It’s New to Elliot — as suggested by Nicholas Beard

Nicholas Beard is best known as one of the lead voices in Land of Blood and Sunshine, a Marshalltown band who do a gleefully miserable take on indie rock. They’ve rightfully gained a following for being creative and independent, so it’s only fitting that Nicholas suggested a group of records from artists who did things very differently and blazed their own trail. I didn’t like all of what he gave me this week, but every bit of it was like an exhausting workout routine, and that’s what I want. So let’s see how Nicholas’s records stacked up.

The Residents — Eskimo

I was in no way prepared for this. The Residents do not make what we would traditionally call “music.” They are more or less an art collective, operating anonymously for over 40 years, making records meant to confound people and destroy all concepts of what a “song” can be. On Eskimo, the vague goal seems to be creating the environment one would hear in the Great White North, living with the Inuit people. The Residents do this through crazy garbled monster languages, baby noises, insane chanting, pounding xylophones, and any manner of noise that lends itself to a frigid, desolate soundscape. Only in precious few minutes does anything come together resembling a hook or a true piece of music. These moments feel like life preservers being tossed out to you while you’re drowning. All other moments are either dull or completely horrifying.

I’m pleased that Nicholas suggested such a wild record, as it made me consider a question I should always be considering while I do this project: what is the definition of good music? Does it have to make you tap your toe and dance? Or can it just be something that makes your mind twist in ways its never twisted before? If the definition is the latter, then Eskimo is the best ever, because holy crap, this was a brainmelter. But did I enjoy it? Not…really? Maybe…kind of? I’m still not sure. I may never hear it again, but when I think about it, I’ll remember that it was an experience unlike any other.

My Opinion: 4/10

Isaac Hayes — Hot Buttered Soul

I might as well admit that while listening to this I thought of the Chef character from South Park at least 40 times. And though he is a weirdo who quit that show because they trashed his beloved Scientology, Isaac Hayes deserves better than being known as a cartoon novelty. Hot Buttered Soul is a thick slice of warm soul music, slathered in smooth and creamy jam (can I take this food imagery farther? Probably, but let’s not!). I was trepidatious at first due to the record containing four songs in 45 minutes. This means long songs, and you know I have trouble with that. Only in the 18-minute “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” does this become a problem, as that one doesn’t do enough with the time it takes. But other than that, this thing is really great. Hayes’s personality drives the ship, coming across as a likably silly, soulful gentleman who only wants to love all the lovely ladies. His keyboard playing also makes for stirring moments — in “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic,” a jam section that starts off innocuously really gets moving and shaking, and suddenly it becomes the eerie piano riff that Public Enemy later used as the basis for “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.” Isaac Hayes made excellent stuff that resonates in all eras, and I recommend you pour a nice glass of wine (or juice) and let this one make you feel good.

My Opinion: 7/10

This Heat — Deceit

I had never even heard of This Heat. Hardly anyone else had either until the mid-2000’s, when this 1981 record was re-released and got lots of people talking. Their peers at the time such as Wire and Gang of Four were making music that I had thought was bold for its time, but I am completely blown away by the inventiveness on display here. This Heat sound at least 10 to 15 years ahead of their time, predicting the noisy, mathy emo-rock that would later be refined by bands like Don Caballero — bands that found beauty in the bumpy ride and never made it easy. There are off-time, herky jerky rhythms, clanging guitar and droning, hypnotic unison vocals. They intersperse the more accessible songs with inaccessible noise collages, and though I normally would get mad at that, I found myself being very forgiving. Again, I just can’t believe that a band in 1981 made a record that sounds like this. It’s quite an achievement, and it’s a shame that even nerds like me haven’t heard of this.

My Opinion: 7/10

Shabazz Palaces — Lese Majesty

Last week, I heaped praise on P.O.S. for making a record that ignored the rules of hip hop and brought a sense of adventure to the genre. Shabazz Palaces are even less concerned with hip hop’s restrictions, even more adventurous and daring, aaaaand I don’t like it. Where P.O.S. had punk aggression, Shabazz Palaces are stoned and trippy. They layer their vocals with delay and reverb, and their beats whoosh around the speakers with wild noises and scattered percussion. When I can understand the words, I like what they’re putting down, but it’s hard to focus on what they’re saying when there’s so much window dressing taking my ears to the wrong places. I read a review saying that this record is “the future of hip hop,” and if that’s the case, then the future is a snoozefest. I have to hand it to Shabazz Palaces for being bold and making hip hop that doesn’t sound like Drake, but I don’t think you’re accomplishing much when you’re making a record that will entertain no one and only let people feel smart for “enjoying” it.

My Opinion: 4/10

Spacemen 3 — The Perfect Prescription

I recently expressed doubt regarding my knowledge of what constitutes “psychedelic” music, but after hearing this Spacemen 3 record, I think I’ve got it figured out. And I do not like it. Most of the songs overstay their welcome after like two minutes, often dragging on to the six-minute mark having offered no new ideas or sounds. Just the same two-chord progressions repeated until you feel like you’re about to die. Even the good stuff gets stale because it’s just boringly hammered into your skull.

The Perfect Prescription is a concept album specifically designed to simulate a drug trip, from beginning to end. Being a total square who has never ingested a hallucinatory drug in my life, I have no frame of reference for this. But if the dull songs and lifeless energy of this record are any indication, then drugs are a huge bummer and I’m not missing out on anything.

My Opinion: 3/10