The Best Cult/Experimental Albums Of 2010

In addition to our albums of the year and under-rated albums lists, here’s The Quietus‘ John Doran on some overlooked records you might have missed

While it doesn’t put bread on the tables of the artists involved, there should be some comfort to be had from the knowledge that today’s cool record that doesn’t sell by the bucket load will sometimes end up that genius cult record in years to come.  

Most prolific in the artistic achievers but commercial also-ran stakes is the psychedelic stoner rock trio White Hills who had a self-titled bong-loaded long player out on Thrill Jockey as well as a blinding cosmic live album ‘Stolen Stars Left For No One’ and an LSD-enhanced joint effort with Salford-based intranauts, Gnod, called ‘Drop Out’ on Rocket Records. Load up the life pipe, it’s going to be a long afternoon…

But it’s not just drug-damaged cosmic explorers who somehow failed to set the world on fire in 2010. For reasons that seem unfathomable to me, ‘Real Life Is No Cool’ is the work of Norwegian disco/house producer Hans-Peter Lindstrom (known for his beardy cosmic noodling) and chameleonic pop disco singer Christabelle Sandoo (nee Solale).

This team work can be traced back almost a decade  to when she surreptitiously whacked some of her by turns sultry/aggressive/dead pan/exuberant vocals on one of his club bangers. But given this and the fact that tracks such as ‘Music In My Mind’ and ‘Baby Can’t Stop’ are club staples by now, doesn’t damage the utter freshness of this disc.

Only someone from a rock background like Lindstrom would have the nerve to invoke Quincy Jones, Prince, Donna Summer, Patrick Cowley, Cerrone, Vangelis and Manuel Gottsching but thank God he did, given that he gets away with it entirely on such killer tracks as ‘Love Sick’.

Heavy metal, once a completely (and mostly wrongfully) derided genre, keeps on going through a critical and artistic rejuvenation, especially at the heavy, amp worship, riff-tacular end of things. Arguably the two metal albums of the year have not been made by brightly tattooed emo mewlers with ironed fringes but by vaguely unfashionable English doom revivalists.

The first is ‘Black Masses’ by Dorset’s Electric Wizard – the world’s heaviest and grumpiest band. They recorded this psychedelic and reverberating masterpiece in Liam Watson’s Toe Rag Studios in the East End, which has also seen the genesis of brilliant albums by the White Stripes, Billy Childish and The Kills… bands all united by a love for warm valve amp technology.

The other album is ‘The Guessing Game’ by Cathedral – a sprawling double, packed full of iceberg-breaking riffs, philosophical meanderings and bonkers prog and psych stylings.

Metal is a global concern however and we should sink to our knees and raise the horns skywards in the direction of Italy for UFOmammut. Their album ‘Eve’ is a 45-minute long cone-shredding riff prayer to the brave and curious mother of mankind who was abandoned by her coward, God-fearing husband Adam. Ciao Bella!

Likewise raise a double reverse doom claw to High On Fire in America for their fearsome, bone-rattling classic metal masterpiece ‘Snakes For The Divine’.

For those wanting something a bit more esoteric, they could do much, much worse than look at Barn Owl’s ‘Ancestral Star’, a brilliant collection of arboreal and rustic drones, perfect for night time starlit walks, possibly to or from a drug dealer’s.

At the other end of the ambient scale is ‘Symbiosis’ from Demdike Stare who are a pair of record collectors from Manchester who have created a dubbed-out world electronica and soundscapes inspired by the Pendle Witch Coven. This is ambient house about witches, rather than witch house, it should be said.  

So far so freaky… but for those who like beautiful lilting melodies, they should look to Africa. Namely Mali in the case of Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté, who have collaborated on the self-explanatory ‘Ali and Toumani’ album which features the beautiful, chiming guitar work of the former and the magnificent, charming kora work of the latter.

Across the continent in Ethiopia we should also mention Mulatu Astatke, the founding father of Ethio-jazz, who has an amazing album out called ‘Mulatu Steps Ahead’. Mulatu, whose amazing music was featured heavily on the Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers, also recently loaned one of his tunes, ‘Yègellé Tezeta’ to Nas and Damian Marley for their 2010 hit ‘As We Enter’.

Some records are bound to stay obscure because of the sheer sonic terrorism they contain. Society will never evolve to the stage where the following albums will sound melodic or comfortable, for example. Pan Sonic’s ‘Gravitoni’ on Blast First Petite contains bowel shredding synthesizer and white noise drones.

Even more distressing is Gnaw Their Tongues’ ‘L Arrivee De La Terne Mort Triomphante’, on Crucial Blast which sounds like a full orchestra and black metal group being fed slowly into a meat grinder.

But perhaps the one percenter album of the year is The Body’s ‘And All The Waters Of The Earth Shall Turn To Blood’, which is made by two tooled-up tattooed men from Rhode Island, Providence, who are awaiting the collapse of civilization by making suicide cult, noise rock.

Possibly the biggest shock for me personally is not seeing The Besnard Lakes blow up this year with their sumptuous work of neo-shoegaze rock, ‘…Are The Roaring Night’. Jace Lasek may look like an extra from Saxondale but with a voice that lies somewhere between that of Brian Wilson, ELO’s Jeff Lynne and Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, he provides the ideal counterpoint for his wife and Besnard bassist Olga Goreas’s breathy and melancholy vocalisations. This, their second album has more MBV by way of wide open Canadian skies, stylings and should be heard by everyone reading this column.

And finally, which is the album that will really set pulses racing in futuristic car boot sales, record fares and the like? Well, I hope it’s Jane Weaver’s ‘The Fallen By Watchbird’; a Manchester based singer/songwriter who seems to be equally at home with dusty piles of Krautrock and synth pop records as she is creating delicate and disturbing acoustic psych folk numbers. If you don’t want to wait 20-years to stumble across it second hand however, you can get it now via Finders Keepers.