If new music in 2018 was attempting to respond to the zeitgeist in ways both bracing and obvious, then delving into past decades provided a much needed break from simply trying to keep up. From old school hip-hop, early 80s art pop, minimalist DIY rock, Brit jangle and beyond, the 10 albums listed here were either brand new discoveries or works from familiar artists whose catalog had yet to be fully investigated. Music can transport, heal, disrupt, and create a dialogue between the listener and artist. Most importantly, it can give us something most lacking in our troubled times: hope.
Soundpieces: Da Antidote (1999)
Made up of Madlib, Wildchild, and DJ Romes, West Coast underground crew Lootpack unleashed what might be considered “mumble rap” from today’s standards, with its lo-fi beats, mushy-mouthed rhymes, and lyrical beatdowns of wack MCs.
Bonsai Superstar (1994)
Dayton, Ohio’s Brainiac came storming out of the gate in 1994 with this left-field combination of fried amps, Moog synths, whirling distortion, and loopy vocals. Like fellow Dayton legends Guided by Voices, the band exemplified the early 90s lo-fi scene by playing fast, loose, and sloppy.
Soul Mining (1983)
Fans of Throbbing Gristle, Syd Barrett, and David Bowie take note, as Soul Mining may be one of the most underappreciated albums of all time; a dizzying fusion of boogie woggie piano, electronica, funk, polyrhythmic grooves, and weirdo pop songwriting.
Shin Joong Hyun
From Where To Where (2011)
Known as Korea’s grandfather or psych-rock, Shin Joong Hyun put out most of his music during the 60s and 70s, and this collection of 7 tracks is the perfect encapsulation of his extraordinary gifts. A deeply emotional and spiritual listening experience; using jazz, soul, and traditional Korean instrumentation in order to fight against the political upheaval of the day.
The Stars Are So Big, the Earth Is So Small...Stay as You Are (1993)
Taking cues from groups like The Velvet Underground, Can, Stereolab, and Young Marble Giants, Pram’s 1993 debut uses a strange collision of sounds alongside Rosie Cuckston's whispy vocals to create a disorienting waking nightmare. Certainly an acquired taste, but challenging in all the best ways.
The Flying Lizards
The Flying Lizards (1979)
A group of improvising musicians, The Flying Lizards may be best known for their hit single “Money (That’s What I Want)”, but their 1979 self-titled debut is one of the weirdest satire-pop records ever. There’s wonky jazz, dub, AM radio pop, and ambient textures here, but this more than simply a novelty item.
The Cleaners from Venus
Midnight Cleaners (1982)
Before we had folks like Chris Knox and R. Stevie Moore pushing their lo-fi mixtapes, singer/songwriter Martin Newell was making some of the best British pop/ rock of the 1980s. One of his earlier offerings, 1982’s Midnight Cleaners is bursting with infectious harmonies, analog keyboard washes, jangly guitar, wandering sax, and warm tape hiss.
Vaudeville Villain (2003)
The third album from rapper/proucer MF Doom under the Viktor Vaughn alias, Vaudeville Villain is simply one of the greatest hip-hop releases of the past 15 years. Doom rules the mic with his sleepy flow and pop-culture references, while the production is filled with left-field samples, woozy beats, and dense instrumentals.
Batucada Por Favor
A collection of batucada tracks from different artists, this compilation is essential listening for anyone interested in early 60s/late 70s percussive music. Moving from Latin jazz fusion, Bossa Nova, Brazilian traditional, to full on string/horn orchestration, Batucada Por Favor is a thrilling invitation to get up and move.
Lizzy Mercier Descloux
Mambo Nassau (1981)
French musician/painter/poet Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s second album, 1981’s Mambo Nassau, sounds so modern as to be astounding. Think the skittering funk of Talking Heads with African instrumentation, squiggly keyboards, off-kilter time signatures and Descloux’s yelping vocals. Bands like Deerhoof and Guerrilla Toss would be unimaginable without this pioneering sound.