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The 20 Most Quirky, Bizarre, and Overlooked Albums of the 00s January 12, 2012

Posted by gwyoung in Lists, Music.
Tags: , ,

I never got around to making an end-of-decade list for the 2000s, which is surprising considering my affinity for making lists. But now, here we are, two years into the 2010s, and I’m finally ready to discuss some of my picks for the first decade of the new millennium. A lot of these are albums I’ve been meaning to talk about for a long time while the rest are recent obsessions that couldn’t be covered in my coverage of 2011 because they unfortunately came out many years back and I completely missed the boat. One thing that unites them all, however, is their strangeness: all of these albums are unique, weird, or quirky in their own wonderful ways, and hopefully some of them were overlooked enough that they’ll serve as new treasures for you to experience. We’ll go chronologically:

Boredoms – Vision Creation Newsun (2000)

Japanese experimental rock band Boredoms have been making a commotion for quite awhile, changing their style to predict musical trends long before they even materialize. Abandoning the group’s more abrasive aspects in favor of a more psychedelic approach, Vision Creation Newsun started the millennium off with a bang: a seamless jam session spanning nine tracks that pioneers all of the vocal manipulation, synth drones, precise guitar strums, and propulsive drumming that have become the norm in experimental indie music as we know it today.

Múm – Yesterday Was Dramatic, Today Is OK (2000)

Icelandic band Múm suffered a great loss when founding member and lead vocalist, Kría Brekkan, left the band in 2006. Her nymph-like vocals, full of starry-eyed wonder, were part of what made the group so unique on its original recordings, this album included. Here her voice is woven into the electronic tapestry of glitches, distorted piano, and rolling beats as an instrument in its own right, bringing attention to the special quality of the sound rather than the indistinguishable and unimportant lyric. The combination makes for a dynamic album that jumps back and forth between nostalgic melancholy and moments of pure bliss.

Circulatory System – Circulatory System (2001)

Rising from the more experimental half of the ashes of the recently-revived psychedelic pop group The Olivia Tremor Control, Circulatory System continues in the same strange vein. Their self-titled debut takes the listener on an existential journey through a mystical world that may resemble something like what’s depicted in the album art, though perhaps even darker and more mysterious. The album came into existence at the tail end of the Elephant Six collective’s reign over indie rock, but is right up there with Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aerpolane Over The Sea in terms of both quality and emotional breadth.

Cornelius – POINT (2002)

Cornelius definitely wants you to remember the name of this album, as a sample of him shouting “POINT!” serves as several interludes to stitch together the various loop exercises that comprise the real songs. The album itself flows remarkably well, as the aforementioned loops move from water droplets to birds in a rainforest to infectious bass guitar grooves, and of course Cornelius’ soft-spoken vocals float happily above all the impeccably controlled chaos.

The Books – The Lemon Of Pink (2003)

The Lemon Of Pink is an album of redemption. On it, the Books immerse the listener in a confusing world of sample-based disorder strung together by the melancholy tones of violin strings, inducing unsettled feelings of alienation, isolation, and foreboding. But every so often, just when it feels like all hope is lost, the shuffling samples and strings align to form brief moments of wonder, redeeming those disturbed feelings of emotional upheaval as feelings of hope and optimism. The Lemon Of Pink is not just an interesting experiment in collage music, it’s a truly unique demonstration of the impact of sound on human experience.

Ellen Allien – Berlinette (2003)

“Trash Scapes”, the centerpiece track on Berlinette,  is certainly a fitting title for the electronic style perfected on techno producer Ellen Allien’s masterwork, as sampled cosmic junk, warbled, vocoded stammers, and gritty sound effects fuse to form a danceable medley of futuristic beats. The ugliness is layered on top of beautiful backdrops of synthetic chimes, strings, bells, and whistles, constituting the perfect blend to capture the bittersweet, polluted and technological atmosphere of the modern age.

The High Llamas – Beet, Maize & Corn (2003)

Beet, Maize, & Corn is a tribute to the nostalgic, making me feel like I’m sitting at the fireplace while watching black and white television cartoons in the 1950s even though I’ve never experienced anything of the sort. The songs themselves are lazy, meandering, and mildly psychedelic, and their deft and unexpected arrangements will put you in a funny-feeling but serene mood that’ll stay with you long after the album’s conclusion.

Black Dice – Creature Comforts (2004)

Creature Comforts is not necessarily a pleasure to listen to, and most would probably not consider it music at all, but the alluring cover and the bizarre sounds within make this album’s impact inescapable. Here Black Dice forego all rhythm and melody to carefully construct soundscapes of noise, resulting in some sort of beast that sounds like a cross between a vacuum cleaner and a jungle animal. Creature Comforts is not comforting in the least, but it does succeed remarkably in transforming harsh, mechanical sounds into a living, breathing creature.

cLOUDDEAD – Ten (2004)

I could’ve picked any anticon.-related release for this list: Themselves’ Them, Subtle’s For Hero: For Fool, Why?’s Oaklandazulasylum, or even cLOUDDEAD’s self-titled debut. They’re all about as strange as indie rap music can get, favoring atmospherics, bizarre samples, and off-kilter speedy rhymes to the conventional beats and rhythms of other hip-hop of their time. But cLOUDDEAD’s Ten is the most endearing of them all, standing above the rest as a ghostly music-box filled with child-like wonder and remembrance of things past.

Caribou – The Milk Of Human Kindness (2005)

Dan Snaith’s first album as Caribou, after the Manitoba project was ended by an unfortunate lawsuit, is all over the place stylistically. Combining elements of krautrock, psychedelic electronica, and classic rock funk, the songs on The Milk Of Human Kindness range from brief sample exercises to lengthy kraut-jams to looping guitar-folk, all in the span of about 40 fantastical minutes. It’s all-over-the-place in the best way possible.

Deerhoof – Apple O’ (2005)

Apple O’ shouldn’t be my favorite Deerhoof album. The Runners Four, Friend Opportunity, and even Reveille all have catchier hooks and guitar-rock jams than the spastic little song sketches peppering this short-but-incredibly-sweet album, but something about Apple O’ is just striking. The blitz of guitar, noise, sonic experiments, and, most importantly, bubblegum pop melodies found on the album perfectly showcase the gloriously raucous energy of Deerhoof in their adolescence, and though they’ve matured in equally interesting ways since its inception, Apple O really is, in my eyes, their finest effort.

Danielson – Ships (2006)

The various incarnations of Daniel Smith and his “Famile” have been pretty much hit-or-miss throughout his musical career, but it was on Ships, with the aid of friends from Serena-Maneesh, Greg Saunier’s guitar from Deerhoof, and Sufjan Stevens’ compositional prowess, that the “Famile” came together to bring us something brilliant. Ships is an elegant example of freak-folk at its finest, with Smith’s nasally vocals leading the energetically ramshackle band of brass, strings, and handclaps to victory throughout the catchy hooks and poppy wit of the album.

The Fiery Furnaces – Bitter Tea (2006)

As if Blueberry Boat wasn’t divisive enough, the Friedbergers returned a few years later with an even more grandiose, mind-fucking, and pretentiously cerebral project. Feeding the artists’ obsessions with backward-tracking experiments and skittering electronic flourishes while possessing an intensely anxious energy, Bitter Tea manages to outdo its predecessor with both exhausting ambition, precise composition, and, above all, excellent pop melodies.

Parenthetical Girls – Safe As Houses (2006)

Zac Pennington’s voice may remind you of Colin Meloy of The Decemberists or Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel while his disturbed lyrics bring to mind acts like Xiu Xiu with their references to miscarriage, drowning, and other ways for little children to die, but what sets Parenthetical Girls apart from those bands is the full, rich quality of their music. The direct songwriting and powerful arrangements found on the experimental pop melodies comprising Safe As Houses serve as an accessible entry point into the demented minds of Parenthetical Girls.

Xiu Xiu – The Air Force (2006)

Xiu Xiu sounds much more subtle and subdued on oft-overlooked The Air Force than the band did on the noisy Knife Play, the manic-depressive A Promise, or the surprisingly synth-pop Fabulous Muscles, and as such it features less of the chaos for which the band is known. Without all that mess, though, the true songwriting ability of frontman Jamie Stewart really shines through, and the gentler chimes, faint guitar strumming, and empty space of the compositional atmosphere showcase Xiu Xiu’s poignant sense of restraint, allowing listeners to hear their unexpected softer side.

Le Loup – The Throne Of The Third Heaven Of The Nations’ Millennium General Assembly (2007)

Sam Simkoff, Le Loup vocalist and multi-instrumentalist, sounds as if he’s calling out from the edge of the Earth, on the brink of destruction. The soft, plucked-string psychedelic folk backdrop supporting his wailing voice makes him sound even more isolated and desperate, but the combination, as well as the gentle build and emotive release in the songwriting, transforms the melancholy into something strangely inspiring and uplifting.

Azeda Booth – In Flesh Tones (2008)

If the initial shock of realizing that Azeda Booth’s singer is actually a man and not a little girl doesn’t get to you, the heartbreaking quality of his ghostly falsetto flitting in and out of lushly patterned synth arrangements will engrain this album in your head for the rest of your days. There’s really no other album that can match the emotional heft and aching beauty of In Flesh Tones, and though (hopefully) Azeda Booth may soon try again at a sophomore effort, its an irreplaceable one-off album that will not be forgotten.

The Chap – Mega Breakfast (2008)

The Chap sometimes seem like a joke band, with their nonsense lyrics and bizarre pastiche album art, but on Mega Breakfast they demonstrate not only their bizarre sense of humor but also their ability to make catchy, interesting songs. Their style utilizes polished electronic effects as a backdrop for their collective voices (each member of the band contributes, despite how off-putting they may sound), and the subtle nuances in their soundscapes make Mega Breakfast an unique and interesting listen, especially on a good pair of headphones.

Twi The Humble Feather – Music For Spaceships And Forests (2008)

The title says it all. The hushed, chant-like vocals and campfire guitar strums of this album will transport you into a mystical forest, full of wood nymphs, sprites, and faeries, while the electronic flourishes evoke futuristic images of traveling through space and time. The music of Twi the Humble Feather is both rustic and modern, and though it draws comparisons to the best of the  early stages of Animal Collective, it still manages to solidify its own place in our time.

Tyondai Braxton – Central Market (2009)

Tyondai Braxton has been producing solo output for over a decade now, but his creative influence during his time in Battles, especially on their breakthrough album Mirrored, best prepared him to release this stunner, Central Market. The music comprising this record sounds like it could be the soundtrack to some more fucked up version of Peter & The Wolf or one of those trippy Donald Duck movies (like Donald in Mathmagic Land). No matter which comparison you choose, Central Market is deliciously insane.



1. Emily - February 28, 2014


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