James Acaster's Weirdest Albums of 2016
In his Perfect Sounds podcast, James Acaster makes the case for 2016 being the greatest year for music ever. His argument comes after having listened to over 1000 albums from that year alone and now owning over 650. He's covered your big hitters -Beyoncé, Rhianna, Bowie - but he's also delved into some really, really odd corners of the music landscape and has found some really weird albums. Weird albums he's grown to love.
“A weird album, for me, is one that’s been approached in a strange way,” says Acaster. “It’s an album where the idea is unusual and so is the way they’ve made it…For a lot of albums I would class as weird, I almost don’t care what it sounds like. The concept is enough. Even if you’ve tried and failed, I would like to give your album my time. You deserve it”.
These are the weirdest albums of 2016 that James Acaster considered deserving of his time.
Matmos – Ultimate Care II
Matmos are an American duo who make experimental electronic music. They’ve made albums using only plastic objects, or entirely using a range of vintage synthesisers. For Ultimate Care II, they used a washing machine.
When two people have made an entire album where every single sound is made using a washing machine, you can't not own it
“When two people have made an entire album where every single sound is made using a washing machine, you can't not own it,” says Acaster.
“When I originally bought it, it was just for the concept. They sampled the sounds the washing machine makes; they used it as a percussive instrument; they had friends come over and see what sounds they could get out of it. The whole album lasts the amount of time it takes their washing machine to complete a cycle.
I thought it was going to be style over substance – I don’t like being the guy who thinks that – and then I was pleasantly surprised that I liked it. The sounds they get out of the washing machine are great. It’s quite dancey. And I like that every now and again they leave in a bit that sounds like a washing machine. You want the washing machine album to sometimes just sound like a washing machine. Otherwise, what was the point of using a washing machine?”
Hanba! – Hanba!
Hanba! is a band from Krakow, Poland, who set out to make an album that transposed the world of punk, with all its aggression and rebellion, to 1920s Poland.
They’re kicking out against everything and being as snotty as possible.
“The concept for this album is, ‘What if punk was invented in Poland in the 1920s’,” says Acaster.“
They imagined punk as a rebellion against everything in the 1920s. Not only do they give themselves aliases, they give themselves backstories, jobs, political stances, everything…I don’t know what the lyrics mean – they’re in polish – but I’m guessing they’re very politically charged protest lyrics. They’re kicking out against everything and being as snotty as possible.
It’s a long album for a punk album. It’s not just ten quick songs and out. I guess maybe they had more to be angry about than people in Britain in the 1970s.”
Be – One
The official description of this album says: “the sound of British summertime as heard by one of the most important members of the animal kingdom – the bee”. That was enough for Acaster.
they got a beehive and recorded it for a whole album...Well, you’ve got to hear that, haven’t you?
“This was introduced to me by (comedian) Mark Olver,” says Acaster. “He said, ‘It’s the guys from (rock band) Spiritualized and they got a beehive and recorded it for a whole album. The beekeeper’s wife figured out the bees were humming in the key of C, so she played the cello with them’. Well, you’ve got to hear that, haven’t you?
It was originally part of an art installation [in Milan]…There are bits that are quite meditative but also bits where there are actually quite catchy hooks. It’s very cool that the guys from Spiritualized are involved, but it’s also very cool that the beekeeper’s wife was involved…and of course it makes you think about lots of other things. Bees are permanently topical.”
Yeah You – Id Vendor
This is the most genuinely weird album on Acaster’s list: an aggressive blast of spoken-word poetry, dreamt up by a father and daughter who miss each other’s company.
Every now and again I just think it’s too loud, like an old man.
“This album is what most people would consider weird,” says Acaster. “It’s difficult. The idea behind it is pretty basic though: Yeah You are a father-daughter duo who used to record exclusively in their car while they were going to and from the shops – I presume someone else was driving. The daughter would sing and the dad would improvise instrumentals. It’s quite shouty spoken word.
This album was made when the daughter went to university in Vienna. They used to hang out all the time and suddenly that wasn’t a part of their life anymore. Every time he would visit her they’d record a song.
This album then is a father and daughter adjusting to not seeing each other.
I was surprised that I liked it. I like the way her voice sounds over instrumentals. The only thing I don’t fully get on with is the instrumental, which is very low-fi and noisy. Every now and again I just think it’s too loud, like an old man.”
Shooter Jennings – Countach (For Giorgio)
Two quite mainstream artists are mashed together on this album, on which country singer Shooter Jennings re-imagines the music of disco producer Giorgio Moroder.
Albums like this remind me how enjoyable and delightful an album can be.
“This one is weird because it exists, not because it sounds weird,” says Acaster.
“Shooter Jennings is a country musician who I’m personally not a fan of, but he has a very large audience…He’s always been a huge fan of Giorgio Moroder and decided he wanted to do a tribute album.
The challenge for him is, ‘I don’t play these kinds of songs, but I’m going to try. Moroder’s my favourite, so I’m going to try to be as good as someone who’s iconic to me’. Some of the choices are inspired. He chooses Marilyn Manson to sing Cat People (originally sung by David Bowie) at the end. You wouldn’t think Marilyn Manson would sound anything like David Bowie, but he does!
I think every musician should at some point do something that is a completely different genre to what they usually do and completely out of their comfort zone…Albums like this remind me how enjoyable and delightful an album can be. It was a nice reminder my 2016 project wasn’t just a massive waste of money.”