Ten Quasi-Folk Albums I Like (Experimental, World, Freak-)
Wasn’t long ago I said I wouldn’t make a list of folk music, as I don’t like Western folk music. But it might be a while before I get to make a world or experimental list…funds are running low for the holidays. So here’s to lumping things together with a vague, over-inclusive category.
Anyone looking for Celtic, klezmer, or acoustic guitar singer-songwriter folk musicians should stick to the separate post with remaining labels on eMusic. Expecting any of that below will only infuriate.
1. “Empa #01” & “Empa #02” - Escola de Musica Popular e Avanzada (2017 & 2018). The second entry is less than half the length of the first, but both are just 99 cents and, being specifically for dance, one can definitely appreciate all the folksy hooks. The second leads with a flute backed by a piano and an unknown instrument that sounds like a very unhappy accordion or a Chinese sheng and is less accessible, more challenging. Brief vocals on the fourth track.
2. “Flux” - Attwenger (2011). Fully freak folk. They have to have one of the largest catalogs remaining on eMusic, unfortunately also on one of the most expensive labels, Trikont. Punk and folk rock with accordions or “Austria’s answer to The Pogues” are not inaccurate descriptions. They’re a singular, very much acquired taste, and this album is one of their longest, newest, and most highly rated on AMG.
3. “Abandoned Garden” - Yujun Wang & Timer (2014). A very, very long album, more than a single CD could hold and then another LP’s worth, this is one of the best and most interesting examples of Western folk music (i.e. an acoustic guitar and a singer-songwriter) in Chinese that I’ve heard. Her voice might offend people who demand technical perfection, but I find it refreshing. Incorporation of Chinese instruments also keeps the proceedings unique and surprising. Three epics of about ten minutes or more might also test some listeners’ patience. I could have done without the song sung to her cat, Ding Ding. Definitely sample first, and know that listening to the whole thing in one sitting might be enough Chinese female vocal acoustic music to last a long time. I do wish the song titles were either left in Chinese rather than translated into English or longer both to fit the albums epic lengths and get more like “Both Sober and Insane, We Cannot Believe Her.”
4. “5 Monstruos” - Tio Rex feat. Fast Eddie Nelson (2014). Sounds a bit like Calexico or DePedro on the opener in terms of accompaniment, but his voice is deeper (think Adam Green without the impishness), and he’s got some backup singers. The rest of the $2 EP is quite a bit mellower. Singing in Portuguese with an acoustic guitar but not being averse to electricity and dramatic structural twists also brings the “muscular fusion” of Lenine to mind. https://birutarecords.bandcamp.com/album/5-monstros
5. “Port Entropy” - Shugo Tokumaru (2010). This is the first of three excellent albums by the Japanese master of hyper-kinetic but charmingly innocent folk rock available on Polyvinyl. I don’t usually feel the need to promote the final giant indie label, but too many still don’t know and love this guy. Pure bliss, though if this is the first you’ve heard, do sample ahead to make sure he’s not too upbeat or crazy for you. His unrelenting falsetto might not appeal to everyone. For the get-up-and-go, start with “Lahaha” and “Rum Hee.” https://shugotokumarumusic.bandcamp.com/album/port-entropy
6. “Miracle Kicker” - Dark Captain Light Captain (2008). Mentioned this one previously, and it’s a very rare case in which there are more user ratings for the album on eMusic than on All Music Guide. I wonder if it’s a matter of them being from the UK. Far from new, but one of my favorite folk rock albums. Far more folk music needs to drop soothing, falsetto f-bombs, as on “Questions,” in my view. I’d take this over Wilco and really wish they had more than one album. https://lorecordings.bandcamp.com/album/miracle-kicker-loaf18
7. “Sometimes Good Weather Follows Bad People” - Califone (2012 or 2002). Probably too famous for a list of mine and of highly questionable folk pedigree (is “avant-folk” a thing?). The Sin Ropas side project is more minimal to fit in folk, but I’ve already plugged the one album on the same Jealous Butcher imprint. This is a compilation of two older EPs with a couple of new tracks. Broke-down and plodding in the best way possible, with confusion coming from bouts of silence to suggest the musicians are actually as tired as the music sounds. I doubt it’d fit in rock either. https://califone.bandcamp.com/music
8. “Life as an Individual” - TzChien (2016). And now back to the obscurities. A breathy Chinese female vocalist over sparse instrumentation ranging from accordion to strings to piano to acoustic guitar. She does sing in English on the first track and with affectation on the third and fourth, though understanding it is still a challenge. Would benefit from more purposefully directed production to ease the cheese, but if a homespun, guileless sound appeals to you, give this one a whirl. Not sure what it is about cats that makes Taiwanese folk singing ladies want to go overboard on the sentimentality. https://tzchien.bandcamp.com/
9. “Billige Flaggen” - Ich Schwitze Nie (2017 or 2000). AMG says the earlier date, and I’m inclined to believe it. This is one of those semi experimental albums that doesn’t fit anywhere perfectly, on Trikont and thereby pricey. Much of it is definitely not folk music, but neither is much else here.
10. “As Canções de Eu Tu Eles” - Gilberto Gil (2000) does anyone have more albums still on eMusic than him? Doesn’t hurt that his discography spans more than a half century. This one is a soundtrack but is maybe even more upbeat and varied than a typical album of his.
On other lists and worth mentioning again: “The Longest Day” - Toby Hay (2018) https://tobyhay.bandcamp.com/album/the-longest-day. “Tan” - Foliba (2015). “Mirror Bride” - Sin Ropas (2016). “Live (En Vivo)” - Jeheka (2018). “The Project Earth Experience” - TdotA10 (2019). “The Serpent And the Dove” - In Gowan Ring (2015) https://ingowanring.bandcamp.com/album/the-serpent-and-the-dove. Gillian Welch.