2018’s Top 5 weird albums

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Last week I made a Top 5 list for one of the most commercial and popularized genres in the world – – K-pop. To balance the scales, I want to shine a spotlight on this year’s seriously weird music.

For me, weirdness is both about finding creative new niches and making interesting things out of old ones. Lots of albums on my lists fuse genres or use specific music-making techniques to get unique sounds. A weird album has a sound that’s difficult to find anywhere else, and that’s part of the appeal.

For me, weird isn’t one type of music, either. It isn’t metal, just because metal is heavy. It isn’t progressive rock, just because progressive rock changes time signatures. Weird is something that can take on the constraints of one or many genres and use them to make something different. The best weird albums make something unique and also exceptional.

1. Virus.DOS by Master Boot Record

MBR came up from the Italian underground as a synthwave band that brought the metal, classical, and 8bit influences of the genre out in a dynamic new way. The band’s lore is that it’s a malicious computer virus that spreads its code as you listen to and share it. MBR maintains a remarkable consistency of sound that helps it truly sound like a form of code because the veteran musician behind it sticks to one set of sounds and doesn’t stray. “Virus.DOS” is the MBR album that best captures the project’s awesome aesthetic, pairing some of the heaviest synths you’ll hear with compositions as impeccable as in your favorite video game themes and concertos.

2. In a Poem Unlimited by U.S. Girls.

U.S. Girls is the project of feminist musician Meg Ramy and a lot of the talented musicians she knows, including members from the Toronto jazz band the Cosmic Range. The eclectic ensemble shows on “In a Poem Unlimited,” which has tones of jazz, pop, rock, and R&B. Most songs on the album are rich in storytelling and instrumentation, both equally and uniquely dark. The album’s weirdness comes from the dark and constant twists it puts on popular genres and how the band uses their lighthearted tropes to cleverly deliver deep, painful messages. U.S. Girls is weird and wonderful for how easy it is to enjoy on first listen and how much deeper it cuts on every subsequent listen.

3. Clear Tamei and Steel Mogu by Iglooghost

“Clear Tamei” and “Steel Mogu” are technically dual EPs. “Clear Tamei” tells the story of a young god and its life growing up, while “Steel Mogu” tells the story of an assassin sent from the future to kill the god in the crib before it grows up and its eyes fall out of its head, causing disaster to the assassin’s homeland. The actual music is as wild as the idea behind it. The songs have an undercurrent of breakcore, starting and stopping quickly, but Iglooghost throws in the deep bass of EDM, alongside smooth synthesizers, xylophone, and vocals distorted into an entirely new language. If that sounds overwhelming, it isn’t, mostly because the production is amazing. Nothing sounds like Iglooghost and few things sound as good.

4. 盤 / Pán by 落差草原 WWWW / Prairie WWWW

Prairie WWWW comes from Taiwan and “盤 / Pán” is entirely in Taiwanese Mandarin. However, you don’t need to speak the language to understand the album. “Pán” – – meaning plate – – communicates well enough through wild guitar loops, furious bongos, and trance-like rhythms that gradually build. Prairie WWWW took a naturalistic sound and focus on the album, made by their heavy use of flute, bongo, and odd synth effects that sound like wind or animal chirps. The album’s vocals are incredibly diverse too, ranging as much in tone as in pitch. The singers sound at times like high-pitched, ethereal pixies, low-pitched demons, and all things in between. The album builds into a fever pitch at the ten-minute long song “Mercy.” “Mercy” creates a furious trance out of bongos, guitar loops, and chants that are intoxicating and terrifying.

5. Cafécore by Syndrasound

Cafécore” fuses breakcore and the chill music you’d hear in the background of a Starbucks. My mind says this should not work, but my ears love it. “Cafécore” is one of the most delightful albums I’ve heard all year. It takes a lot of elements from cafe jazz and ambient electronic music and fuses it with breakcore in a way where the two complement each other by way of contrast. While some ambient jazz and electronic music is painfully dull, “Cafécore” is interesting because it’s augmented by rapid-fire, breakbeat machine drum rhythms. On its own, breakbeat is way too straightforward and repetitive, “Cafécore” is dynamic and easy to listen to because it has the soft sax, keys, chimes, and samples of ambient electronic music as well as the smooth builds of soft jazz. There are spots where the album misses, but it’s a weird fusion I would have never considered and that I’ve grown to love.

Honorable Mentions:

Boarding House Reach” by Jack White
Sarah” by Kirara
Devilman Crybaby OST” by Kensuke Ushio
宋咪 Sonmi” by 13月終了 Undecimber Fin.
Fluid World Building 101 With Shaman Bambu” by Dustin Wong
我要开花(I Want to Bloom)” by Second Hand Rose

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