A Selection of Musicians Who Reliably Defy Expectations

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Music lovers, rejoice — the new Liars album is out! If you’ve missed our earlier raves about it, suffice it to say that WIXIW (it’s pronounced “wish you,” incidentally) is one of the best things we’ve heard all year, and we’re very, very excited about it. It’s also the latest creative left turn for a band whose history has been full of them — if Liars’ career has been characterized by anything, it’s unpredictability. This is, of course, one of the reason we like them so much — bands whose sound varies radically from record to record are few and far between, but there are some great such groups operating today. Here’s a selection of our favorites.

Liars

It’s easy to forget that Liars didn’t seem that interesting when they emerged as part of the nascent Lower East Side scene of the early 2000s — their debut album They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top was certainly good, but if anything, it was the fact that Angus Andrew was dating Karen O that put Liars on many people’s radar. Since then, however, they’ve outstripped their contemporaries further with every album, each of which has been radically different from its predecessor.

Goldfrapp

Rather like Liars, Goldfrapp’s 2000 debut Felt Mountain was a fine piece of work, but hardly hinted at the creative rollercoaster that the duo would be riding over the next decade. Alison Goldfrapp certainly caught everyone by surprise when she abandoned the downtempo stylings of her debut and started humping theremins for Black Cherry, and again a few years later with the gentle pastoral sounds of Seventh Tree. Head First was relatively uninteresting by comparison — but still, we’ll be fascinated to see what she does next.

Ween

We may be stretching our definitions here, since Gene Ween has basically said that Ween are no longer a functioning band, but still, we’d feel remiss not mentioning them. For 25 years, Ween have made a career out of gleefully torpedoing critical expectations, releasing everything from twisted pop music (most of the criminally underrated Quebec) through spaghetti Western epics (“Buenos Tardes, Amigos”) and country music (10 Golden Country Greats) to the flat-out bewildering likes of “The HIV Song.” They will be missed.

Matthew Herbert

A concept record about food production in the 21st century? An album made from the sounds of a pig’s life from birth to death? A track built around the sound of 74 condoms being dragged across a floor? Matthew Herbert’s work isn’t exactly always easy listening, but it’s always fascinating, and you genuinely never quite know what he’s going to do next.

Radiohead

You could argue that Radiohead have found their groove over the last decade — brooding Warp-influenced electronic textures, basically — but then again, you never know. If nothing else, the two great creative shifts that defined their career — the leap from Pablo Honey to The Bends and OK Computer, and the even greater leap from those albums to Kid A and Amnesiac — should suggest that you should never really take anything for granted with Thom Yorke et al.

The Flaming Lips

Wayne Coyne and his band seem to delight in being as whimsical as possible these days, whether it’s emerging from a giant vagina on stage, releasing albums in gummy bear skulls, or recording with Ke$ha. Although maybe the “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” video was a bridge too far, eh?

Dev Hynes

Remember Test Icicles? Their brattish charm was endearing enough, but it didn’t exactly hint at career longevity. So it has proven for Rory Attwell and Sam Mehran, but against the odds, Dev Hynes has developed into one of the more interesting characters in music today. His most recent project — Coastal Grooves, released under the name Blood Orange — was one of the overlooked pleasures of 2011, and he’s apparently been working with Jay-Z of late.

Damon Albarn

We discussed Albarn’s remarkable versatility a few weeks back, so we won’t go over old ground here, save to say that a man who can be recording in Mali one week and making an opera the next is A-OK as far as we’re concerned.

Kate Bush

She doesn’t release a whole lot of music, but when it does come time for a new Kate Bush album, you basically have no idea what you’re going to get until you hit “play.” This, obviously, is a Very Good Thing. It’s something of an indictment on the music industry that there’s basically no way a precocious 18-year-old would be able to commence a viable career in 2012 with a song about Emily Brontë and a video that featured her interpretive dancing on a heath.

Genesis P-Orridge

Yes, we think that getting breast implants and attempting to merge with your lover into one pandrogynous entity qualifies as “unpredictable.” Frivolous quips aside, though, P-Orridge is a genuine inspiration — a remarkable talent, and, from Throbbing Gristle to Psychic TV and beyond, one of the most fascinating characters the music industry (or, y’know, the planet) has ever seen.