes himself as a “composer, artist, writer, DJ and collagist,” all skills he puts to use in his epic retelling of Goethe’s Faust. If you’re game, the entire thing is downloadable for free via Phizmiz’s website. Good luck.
Terre Thaemlitz — Soulnessless
But even The Faust Cycle pales in comparison to Minnesota techno boffin Terre Thaemlitz’s ongoing magnum opus, which is still in production but so far comprises 30 hours of music, along with video and “a book’s worth of writings.” As Thaemlitz’s website points out, in this post-CD era, the length of an album is really only limited by the artist’s imagination, and he’s let his own creative energies run riot here. When it’s finally finished, Soulnessless will be provided on an 8GB SD card — and if the idea of 30 hours of music doesn’t sound intimidating enough, consider that Thaemlitz is describing this album as a collection of “multifarious critical analyses that dissect the intersections of gender, spirituality, and commercial audio production.” Crikey. For now, we dare him to finish it — and once it’s done, we dare anyone else to do the same. (Sadly, there’s none of the album on YouTube as yet, so we’ve embedded “Fat Chair” from his classic 1994 ambient record Tranquilizer instead.)
The Magnetic Fields — 69 Love Songs
Yes, there really are 69 of them. Of course, just like novels, not all long albums are necessarily difficult listening, and 69 Love Songs pretty much flies by — it’s a genuine pleasure to listen to, both because of Stephin Merrit’s arch lyricism and because the music is also great. But still, 69 songs in one go is a big ask in anyone’s language, unless you’ve got a long drive or a trans-Atlantic flight ahead of you.
Oneida — Rated O
It’s not as epic as the eight-hour set they did at ATP this year, but unless a live recording of the Ocropolis comes to light, then fans will have to amuse themselves with this triple-LP opus from a couple of years back. And if you close your eyes and imagine you’re in a dimly lit bowling alley in a weird town on the Jersey Shore, it’s almost like being there!