From Arsedestroyer to Zoogz Rift: 50 underground albums you've never heard of

Sexed-up Canadian synthpop, Japanese junglism, ritualistic Finnish bear-hunting music … our writers pick treasures from the darkest corners of their record collections

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Sexed-up Canadian synthpop, Japanese junglism, ritualistic Finnish bear hunting music … our writers select treasures from the darkest corners of their record collections. Please share your own curios in the comments below.

Arsedestroyer – Teenass Revolt (Devour, 2001)

If you thought the Swedes were laid-back and cheery, Teenass Revolt may come as a shock. Stockholm’s Arsedestroyer blurred the lines between hyper-speed grindcore and flat-out sonic assault. Their magnum opus (38 untitled bursts of hateful, grey noise) makes Napalm Death sound like Blossoms.

Basti – B (Way Cool Records, 1991)

Seven-piece, two-drummer, sax- and sampler-wielding bands from Norwich were a rarity in the early 1990s. But that didn’t stop Basti from briefly burning very bright. B, their only album, resembled EMF if they had been brought up badly on strong Norfolk ale and art school lectures: furious percussive stomps meeting sax skronk, Peter Gunn riffs and east of England rapping.

John Bender – I Don’t Remember Now / I Don’t Want to Talk About It (Record Sluts, 1980)

You won’t find this American cold-wave musician on Wikipedia. It is as if he exists in self-imposed obscurity, refusing interviews, denying reissues until recently and naming tracks in a way that make Autechre seem user-friendly. But this LP shows someone who could have been a household name if had he wanted.

Margaret Berger – Pretty Scary Silver Fairy (RCA, 2006)

Having done her time on a TV talent show (runner-up on Norwegian Idol in 2004), Berger rattled through the electropop gears on this deliciously quirky record. Confessions-era Madonna and early Annie are obvious touchstones, while a pre-X, pre-filtered disco Kylie was paying close attention.

Dave Bixby – Ode to Quetzalcoatl (self-released, 1969)

Part enlightened Christian folk, part redemptive drug ballads. Bixby was barely out of high school and suffering from too many acid trips when he found God and made this unique crossroads record, rooted in darkness and light and delivered with a voice of pain and hope.

Peter Brotzmann & Han Bennink – Schwarzwaldfahrt (FMP, 1977)

This incredible set sees the improv-jazz duo ramble off into obscure corners of the Black Forest, and start playing in nature. Bennink had no drums and he beat out sounds on trees and stones: “wood, trees, sand, land, water, air” are among the credited instruments. A bracing mountain hike for the mind.


Roberto Cacciapaglia – The Ann Steel Album (Durium, 1979)

In 1979, Italian composer Roberto Cacciapaglia ensnared American supermodel Ann Steel for this record of glitchy, manic marionette pop. It’s a rictus-grin stare into the lurid machinations of modern commerce: hellishly upbeat, scathingly cynical and fiercely fun – in short bursts, at least.

Chelmsford County High School – Folk Group (self-released, 1970)

A highly coveted, private press folk record (a copy is for sale on Discogs for £1,151), this features the pure, eerie sound of young women singing about dead children in wartime, plus other chilling, traditional ballads.

Connie Converse pictured in Schenectady, Christmas 1955.
Connie Converse pictured in Schenectady, Christmas 1955. Photograph: -HANDOUT

Connie Converse – How Sad, How Lovely (Lau Derette Recordings, 2009)

Before the Greenwich Village folk scene exploded in the 1960s there was Connie Constance, an unknown musician whose lo-fi acoustic blend of blues, country, jazz and pop quietly laid the groundwork for the role of singer-songwriter. Her homespun recordings from 1950 to 1955 went unnoticed until they were unearthed by a former collaborator in 2004. They have since been reissued twice by two labels.

Lula Cortes e Zw Ramalho – Paebiru (Solar, 1975)

Forget Tropicália, this Brazilian psych-rock album is more wigged out, more consuming, its heavy soul shot through with acid. In four parts named after the elements, the master tapes and most copies were lost in a flood in 1975.

The Deep Freeze Mice – Hang on Constance Let Me Hear the News (Cordelia, 1985)

The greatest of 10 albums made by Leicester’s DIY psych-punk surrealists, this lost masterpiece offered wildly literate fuzz-pop weirdness, spiky sound collages and the only song in history to take James Brown to task for failing to acknowledge that “there is no soul music … there is only neuron music!”

Disincarnate – Dreams of a Carrion Kind (Roadrunner, 1993)

Released amid death metal’s early 90s heyday, the sole Disincarnate album remains extreme metal’s best-kept secret. A one-off side project by then-Testament guitarist James Murphy (no, not that one), this is a dense, deep and expansive work that casually refined and redefined the genre.

Dr Philter Banx – Insertion in Middle “C” (Criminal Records, 1975)

From its slogan “scientifically programmed for intimate couples” to cover art of a phallic Van de Graaff generator, this synth LP was designed for the amorous. Dr Banx was, in fact, a bunch of Canadian students having a joke, unaware that they were recording a future krautrock holy grail.

Emily – Rub Al Khali (Everlasting Records, 1990)

Emily started out as a moody 80s indie band recording for Sarah Records’ predecessor Sha-La-La and Creation. But then they ventured further out into the unknown. Released on a tiny label to virtually no response, Rub Al-Khali is semi-improvised, roughly recorded and cosmic, big on free-blowing sax, Hendrix-y guitar and lambent jazzy balladry, a rich and strange album utterly out of step with its era.

Andy Fairley – Fish Food v Birth of Sharon (Bristol Archive Records, 2008)

Emerging from the radical ferment of post-punk Bristol, poet Andy Fairley’s early 80s music blends serrated punk-funk, dub invention and bug-eyed Captain Beefheart surrealism. Fairley died in 1999, but remains a minor legend in his home town. Portishead used to walk on stage to his eerie instrumental track Volition.

Fast Floor – On a Quest for Intelligence (Smooth Recordings, 1994)

Rave and jungle still inspire crazed passions, and rarely more so than on this triple 12-inch of levitational, soulful jungle. Where sometimes the appeal of holy grail records is selective, here it is easy to hear how the tracks’ sunrise euphoria can still reduce grown men to jelly.

Gaseneta – Sooner or Later (PSF Records, 1991)

Gaseneta are more punk than punk. A Japanese high-school group, they played as hard and as fast as possible with bloodied fingers and broken instruments – until they imploded. There is an appropriately horrible recording quality across their tiny back catalogue.

The Groundhogs – Split (Liberty Records, 1971)

The ferocious blues-rock of underground stalwarts the Groundhogs was at its most intense on Split, written by frontman Tony McPhee in the throes of a drug-induced psychosis. “I must get help before I go insane,” he intones after another cyclonic freakout. A UK Top 5 album, impressively.

Peter Grudzien – The Unicorn (self-released, 1974)

Bad-trip, psych-country oddity, privately pressed in 1974 by this Greenwich Village also-ran. Grudzien’s waywardly sincere baritone and warped chick-a-boom seems beamed in from some hillbilly twilight zone, augmented with home-cooked tape effects, warped guitars and screeds of nightmarish imagery.

Harry Pussy – Harry Pussy (Siltbreeze, 1993)

A staggeringly beautiful swaying tower of noise, where Delta blues is shredded and half-reformed by a tornado of drums and fuzz. Includes the most extreme Kraftwerk cover ever recorded, and ranks above orange juice and space travel among great Floridian achievements.

Ichiko Hashimoto’s 1984 LP Beauty.
Ichiko Hashimoto’s 1984 LP Beauty. Photograph: -

Ichiko Hashimoto – Beauty (Domo, 1984)

Channel the art-pop attitude of early 80s New York through a bilingual Japanese frontwoman who also happens to be a conservatory-trained jazz pianist, and you’ve got the makings of a left-field pop classic. Beauty is crying out for a reissue.

Thee Headcoatees – Punk Girls (Sympathy for the Record Industry, 1997)

Masterminded by garage-rock outsider Billy Childish, this all-female outfit mix the uncomfortably off-kilter (they are largely out of tune) with effervescent girl-group joy. Half covers of 70s songs, half earwormy punk originals, Punk Girls sounds like the Slits meeting the Supremes in a ramshackle Kentish garage – a crudely cut gem.

Stephen David Heitkotter – Heitkotter (private press, 1971)

Twenty-five copies of this record were originally pressed, with Heitkotter scrawled across white sleeves. A loose and weird American psych-rock record produced just before its maker was made a ward of the state for life, it documents a mind unravelling.

Heldon – It’s Always Rock’n’Roll (Disjuncta, 1975)

Parisian synth pioneers Heldon were led by Richard Pinhas, a former student of Mille Plateaux philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Whereas Tangerine Dream were cosmic and Cluster were bucolic, Heldon were relentless excavators of the soul. This double album showcases their impeccable drone logic.

Otis G Johnson – Everything – God Is Love 78 (Holy Spirit, 1978)

So lo-fi it sounds as if it’s being played through a wall of moss, these dirges by a Ford worker in Detroit, powered by sustained organ chords and cheap drum-machine pulses, are gospel at its most personal and honest.

Jr & His Soulettes – Psychodelic Sounds (HMM Records, 1971)

Bankrolled by a rich Jewish matron, 10-year old Harold Moore Jr and his three younger sisters deliver souped-up strip joint soul from Oklahoma City. The songs – Pimp; Momma Love Tequila – were written by Harold Sr. All 300 pressings were fatally warped after being shrink-wrapped on a hot meat-packing machine in their uncle’s butcher shop.

Le Forte Four – Bikini Tennis Shoes (Los Angeles Free Music Society, 1975)

Pressed privately and self-released, Bikini Tennis Shoes passed into legend as the record that birthed Pasadena’s pioneering noise collective, the Los Angeles Free Music Society. Its 40 tracks (many under 30 seconds) veer from electronic experimentation and media manipulation to plain goofing off. Wild, ramshackle and unique.

Lives of Angels – Elevator to Eden (Color Disc, 1983)

More influenced by Astral Weeks and the endless vistas of krautrock than the gloomy post-punk that presaged it, the first and last album by British husband-and-wife duo Lives of Angels is a monochrome masterpiece of home-recorded indie.

Macintosh Plus – Floral Shoppe (Beer on the Rug, 2011)

Beloved by fans of the internet-brewed subgenre known as vaporwave, Macintosh Plus’s muzak-inspired, sax-laden and increasingly influential album remains undeservedly obscure.

Alyth McCormack – An Lomall: The Edge (Vertical Records, 2000)

Even in Scotland, most people listen only to traditional music at ceilidhs, but Alyth McCormack’s debut album is worth the investment. She sings a sweet, unusual vibrato in Gaelic, backed by emotive fiddles and piano. This is the traditional made fresh and modern.

Moebius & Plank – Rastakraut Pasta (Sky Records, 1980)

At the turn of the 80s, two krautrock pioneers caused a pile-up on the endless autobahn with this lethargic tribute to Jamaican dub – hence the awful title. Dieter Moebius and Conny Plank recharged their motorik rhythms soon after, but Rastakraut Pasta remains an endearingly trippy krautrock curio.

New Bad Things – Freewheel! (Candy-Ass Records, 1995)

Formed at a Sebadoh gig in Portland, New Bad Things epitomised the 90s slacker aesthetic. Released on their own label, Candy-Ass, their debut album was full of nifty pop tunes and wry in-jokes about their local scene, buried under layers of couldn’t-care-less fuzz. The origins of Portlandia are right here.

Aggressive, bizarre and thrilling... Robert Omlit.
Aggressive, bizarre and thrilling … Robert Omlit. Photograph: Korye Logan

The Omlits – My Name Is Harold: I Am an Outlaw! (unknown label, 1981)

A homegrown, tape-only blast of aggressive, bizarre and thrilling art-punk from conservative Orange County, California, led by gay activist/provocateur Robert Omlit. The subject matter ranges from 1970s grindhouse horror movies come to life to desperate lust for male TV icons of the same era.

Oppenheimer Analysis – New Mexico (self-released, 1982)

This London duo’s sole LP is immaculate DIY electropop gripped by cold war dread. It peaks on Radiance, a glittering anthem to the nuclear age that quotes “father of the bomb” J Robert Oppenheimer quoting the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Orquesta de las Nubes – El Orden del Azar (Linterna Musica, 1985)

The solo work of Suso Sáiz has already been put out by reissue label of the moment Music from Memory, but his ambient group featuring Pedro Estevan and vocalist María Villa is making fans of fourth world music salivate. Based in Madrid, the trio took the approach of Terry Riley, Steve Reich and the ECM back catalogue and turned it into otherworldly, utterly unique music.

Annette Peacock & Paul Bley – Dual Unity (Freedom, 1972)

Peacock’s synth playing always pulls the soul out of her machines. This album recorded live with her then husband, Canadian jazz pianist Paul Bley, is no exception: a future-spiritual jazz epic that’ll knock you sideways.

Daniel Patrick Quinn – Acting the Rubber Pig (self-released, 2014)

A true outsider, DPQ comes and goes from music-making, occasionally jacking it all in to disappear in a hunt for hills to climb. He reappeared in 2014 for this odd LP, fuelled by home-brewed wine made with herbal tea, with rhythms beaten out on the walls of a small house on Skye and lyrics from a mind wandering around reality.

John Paynter and Peter Aston – Sounds and Silence (Cambridge University Press, 1969)

This unsettling experimental album accompanied a textbook encouraging new attitudes to music-making in schools. The sound of children croaking folk songs about purgatory, and creating storms, moods and atmospheres through musique concrete, freezes the bones.

Mind-warping... Eliane Radigue.
Mind-warping … Éliane Radigue. Photograph: Yves Arman

Eliane Radigue – Vice-Versa Etc … (self-released, 1970)

An impossibly glamorous 1950s and 60s Parisian art-world socialite, all Radigue wanted was to tinker with synthesisers. These shimmering, mind-warping drone pieces, on only 10 tape copies, set her up as a vastly influential sound artist – one who’s still working at 85.

Rah Digga – Everything Is a Story (self-released, 2004)

Female rappers face a lot of injustices, not least for Rah Digga is the shelving of this album: only scrappy online leaks remain. Its guests – Mary J Blige, Ghostface Killah, Snoop Dogg, J Dilla – are extraordinary but Digga (of Busta Rhymes’s Flipmode Squad) owns it effortlessly.

Ras Kass – Soul on Ice (Priority Records, 1996)

Soul on Ice is an unflinching account of racism in the US that feels prescient in the age of Donald Trump. The LA rapper jokes about “snuffing Saint Peter” as he debates the origins of Aids and White Jesus over potent drums. Political rap at its bravest.

Riechmann – Wunderbar (Sky Records, 1978)

Originally in the group Spirits of Sound (featuring members of Kraftwerk and Neu!), Dusseldorf’s Wolfgang Riechmann created vast, moody, sweeping atmospheres through pioneering synthesiser explorations on his debut LP, but never saw its release after he was stabbed and died at the age of 31.

Koyhat Ritarit & Primo – Karhujuhla: Musiikkinaytelma Muinaissuomalaisista Aiheista (Fuga, 1986)

Köyhät Ritarit (Poor Knights) were a Finnish group dedicated to folkloric re-enactments. The English translation of the album is The Bear Feast: A Musical Drama on Ancient Finnish Themes. Indeed, it depicts a ritual bear feast, complete with hunt, dance and a “song in praise of beer”. Picture a Scandinavian cross between The Wicker Man and the free folk of Sunburned Hand of the Man – with extra growling.

Spontaneous Overthrow – All About Money (New-Ark Records, 1984)

Much outsider soul dug up by collectors is just plain bad. But this mini album, by a duo from New Jersey and sounding like Prince if he’d never properly learned an instrument, is freakishly addictive. Whether it’s worth the thousands of dollars people pay for copies is another matter.

Jem Targal – Luckey Guy (Sheavy, 1978)

Formerly of Detroit psych-rock trio the Third Power, Targal’s privately pressed solo album is a delightful home-recorded curio. Born of necessity, his multitracked vocals and mouth percussion give a distinctly woozy feel to these loved-up, lo-fi pop songs. Ariel Pink was taking notes.

Soichi Terada – Sumo Jungle (Far East Recording, 1996)

Best known for making frothy, neon-lit house belters, Japan’s Soichi Terada took a left turn in the mid-90s to invent “sumo jungle”, a brilliantly bizarre concoction of choppy jungle beats with grunts and slaps sampled from televised fights.

Soichi Terada performing at Strøm festival 2016.
Soichi Terada performing at Strøm festival 2016. Photograph: PYMCA/UIG via Getty Images

Twink – Think Pink (Polydor, 1970)

A prime mover on the Ladbroke Grove scene in west London, Twink (born John Alder) played with the Pretty Things, Syd Barrett and Hawkwind. And just before forming Pink Fairies, he recorded this mighty mind-howl of frazzled guitars, pounding drums, mystical proclamations and ecstatic hollering.

World Domination Enterprises – Let’s Play Domination (Product Inc, 1988)

Straight out of late-80s Ladbroke Grove, World Domination Enterprises were a group of squatters who ran with arts collective the Mutoid Waste Company. The pulverising noise they made – bass like concrete dropped from the top of a council-block tower, guitar so feral it would have warranted an asbo a decade later – should have brought the walls of neoliberalism tumbling down.

Hiroshi Yoshimura – Music for Nine Post Cards (self-released, 1982)

Yoshimura’s 1982 LP Music for Nine Post Cards is a holy grail among new age collectors, and its forthcoming reissue could expose his subtle Erik Satie-influenced compositions to a much wider audience. Like Gigi Masin, Yoshimura, who died in 2003, favoured a setup of a Fender Rhodes and not much else, giving his music a minimalism that – like Eno’s – was used as environmental music for transportation hubs and even fashion shows.

Zoogz Rift – Amputees in Limbo (Cordelia, 1985)

Part Beefheart, part Manson, part who-the-fuck-knows-what, Zoogz Rift was built for cult status. From mad-eyed Farfisa punk and slabs of abstract noise to sinister, acid-addled monologues and even a vicious dismantling of Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, his madness was compelling and unique.

Selected by: Jennifer Lucy Allan, Rachel Aroesti, Robert Barry, Lanre Bakare, Ben Beaumont-Thomas, Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff, Ben Cardew, Michael Cragg, John Doran, Daniel Dylan Wray, Thomas Hobbs, Kate Hutchinson, Dom Lawson, Caspar Llewellyn Smith, Joe Muggs, Louis Pattison, Alexis Petridis, Ned Raggett, Chal Ravens, Sam Richards, Jude Rodgers, Laura Snapes, Graeme Thomson and Luke Turner.

The GuardianTramp

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