Can you reccomend some complex music?

OK, the term ‘complex’ is pretty vague, but hopefully you know what I mean.

I’ve been wanting to get into music that is a bit more complicated than your average verse-chorus-verse, three chord rock n’ roll.

It doesn’t even have to be rock music, some good examples of complex electronic music would be Aphex Twin, and maybe Skinny Puppy.

I really don’t like wanky prog-rock though, so please don’t suggest bands like Rush, Yes or Dream Theater. Some rock bands that I would consider complex include Radiohead’s more recent CDs (including OK Computer), or some of Frank Zappa’s works. Oh, and Mr. Bungle.


I’m not sure this is exactly what you want, but here’s a suggestion:

Master of Puppets - Metallica

Multiple guitar layering, complicated drum parts, and long involved songs.

Porcupine Tree is pretty nice.

The Eels, They might be Giants, Tool

If Zappa’s more complex stuff, pleases you, check out Mike Keneally, who was a protege of sorts to FZ and played in the last band Zappa fielded. Keneally’s Nonkertompf album is instrumental and extremely dense. Other good ones by him are Hat and Sluggo, although these have their simpler moments as well. (Have you heard Zappa’s Civilization Phase III?)

I know you wish to disallow prog, but you may find Starless and Bible Black by King Crimson to be earthy enough not to trigger a prog rolleyes.

If you wish to dabble in modern ‘classical’ music, investigate Charles Ives (especially the 4th Symphony and the Concord Sonata), Olivier Messiaen (Quartet for the End of Time, Turangalila Symphony) and Conlon Nancarrow (Studies for Player Piano, in which he wrote for player piano because the music was too complicated for humans to play–alas he lived mostly before computer technology would have greatly empowered him).

Also you may like Balinese or Javanese gamelan music, which is very percussive and has cool interlocking parts and tempo shifts, although it can be repetitive.

In the electronica realm, check out Autechre and Squarepusher.

Brianjedi had a good point with Metallica: I’d add . . .And Justice For All as another nicely knotty one, and they have a new one, St Anger, coming out in June which is rumored to be a return to that form. New Radiohead coming out then too, and it’s really good.

Oh yes, and Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock albums–you may think of them as 80’s synth-poppers, but with these two albums they took an amazing and drastic left turn. Very spooky and inscrutable.

If you’re after complex layered rhythms and melodies try - In Sides by Orbital.

Its dance music though, so not sure if that would be you sort of thing.

Well, standard rock is pretty limited. You probably have to venture out into deep water if you want something different and complex. Usually, funkified music is as complex as music will ever be, requiring something from both the players and the listener. Psychedelic music can also be quite the opposite of elevator music.

I’d try these:
What is Hip” by “Tower of Power
Should be the prototype of funk. Horn section, rhythm guitar and perfect arrangement.

I Wish” by “Stevie Wonder
The song that got turned into Wild Wild West, blows the remake away.

Around the World in a Tea Daze” by “Shpongle
This is music alot of people won’t touch with a ten foot pole, but i think that’s because they don’t give it a chance. It’s beyond unique.

Folkvisa i Morse” by “Samla Mammas Manna
This won’t be easy to find, it’s a swedish group that existed during the 70s. Not sure what their music can be described as.

Main Vein” by “Jamiroquoi
They seem to switch style with every album, began doing some sort of acid-funk and then went full blown disco-funk.

Who’s That Lady” by “The Isley Brothers
Began as a motown group. Jimi Hendrix actually played backup for them at one point.

Hip to Be Square” by “Huey Lewis & The News
Underrated is the keyword here. I mean, who can’t love this.

Green Onions” by “Booker T and the MG’s
They started off as a session group. Released Green Onion around mid 60s, was sort of based on a riff by John Lee Hooker. Probably the single most grooving recording ever made.

These are the standard answers to a question like this, but I’ll give them anyway:

Radiohead: ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’

Also, I recommend ‘Swordfishtrombones’ by Tom Waits.

But of course now I see you already had Radiohead in your OP. Curses.


Oh yeah, definitely. You could also include probably everything else Booker T and the MG’s ever recorded. They had a couple more hits in the 60’s like “Hang 'em High”, the theme song from the Clint Eastwood movie by the same name and “Time is Tight.” One of the best bands ever.

How about the Dire Straits? “Skateaway (Roller Girl)” and “Sultans of Swing” come to mind. Also check out some of Mark Knopfler’s solo work.

:smack: And I almost forgot. Spoon! Kind of hard to explain this band. Just give them a listen! Check out their music here.

I can reccomend some good complex music. Starting with Iron Maiden, especially albums like Somewhere in Time, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son and Brave New World. You could also try Powerslave and Piece of Mind.

Next would be Rush, and any number of their albums and since they change a lot I don’t want to reccomend anything, you could just try the best of or Chronnicles.

You can also try Savatage, starting with either Dead Winter Dead or Wake of Magellan. You could also try Poets and Madmen.

Another band that you might want to try out is Virgin Steele, though those albums can be hard to find.

The last band that I know is Golden Earring, they have a lot better music then just Radar Love, which is a personal favorite. The best complex stuff they have comes from the early 70s, Moontan etc, but the best of is probably a good place to start.

Well, I’ll stick with rock and indie art-rock kinda stuff.

Tortoise - Start with the album Millions Now Living Will Never Die - Fairly low-key music on the whole, but incredibly complex and weaving a wide range of influences, from Krautrock to dub to jazz. One of the essential bands of the 90s, and criminally underappreciated in Chicago, but get due props everywhere else it seems.

Sigur Ros - Agaetis Byrun I’m not even sure how to begin describing this group from Iceland. If you like some of Radiohead’s post OK Computer stuff, you should enjoy these guys. Ethereal, spacy, occassional snips of non-sense Icelandic words. This album blew me away the first time I heard it. Lots of lush strings, keyboards and subtle textures. Gorgeous.

Stereolab - Emperor Tomato Ketchup Ok, now I’m not sure if it fits your definition of complex, as Stereolab tend to take a very minimalist approach to their music. A typical Stereolab song tends to groove on two chords, a pulsing drum beat, and intertwined female vocals, with a decidedly Marxist theme. They’ve picked up where Krautrock bands like NEU! left off. It’s cerebral and arty, yet accessible at the same time.

Can - Tago Mago - A German band from the 70s, I would regard these guys as the most musically interesting and diverse band I have ever come across. You might lop it in the prog-rock category, but I don’t see them as the spiritual kin of bands like ELP, Dream Theater, Jethro Tull, et al… These guys may take a bit to get into, and all their albums are quite different experiences, so if you don’t like one, try another.

Sonic Youth - Daydream Nation is the classic album. If you want something a little poppier, yet rawkin, try Dirty. Lots of guitar noise, lots of off-kilter rhythms, wonderful textures. Daydream Nation is certainly in my list of Top 5 most important rock albums of the 80s. Dirty is often underappreciated by Sonic Youth fans, but a great way to acclimate yourself to their sound if you don’t want to take the great head-first leap into Daydream Nation.

Flaming Lips - The Soft Bulletin or Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots If you like Radiohead, I think you should be able to get into these guys, as long as you don’t have a problem with lead singer Coyne’s idiosyncratic voice, which some people do. Complex arrangements within the confines of pop structure. To me, they are the American counterpart to Radiohead, and I dare say better on the whole. (Although OK Computer I’d rate higher than either of these two albums…if only slightly.)

So that’s off the top of my head. If you tell us more examples of “complex” music you like, we could fine tune this a bit more.

I’ll second King Crimson, specifically Red, Starless And Bible Black and almost anything from 1981 or later (I’m a sucker for Adrian Belew).

Also another vote here for Tortoise, and another project with common band members called The Sea And Cake (which includes vocals, whereas Tortoise does instrumental music).

Although I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, a good bridge between a lot of musical worlds is the Steve Reich piece Electric Counterpoint, as played by Pat Metheny in the 1988 recording. It consists of ten guitar parts and two bass parts overdubbed, plus one part played live against the tape…the net result is a piece that doesn’t sound as complicated as it actually is. It has a lot of interesting metric shifts in the third movement, and stereo imaging that will blow your mind, especially if you try to play along. The piece is a nice hybrid of classical, jazz, rock and a slight dash of funk or disco, depending on how you hear it.

Henry Threadgill’s got a lot of good stuff, too…classically- structured avant garde jazz, with interesting instrument combinations (things like two guitars, two tubas, sax and drum kit, or four guitars and four cellos). I’d say Makin’ A Move is a good point of entry.

Happy listening!

DJ Shadow’s Private press album has some fairly complex stuff on there. Best song of the album: Six Days, in my opinion.

Another great group in this vein is XTC. They have made a career out of taking conventional pop song structure and turning it on its head. Two high recommends are English Settlement and Apple Venus Vol 1. Really they throw chords into their music that you swear didn’t exist before and make them sound like they’ve been around forever.

Also, if you like prog-rock that doesn’t sound at all like"self-indulgent wankering" I highly recommend Bridge Across Forever by Transatlantic . Good Catchy Stuff!

Just stay away from Mogwai no matter what you do!

Chris W

Early Alan Parsons Project can be very complicated and cool as well.

I’m specifically thinking of the title cut from the album I, Robot. Starts out with a synth rhythm, then when you get used to that beat, the drums come in. It sounds totally opposite to the synth, but in your mind they start to meld together. Just when that starts to happen, the guitar starts a totally different rhythm that takes you a minute to get used to, but as soon as you do, the jam starts and you’re totally blown away by the complexity of it all.

Check it out.

Try the first two albums by Pale Saints. The Comforts of Madness and In Ribbons are complex and moving works that might be just what you’re looking for. They also had an outstanding in Chris Cooper.


Primus is nice and complex.

Lateralus by Tool is one of the most complex and beautiful albums I have ever heard.