10 Great Weird Albums of 2004
We all have our weaknesses. Some drop jaws for cowboys, or cheesecake, or perhaps some combination of the two. Some folks inexplicably have more than three pairs of shoes. Some get quizzically angry over grammar mistakes [Is that directed at me? - Ed.]. Hey, we are all consenting adults here. I support you being you and whatever it takes to make that happen. Me? My 'lil itch gets scratched by weird albums: records that, when you try to describe them to others, garner you a puzzled glance. Given all that (and that my other weakness is top 10 lists. I'll read "Top 10 Sitcoms to Fart During" if you write it), I hereby submit my favorite weird albums of 2004.
Ween - Quebec
This almost didn't make it, in that it's actually a pretty straight rock album for the Weeners. But, the fact that they have managed to take their (albeit less demented version of their) carnival of chops and bathroom humor to the masses and have it accepted gives me hope in this age of ever diminishing weirdness.
Xiu Xiu - Fabulous Muscles
I covered this album in greater depth here, this confounding amalgam of sounds and outburst. The marrying of the techno-esque racketscape of the music and Jamie Stewart's painfully confessional lyrics and drama-major-on-steroids delivery makes for a deliciously singular experience.
Jandek - Live at Instal.04 Festival, Glasgow, Scotland (bootleg)
Anyone familiar with the mythos surrounding legendary Texas recluse, famous for issuing some 30 albums of the most dividing "outsider music" out there for as many years from his Houston PO Box, was shocked as I was to find that the Man That May Exist actually showed up to play an unannounced gig at a new music festival in freaking Scotland this year, backed by the unsinkable Richard Youngs on bass and Scatter's Alexander Neilson on sympathetic drums. To all but the few of us fans, it was of less import than a bus in Liverpool running 10 minutes late, but to us true believers, it was like waking up to see the real Santa wiggling out of your chimney.
Frog Eyes - The Folded Palm
It's refreshing to see that seed for bat shit exuberance planted by Antonin Artaud and the other crazy French poets from the ass-end of the last millennium is still managing convulsively bloom in the form of Canada's Frog Eyes. The salivating dog that is singer Carey Mercer matched with the frenetic drive of the band, seeming to work together more on this one than in past onslaughts, make Mr. Frog Eyes' wild ride the best in the park. This album will open your sinuses if you let it.
Black Dice - Creature Comforts
Once nihilistic agents of hardcore racket and self-destruction, the Brooklyn collective was somehow embraced by the Arts community and transformed into one of the truly unique sounding groups in operation. There is an undercurrent of Martin Denny's exotica babbling through the jungle of electrical noise and disrupted rhythms. When the aliens land, they will head to the nearest indie record store and buy this since the special Mars-only release with bonus tracks is hopelessly out of print on their world.
Joanna Newsom - The Milk-Eyed Mender
This delightful tiptoe through the tulips somehow made it to the top of the buzz heap this year. And surprisingly, for a good reason this time. Newsom's curly-girly voice dispelling her nautilus of verbiage matched with the deft twinkling and strum of a harp, of all things, is fresh and beautiful and delightful. Do believe the hype in this case.
William Shatner - Has Been
Now this was a shocker. We all know about his me-fest from the 60's The Transformed Man with Dr. Demento fare like "Mr. Tambourine Man". When I saw this on the shelf, cover projecting the Shat with his head in his hands, I had the same reaction. Then I actually listened to it, at the urging of friends, and am delighted to report that this is one of the most captivating and effective bizarre vanity projects since Crispin Glover's Big Problem Does Not Equal the Solution. The Solution = Let It Be from 1989. It's collection of recitations, mostly of his own concoction (noteable exception being the cover of Pulp's "Common People", over brilliantly effective accompaniment by Ben Folds. It touches on fame, death, particularly the death of his wife from drowning, life and being a bad parent. You won't believe me until you hear it, but William Shatner hits you with a photon torpedo of love from which you will not soon recover.
Ellen Fullman & Konrad Springer - Ort
Ellen Fullman is famous in art-music circles for the invention and playing thereof of her Long String Instrument, which is exactly what it sounds like, a 90-some-odd foot contraption of a hundred strings that seem to use the universe as its resonator when played, resembling what like God's sitar might sound like. Her previous albums have consisted of textured drones and rasps from this wondrous thing, but somehow she got it into her head to use this thing in collaboration with German instrument maker, Konrad Springer to record some songs, like the folk standard "I Ain't Got No Home." What possessed her to take this path, I don't know, but it is a cool record, opening with the Vu-like rumble of "Glistening Glass" - one of my favorite songs this year.
Sunn O))) - White 2
Death metal is something I like in concept but rarely in execution. The druidic masters of the punctautionally convoluted collective Sunn O))) have managed to distill the elixir of D&D imagery, bass waves from the pits of Hades and the ambience of malevolence that forms your workaday death metal, stripped out all but the essential percussion and produced a frothy broth of weirdly satisfying ambient unease. This HighArt-sactioned method (championed by my favorite high brow music tome The Wire) presents truly unique results, a lovechild of the sterility of pocket-protector ambient music and the loamy belch of metal. Honestly, its not something I return to a lot, but it manages to create its own weird apocalypse when I do.
Keiji Haino - Black Blues
Extreme Japanese guitar experimenter Keiji Haino unearthed this double CD, both containing the same brace of loose interpretations of blues songs. The catch is: one is an acoustic disk, with his odd haunting voice slooooooooowly intoning these songs accompanied by a feather-light glancing on the strings, the other disk an exuberantly abrasive thicket of electric guitar racket. There are no overdubs, no other performers, just the cartoonish sunglasses-clad Haino exacting the extremes of the Blues idiom. Personally, the acoustic album sits better with me in that I don't have the taste for Noise I once had, and in that it feels as if it's being sung and played by a ghost.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com