Difficult Music Filter: Albums that take *ages* to get into
November 15, 2006 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Difficult Music Filter: Albums that take *ages* to get into

Inspired by the recent Exile on Main St. thread. I'm wondering what other eclectic gems the hive mind can recommend. I'm looking for albums that take a long time to get into but which repay the effort.
posted by Lanark to Media & Arts (87 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Blueberry Boat by the Fiery Furnaces is one that takes a lot of effort, but it's worth it once you get to know the ins-and-outs. They really are a wonderfully bonkers band.
posted by afx237vi at 2:10 PM on November 15, 2006

Loveless by My Bloody Valentine takes a while. At first it sounds like unpleasant noise.
posted by sien at 2:14 PM on November 15, 2006

Negativland's A Big 10-8 Place. I had to fall in love with Dispepsi before I even gave it my full attention. (However, for most music fans, all Negativland qualifies as difficult.)

Joanna Newsom's Ys. Brand new, leaked a while ago and boasting a Pitchfork 9.4, this is amazingly unusual and harder by far to follow than Milk Eyed Mender.

I also have a hard time with GodWeenSatan, given how much I like their later stuff. They useta be so sca-reee.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 2:15 PM on November 15, 2006

Sonic Youth took a long time for me to get into, and I started off with Daydream Nation. Similar to Exile, it's a double album, and is widely considered to be the band's masterpiece. There were songs that I couldn't stand the first ten times I listened to it, and now they're among my favorites.

If you're not used to their kind of thing, Spiritualized can take a while to assimilate to. I'd start with Pure Phase--it's really dense (lots of things going on at once), but composed in a minimalistic fashion and has thematic elements running throughout the album, so it's more of a coherent whole. I think that, in a nutshell, is pretty much what you're looking for with these kind of albums--things that have a lot of depth, so that you keep picking out new elements on repeated listening; and "albums" as opposed to collections of songs.

Also: Steve Reich. Start with Music for 18 Musicians.
posted by LionIndex at 2:22 PM on November 15, 2006

Loveless by My Bloody Valentine takes a while. At first it sounds like unpleasant noise.

Ditto. At first, I thought something was wrong with the copy I bought (without ever hearing them before) and I was going to take it back.
posted by LionIndex at 2:24 PM on November 15, 2006

Totally second Joanna Newsom's new album, which I am excited to have eventually discovered that I love very much.

Also I feel it's important to mention Björk, particularly her last three albums. I was a huge fan of her debut cd (entitled, duh, "Debut). As every following album has proved to be stranger and stranger, my initial reaction has always been, "This is interesting-- but I don't really know if I can follow her there." In every case, given some time and some repeat listens with great headphones, I have always wound up really absorbed into each album (if not necessarily every single song).

This is especially true for "Medulla", her most recent album (if you don't count her soundtrack for Matthew Barney's film Drawing Restraint 9 which is also strange and amazing). "Medulla" is a genre-breaking album recorded with human voices filling in for most of the instrumental parts. A lot of my friends who were already Björk fans have never been able to get into it; it has a very dark and confrontational sound, with little traditional melody structure. I really felt like the work I put into figuring it all out has made it more meaningful to me than any of her others, though.
posted by hermitosis at 2:27 PM on November 15, 2006

I am sure this will send some brickbats my way -- which is okay, because their radar is crappy.

I have always found Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa inaccessible; I've never gotten over the hump, but would qualify them on the grounds that virtually everyone whose opinion I respect thinks they're the bee's knees.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 2:43 PM on November 15, 2006

If we're talking about 'difficult' music, then we have to mention Throbbing Gristle. I enjoy the recording of their last performance "Mission of Dead Souls", but it isn't for everyone. That, and anything by Mitch Miller.
posted by pantufla at 2:44 PM on November 15, 2006

posted by rachelpapers at 2:45 PM on November 15, 2006

Thirding Loveless. Give that album a shot, it is really fantastic.

Kid A by Radiohead came as quite a shock after OK Computer.
posted by Diskeater at 2:59 PM on November 15, 2006

Scott Walker's Tilt fit this description for me.
posted by ktrey at 3:04 PM on November 15, 2006

Some of Tom Waits' albums are hard to like at first. Try Real Gone, which sounded to me like a drunk man grunting and headbutting a table. Since then though, I've really gotten into it.
posted by twirlypen at 3:11 PM on November 15, 2006 [3 favorites]

Miles Davis's later electric albums (Live-Evil, Black Beauty, Magus) still seem incredibly imposing to me, like music that I'm still not old enough to understand or wise enough to recognize.
posted by grabbingsand at 3:16 PM on November 15, 2006

I rushed out to buy XTC's Skylarking on the strength of "Dear God" and of course got a copy pressed before the song was added (originally a UK b-side, when it started getting airplay Warner Bros. forced them to put it on the album, dropping "Mermaid Smiled" from the tracklist) and I was left with a hit-single-less collection of strange, somewhat twee songs about nature and grass and shit.

A cassette copy I made somehow ended up in my car, and as I listened I began to appreciate the story (the cycle of life), the complex arrangements, and Andy Partridge's amazing lyrics. It remains one of my all-time favorite albums. Reading an interview some years later, I was amused to learn Partridge clashed with producer Todd Rundgren throughout the recording, hated the album when it was released, and now considers it some of his finest work.

In general, music that takes a few rounds to lodge in my brain is music I ultimately cherish and listen to the most/longest. Instant gratification is sometimes too sugary sweet.
posted by jalexei at 3:18 PM on November 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Another for "Loveless", although "Isn't Anything" is always going to be my favorite My Bloody Valentine.

Ween is also a good hard to like but mind-blowing band... GodWeenSatan, as said above, is a particularly strange yet wonderful album. "Never Squeal" was the first song I heard by them and it changed my life when I was 14.
posted by dozo at 3:20 PM on November 15, 2006

Silver Mt. Zion's recent releases.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 3:20 PM on November 15, 2006

Miles Davis Bitches Brew is an easy suggestion, but if you've had even the slightest love for fusion then there is no better reward than taking the time to wrap your head around Live-Evil.
"Inamorata, mission: music, masculinity, master of the art... music. Who is this music that which description may never justify? Can the ocean be described? Fathomless music, body of all that is, lived everlastingly... Man initiate inamorata, your music are tomorrow's unknown known life. I love tomorrow..."
posted by furtive at 3:20 PM on November 15, 2006

I'll go along with Joanna Newsom, but the first thing that came to my mind was a Thelonious Monk album, "Thelonious Himself." It's mostly just Monk soloing on the piano, and includes 22 minutes of work-in-progress on 'Round Midnight. It encourages you to pay attention to what he was driving at, which only starts crystallizing after many listens. It's not bad on the first go-round, but not so rewarding either.
posted by adamrice at 3:24 PM on November 15, 2006

Of course I have to say: Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and On Avery Island.

Also, some recent ones: Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther and Final Fantasy - He Poos Clouds. The former isn't that inaccessible, but it's weird and multi-layered and rewards close attention and took me awhile to get into. The latter is a bunch of dark, classically-influenced songs for strings and voice about suicide and D&D and it's beautiful.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:30 PM on November 15, 2006

Definitely Loveless and Blueberry Boat, and some Sonic Youth (A Thousand Leaves, for one). Also:

Broken Ear Record by Black Dice
Burned Mind by Wolf Eyes
Come On Die Young, and to a lesser extent Young Team by Mogwai
Absence by Dälek
most albums--Ege Bamyasi, Monster Movie--by Can
In The Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel (yeah, I just couldn't get into it at first)
We Are The Rowboats by Krakatoa (now one of all-time favorites)
The Sky's Run Into The Sea and The Soul of The Rainbow and The Harmony of Light by Growing
posted by The Michael The at 3:37 PM on November 15, 2006

to clarify: Young Team by Mogwai is amazing, and not at all less rewarding than CODY; I just got into YT more easily than CODY.
posted by The Michael The at 3:39 PM on November 15, 2006

Xiu Xiu is pretty hard to get into but eventually just kind of attaches to you, Fabulous Muscles would be a good start. And I hated At the Drive In at first but definitely love them now, maybe start with Vaya or Relationship of Command and work backwards.
posted by bonesy at 3:40 PM on November 15, 2006

Should you be going through a dark, depressing time in your life, you may find the Eels' Electro-Shock Blues to just keep getting better the more you listen to it. If you like 60s psychedelia, you can always play "spot the influence" with XTC's (as the Dukes of Stratosphear) "Chips From the Chocolate Fireball."
posted by kimota at 3:41 PM on November 15, 2006

Anything by Oval. Also, anything Merzbow.
posted by subtle-t at 3:42 PM on November 15, 2006

A lot of these suggestions so far are really good (although some of them I liked right away), especially Blueberry Boat and Tilt.

Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart literally nauseated me when I first heard it. Now it is one of my favorite albums ever.

Alien Lanes was the first Guided By Voices record I heard, and I thought it was a totally boring collection of snippets of generic unmemorable rock songs. A couple of listens later I realized it was total genius (which is probably unfortunate for me; I must have 50 Robert Pollard-related records by now).
posted by dfan at 3:45 PM on November 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Some early Cure is quite difficult to get into, mostly because of the unmitigated sense of loss and dreariness that permeate those few albums. But if you can learn to appreciate them, they are second to none for sad times. Seventeen Seconds, Faith, and Pornography are the records that come to mind.
posted by sid at 3:54 PM on November 15, 2006

Sung Tongs by Animal Collective was difficult for me to get in to, but now it's a favorite, and it was actually a cover of Two Headed Boy that got me to start liking In an Aeroplane Over the Sea.
posted by JackarypQQ at 3:56 PM on November 15, 2006

Oh, Xiu Xiu is a good suggestion.

Also, Hail to the Thief was the hardest Radiohead record for me to get into.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:59 PM on November 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Van Dyke Parks: Song Cycle

This is the one genius album from the lyricist/collaborator of the (up until recently) never released Smile album by the Beach Boys. After he left the Smile project, he recorded this very strange, unlike anything else album. The first time I heard it I was totally turned off by the effeminate vocals, odd song structures and loose tempos. After a number of listens it became one of my all-time favorites. It's a truly unique masterwork.

Even in his own catalog, there's nothing else like it.
posted by SampleSize at 3:59 PM on November 15, 2006

Just about anything by John Zorn.

Anyone who seems to understand music raves about his albums. Which leads me to conclude:

- I don't understand music; or,
- I haven't listened to his music enough; or,
- his music is just difficult to get into.

The guy does about 5 albums a year, which is an unreal number.

Allmusic lists him as cerebral, difficult, and fractured, among others.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 4:05 PM on November 15, 2006

Seconding Neutral Milk Hotel. First-ing Deerhoof.
posted by notswedish at 4:17 PM on November 15, 2006

Zorn is also a Macarthur Genius Grant recipient. And he played live with Fantômas (King Buzzo from The Melvins, Dave Lombardo from Slayer).
posted by The Michael The at 4:17 PM on November 15, 2006 [1 favorite]

Here are some that I've given a chance to and wound up loving:

Gulag Orkestar by Beirut
Let Me Introduce My Friends by I'm From Barcelona
Hypermagic Mountain by Lightning Bolt (Now, this is about as difficult as it gets...but once you get it, it is like gold.)

That new Joanna Newsom album is awesome as well.

I must agree with Frank Zappa. I consider myself a huge fan of music and I can't live without it. I'm always looking for something new, something that will blow my mind. So many people have suggested that I try Zappa out, but no matter how many times I try, I still can't get it.

I'm sort of amazed that Loveless has shown up here more than a few times. I was pulled into that one from the get go. However, I did have a very hard time getting into Isn't Anything.

One band that took me a while to get into was Pulp. It's a little different from what I normally listen to, and usually I'm cool with that...but other than the song "Common People" I really did not get them at all. However, I have found that they are very very tasty, indeed.

This is my first post, BTW. I'm really happy to be here.
posted by ampersand2001 at 4:19 PM on November 15, 2006

these are more in the vein of 'works that are truly worth the effort' as opposed to ones that are just difficult for the sake of being frustrating. Some are deceiving in that they appear to be understandable from one point of view, but in thinking of them that way you're COMPLETELY missing the point.

Tool's "Lateralus". It took me 2 years to "get it", and another 3 (and counting) to process the experience. Every time I hear it I feel like it's brand new, and remains my favorite album of all time. (most deceptive, I think--it's all too easy to pass this off until you understand what's really going on)

anything by Godspeed You Black Emperor, but particularly "F#A#(infinity)". The most harrowing and beautiful piece of music I think that's ever been created.

Steve Reich very much seconded, as well as Silver Mt. Zion's later work. "Ring Them Bells (Freedom Has Come and Gone)", from their newest album Horses in the Sky, is utterly wrenching.
posted by dmaterialized at 4:23 PM on November 15, 2006

Forgot one of the most important of all!

Venetian Snares - Rossz Csillag Alatt Született

Gorgeous neo-classical with what initially sounds like totally arbitrary +160 BPM breakbeats on top. Starts off as a total nightmare, and after a few dozen listens it becomes the most compelling thing you've heard in years. "Hajnal" is a landmark track for the genre of whatever-the-hell-this-is.
posted by dmaterialized at 4:27 PM on November 15, 2006

Mike Oldfield's Amarok. A single hour-long track. His least-selling album, but widely regarded by fans to be one of his best.

Worth it for the secret morse code telling Richard Branson to fuck off.
posted by Mwongozi at 4:33 PM on November 15, 2006

Any recording of music by Morton Feldman or Oumou Sangare.
posted by billtron at 4:36 PM on November 15, 2006

Think Tank, by Blur, as well as 13, both took me a long time to like.
posted by wilful at 4:44 PM on November 15, 2006

Seconding Bitches Brew and Live-Evil (I didn't find them particularly hard to get into, but they definitely take a long time to learn well enough to really appreciate just how good they are - and the live DVD Miles: Electric is also mind-blowingly good and slow to really get).

Thom Yorke's solo The Eraser qualifies - it's very electronic and sounds quite cold until you start to really hear it, then it's wonderful (the song I liked least at first is now one of my favourites). I listened to it practically non-stop for weeks, and I'm still hearing new things in it. At the risk of sounding like a Radiohead fangirl, Kid A is also slow to make its true greatness known, but incredible once you get there.

Other suggestions: Future Sound of London ISDN, and the new DJ Shadow The Outsider (which is about as diverse an album as I've heard, but becomes very cohesive once you get into it).
posted by biscotti at 4:50 PM on November 15, 2006

Second Song Cycle, Blueberry Boat.

Actually, The Clash fits this for me, but I was 15 at the time.

SMiLE bootlegs from the Beach Boys.

I'd nominate Steely Dan's Aja and Two Against Nature, and Donald Fagen's The Nightfly and Kamakiriad, for the opposite reason as Trout Mask Replica or many others on this thread-- they can sound so slick at first listen, but the songwriting and lyrics are engaging and complex. Multiple listenings pay off. Same with Painted from Memory by Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach.
posted by ibmcginty at 4:56 PM on November 15, 2006

Peter Gabriel's Up -- After being underwhelmed at first-listen, I choose to forgive him for including the instantly dated and rather mundane "Barry Williams Show" on this disc. The rest of this recording is among Gabriel's best work. Like other choices mentioned in this excellent thread, this is not a record that grabs you by the ears, choosing instead the space between the ears. And that takes a bit more work to make an impression.

Great thread, Lanark. Thank you for this.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 5:01 PM on November 15, 2006

Anything by Aphex Twin.
posted by jesourie at 5:14 PM on November 15, 2006

Naked City by John Zorn is a great album
also anything by the Boredoms

If you want easier to listen to, perhaps try Boards of Canada or Squarepusher.
posted by Holy foxy moxie batman! at 5:36 PM on November 15, 2006

Fripp and Eno: No Pussyfooting. I love, love, love this record.
posted by flabdablet at 5:44 PM on November 15, 2006

Actually, I thought Loveless was excellent on first listen. If anything, I've gotten tired of it over time.

I'll agree on Trout Mask Replica being one of those albums you have to work your way into, one song at a time. I still can't listen to the whole thing all the way through (I don't feel the same about Zappa, though).

Double Figure by Plaid.
Surrounded by Silence by Prefuse 73, although I don't think it's a very good album (especially compared to his previous work), it took a lot of here-and-there listens to be able to listen to it as a whole.
Lifeforms by Future Sound of London took a while to be able to listen to every track all the way through. Probably for the same reasons as the Aphex Twin albums mentioned earlier. It can take a long time to sync up your brain with the internal logic of that sort of music, and until you do, it's just noise.
posted by rxrfrx at 5:45 PM on November 15, 2006

Since everone seems to be piling on Miles Davis and Loveless, I'm going to cast another vote for Daydream Nation. Also the Black Dice. Creature Comforts is one of my favorites right now, and it's weird enough that I'm actually kind of afraid to listen to it around my friends. Night Flight is like listening to robot geese being sucked into a jet engine, and I love it.
posted by pullayup at 5:50 PM on November 15, 2006

Oh, dang, and the Microphones!
posted by pullayup at 5:54 PM on November 15, 2006

Blowout Comb by Digable Planets
69 Love Songs and Charm of the Highway Strip by the Magnetic Fields.
posted by milarepa at 6:04 PM on November 15, 2006

For the uninitiated, Sheet One by Plastiman takes ages to get into but is quite rewarding once you "get it."
posted by milarepa at 6:07 PM on November 15, 2006

It took me a long, long time to see what the fuss over Phish was. Then when I got it, I got it. The annoyingly obsessive devotion of their fans makes total sense to me now. Imagine the same vibe as a cherry apple red balloon at a kids birthday party and listen again.

I didn't appreciate Radiohead's Kid A for at least two years after it came out, then fell in love with ti after seeing it performed live in a bullfighting ring in Basque country.

Tool's Ænima is good on the first lesson, but read the FAQ and listen 100 more times. I did [about ten years ago], anyway.

I really, really think this whole Joanna Newsome thing is the largest inside joke in music history. I've listened, I even saw a live show just to make sure there wasn't something I wasn't hearing on the albums... and no, I was right all along. She's an elfish, shrieking Bjork in the worst way imaginable. Maybe if you listen to it long enough it'll warp your normative measure of what an aesthetically pleasing voice is, but it's not for me.
posted by trinarian at 6:14 PM on November 15, 2006

and early Modest Mouse; This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About and The Lonesome Crowded West in particular. Both sound good - but not very sophisticated - on first listen, but get better and better each successive listen. Brock's musical and lyrical playfulness make for an amazing contrast with the bleakness that intertwines itself in most songs.

The Verve is another band that sounds good on first listen [esp their pop album, Urban Hymms] but gets deeper and better each successive listen and each album back you go. By the time you get to their first E.P., you'll be floored that they're not more well known.
posted by trinarian at 6:28 PM on November 15, 2006

For me, the album with the highest initial hardness to eventuall coolness ratio was Mars Volta's Deloused at the Comatorium.
posted by knave at 6:37 PM on November 15, 2006

i would cross 69 love songs right off this list. i classify that as smart and accessible pop - but YMMV - no offense intended. an album that popular can't be too inaccessible. i would second boards of canada (music has the right to children), especially if you haven't had much exposure to electronic music past 1995 or so. EVOL by sonic youth is difficult but rewarding - noisy and a bit chaotic too. in that same vein, Glenn Branca's work - one or more members of sonic youth worked with his guitar orchestra early on. joanna newsom is probably a love it or hate it thing - repeated listens probably wouldn't change one's opinion.
posted by chr1sb0y at 6:40 PM on November 15, 2006

Very old blues falls into this category for me, especially oddballs like Skip James or Geeshie Wiley whose music wasn't so widely imitated by later artists. If you can, get your hands on some of James's piano recordings. If I didn't know how old the recordings were, I'd think they were from a brilliant living avant-garde jazz artist — they're that new-sounding. They sound to me like Thelonious Monk only more so: rhythmically free and melodically eccentric to the point of sloppiness, but so, so compelling after the dozenth time through.

Actually, most traditional music is like this. The first time I heard Sacred Harp singing, or gamelan, or oldschool Cuban drumming or whatever, it's taken me a good solid week of listening to nothing else before my brain fell into the groove. (A few times, when I've made that sort of weeklong commitment to a tradition, I've had the odd experience at the end of the week of turning on the radio and thinking the Beatles or Aerosmith sounded like incomprehensible noise. That's an eye-opener.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:53 PM on November 15, 2006 [2 favorites]

Autechre : EP7
Microphones : The Glow Pt. 2

Other albums worth hearing a few times:

Neu! : Neu!
Can : Tago Mago
Sun Ra : The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Volume One
Drive Like Jehu : Yank Crime
posted by four panels at 7:01 PM on November 15, 2006

Music is really weird this way - I cannot imagine my bloody valentine or godspeed you black emperor being inaccessible - those were both bands that were immediately pleasing. They're mesmerizingly gorgeous right out of the gate, not complicated or difficult but just rich and hypnotic, to me. Sonic Youth sometimes takes a while to get into, though if you see them live it's something else. I think that's key, really - if you play this stuff in the background it may not work. You have to actually listen.

Matmos can be complicated sometimes - at first some tracks I loved and some I did not like at all, and then 6 months later, ones I thought I didn't like had climbed the ladder, and some of my old favorites didn't seem as exciting anymore. Also, I always liked the band Prolapse, but recently I started thinking they were truly genius. I dunno what flip switched, but suddently I felt like I'd been blind to something right in front of me, and they were not just another post punkish boy/girl band, but something much more profound, refined & messy at the same time...
posted by mdn at 7:14 PM on November 15, 2006

"Paul's Boutique" by the Beastie Boys is, of course, a booty-knocker on first listen....then you listen to it again, and again, and again, and 17 years and maybe 5000 listens later, I think it's still one of the most lush, complex albums I've ever heard and ever will.
posted by tristeza at 7:35 PM on November 15, 2006

mindless self indulgence "frankenstein girls will seem strangely sexy"

though, that one might be instantly likeable depending on your current taste.
posted by haveanicesummer at 7:43 PM on November 15, 2006

chr1sb0y: you're probably right about 69 love songs. But I mentioned it because most people I know hate about 45 of those 69 songs on first listen but learn to love them after successive listening sessions.
posted by milarepa at 7:57 PM on November 15, 2006

Oh, and I meant Plastikman, not Plastiman.
posted by milarepa at 7:58 PM on November 15, 2006

Although I liked it pretty much immediately, I can see Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" being a grower for some. Also - Mansun's "Six" sounded like a complete mess to me initially, but slowly it all started making a ton of sense.
posted by davebush at 8:00 PM on November 15, 2006

Sometimes it's worth working through an artist's history to figure out what's going on. For example, Captain Beefheart's later albums are easier listening than his earlier stuff.

I still don't enjoy much of Zappa, and it hasn't been for lack of trying. I don't have to like art just because I appreciate it. Some music rewards the effort, some doesn't, and you can't necessarily tell ahead of time, so it's worth keeping your ears open for more.

As for music that rewards working at, I got my first listen of Anthony Braxton in the late 70s and I had no idea what was going on. Last week I found footage of him tearing up 'Impressions' by John Coltrane, and now I think I have a clue. This calls for further study.

For music that's not difficult, arch, or arty, but took me a few years to learn to like, I'd include the following:
'The Invisible Man' by Mark Eitzel
'Double Nickles on the Dime' by the Minutemen
'3 Feet High and Rising' by De La Soul
The Dock Boggs collection released by Revenant

As for arch and arty, we just haven't got the time to list 'em all.
posted by ardgedee at 8:18 PM on November 15, 2006

from my house's specialist in slightly-annoying music:
Modest Mouse "The Lonesome Crowded West"
Polvo "Today's Active Lifestyles"
early His Name is Alive eg "Home is in your Head" and "Mouth by Mouth"
The Grifters "Ain't My Lookout" or "One Sock Missing"

also, took a long time to get into Liz Phair's "Exile in Guyville" when it first came out
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:23 PM on November 15, 2006

Pat Metheny's Song X and 1980 80-81. Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come. Art Tatum's Solo Masterpieces series (8 volumes on Pablo, if you could still find them). Bill Evans Blue in Green. John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. Arturo Sandoval's piano album My Passion for the Piano. Art Farmer Modern Art.
posted by paulsc at 8:58 PM on November 15, 2006

Selected Ambient Works, vol II, by Aphex Twin

This album might be difficult for some people because of its extreme simplicity and minimalism. At first, I was disconcerted by its lack of musical complexity. Most tracks consist of two or three layers of abstract, quiet melodic and tonal loops repeated for seven minutes with analog tweaks. It is produced on analog electronic gear, yet its use of reverberation suggests acoustical natural (though alien) sounds. The usual structure of the songs is such that I would describe listening to this music as walking inside imaginary desolated architectures.

The artwork also adds to the overall experience, as the track titles are represented graphically instead of using titles. In the days before the internet, it was fun to figure it out.
posted by jchgf at 10:55 PM on November 15, 2006

Vladislav Delay
posted by lovejones at 11:36 PM on November 15, 2006

For the Roses by Joni Mitchell. Extremely, excruciatingly rewarding and as beautiful.
posted by nonmerci at 12:35 AM on November 16, 2006

If you like electronic music Venetian Snares should fit the bill - at first the complexity may seem overwhelming, but the depths come out over time. Rossz csillag alatt született is probably the most accessible for non-DnB fans, but Doll Doll Doll, Higgins Ultra Low Track Glue Funk Hits 1972–2006 and 2370894 have plenty to keep you coming back, once you get over the inital difficulty.

If you haven't yet gotten into some heavy dub, this may be approriate also. While some instinctually love it at the first listen, for other people it takes time for the riddims to seep in. Start with some King Tubby or Lee Perry, maybe some Augustus Pablo. Suggested albumns: King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, Kung Fu Meets the Dragon, Megatron Dub.

Beefheart is the archetypal difficult-to-get-into music. If Trout Mask is too steep a climb at first, pick up Safe as Milk and Strictly Personal first as an introduction.

A lot of Jazz would probably meet your criteria. Some random suggestions: Mingus' The Black Saint and The Sinner Lady, Coltrane's Blue Train or Giant Steps.

Also, if you haven't gotten into Hendrix yet, some time with Electric Ladyland will be amply rewarded.
posted by MetaMonkey at 2:41 AM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Ooh, also how about Times of Grace by Neurosis - ranges from dark metal to ambient and minimal.

Also, perhaps Shellac: At Action Park. The rhythms will get you eventually.
posted by MetaMonkey at 2:48 AM on November 16, 2006

Cecil Taylor's Unit Structures
posted by mattholomew at 3:41 AM on November 16, 2006

I guess it's worth noting that if you want to investigate this, it's easier going to get some education in whatever musical genres that flips your switches. Sometimes when you hear something intriguing but off-putting, reading somebody else's take on why it works or doesn't work helps on your second listen.
posted by ardgedee at 4:19 AM on November 16, 2006

Philip Glass's Einstein on the Beach was pretty hard to get at first. I still don't think I could listen to the whole thing all at once.
A Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra shares similar constructs with GY!BE. The album titles themselves are gems, like "This Is Our Punk-Rock, Thee Rusted Satellites Gather and Sing" and "He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms..." Silver Mt. Zion captures similar thematic territory, but replaces GY!BE's trademark harrowing distance and elegant power with harrowing intimacy and inelegant earnest. (I mean inelegant here in the most complementary way possible. I didn't like the band until I realized the beauty in that inelegance.)
I really started to understand John Zorn when I really dug into his version of the James Bond theme. There's a point where you realize that even though the melody, chord structure, rhythm, and any sense of direction are apparently out the window, the band is still capturing the feel of the piece. Then out of that chaos suddenly the full swing band just reappears magically with no warning, playing that familiar theme. I openly admit that I still don't really "get it" but I can see the road I'd have to take to get there.
posted by leapfrog at 5:31 AM on November 16, 2006



Royal Trux (ObGawkFilter, I saw Jennifer Herrema at a record store once, and omg was she teh hott).
posted by methylsalicylate at 5:43 AM on November 16, 2006

Just about anything by John Zorn.

I'd specifically suggest Locus Solus, an album with lots of hooting sax and turntable noises, with weird spoken vocals on top that at first is just irritating as hell. When it clicks over though, it's fantastic. Doesn't hurt that it's named after a book I quite like.

Meet the Residents, the first album by The Residents. It's compared sometimes to Trout Mask Replica, though I'm not sure how apt that is. It has the strange narratives, odd melodies, frequently hilarious lyrics and weird voices that characterize their later work, but there's also a rawness to it that is quite compelling.

Beck's Steropathetic Soulmanure was recorded around the same time as Mellow Gold. His contract had a clause that said if the label didn't like something he was working on, his was free to release it elsewhere. This is the result.

I'll throw in a highbrow one: Schoenberg's string quartets. Listened to in the order they were composed, the music goes from relatively traditional and accessibly melodic to atonal and very strange. The nineteenth century gives way to the twentieth in these pieces.

Seconding Royal Trux, the first album for choice. Very lo-fi, initially it just sounds like two junkies cutting rock demos with a 4-track (if that), but it eventually becomes one of the most addicting albums you'll ever hear. Twin Infinitives is usually pointed to as their most difficult album, but I never really got it.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:04 AM on November 16, 2006

This is a really weird question. And really weird answers. I mean, there are a lot of albums that keep rewarding further listens, like a lot of the pop mentioned above, but aren't all that hard to "get into." And there are a lot of albums that are crap that take people years to convince themselves that something worthwhile is there (including a lot of needlessly complex post-rock).

Here is a mix of "difficult" records and records that I've grown to enjoy more over the years of having 'em.

Merzbow— Age of 369

I remember listening to this in the car, not even all that loudly. I was driving a long, two-lane road, and suddenly noticed an ambulance with its sirens on right behind me, blaring its horn. As I pulled over, I realized that all of the engine noise and blaring that I had assumed was part of the album had really been external, but had fit in so well with the album that I'd been essentially deaf to everything around me. The album had become a totalizing aesthetic experience.
A couple that I'm not going to get into that I've heard similar things about because I don't own them (or haven't had any real experience with them being "difficult")— Nurse With Wound, Whitehouse, The Fugs, Frank Zappa.

Lou Reed— Metal Machine Music

Famously recorded as a fuck you to the label, I actually found this pretty easy to listen to and a lot of fun. I know that Reed thinks of it as a joke, but hey, it's worth picking up.

Cornish in a Turtleneck— "It's Broasted"

I hated this when I first heard it. It's a couple of high school kids playing at being Ween with toy intruments and gratuitous psychedelic effects. But after a while, the pop genius that these two kids had really shines through.

Wolf Eyes— (Bulb CD)
They're big names now, having signed to Sub Pop, but this album is what makes Dead Hills easy to understand. Even so, I wouldn't necessarily say that it's hard to get into. Just that it can be difficult listening.Released in the mid-'90s, it's minimal and dark, and a fitting heir to bands like Nurse With Wound.

Dalek— Absence
Dense, ugly hip-hop. One of last year's best albums, hands down, but a lot more metallic and claustrophobic than rap fands tend to expect.

Nana Vascalenos— Africadeus
Skritchy, skronky "world" music that kinda drones and doesn't really go anywhere. I find it weirdly soothing, but it's definitely got the sense of a kid playing with instruments (even though these are accomplished adults).

Flipper— Album
After years of hearing that this was the worst album ever recorded, I came around to its funny, funky stupidity.

Third Ear Band— Alchemy
Hippies meet free jazz, yeah! Took me a while to appreciate the discordant strings taht are all over the album.

White Noise— Electric Storm
Delia Derbyshire's layered cacophonics were easy for me to enjoy. It was the loungy chanteuse vibe that put me off for a while, but it's been totally rewarding once I sat down and listened.

Wildman Fischer— An Evening With
Was Zappa fucking with him? Is this a "serious" album? I know that some people don't like his voice, but the havoc he gets up to is to my ear catchy and revelatory.

Ankokukakumei Kyodotai— s/t
I think these guys are Japanese (I have no idea where I got this), and their off-tempo whump-whump-whump+drone would fit in line with the Japanoise scene. Either way, they're just a little too much to fit onto a mix tape, but totally worth listening to.

Deerhoof— Apple O'
I think I like the milkman album better, but for an album that still surprises me when I listen to it, Apple O' is a good bet. They're also a band that puts a lot of free music up online, so I go out of my way to buy stuff when I see it.

Elvis Costello— Armed Forces
I know that a lot of people will have the same reaction to me putting this on here that I do to Neutral Milk Hotel. But for years I had an irrational hatred of Elvis Costello. I just started disliking him as a kid, probably over Allison and the Angles Wanna Wear My Red Shoes bits on the radio, and it took me until just this year to really come around. Now I love his first several albums. Still think he became self-satisfied crap after that though...

Arthur Russell— Arthur on the Floor
It also took me a long time to enjoy disco music, and I think Arthur Russell is part of why I finally moved into enjoying it as music. It's really minimal, really detached, with odd vocals and occassional cello. It got me over a lot of my "Dance music's for idios" bullshit.

Bad Brains— S/t
This really is a difficult listen if you weren't there to see 'em, and I wasn't. It's dense, dubby hardcore of sometims dubius worth. But I feel better having listened to it.

Albert Ayler— Bells/Prophecy
Want skronk jazz defined? The abstract, peeling sheets of saxophone here are hard to listen to passively, at least for me. Without listening actively, it's buzzing noise and grating. Wen I can get kinda where he's going or coming from, I enjoy it a lot. If I had a bar, I'd probably put this on late at night to clear people out.

Bruce Haack— Bite
Apparently Bruce, who also gave us such gems as Electric Lucifer, has something against the educational industry and their effects on children. It's almost charmingly inept, this screed he puts together, but the electronic music that goes along with it can be really fun. No one else but me in my circle likes this at all, but they're Phillistines.

The Monks— Black Monk Time
The quintessential crazed garage band, The Monks are practically a cult religion with certain hipsters. I admit heresy in saying that I prefer the Fall's cover of Black Monk Time.

Hair Police— Blow Out Your Blood
The only way I can enjoy this album is to turn it up so loud that I feel it instead of listen to it. It could just be crap; maybe I haven't given it enough time yet. It is noise, jagged elecctronic static-y noise.

Don Cherry— Blue Lake
In his hippy junkie period, Cherry put out a lot of great music. This is one that I think benefits from repeated listening, even though it's not nearly as hard to get into as some of the other things I've mentioned.

Braniac— Bonsai Superstar
Broken electronic pop. Like their scions Enon played at the wrong speed. My only problem with this album is that I think the first track is so good that I often forget to listen to the rest of the album.

Destroy All Monsters— Bored
I tend to think of most No Wave as hard to get into, though this is more rocking (due to a Stooges guitarist) than most. Still, minimal, gritty, and you have to like Niagra's vocals and shitty recordings, which I do abotu half the time.

Various artists— Bulb Singles #2
I tried to avoid compilations, because they're not real albums, y'know? But there's so much good weird shit on here that I'd be remiss if I missed it. Early 25 Suaves, Wolf Eyes, Tweezers, Demolition Doll Rods, a whole slew of ugly noises made fun.

Cee-Lo— Cee-lo Green and his Perfect Imperfections
A lot of people didn't like this album when it came out. It is weird neo-soul, but I think that Cee-lo sells it much more than he does on the later Gnarls Barkley bullshit.

Well, I may post more later, but I got through the Bs at least.
posted by klangklangston at 9:14 AM on November 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

Agree with Xiu Xiu

Goldfrapp- Felt Mountain : was pretty spooky and weird to me when I first got it, but after 3 listens it grew on me.

Wilco- A Ghost Is Born : has still not quite grown on me because I find it so easy to forget to pay attention to it, but my friend just got into it after a few months of feeling the same way.

The Shalabi Effect- Pink Abyss : is strange and tonal but I found myself getting into it and being constantly surprised by the new things I heard in it.
posted by rmless at 11:00 AM on November 16, 2006

klangklangston: Armed Forces?!? Elvis Costello made that after listening to lots of Abba. It's among his easiest albums to get into, IMHO. Imperial Bedroom, with all its string sections and accordions and harpsichords and whatnot, fits this question best of all his early stuff, I think. Spike can be tough to listen to because it's all over the map, but it's all quite good. Time's Up by Living Colour fits that category, too.

Grateful Dead, 3-1-69. Link goes to site where you can download the files in Shorten). Everyone who's never listened to the Dead has an opinion about them because of their place in the public's mind. But listening to this show helped me appreciate what they were trying to do musically in the early days. It ranges from hard rock to folk to psychadelic pop and rock, has great improvisation from every instrument except keyboards, and has good vocals and great songwriting and lyrics. It can be tough to strip away preconceived ideas and cultural baggage and just listen to them, but the first set of that show is a thrilling piece of music.

That makes William F. Buckley link #2 on the day for me, neither in the Milton Friedman thread. Strange times we live in.
posted by ibmcginty at 11:49 AM on November 16, 2006

Wow - thanks for all the great suggestions everyone.
With so many new 'difficult' albums to try, it's going to take me a looong time to figure out which of these deserve the 'best answer' :)
posted by Lanark at 12:10 PM on November 16, 2006

I'm ashamed to admit it because many people whose musical taste I respect love him, but I have a real hard time liking the more weird Eric Dolphy. I'm down with Coltrane when he gets all wigged out, but Dolphy at his most wigged out is somehow too out there for me.

Autechre's confield and draft 7.30 are kind of the same way for me, although their untilted I can dig. Tri-repetae and the stuff on the extra disk in the ++ release, although initially pretty accessible to my ears, really rewards repeated listening over time. I've been listening to those two discs a lot ever since they came out and just the other day heard something I'd never noticed before.
posted by juv3nal at 12:49 PM on November 16, 2006

I just had this experience with Beck's latest, The Information. Took me 7-10 listens to appreciate.
posted by grateful at 12:51 PM on November 16, 2006

"Armed Forces?!? Elvis Costello made that after listening to lots of Abba. It's among his easiest albums to get into, IMHO. Imperial Bedroom, with all its string sections and accordions and harpsichords and whatnot, fits this question best of all his early stuff, I think. Spike can be tough to listen to because it's all over the map, but it's all quite good. Time's Up by Living Colour fits that category, too."

Did you not read the part where I both acknowledged that other people would probably scoff and where I explained my irrational hatred for Elvis Costello?
Oh, and it took me ages to get into Abba and Beegees too.

Crossing the Red Sea With the Adverts was also something that it took me far longer than I thought it should have to finally enjoy it. I still don't like Magazine.
posted by klangklangston at 8:31 PM on November 17, 2006

(rachelpapers: Re Can. Try downloading the song "I'm so Green" from the Ege Bamyasi CD. Funky and catchy as heck!)
posted by applemeat at 6:08 PM on November 20, 2006

Skip Spence's Oar.

The work of one mad genius, and the inspiration for many others.
posted by Afroblanco at 10:28 PM on February 7, 2007

Destroyer - Streethawk: A Seduction
Dan Bejar's voice is something to get accustomed to, but once you get over that and the odd, pompous song structures this album is life-changing.

Brother Danielson - Brother:Son (Brother Is To Son)
The exuberance of this man is forceful.

Matt Sweeney & Bonny 'Prince' Billy - Superwolf
Will Oldham is purposefully difficult to listen to. Perhaps an album of his that's less accessible (though also perhaps less rewarding) is his Sings Greatest Palace Music, a relentlessly irritating tribute to himself.

Mick Turner - Marlan Rosa
The seemingly aimless guitar work on this album takes about a zillion listens to before falling into place. When it falls into place, it's an epiphany. Turner's work with The Dirty Three works similarly.
posted by carsonb at 12:13 AM on February 8, 2007

melt banana's album teeny shiny took me a while to warm up to since it is so violently happy and often unlike music at all.

Eventually they turned out to be one of the best concert experiences of my life.
posted by subtle_squid at 7:21 AM on February 8, 2007

Laurie Anderson -- United States Boxset
This one took me ages.... She has this structured naivete that is really hard to understand.

Anything by This Heat
At first glance, you're all like "I get it." Then they start stereo panning all over the place, and you're all like "Stop. Stop now."

Roberta Flack -- Quiet Fire
It mostly sounds like easy listening, but when you sit down and pick it apart, the music is becomes really complex...

Plastic Ono Band (Yoko Ono Version)
Yoko's caterwauling antics are hard to get into, but once you give it a spin you'll realize that this is where avant-rock (as we know it today) really was birthed.

And also anything by Gilberto Gil or Perrey & Kingsley's catchy electro-future-space "the in sound from way out"
posted by Jeff_Larson at 10:21 AM on February 8, 2007

I've got to nth Trout Mask Replica. I got into that album over a period of years, starting when I was 14 and probably really loving it by about 17. It's the only album I can think of where I got into it song-by-song, starting with "Moonlight on Vermont" (I think of it as the "pop song" of Trout Mask Replica).

Also, any Scott Walker album. And it took me a really long time to warm up to Midnite Vultures (Beck) because I didn't enjoy funk. Now that feels like not enjoying fun, but I basically had to start liking the entire genre and then make my way gradually back.

Any good album by the Residents takes time. Too bad they've made so many bad ones :P
posted by crinklebat at 7:04 PM on February 8, 2007

« Older Converting my wife into a comic book geek   |   Types of Drunkenness Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.