Music of 2011: The Weird
December 17, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Some of my favorite albums each year are the ones that take some getting used to, the ones that are disconcerting or annoying or confusing but still have some extra piece of allure. Albums like that most directly challenge my preconceptions of what art is, what music is, what I like or don’t like and why. They force me outside of myself, the self that naturally says yes or no immediately to a song rather than one that thinks about why I’m responding a certain way.
And that, I think, is an important facet of more postmodern art anyway – a critical examination of response. Duchamp taught us that calling a thing Art does fascinating things to the process of artistic response, and albums like the six below ask their own questions of worth and value, of beauty, of what to think in any respect.
Anne Guthrie – Perhaps A Favorable Organic Moment
I love the title to this album, and how much work it does to set the listener up for the experience of listening. In five tracks, Anne Guthrie modulates between orchestrated music, warped sound, and field recording, asking us what the lines are between Performance and Sound, or Art and Nature. The recording here is pristine: the listener hears everything around the creation of each track. The first song, Bach Cello Suite No. 2 Prelude I, begins with traffic noise before a horn haltingly attempts the classical song. The second song, Bach Cello Suite No. 2 Prelude II, warps and twists all of the noise into strange reverberations and hums like the surface of another world. Song three is the middle point, a field recording of, as the title suggests, Times Center NYC 2010, and then the album mirrors itself: the last two songs are similarly different recordings of the same song, like songs 1 and 2, and beautiful unravel one’s expectations and concepts of songmaking. I wish I could say so much more about this record.
Kreng – Grimoire
Two years ago, Kreng released a terrifying album, L’Autopsie Phénoménale de Dieu, an album that really felt like a horror movie (and not just because of the found sound clips of actual horror movies). In Grimoire, Kreng is just as scary, and songs very rarely go the way you primally expect them to. This alone is a tense and upsetting tactic: the nine-minute track Wrak begins with high-pitched strings and a pattern that repeats itself for almost 3 minutes before all hell opens up into the song, crowding out the strings that are still working underneath horn and electronic wails and drum blasts. Other tracks use silence and the expectation of anything at all to build tension and explore the catharsis of horror. This album is well worth one’s time.
Evangelista – In Animal Tongue
Carla Bozulich, the voice and absolute presence of Evangelista, has been one of my go to Weird artists for the last few years. Bozulich is insanely creative, and her voice is as emotive as any. This voice, this wind howl, this scratch or speech, this flame or unlit match, this flood of sex or gore or fear or passion – it simply burns through the album. In many ways, this is the perfect combination of performance poetry and music. The music is harsh and hard, and the entire album feels like a bomb, like if it’s played at the right volume something Important will happen. Below is a live take of the first song off of In Animal Tongue, one that does a pretty great job of showing Bozulich’s range.
Ponytail – Do Whatever You Want All The Time
I love Ponytail. Of all of the bands on here, this is the one I listen to most often – primarily because it is, unlike the three above, an album that does not ask you to sit down and study it. No, Ponytail, as the title of the album suggests, is much more interested in having fun, and for me, having fun means dancing wildly in the car whenever I am lucky enough to be driving and playing this album. This Baltimore band is ecstatically fun, and the lead singer rarely sings real words even, just shouts of exuberance. The band sounds like summer and freeze tag and the beach and joy and grass stains.
Arrington de Dionyso – Slow Dancin’ Under the Moon Tonight
This album, one of two former Old Time Relijun frontman and lead singer Arrington de Dionyso released in 2011, is extremely hard to listen to. But don’t stop reading! Really, this album is great. de Dionyso is interested often in a sort of trance/Captain Beefheart/Thuvian throat singing mash up, and the other album he released in 2011, Suara Naga, is a fantastic and difficult beast of oddly tuned guitars and his growl. I prefer Slow Dancin’, however, which was a project de Dionyso did by recording his distinctive vocal style with the Microsoft Songsmith, a program meant to match a voice with musical accompaniment. The result is hilarious, and oddly addictive. If that interests you, check out the songs here (none posted on Youtube), and keep in mind that Arrington’s album art is NSFW. Below is a live song from Suara Naga, because de Dionyso is someone who should be watched live as much as possible.
Lil B – Angel’s Exodus
I know, I know. Lil B. More people hate this guy than I can count. I talked to a friend of mine about him briefly, a friend who knows way more about rap than I do, and he said, “Yeeah, I think he’s pretty terrible.” And I can see why he gets described as having some of the worst technique out there. I’ve listened to a few other mixtapes of Lil B’s, and none of them really grabbed me the way Angel’s Exodus did. There is something about his obnoxious croon when he sings his own hooks, his stream of consciousness rapping, his jokes that you aren’t sure he means as jokes that is extraordinarily fascinating, and sort of endearing. There’s an honest messiness to it all that feels like something we could call authentic, a strange thing to say about a rap album. Still, this is weird. Lil B raps about vampires (and this song ends hilariously) and zombies, sings ridiculously poorly, and often just makes no sense at all. He’s a great addition to a list of the weirdest albums of 2011 for this simple fact: when it comes down to it, I have no idea if Lil B is a genius or just really awful.