Top 10 Abstract Albums

January 25, 2010 at 8:44 am (Uncategorized)

This list’s made of many flavors. I’m positive that no matter who you ask, the albums that they most value as “abstract” will be different. All valuable, but definitely different. What I’m giving here is a list of ten albums that’ve always gotten me into that dislocated headspace, the kind I like to create in my own art. They’ve influenced me as deeply as any book has. I’m sure some of them will get you into the same headspace.

I’d also really love to know what everyone else uses to get into that zone (I’m assuming if you come here, that’s a place you like your head to be. If not… get out before something weird happens to both of us).

I should also add that I didn’t include anything for the reason that it was “essential” on a list like this – for example, Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. These albums have worked even better than the classics, for me. Lesdoit.

10) Peanut Butter Wolf – Peanut Butter Breaks Vinyl, 1994.

This one goes first, because it’s one of the best places to begin unlocking the brain. The album’s less than 22 minutes long but you only gotta listen once to get transported to its splashing re-dreamt version of the urban environment. Peanut Butter Wolf’s mostly famous as the man in charge of Stones Throw Records, the place Madlib (aka Quasimoto) calls home. But I think, more than any of his other albums, he establishes here how inventive of an artist he is himself.

KEY TRACKS: “Dopestyle” and “Charizma”

9) DJ Spooky – Dubtometry, 2003.

I think this album catches Spooky at a great time; before his work swerved into a direction too intellectual to groove to and after it evolved out of its hyper-trip beginnings – which are, don’t get me wrong, also great, but sometimes too rootless to keep a grip on. Also, this album demonstrates Spooky’s control over both the mechanics of the turntables (God damn, listen to “Animal Crackers”) and the dynamics of the atmospheres he’s creating better than any other. It’s got work from dub masters Lee “Scratch” Perry and the Mad Professor, but Dubtometry only feels like the genre it took its name from on the opening track, “Alter Echo Dubtometry.” For the most part, Spooky keeps us really thick in the trip hop, and does his best to bend our heads out of shape.

KEY TRACKS: “Animal Crackers” and “Blend”

8 ) Circa Survive – Juturna, 2005.

The term “emo” becoming common in contemporary musical discussion is one of the worst things that ever happened to music. It’s, to put it blunt, retarded. “Emotional” being used as a put-down to artists? Circa Survive is one of those bands. But the layers of texture and melody in these songs surpass emotion, into a more subconscious place. This, to me, is psychedelia for the 21st-century. And the vocals kill me – every note is an alarm. The whole package hits in the same way a film like Aronofsky’s The Fountain hits.

KEY TRACKS: “The Glorious Nosebleed” and “Stop the Fuckin’ Car”

7) DangerdoomThe Mouse and the Mask, 2005.

If you live in contemporary America and love weird shit, you probably already know who MF Doom is. And I don’t think anybody’s ever been able to put beats under him as well as Danger Mouse does on The Mouse and the Mask (except for the other MF Doom album on this list, under the name Viktor Vaughn…) Half the time loony, half the time disconcerting in an almost mystical way, this album is a trip. A bumpin, laughing gas-high hip hop trip. Lots of Adult Swim samples, too.

KEY TRACKS: “El Chupa Nibre” and “Mince Meat”

6) Debussy – Piano Music

I didn’t put a date on this, for obvious reasons. Debussy lived from 1862-1918, and, to give reference, the song of his that every knows, “Clair de lune,” was written in 1882. All classical music can work me into the abstract headspace. My generation is mostly ignorant to classical music, which is understandable, but unfortunate. Debussy’s a really great place to start – the album I have pictured is particularly great, Debussy’s Piano Music performed by Philippe Entremont. Rachmaninov’s Preludes would also be great. I wanted to have at least one classical album on here, to kind of speak for the whole genre (very unfair, I know – but I told you this list was built of many flavors).

KEY TRACKS: “Clair de lune” and “Deux Arabesques”

5) Quasimoto – The Unseen, 2000.

This is the Madlib recording I chose to include, though any fan of the abstract oughta dig into his whole discography. Madvillainy, his album with MF Doom, was very close to being on this list. Quasimoto is just nuts though. Madlib hung out for a week in the studio, binging on mushrooms, and created the character of Quasimoto by slowing down his beats, rapping over them, and speeding them back up. The production is Madlib at his strangest, and the airy voice floating over the whole thing works to put you in one of the strangest zones hip hop’s ever created. Enjoy.

KEY TRACKS: “Astro Travellin” and “Boom Music”

4) Explosions in the Sky – The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, 2003.

There is no better music to sit and think by. Nothing erases the body from the mind, so the mind can float apart from it, as well as Explosions in the Sky. That’s what I’ve found, and if they affect me this powerfully, I don’t know how they could hit someone else without doing at least some of the same. If you need time to stop for a minute, this will help. But be careful with this one. Listening to it at the wrong times may take you places you don’t want to go.

KEY TRACKS: “Memorial” and “First Breath After Coma”

3) Viktor Vaughn – Vaudeville Villain, 2003.

I did a Top 15 Hip Hop Albums of All Time list a few months ago, and I included this one… here’s what I wrote about it then: “This is MF Doom at his absolute best.  A perfect blend of urban tones, surrealism, sci-fi shit, cartoon-logic… MF Doom is a mad genius.  And the main reason I like it so much is because I don’t think Doom’s had such perfect beats for his kind of raps on any other project. [Dangerdoom comes in close second, Madvillainy in close third.] I’ve never heard of most of the people who did the production on the album but I wanna hear more.  It’s absolute headtrips but with a beat you can follow.  And RJD2 dropped a track on it.”

KEY TRACKS: “Raedawn” and “Saliva”

2) The Mars Volta – De-Loused in the Comatorium, 2003.

I love the Mars Volta, maybe more than any other instrument band right now (funny we’ve reached an age where we have to distinguish between bands that use instruments and bands or musicians that don’t) – this album especially. De-Loused in the Comatorium is a rainforest filled with strange sounds and anguished beauty. The guitar work is Omar at his best, stumbling and tripping between unbalanced textures and organized landscapes of melody. And Cedric is at the perfect moment of transition from the aggression and emotion of At the Drive-In to the weirdness of the more experimental Mars Volta. The whole album runs like a very, very fucked up film. Like Aronofsky on opium, blurred with deranged, updated versions of guys like Jodorowsky and Lorca. This album has meant a lot to me.

KEY TRACKS: “Eriatarka” and “Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of)”

1) Boards of Canada – Music Has the Right to Children, 1998.

Is this a surprising number one? Boards of Canada just does it for me. If you know me, you know I’m a junky for two things: hip hop and surrealism. Really, it comes down to that. Usually in music, I find one or the other. If both, the qualities of one are at the expense of the other – nah mean? But Boards of Canada is such a perfect blend of hard, dirty beats (very droning and locked in the pocket) and liquid atmospherics. I still don’t understand what exactly these two DJs  are doing to make this kind of music. But I love it.

KEY TRACKS: “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” and “Rue the Whirl”

05/06/2010 Update: I’ve been working on a mixtape that’s the same vibe as all this music, and even including some of the artists on this list. Fans of this music: keep your eyes on this page, where it’ll be available for free download in a couple weeks. Here’s the dope cover art made by Jase Daniels:


  1. Help Me Make A Mixtape! « Forrest Armstrong aka Gasoline Monk said,

    […] To help me out, just let me know what your favorite abstract albums you’ve ever heard are. Email me at, or leave them in the comments section of this post. As an example, check out the list I made a little while ago. […]

  2. Lopi said,

    thanks for the list i enjoyed listening to most of it. a little abstract that i think you should listen to is Dr.octagon and mr. oizo. enjoyyy

    • forrestarmstrong said,

      Thanks Lopi – I’m a huge fan of Dr. Octagon and all Kool Keith’s stuff, all the way back to Ultramagnetic MCs, but I never heard Mr. Oizo. I’ll get on that shit man, thanks!

      • Lopi said,

        yea i knew you would know dr octagon hes a legend. all of kool keiths stuff is wicked

  3. Emily said,

    Fantastic list. I liked most if not all of it, and I’m glad to have found someone who likes Explosions in the Sky as much as I do.

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