5 Difficult Albums

F# A# (Infinity)Godspeed You Black Emperor – F# A# (Infinity):

Instrumental, doom rock isn’t the easiest thing to listen to; try putting it on at a party and you’ll find yourself quite alone. This was the Canadian collective’s first album, containing only 3 tracks, but lasting over an hour making it difficult to just drop on your favourite track. Each track has about 3 or 4 segments, of either calm ambience, recorded noise, tape loops or dynamic, violin-led crescendos.

First track “Dead Flag Blues” starts with the foreboding words: “the car’s on fire and there’s no driver at the wheel and the sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides and a dark wind blows” Cheery. The lead violin comes in and the segment becomes, heart-achingly bleak. The dynamics of the music are incredible; instruments echo with natural reverb as if they had been recorded in a giant steel warehouse. It sounds expansive, but intimate at the same time. The second track, “East Hastings” delivers a more conventional piece; a slow, guitar driven track that ends up in a furious drum led climax. The final track “Providence” starts with an interview with street poet Blaise Bailey Finnegan and flows into a gentle, humming drone. This segues into a delicate violin led segment that breaks into a furious almost tribal drum pattern. It fades away, to a distorted voice singing what sounds like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. The violins come in again, and again, fade away. This repeats itself until the thrashing seems to fall apart and a final drone segment closes the album.

It all sound incredibly bleak and doom-lade, and it is. But the music has a purpose. If you buy the Wes Craven DVD box-set, you’ll find a bonus documentary entitled “American Nightmare” which interviews the directors of some classic 60’s and 70’s horror films, and charts the social traumas that inspired them. The music of Godspeed You Black Emperor is used throughout the film and to great effect. (Godspeed You Black Emperor also feature in the film 28 Days Later, in the scenes where Cillian Murphy’s character is wondering the streets of a deserted London).

Tool - Lateralus Tool – Lateralus

Lateralus was Tool’s third album and it came 5 years after a legal battle put their recording career on hold. Released when “nu-metal” was in its prime, (and also the same year Radiohead released their second “experimental” album “Amnesiac”) this album was staggering in its depth, ambition and complexity. And at the time, this album really stood out from the likes of Limp Bizkit and Korn. It’s a difficult album to listen to, full of jet-black songs with ultra heavy guitars and shifting time signatures.

Lead single “Schism” is the most accessible, despite it’s tumbling drums and echoing instrumental break in the centre. “Parabol/Parabola” is a haunting 10 minutes, delicate at the start before climaxing in a guitar riff that’s so heavy it’s like swimming in sludge. “Ticks & Leeches” starts off at breakneck speed before allowing a short break before screaming back in full force, vocalist Maynard James Keenan screaming “I hope you choke” repeatedly.

Fog - Ether TeethFog – Ether Teeth

Lo-fi is a genre of music that normally implies music, badly recorded, usually in someone’s basement. But that’s not always a bad thing. I find Lo-fi records have a certain rough charm to them, using samples to enrich the musical palette. Andrew Broder is Fog, pretty much a one-man band who plays almost all the instruments, including scratching. Initially the mix between bare acoustic guitars and scratching is a strange one, but a beguiling one too.

Opener “Plumb Dumb” has a single looped chord, with a guitar and banjo low in the mix, making a gentle, almost hypnotic track. “The Girl From The Gum Commercial” starts off slow paced before breaking into a chorus of kazoos and scratches. “See It? See It?” has a strange, woozy atmosphere with a sparse piano accompaniment and samples about bird watching. “Under An Anvil Tree” is so lo-fi, that Broder goes to answer the phone just seconds into the song. The lyrics are quirky (I don’t ever go to movies/so when I go to movies/it’s a pretty big fucking deal), sang delicately (One day a dump truck/will dump two tonnes of kittens on me), but when the samples come in and the slightest of beats, it’s momentum carries it on. “Apologizing To Mystery” is strange; again there’s a minimal piano leading the melody over ambience, but the song is melancholy and fragile. “WallpaperSinkOrSwim” is over 10 minutes long, but breaks up into several fragments of loops, trumpets and multi-tracked vocals all messed up over each other. “Cardinal Heart” finished on recorded bird songs and organ led ambience.

Ether Teeth is the kind of album that needs to grow on you. Aside from “What A Day Day”, there are few moments that reach out and grab you or have any kind of urgency. It’s the type of album you’d love, staring out of a window onto a lazy, Summer’s day.

Mogwai - Come On Die young

Mogwai – Come On Die Young

Ah Mogwai, one of my favourite groups and the one that fuelled my interest in feedback-soaked, guitar-led instrumental rock. Back in 1999, my interest was started off by a free Sigur Ros track on a magazine CD. Mogwai cemented it with their second album. Which is a strange thing, considering the album starts off quite slowly. A moody guitar solo is played over an interview with Iggy Pop, musing on what punk rock is. “Cody” is even stranger, because it actually features sung vocals. “Help Both Ways” ups the pace but not by much to disrupt the serene pace of the album. “Year 2000” isn’t any quicker, but the guitar work is fiercer. In fact the whole album is completely cohesive until the 9th track “Ex-Cowboy” which could quite feasibly shred your eardrums if you’re listening to it at high volume. This is Mogwai at their best, but I realised later they had to change tact a bit for their followup to the brilliant Young Team. “Christmas Steps” build on this change to deliver some great precision drumming and thundering riffs. The final track “Punk Rock_Puff Daddy/Antichrist” is a strange ambient mix sound and a lone trumpet. It’s probably a hard album to like; I love it because it’s important place in my musical growth.

Wolf Eyes - Burned MindWolf Eyes – Burned Mind

Now the thing about all these albums is that I enjoy them. But this album, even a mother couldn’t love. Wolf Eyes are a duo, signed to the famous Sub Pop label, who specialize in shrieking electronic music. With titles like “Urine Burn” and “Black Vomit”, this isn’t a pleasant listening experience. To be fair I got this album on it’s extreme reputation, but it’s almost completely un-listenable.

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