Before we begin, let us clarify that "shitty" and "bad" are not the same. Bad-sounding records aim for a certain result and fall short. Shitty-sounding records result from conscious decisions consciously executed. Here are the six best shitty-sounding records. If your favorite entry is missing from the list, leave us a shitty comment.
6. At the Drive-In, Acrobatic Tenement
According to legend, Omar Rodriguez's parts for Acrobatic Tenement were recorded directly from his guitar without an amplifier, and the band intended to beef up his tone later. However, At the Drive-In ran out of money in the recording process and released the album unmixed with the original guitar sound. Like many punk-rock records before, the shittiness contributes to the Acrobatic Tenement's urgency.
5. Van Dyke Parks, Song Cycle
Song Cycle is a cult classic late-'60s record, as notorious for its commercial failure as for its ambition. It is an adventurous exercise in proto-chamber pop with edgy orchestration that probably sounds terrible in your car. Song Cycle is an early version of the beautifully shitty record, wherein the artist maxed out the recording capabilities in the quest for something never done before. Funeral by Arcade Fire is a more recent example, and it doesn't sound as conventionally pretty as you remember.
4. The Strokes, Is This It?
No single element of Is This It? is particularly pleasing. The vocals are distorted, the guitars are trashy, the bass is thin and the drums sound as though they were recorded in a cardboard box factory (perhaps that is what Drew Barrymore's bedroom sounds like). These instruments may not pop on their own, but all these disparate elements blend together into something that, OK, it still doesn't sound very good. The sound quality of Is This It? can be seen as a wink to its antagonistic title. With all the buzz around the Strokes in the band's infancy, there is something great about putting on the record and thinking, "Is this really it?"
3. The Mountain Goats, All Hail West Texas
When discussing shitty-sounding records, the term "lo-fi" is the buzzword at the tip of the tongue. Lo-fi albums by the Microphones and Emperor X and Death Cab For Cutie (seriously, how good is We Have The Facts still?) did not make this list because they do not actually sound shitty. All Hail West Texas by the Mountain Goats does. The record was recorded on a Sony Walkman, it was the last Mountain goats album not done in a studio and it happens to contain some of the greatest songs John Darnielle has written. It is not the shittiest-sounding record in the Mountain Goats' discography, and many would argue it is not his best, but it is his best shitty-sounding record.
2. Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited
"Like a Rolling Stone" was picked as the greatest song of all time by the certainly unbiased Rolling Stone, and it is a safe choice. Unfortunately, the legendary Highway 61 Revisited comes from a time and place before recording engineers figured out that the harmonica does not have to be the loudest instrument in a mix. There was a legendary backlash against Dylan's electric phase, but people were probably upset at the combined shrillness of his voice, his guitar, the organ and that damn harmonica. Like the Mountain Goats' entry, people overlook the unfortunate sound because the songwriter was in his prime. Just stop pretending that "Tombstone Blues" actually sounds pleasant.
1. My Bloody Valentine, Loveless
OK, let's get real. Loveless -- one of the greatest albums of all time and the best '90s album rival of OK Computer -- sounds shitty. It is fatiguing and overwhelming, layered with infinite abrasive guitars and buried vocals that make you strain to understand the words. But it is the best shitty-sounding album because the shittiness is an essential part of its beauty. While Highway 61 Revisited would still be a great album with a little more shine to it, Loveless with any other recording quality would be inferior. Imagine a polished "When You Sleep" and then stop imagining it because what you're imagining sucks. Loveless is painful and exhausting, totally shitty and completely perfect.
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