From the unique to the weird to the truly bizarre, 2008 was filled with a number of interesting experimental albums. Anyone looking for something out of the ordinary or just an alternative album with a bit more experimentation than your average indie rock album will find ten quality choices in this guide.
David Byrne & Brian Eno
Everything That Happens Will Happen Today
The collaboration album between David Byrne and Brian Eno is a vastly different one than some might expect. In actuality, its weirdness is what makes it such a great listen, and Bryne’s willingness to experiment and go in odd directions is part of what made Talking Heads great. Everything That Happens Will Happen Today is somewhat of an upbeat alternative gospel album that is every bit as strange as it sounds. The album’s brilliance comes from its experimentation and pure oddity, and it’s certainly not something for those who don’t understand how being weird can make an album brilliant. However, David Byrne and Brian Eno are two vastly imaginative musicians who know weird and no how to be truly unique and brilliant within their weirdness. For fans of the artists, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today makes a great gift.
Believe me when I say that the debut album from Fuck Buttons is only for those who like their music to be as weird as possible. Even for experimental music, Street Horrrsing is out there, and it’s certainly not an easy album to listen to. To make matters worse, variety is not one of the album’s strong points, so while there is noticeable progression between the songs, the many listeners who will be repulsed by the Fuck Buttons sound at first listen aren’t likely to change their opinion as the album goes on. Still, this is a great album for those who like weird music, and the combination of post-rock, electronica, and black metal is one of the strangest you’ll ever hear. If you’re looking for the absolute weirdest album of the year, it's a toss up between this one and The Bug's London Zoo.
Gang Gang Dance
In a year where indie electronica was a popular “experiment” for indie rock bands, Gang Gang Dance is the one indie electronica group that actually manages to experiment. Saint Dymphna is a weird little record that is as much fun as an album by a band called “Gang Gang Dance” should be, but also as creative as an one would expect of an experimental album. If you’re looking for an album that’s both fun and weird, you can't go wrong with what Gang Gang Dance have done here. Saint Dymphana is far from perfect, but it's a genuinely experimental electro-pop album that puts its more popular peers to shame.
God Is An Astronaut
God Is An Astronaut
God Is An Astronaut’s self-titled fourth album is one of the most challenging listens you’ll find in instrumental rock. This is a beautiful album that takes multiple listens to fully appreciate, and while it may seem like a typical post-rock offering at first, it’s really far more. God Is An Astronaut is actually an astonishing and complex album that goes in directions rarely found in post-rock. The band is willing to experiment with electronica and hard rock, among other genres, and does so in a ways that build tension and create truly unique and engaging sounds. This is far from the same thing done over and over again, as care has been put into every moment of every song, and as a fan of music, it’s pure bliss to listen to. Take some time and really immerse yourself in the experience. This is an album full of beauty and subtlety, and it’s an experience that doesn’t come around very often.
If the album artwork doesn’t give you the impression that the Grails are one completely demented band, then their music almost certainly will. This is one seriously odd album, and I mean that mostly in a good way. Doomsayer’s Holiday, like the Grails past work, is entirely instrumental, but judging by the oddity of the music at hand, it's probably for the best that we don't get to hear what kind of perverted lyricism might go along with the music. Grails sound is one that is very different from most instrumental groups, not just in sound, but in structure. Their sound is closer to Mr. Bungle than Mogwai, and while the musicianship is both impressive and creative, the strength of the album comes from the psychedelic and almost perverse nature of the music. It’s quite odd and difficult to describe, but that’s the nature of experimental music, and anyone who is intrigued by the strange and bizarre is likely going to enjoy Doomsdayer’s Holiday.
Dragging a Dead Dear Up a Hill
If pure ambiance and beauty is what you desire, than look no farther than Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Dear Up a Hill. This is an essential experimental ambient pop album, and yes, it just as unique as it sounds. However, experimental music rarely sounds as natural and purely beautiful as it does here. While the sound is relaxing and full of melody, there is an extensive amount of subtlety to appreciate. Grouper has made one of the finest, most challenging records of the year, but also one of the most beautiful and relaxing. It doesn’t necessarily remind the listener of a dragging a dead dear up a hill, but the sound is of a very pure naturalist form, and it’s one of the most beautiful experiences to be had in music.
While nothing on his studio albums can compare to Jamie Lidell’s incredible live show, Jim is a solid neo-soul album with a unique sound. It’s hard to describe what exactly Jamie Lidell does musically or who he will appeal to, but anyone looking for a fun and unique album will find it here. Jim is far less experimental than past Lidell albums, which is a somewhat of a disappointment for fans of his ectronica side, but as mentioned before, what makes Jamie Lidell great is found more in his amazing live shows and less on his merely fun studio albums. It’s not a great album by any means, but Jim is a still a fun and moderately creative album by a musician that deserves far more attention than he gets.
It’s been 11 years since Portishead released their self-titled sophomore album, and despite the efforts of many clone groups, there hasn’t been a trip-hop album like it since, nor has their been one as good. Portishead’s Third might not be quite as good as the group’s first two albums, but it’s certainly the best trip-hop album to be released in those 11 years. Part of what makes it so good is that Third is not just another Portishead album. This album sees Portishead reinventing their sound in ways that only the masters of the genre could do. Third is an even stranger and more experimental album than Portishead’s first two, but it’s also pure trip-hop in that it uses the formula the group invented and takes in a more modern direction. This is an album that even those aren’t into trip-hop and experimental can enjoy, and it’s an album that any alternative or experimental fan would love.
London Zoo is as strange of an album as you’re ever going to find. It also happens to be one of the best albums released in 2008. British producer Kevin Martin, who goes by the name “The Bug,” has created some truly original and bizarre songs that must be heard to be believed. It may turn listeners away at first, but stick with it, and London Zoo becomes one of the most fun, original, and even enjoyable albums you’ll find. It’s impossible to decipher all of the influences of The Bug, and the genre the album is in is apparently “dancehall dubstep,” a genre which I admit to not being well versed in. Regardless of how little I know of other albums in the genre, I can assure that there is nothing quite like London Zoo. It’s a strange and original record that anyone willing to listen to the truly bizarre should look into.
The Sound of Animals Fighting
The Ocean and the Sun
The Ocean and the Sun is the album where The Sound of Animals Fighting finally live up to their potential. This incredibly unique and experimental group features rotating members, a vast number of instruments, and even a number of different vocalists. Their albums are kind of prog operas in a way, but with alternative rock artists and experimentation to the point of incoherency. The Sound of Animals Fighting have always been an ambitious band, but this is their first album that sounds like more than an experiment. While obviously experimental, The Ocean and the Sun is a deep and challenging album that is just simply great. It’s beautiful and intelligent, and something can be enjoyed by deep thinking listeners, not just appreciated by experimental fans.