The directed by Shia LaBeouf and co-written by Shia LaBeouf and Marilyn Manson trailer for the Manson album Born Villain set to the song "Overneath The Path Of Misery" is already a mind screw just from that description. Then you get to the actual video (criminally NSFW). You will not get to the eyeball in the vagina before you're going "What the fuck?"
While that is perhaps one of Manson's biggest mind screws, a fair portion of his work is this. Antichrist Superstar takes at least several listens to figure out the plot of, as do the other two concept albums, Mechanical Animals and Holy Wood (In the Shadow of the Valley of Death)). And then you find out they form a triptych, an interconnected trilogy with three different main characters, one for each part. And then you find out that it starts at the last of the three released, Holy Wood, then the second, and then Antichrist Superstar. Yeah, they were done in reverse. And it's up to the fans to figure out how it works, because all Manson willingly will tell is that it goes in that order. The plot of each album is pretty clear, but the connections between Coma Black, Coma White, Adam, Omega and The Worm? Good luck figuring that out.
Many Primus songs features a number of psychedelic and amusingly disturbing aspects.
Don McLean's song "American Pie" is a Mind-Screwy combination of imagery and references to other songs and historical events. McLean did eventually auction off the original notes and lyrics for the song, which ended up providing a Mind Screwdriver by explaining what each line was intended to be referencing.
Some of McLean's lyrics allegedly reference Bob Dylan (The Jester). Who, incidentally, is famous for his own well-known, mind-screwy song: "Desolation Row"... to name one of MANY in Dylan's catalog.
"Desolation Row" is child's play compared to "Changing of The Guards", "Brownsville Girl" and "Highlands", all written and recorded long after Dylan's most reputedly mind-screwy era.
There have been many analyses of this classic song. One of the best is one of the earliest, by Bob Dearborn. One of my favorites is the very Mind-Screw-friendly site IMISSAMERICANPIE.COM.
Leonard Cohen's early songs (late 60's early 70's) top Dylan's by far!
The music video for Neo-Prog group IQ's Drive On is more than a bit odd...
Many people have put forth their theories on The Eagles' "Hotel California," particularly regarding "the beast" that the residents just can't kill. Others just figure it's about a guy who does a bunch of drugs in a cheap hotel.
Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". Especially the part right after the guitar solo.
Making a mockery of their boast (on the earlier LPs) "No Synthesizers", Queen were notorious for employing over-the-top studio trickery. The vocal effects were achieved by using an astonishing number of overdubs, often well over 100. For each little snippet, not the entire "operatic" passage.
"39" from the same album is also like this (they set off in '39, traveled for a year, and returned in '39 — WTF?!?!), unless one realizes that this is a Filk Song, which like many folk songs is an allegory about a voyage (this one being a space voyage, so one year of ship time is 100 years of Earth time). Watching the video on the DVD version of the album makes it suddenly make sense.
Nightwish. What a grand old time it is to figure out what half of the lyrics are saying, especially since half of them are of word salad quality. Stargazers, The Poet and the Pendulum, and Ghost Love Score are all huge mind screws, especially the second one with all of its Mood Whiplash.
Most of their other songs have quite straightforward lyrics, though.
Most of the output of They Might Be Giants falls into this territory. Especially Particle Man and Doctor Worm.
The Statue Got Me High is probably the best example, or at least the most literal.
House at the Top of the Tree is notable too, particularly since it's on one of the kids' albums (No!). The ending is the epitome of "wait, WHAT?".
"Chess Piece Face" was supposedly inspired by René Magritte. It is still unbelievably bizarre.
Most of the Anglo-French band Gong's work hit this trope while Daevid Allen was in charge. Prostitute Poem from the album Angel's Egg seems to be a deliberate attempt to induce a bad trip in any listening acid heads. "I break off the corner of your mind and eat it... I am eating your mind..." Brrrrr.
The AyreonRock Opera "The Human Equation" appears to simply be a look into the mind of a comatose man dealing with a lifetime's worth of angst and misdeeds... until the very end of the final track, where it's revealed that it is simply a computer simulation being run for the benefit of an advanced alien life form.
This will completely fly over the head of anyone who hasn't been keeping up with Ayreon's ongoing Forever of the Stars story line, though. Guide Dang It! actually applies to music for once!
More like All There in the Manual; there are no less than six albums linking their stories together into the same overarching space opera metaplot as of 2009, and more may be coming.
The Dropkick Murphys (!) song "State of Massachusetts" seems like a straightforward song about a single mother, until you pick up on the clues (the title being the most obvious) that the whole thing is to be taken as an allegory, at which point it becomes an incomprehensible meditation on the SJC, the academic élite, the "culture wars," television's influence on society, and Boston's place in history.
"Life on Mars?" from Hunky Dory has been described as "a cross between a Broadway musical and a Salvador Dali painting." A girl leaves her house as her parents fight, goes to the movies, and then there's something about fighting sailors, corrupt cops, and Mickey Mouse. On the same album, "Quicksand" and "The Bewlay Brothers" are similarly filled with Word Salad Lyrics.
"TVC15" from Station to Station is about how the narrator wants to enter his television set so he can be with his girlfriend who apparently already entered the TV. Loosely based on a drug-induced hallucination Iggy Pop had about his girlfriend being eaten by the television.
On Lodger, parts of "African Night Fight" are sung in a Kenyan dialect, and the bizarre lyrics describe some kind of fight, a baby being born silent, hardships, etc.
The 1995 concept album 1. Outside is a story told in anachronic order of a 25-year-long investigation into illegal trade in body parts harvested in ritual murders centered in Oxford (NJ) and London (OT), which also seems to be a metaphor for Bowie's own career, including an apparent disco/industrial elegy to Major Tom. The fact that it was planned as part of a scrapped 3-or-5-part cycle does not help.
A lot of the mind-screwiest stuff was never recorded (or sung). In the early days, the arrangements and effects were quite complicated and the equipment was fairly primitive, so there would often be long breaks between numbers at concerts while the technicians frantically rejigged the equipment for the next song. Peter Gabriel took to filling these gaps with mind-screwy narrative pieces which he usually made up on the spot. Some of them have been transcribed on the sleeves of early live albums and literature. The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is an extended one of these, with some of the scenes set to music.
"Supper's Ready". A 23-minute song about... well, just try to figure out what, and you'll go mad.
It's about the biblical End Times, mixed with a large dose of whatever they thought was cool. The Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man, for instance, is the Antichrist.
Quite a few of Peter Gabriel's solo work, including the Family and the Fishing Net, which somehow describes both a Voodoo ceremony and a regular old fashioned wedding.
Tomorrow Never Knows, anyone? Also, Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.
Anything by Frank Zappa that's supposed to tell some sort of story will eventually turn into this to some degree, but a pretty extreme example is the album Lumpy Gravy. In between music concrete collages of an unfinished ballet and other leftovers, a group of people, who are apparently hiding inside of a giant drum, discuss encounters with boogey-men, pigs, and vicious ponies with claws, and speculate that the entire universe is one musical note.
Joe's Garage is a full double-album Mind Screw. The first half sounds like a pretty straightforward story of a guy playing music in a totalitarian society where music is illegal (OK so far) who discovers he likes to have sex with appliances (ok, so maybe not so straightforward) but by the end of the second disc, it, uh... well he ends up working in the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, pooting little green rosettas onto muffins. All narrated by The Central Scrutinizer — a cheap looking flying saucer kinda thing about five feet across covered with stupid looking headers and exhaust hoses and some spoked wheels but who actually gets around by being dangled from a string held by a union guy eating a sandwich.
Many of the songs by Lemon Demon have a very mind screwy lyrics, such as "The Saga of You, Confused Destroyer of Planets" or "Your Evil Shadow Has a Cup of Tea".
Your Evil Shadow is a deliberate attempt at this. "Ben Bernanke" is another mind screwy song.
"Telekinesis" is another good example.
"Correctional Facility Food Sucks" possibly wins the award for "Mind Screwiest" song, though.
The Mars Volta's entire style is based around this. For one, they allegedly got the titles from their album Bedlam In Goliath from a ouija board, and many of them appear to be near-random assortments of letters and various non-English words.
Even their stage on Guitar Hero: World Tour is a Mind Screw!
Seeing as it uses the artwork from their music videos and studio albums, that's kind of a given.
Their first video, Hush, averts this, as it's relatively easy to figure out the video's meaning. Still, this is way before Tool started getting into Mind Screw territory. However, how could we get this far without mentioning their second scariest video?
The band Yes dodged this trope all the time, and did so by explaining that they mostly composed their lyrics based on how the words sound rather than what they mean. However, "Siberian Khatru" (on the album Close to the Edge) is supposed to be about life on the Siberian steppes, but at the same time is about a balmy summer day by a riverbank in England. Figure that one out!
All three tracks on Close to the Edge are like this: they seem to make sense, but actually don't. Although "And You And I" could be interpreted as being based on the Foundation trilogy.
Jon Anderson, frontman of Yes's collaboration with Vangelis produced The Friends Of Mr. Cairo. 12 minutes of nothing but Minds Screw
It's rather Exactly What It Says on the Tin. The song is a homage to the classic 1930s and 1940s movies, and the lyrics are either quotes or references from them. The title directly refers to The Maltese Falcon; the sampled dialogues are, among others, from The Thief of Bagdad (1940); the song ends with a sound of an old movie projector shutting down; and at one point, Anderson references Clark Gable, (Douglas) Fairbanks and Maureen O'Sullivan by name.
Devin Townsend, a Canadian musician, has distilled this into the purest form possible with his album "Ziltoid the Omniscient". Beginning as a somewhat lighthearted tale of the titular Ziltoid invading Earth demanding coffee, it ends with him questioning the state of the universe, the creator revealing that they're all 'just puppets' and it finally turning out that it's all a daydream in the mind of a bored coffee shop employee. Not even mentioning that it tends to shift from speedy metal to weirdly dissonant ambient music seemingly at random, and EVERY SINGLE VOICE on the album is the same man singing, up to and including whole choral arrangements of just his voice. Oh, and he made the puppets he mentions in the story. In fact, THAT'S THE INSPIRATION FOR THE WHOLE THING.
The video for Goldfrapp's 'Ride a White Horse'. Anyone who has seen it will agree. Off, and very strange.
Queensrÿche's Rock OperaOperation: Mindcrime. The main storyline is a flashback suffered by a man in an insane asylum, and it's possible that none of it actually happened. And that's just the surface twist.
Arguably, many forms of classical music fall into this category for the non-academic listener (and the academic, for many of the modern compositions). Embedded within the music of the Romantic era through the twentieth century are such dense layers of symbolism and mathematical placement of notes that we often find pieces that look good on paper, but are not necessarily enjoyed by everyone. Even studying these compositions or attempting to play them can be a nightmare.
Twelve-Tone, atonal, and minimalists compositions often elicit mixed reactions from the audience, and generally a negative response from anyone outside the classical circle. It is very difficult for the average person to find coherency in just one listen and not looking at the score.
Complex forms of counterpoint such as the Fugue can also be mind screws because there is so much going on at once that it can sometimes be hard to latch onto the theme or subject, etc., without looking at the score first (It also depends on how well it is performed).
The Procol Harum song "Whiter Shade of Pale" is a classic example. Much like "Hotel California", most people have their own idea about what it means. Word of God says the band members came up with the song while sitting around drunk. The song's melody began as a botched attempt to play Bach's Air on a G String.
When it comes to trippy concept albums, you'll have a hard time topping Pain of Salvation's "BE". Themes cover practically everything from mankind's relationship to God and vice versa through to the state of industry and consumerism; the myriad plotlines include both a Space Probe which becomes God and a greedy misogynistic billionaire who has himself cryogenically frozen and wakes up after having become immortal, the last man left alive on the planet. Songwriter and lyricist Daniel Gildenlow cites dozens upon dozens of sources in the accompanying booklet. Musical devices include the recitation of population statistics, two-minute long dramatic monologues, God's answering machine and a track which consists of the sound of a heartbeat, followed by four minutes of silence and then a young girl chirping, "There's room for all God's creatures, right next to the mashed potatoes!"
Several songs by the group Renaissance have imagery that tells some kind of story but the listener is stumped trying to figure out what it's really talking about. Take my descriptions with a grain of salt - as I said, I've no idea what these are on about either. Favorites include:
"Trip to the Fair" where a lady goes alone to a fair that is completely abandoned, then everything starts moving on its own (and either starts attacking her or she half-faints in terror) and as soon as she can't take it anymore everything becomes normal and the fair is full of people wondering what she's afraid of.
From the CD notes of Scheherazade and other stories: "... a delicate story of Roy Wood and Annie Haslam showing up at Hampstead Heath for a fair that had closed down..."
"Black Flame", where the only thing that's certain is that the singer has been somehow taken over by a 'black flame' that now has full control of her, feeds off her, and apparently hurts. There's a lot of weird imagery of being mouth sounds "I am words, I am speaking", "I'm just a sigh, just a crying" and in the bridge the singer is talking to someone as though she is inside them, while still telling them to try and escape.
"Running Hard", where someone just seems to be slipping through a world of weirdo nightmare images and metaphors, and the more they try to escape or find reality, the freakier it gets.
Dream Theater's Scenes from a Memory: Metropolis Part 2 album definitely has some mind screwing going on. It tells the story of Nicholas, who has visions of a girl. He visits a hypnotherapist and under his guidance realizes that he is just a reincarnation of Victoria, a girl that was murdered by The Miracle, one of her two lovers, the other one being The Sleeper (and The Miracle and The Sleeper are brothers, too!). However, in the last song on the CD Nicholas is shot by the hypnotherapist, who, in turn, is actually a reincarnation of The Miracle.
Just try to figure out the plot of any Coheed and Cambria song without the comics. Especially anything from Second Stage Turbine Blade or Good Apollo, I'm Burning Star IV, Part One. Go on, I'll wait.
Some of their songs are fairly comprehensible on their own, but others are just bizarre. Like Ten Speed (of God's Blood and Burial), which is about a possessed, talking bicycle. For example.
The music video for the Madness song "(Waiting for the) Ghost Train" is a fairly mild example. It features the band dressed in suits that look like newspapers, a random London Underground sign for a station that doesn't exist, a man dressed as a frog appearing out of nowhere and disappearing just as suddenly, lead singer Suggs wearing a succession of funny hats for no good reason, the saxophonist dressed as a Japanese man with angel wings being thrown out of a plane and the drummer's head appearing from a pot of baked beans, among other truly weird things. In spite of this bizarreness, the song's meant to be about apartheid in South Africa.
The music video for "Disturbia" by Rihanna. It looks like if nightmare fuel manifested itself in music video form, and didn't care about whether it made any sense or not.
"Syncronicity II" by The Police. Its predecessor was a straightforward, bouncy song about harmony of mind and understanding. While it is a song about a middle-class man in a rather disastrous home situation, a mundane job, and a generally depressing, repetitive, and horrible life. With a giant sea monster looming somewhere in the distance. Yeah, there was some headscratching.
Pink Floyd's The Wall is pretty straightforward conceptually (it's a metaphor based on Roger Waters trying to open upbasically, tear down his emotional wallsafter a Creator Breakdown) but how it's told does raise questions as to what's literal or metaphorical. The movie only serves to make things even more confusing.
Oingo Boingo (a.k.a. Danny Elfman's old band) has had its fair share of these (which is kind of unsurprising when you consider their headliner). Most notable include Reptiles and Samuri from the album Nothing to Fear and Long Breakdown from Dark at the End of the Tunnel. You figure out a) Why a reptile AND a samurai would have one's head and 2) Why would someone wander in geometric patterns in the dark?
The music video for Fatboy Slim's Weapon of Choice. Christopher Walken dancing around a Los Angeles hotel is strange enough in its own right. But Christopher Walkenflying around a Los Angeles hotel? Woah...
Porcupine Tree. It's not just the songs (and entire albums) depicting LSD trips, there are songs which just reach into one's head and scramble things about as one tries to make sense of them.
The lyrics to "Dollar and Cent Supplicants" by The Fire Show probably mean something, but good luck figuring out what.
That one's about group sex. Most of System of a Down's songs usually combine overtly political, social or environmental themes with Mind Screwy surrealism and absurdism.
Most of Current 93's career starting with Thunder Perfect Mind is based on arcane Christian mysticism, with allusions to Aleister Crowley and Tibetan Buddhism, and a strange obsession with cats. The general consensus seems to be that it's mostly about the apocalypse, but beyond that it's pretty hard to parse.
In both lyrical and musical terms, any of their collaborations with horror author Thomas Ligotti, especially I Have A Special Plan For This World.
The particular strain of Post-Industrial Music that Current 93 emerged from is known for its mind-screwiness, with frequent collaborators Nurse With Wound and Coil quite often taking the cake.
Phil Ochs was known as a protest singer who dealt with fairly straightforward subjects (anti-Vietnam War, workers' movement, civil rights, etc.) so his eight-and-a-half minute long allegory of ultimate mindfuckery known as "Crucifixion" seems even more crazy in comparison.
He named one of his relatively-later albums Rehearsals for Retirement; it had his own gravestone as the cover photo.
Swans have kept this up since their reformation, with The Seer and To Be Kind both containing excellent examples of this trope.
Finger Eleven's 'One Thing' music video. That is all.
Much of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's work; particularly "My Pink Half of the Drainpipe" and "Rhinocratic Oaths" which feature extended spoken sections which require several listenings to even begin to visualize, let alone understand.
Many of the works of modern classical composer Giacinto Scelsi can be just a tiny bit confusing. Take "Uaxuctum," a piece based on the legend of a Mayan city that ritually destroyed itself. His music has been described as "all transition."
Divine Styler's second album, Spiral Walls Containing Autumns of Light makes roughly as much sense as the title would imply. Musically it's a mixture of hip-hop, jam band like improv sessions, funk, and spoken word. Lyrically it makes very little sense, Styler's bizarre delivery (on this album, anyway) doesn't help.
Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, while only debuting in late 2011, is certainly in this section. Her first song PONPONPON (meaning "clap clap clap") has thismusic video. Good luck trying to figure out what's going on. Whatever it is, it seems to involve microphones coming out of people's ears and eyeballs dancing. Although, the lyrics make slightly more sense.
You know what? Let's just say Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is the Japanese equivalent of Lady Gaga, as those who've seen her music videos can attest...
Zechs Marquise's first video "Everlasting Beacon Of Light" certainly seems like a drug trip, and that's because the video is. The protagonist of the video, played by Rx Bandits frontman Matt Embree, smokes a particularly strong strain of weed known as the Everlasting Beacon. He goes on a trip through El Paso encountering men in suits and animal masks. In the end he and his dealer discuss the mind screwy nature of the Everlasting Beacon.
Britney Spears has a video where she sees a video of someone complaining about something she did, which made many people mad; then she decided to do it, but at the end the same video is played, at the same time, but she is no longer there to witness it.
Boards of Canada thrives on this, but their song Aquarius is particularly egregious. It starts of with samples of sarcastic children, then a woman starts counting, then she starts saying the numbers in a seemingly random order, and finally starts outright inventing numbers (sixty-ten and sixty orange)... and there's a sample of a man saying the word "orange" throughout the song. If there's a meaning behind any of it, no one seems to know what it is
Doseone (perhaps best known for his involvement in cLOUDDEAD) was an ordinary battle rapper once upon a time. Nowadays his lyrics tend to form weird, tightly-interlocked cadences that may or may not actually mean anything in particular.
Pete Townshend is prone to this in his concept albums. When The Who were at work on Tommy, their manager Kit Lambert actually had to act as his Translator Buddy just to explain to people "what [he] was on about". It got worse when Pete attempted Lifehouse, a project so complex and ambitious in its scope that no one but himself could understand it, leading to his having a complete nervous breakdown and the project being scrapped in favor of the album Who's Next.
Thomas Rhett's hit song, "It Goes Like This," is actually severely confusing. The opening line of the song goes, "hey girl, you make me want to write a song," which can only make one wonder if the song he's singing or if it's another song. Made even more confusing by the chorus, "and it goes like," which makes it seems as though the song he is referring to is both this song and a different song.
Krautrock band Can's music can get this way. "Aumgn" and "Peking O" are good examples.
Ween is known for having their fair share of songs with surreal lyrics. Interestingly enough, they actually drop the trope name in such a song: the word salad heavy, "Marble Tulip Juicy Tree," which gives us lines such as, "inhaling kitties in the sea," and "just stay away from my adenoids."
Perhaps the biggest Mind Screw in their discography is Pure Guava's "Mourning Glory," a spoken word story about a trio of talking pumpkins' adventures in the woods set to Harsh Noise.
Pretty much any Project Pitchfork music video. They usually don't even match with the lyrics.
Wolves in the Throne Room's trilogy of albums from Two Hunters up to Celestial Lineage is apparently a flowing Concept Album trilogy, but yet fans are unable to expand onto what the concept is. The fact that the band haven't released lyrics for Black Cascade doesn't help. Overall, this is probably one of the weirdest aspects of this band.
Deafheaven's album Sunbather is described as a Concept Album that "deals with the profound sadness found in the quest for one's personal perfection... serving as an artistic lucid dream of warmth despite the stinging pain of life's cruel idealism". Even if you read the lyrics, you'll be stumped over what they really mean.
Sigh is one of the very mind-screwiest Black Metal bands in existence, in a clear example of Invoked Trope. The band are prone to extreme Genre Roulette; any given Sigh song is bound to have influences from a wide number of disparate genres, from classical to disco to dub reggae to jazz. And that's just on one album (Imaginary Sonicscape). Beyond this, they seem to take extreme delight in making their songs and arrangements as weird as possible, throwing in all kinds of bizarre time signatures and generally just shifting moods seemingly at random. On the album where they really got serious about this trope (Hail Horror Hail), they had the following to say:
This album is way beyond the conceived notion of how metal, or music, should be. In Essence it is a movie without pictures; a celluloid phantasmagoria. Accordingly, the film jumps, and another scene, seemingly unconnected with the previous context, is suddenly inserted in between frames. Every sound on this album is deliberate, and if you find that some parts of this album are strange, it isn't because the music is in itself strange, but because your conscious self is ill-equipped to comprehend the sounds produced on this recording.
They've kept to this philosophy ever since. In short, Sigh are among the most Widgetty of Widget Series.
Edguy has some songs that definitely fit this trope. The weirdest might be "Judas at the Opera". It only (kinda but not really) makes sense once you realize the band wrote it in response to critics who thought the band was "too silly" and "not serious enough". So they made this.
Frontier Psychiatrist by The Avalanches. The song is very strange, with lyrics and backing track all comprised from samples from a wide range of sources. The real stars of the show are the visuals. Sheet ghosts, a turtleguy, a monkey drummer, lots of old people, a skeleton with a golden eyeball, a giant bird, and rapping psychiatrists. You'll need a therapist to recover from the trauma of this mindfuck.
Kids Praise: The ninth album is...a search for the ninth album. And it's a plot point that every copy of the ninth album is destroyed by being thrown into a volcano, and this happens during the ninth album. Yeah...