10 Albums Recorded in Fascinatingly Exotic Locations

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Piramida, the new album by Danish five-piece Efterklang, is out this week. The album continues Efterklang’s march away from the experimental weirdness of their early recordings toward a more conventional sound, and it’s also a pretty somber-sounding piece of work — perhaps because it’s based on field recordings that the band took in a crazy-looking abandoned mining town in the Arctic Circle. Indeed, the backstory to Piramida is pretty fascinating, and it got us thinking about albums that were recorded in similarly exotic locales. We’ve put together a selection, and as ever, we’re open to suggestions. (Just please for the love of god don’t mention Bon Iver and his damn cabin.)

Efterklang – Piramida

Recorded in… an abandoned Russian mining town

Efterklang’s new record takes its name from an abandoned town in the Arctic, way up to the north of Norway, where the band took a whole heap of field recordings that they used in this record. By the look of the trailer above, it was a pretty amazing trip, although we’re not sure we’d have been going feet-first into that terrifying-looking pipe.

Sigur Rós – ( )

Recorded in… a swimming pool

It sounds like it was recorded on top of some majestic Icelandic glacier, but in fact Sigur Rós created the crazy widescreen acoustics that characterize ( ) by recording the album in a drained swimming pool. They converted the pool into a full-blown studio, and it now goes by the name Sundlaugin (which in Icelandic means, yes, “The Swimming Pool”).

Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral

Recorded in… Sharon Tate’s mansion

In a not even remotely cheesy move, Trent Reznor decided the best place to record Nine Inch Nails’ tribute to misanthropy was the house where Sharon Tate was murdered by Charles Manson and his cult of murderous lunatics. Tastefully, Reznor called the studio “Le Pig,” a reference to the message Manson scrawled on the front door in Tate’s blood, and set up camp there for some 18 months. Apparently he only thought deeply about the merits of the idea when he was confronted by Tate’s sister Patti, who asked him if he was exploiting the actress’s death: “I realized for the first time, ‘What if it was my sister?’ I thought, ‘Fuck Charlie Manson.’ I don’t want to be looked at as a guy who supports serial-killer bullshit… It made me see there’s another side to things, you know? It’s one thing to go around with your dick swinging in the wind, acting like it doesn’t matter.”

Einsturzende Neubaten – Stahlmusik

Recorded in… a pillar

As in, yes, an actual pillar — specifically, one that was holding up the Stadtautobahn Bridge in Berlin. According to the band’s record company, “the inner core of the pillar could only be accessed through a crawl space, and candles were lit to monitor oxygen levels. Instrumentation was basic — a crude guitar and amp setup meant the tall singer, Blixa Bargeld, could play and sing if he bent almost double, while percussionist N.U. Unruh pounded two large bricks on oil drums on the walls of the autobahn.”

The Cowboy Junkies – The Trinity Sessions

Recorded in… a church

Sure, there have been plenty of great albums recorded in churches — Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele and PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake spring to mind immediately, and there are loads more — but if we’re going to choose one where the atmosphere of the building seems to permeate every aspect of the record, we’ll go with this. The church in question is the Church of the Holy Trinity in Ontario, and the band apparently made the record by clustering around one solitary microphone. The atmosphere is palpable, from the warm acoustics to the sense of intimacy you get from the vocals.

Johnny Cash – At Folsom Prison

Recorded in… um, Folsom Prison

Hello. He’s Johnny Cash.

Can – Tago Mago

Recorded in… a castle

Can’s career was characterized by the sort of serendipity that comes to those who make themselves open to anything and everything — they met Damo Suzuki busking on the street, for goodness sake — and so it went with Schloss Nörvenich, the Westphalian castle in which they recorded Tago Mago. Apparently the building’s owner, an art collector by the name of Mr. Vohwinkel, was so impressed by the band that he offered them his castle to live in for a year, rent-free. They stayed for three. Why doesn’t anything like that ever happen to us?

The Drones – Gala Mill

Recorded in… a creepy abandoned mill

The Drones relocated to an abandoned mill in Tasmania to record their third album, creating an album steeped in Australian history and a certain ominous, isolated atmosphere that mirrors the island’s stark, harsh beauty. If you listen carefully between songs, you can hear the band’s dogs barking.

Stuart Dempster – Underground Overlays From The Cistern Chapel

Recorded in… a giant water tank (an empty one, obviously)

Rarely can the location where an album was recorded contribute so dramatically to its sound as this one. Trombonist, composer, and Sunn 0))) collaborator Stuart Dempster made this record in a two-million-gallon water tank, allowing the crazy acoustics and epic reverb to define its atmosphere completely. The result is an album that’s full of otherworldly beauty, both epic and somehow intimate.

Sunn 0))) — “Bathory Erzsebet”

Recorded in… a coffin

And speaking of Sunn 0)))… The story goes that guest vocalist Scott Conner’s ultra-creepy vocals for this track about notorious 16th-century murderess Elisabeth Bathory were recorded while the unfortunate (and morbidly claustrophobic) singer was locked in a coffin. He doesn’t sound like he’s enjoying it. Thankfully, the whole album wasn’t done like this.