10 Albums Guaranteed to Make Your Ears Hurt

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We’ve been listening a lot to the new Crystal Castles album III, which is out this week, here at Flavorpill, and while we’ve been enjoying it a lot more than we thought we would, we do rather miss the days when they sounded like someone taking a sledgehammer to a Commodore 64. Clearly, you have to be in the mood for such things, but when you are in the mood, there’s nothing more viscerally thrilling than some nasty, nasty noise music. We thought we’d share some of our favorite albums for inducing earaches. What are yours? (Incidentally, we mean albums that make your ears hurt in a good way — which means: sorry, Hadouken!/Enter Shikari/BrokenCYDE/etc, you don’t qualify.)

Atari Teenage Riot — The Future of War

The original electronic-based ear-melters, Atari Teenage Riot’s sound — which they dubbed “digital hardcore,” after the label of the same name founded by ATR main man Alec Empire in 1994 — laid the template for what Crystal Castles would do a decade later. This record was their loudest and also their most controversial, largely because its combination of leftist politics, headache-inducing instrumentation, and shouting — lots and lots of shouting — got it banned in the group’s native Germany. Unsurprisingly, ATR main man Alec Empire was not pleased.

Health — Get Color

“We aren’t just interested in being a noisy screaming band,” said Health’s Jake Duzsik to music blog Paper Thin Walls back in 2007. The “just” is the key word in that sentence, though, because Health are still capable of bringing on a migraine when the urge takes them. Get Color married their noisenik instincts with distinctly danceable beats — so now you can cradle your aching head as you shake your hips! Result!

Ponytail — Ice Cream Spiritual

While we do rather prefer erstwhile Ponytail guitarist Dustin Wong’s solo work to his old band’s material, we do miss Ponytail. This is largely because their idiosyncratic live performances were always good fun, but also because the highpoint of their recorded output — namely this album, which came out in 2009 — was really pretty great, in a startlingly manic, all-action kind of way.

ZOND — ZOND

Noisy guitar records are a dime a dozen, but there’s something particularly immense and punishing about ZOND’s sound. It’s as loud and epic as the likes of My Bloody Valentine and A Place to Bury Strangers, but with none of the lush textures you associate with shoegaze — it’s just dark, heavy noise, the sort of music that’d soundtrack being crushed into a black hole. (As one reviewer noted rather perceptively on the album’s release, “Whereas shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine and Ride once evoked expansive horizons and the dissolution of ego in a psychedelic haze, ZOND conjure an atmosphere of claustrophobia, unease and isolation in the listener.”)

Lightning Bolt — Hypermagic Mountain

Who’d have thought two gentlemen named Brian could make such an unearthly racket? They’re not the Messiahs, they’re very naughty boys. Etc.

Sunn 0))) and Nurse With Wound — The Iron Soul of Nothing

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Stephen Stapleton has been doing this stuff for decades — his Nurse With Wound project has been one of the more enduringly fascinating in the world of music, and while you could happily stick a pin into his discography and choose whatever you punctured for this feature, we’re particularly partial to the work he did with drone metal overlords Sunn 0))) in 2008 — it’s just as likely to induce a tension headache as it is a general feeling of impending doom.

Throbbing Gristle — The Second Annual Report

Because who doesn’t need a record in their collection that includes four different versions of a song called “Maggot Death”?

Einstürzende Neubauten — Zeichnungen des Patienten O. T.

As befits a band whose name translates as “Collapsing New Buildings,” German experimental legends make music that often sounds like, well, buildings collapsing. Their style has developed and become somewhat abrasive over the years, but their early work — and particularly this album, which dates from 1983 — was like the sound of everything coming to an end in one almighty cacophany of destruction. It’s pretty great, in other words.

Melt-Banana — Charlie

For whatever reason, over the last couple of decades the Japanese have demonstrated some sort of innate talent for making the sort of music that makes you wonder if there’s something wrong with your stereo — and also intrigued to hear more. Melt-Banana have been standard-bearers for the Japanoise scene for a significant proportion of this time, and this is our favorite from their long discography (and, curiously enough, it’s also one of Todd Rundgren’s favorite records.)

Various Artists — Misono Days

And while we’re in Japan, let’s finish with a pretty awesome compilation of Japanese noise music that dates from the mid-’00s. A friend of Flavorpill gave us a copy of this a while back, and it aroused both curiosity and the urge to fetch some earplugs. We still don’t know a whole lot about many of the bands featured — although we did see Afrirampo (above) a few years back at ATP, and they were ace – but there’s plenty here to investigate.