We’re back! Sorry we’ve been away for so long. It’s coming up on six years since we’ve been doing this blog and I’m not gonna lie to you: There was awhile there when we were both seriously considering calling it quits. I mean, how many more weird bands can there really be out there? A shit-ton, I’m sure, but we’ve officially reached the point where 99.9% of the emails and comments we get are for shit that’s fucking awful and/or not that weird. So separating the cream from the curdle has actually gotten more difficult as our audience has grown. I know, I know…boo-fucking-hoo, right? At least our audience has grown, so we must be doing something right. Right?
Anyway, starting this week, I solemnly swear that I will post a new weird band every week again, just like the good old days. Andy will pitch in too, sometimes, but he’s got a fancy new job that pays him to go hang out at Coachella and shit, so he won’t be around as much. But your old Uncle Jake here is gonna start driving this blog like a stolen Ferrari again…at least on the weekends.
So to get us back in the swing of things, I figured some good party music was in order. So allow me to present to you Nozinja, inventor of a whole new genre of music called Shangaan electro that is like dance music for hummingbirds. Seriously, I’m winded just listening to this stuff.
Nozinja, whose real name is Richard Mthetwa, is from a part of South Africa called Limpopo, which is a long-ass way from Cape Town, home base of our other favorite South African oddballs, Die Antwoord. Limpopo is in the far northeast of South Africa, next to Botswana and Zimbabwe, and it’s mostly rural and dirt-poor. Among the many native peoples living there is a group called the Shangaans, who are known for the xibelani dance, an insanely fast dance that kind of looks like a cross between a hula dance and twerking. Shangaan electro, pioneered by Nozinja and other local musicians, basically took the rhythms of the xibelani dance, sped them up even more, and replaced traditional drums and other instruments with lo-fi synths and drum machines. And presto! A crazy new dance music genre was born.
Shangaan electro is so great, it probably would’ve gone worldwide eventually. But Nozinja sure helped jump-start that process. Using the money he’d earned from running a chain of cell phone repair shops, the budding Dr. Dre of Limpopo went all-in on a home recording studio and began cranking this stuff out. He even made a few goofy, low-budget videos that are all the more awesome because, against all the screen-saver graphics and random shots of backup singers dancing in what we assume is his front yard, Nozinja’s still sporting his cell phone repair shop owner wardrobe. He looks like he wandered in from a Ross Dress for Less ad, but he’s still got more swag that a thousand shitty gangsta rappers.
Such brilliance couldn’t remain undiscovered for long…and sure enough, Nozinja signed to Warped fuckin’ Records in 2014. Yes, that Warp Records, home to Flying Lotus and Aphex Twin. Not surprisingly, in his first video for Warp, “Tsekeleke,” he’s sporting a much more stylin’ wardrobe.
Nozinja’s debut full-length album, Nozinja Lodge, comes out on Warp on June 2nd. We cannot fucking wait. We’re gonna strap on our xibelani skirts and dance to that shit like hummingbirds.
Do clowns freak you out a little? Yeah, me too. Which is why seeing Puddles Pity Party, starring a hulking, unspeaking clown named Puddles, definitely made me uneasy. But I powered through. I’m just glad I wasn’t one of the several audience members he tormented throughout the show—including one guy in particular who was clearly freaked out by clowns. Man, Puddles really went for the jugular with that poor bastard. He’s like a cat who picks out the most allergic person in the room and curls up in their lap, purring happily.
Puddles is the creation of a six-foot-eight singer from Atlanta named Michael Geier, who used to be part of an all-clown band called Greasepaint. When Greasepaint went their separate ways, he took Puddles solo, rebranding himself as the “Sad Clown With the Golden Voice,” singing covers of pop songs in a mock-operatic style that contrasted sharply with his white facepaint and hulking frame. His most famous song is a cover of Lorde’s “Royals” that you’ve probably seen by now:
But that track just scratches the surface of Puddles’ repertoire. He also does a mean Leonard Cohen:
And here, perhaps most impressively, he mashes up Celine Dion and Metallica:
That’s his assistant, Monkey Zuma, in that last video. For some reason, when I saw Puddles here in L.A. at the Troubadour, Zuma was not in attendance. Maybe she got sick of being paid in bananas.
Anyway, if you’re not too scared of clowns, I highly recommend treating yourself to the epic sing-a-thon that is Puddles Pity Party. Just be warned: This is one clown that likes to get into the faces of his audience. Especially the ones who look like they might be scared of clowns.
Nicaragua’s leading gay alien Madonna impersonator Donny Varper is back and bringing the crazy in a new video we can’t stop watching. “Material Boy” starts with Donny wandering the desert in harem girl drag and ends with him crucified on what appears to be the rhinestone-encrusted dollar sign from a D-list rapper’s chain. Also, there’s something on his crotch we can’t quite identify—although not being able to identify things in the crotchular area on Donny Varper is kind of a given. Basically, it’s what we were hoping the Madonna Grammy performance would be like, instead of whatever that vogue-ing matador bullshit was she laid on us instead. At least at the BRIT Awards, they got to watch her eat it.
The video can’t be embedded. Why, Donny, why?! Don’t fear the embed. But fine, you can watch the goddamn thing on YouTube.
Donny keeps promising to answer some of our questions…and oh yes, we have questions…in a video interview, if we can just get our shit together and send him some damn questions. It’ll happen eventually, we promise.
We haven’t been posting as much lately, I know. What can I say? Life shit. But when our old Ohio hip-hop pal Mission Man tweeted us his latest video, we just had to share it with you folks out there in Readerland. (By the way, don’t panic: Mission Man did not die in 2012. That’s just a copyright date range in the above graphic. He’s alive and well and still rockin’ the mic.)
MM’s vid for “Love, Funk and Soul” makes us happy, and not just because it features more cowbell. Mainly, it gives us a case of the warm fuzzies because it proves what we’ve long suspected, but seen precious little evidence of: Mission Man has fans. In the clip, they can be seen taking selfies with him, partying with him, throwing snowballs at him, and, at around the 1:08 mark, getting up onstage and dancing with him. Dude’s grind is definitely starting to pay off. Let this be an inspiration to us all.
If there was any justice in the world, Toronto’s Spookey Ruben would’ve become a weirdo superstar in the mid-’90s, around the same time it was actually still possible for eccentric bands like Primus and Ween to sell millions of records and gain some mainstream recognition for their offbeat brilliance. Ruben came on the scene with a similarly brilliant debut album in 1995 called Modes of Transportation Vol. 1 that should’ve achieved Chocolate and Cheese-level notoriety. But the album came out on the crap-tastic TVT Records, a label that has screwed up the careers of everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Lil Jon over the years, and that was apparently no less kind to Ruben. For reasons we haven’t been able to discern, they decided to release his second album, Modes of Transportation Vol. 2, only in Japan, which had the not surprisingly effect of causing him to drop off most folks’ radar everywhere except Japan. Well-played, TVT.
Fortunately, Ruben has persisted, continuing to release new music through his own label, Hi-Hat Recordings. He even managed to get back the rights to all (or at least most) of his old TVT material, and has plans to do a 20th anniversary reissue of Modes Vol. 1 later this year, along with a new album called Modes III that he just successfully funded via Indiegogo.
Ruben got his start playing guitar in D.C. area punk and metal bands as a teenager, before moving to Toronto to go to film school. His hardcore roots occasionally surface in his solo stuff, especially when he lets rip on the occasional shred-tastic guitar solo, but mostly his music exists on a folk/pop/psych-rock axis somewhere between Ween and XTC. It’s catchy and polished, but always takes unexpected twists and turns, either with goofy lyrics, cartoon sound effects, unexpected stylistic shifts, or even just in the way Ruben’s melodies often cut against the grain of his chord progressions, making tunes that are at once bright and oddly dissonant, like Beach Boys songs heard from a passing train.
Last year, Ruben took time out from his solo work to front a power-pop band called AAA Battery. They did a song called “Jenna” that’s not really that weird, but the video is fun.
He’s also been putting that film school experience to good use with Spookey Ruben’s Dizzy Playground, a comedic short film series that has guest-starred folks like Ariel Pink and Feist. They’re all pretty hysterical, but our personal favorite is “Natural Born Grannies.”
We’ll leave you with two videos from Modes of Transportation Vol. 1. First up: his catchy, keytar-fueled ode to fast food, “Wendy McDonald.” Bet this is Zayde Buti’s favorite Spookey Ruben song. Don’t stop watching before the xylophone solo or you’ll miss out.
Next: The song and video that’s probably Ruben’s masterpiece, “These Days Are Old.” Remember, before you judge: Everybody in the mid-’90s had bad hair.
Many thanks to Sarah Dukakis at Hi-Hat for sharing Spookey with us.
It’s not every day you get to hear music by any band on our Weird List rendered by a 38-piece orchestra. It’s even more remarkable when that band is Sparks, the quirk-pop duo of Ron and Russell Mael, and even more remarkable when the focus of the event isn’t one of their more symphonic efforts like Lil’ Beethoven but their 1974 glam-rock opus Kimono My House, which featured nary a string section but plenty of fuzzy guitar solos and Russell Mael’s swooping falsetto vocals at their most mock-operatic.
The Mael brothers first gave Kimono My House the orchestral treatment last December in London, and decided to follow up those shows with a similar two-night run in their hometown of Los Angeles. The setting for both performances was the suitably stately Theatre at Ace Hotel, formerly the United Artists movie palace, a spectacularly ornate room with Gothic decorations nearly as elaborate as the music from Kimono My House.
As I usually do these days, I wrote the full review of the show for my day job over at L.A. Weekly. So you can read my full account on their site. Suffice it to say that while the orchestral reimagining of Kimono My House, most of the highlights (for me, anyway) came in the show’s second half, when they played an assortment of songs spanning Sparks’ amazing four-decade catalog. And at least one of those highlights involved a monkey. (And no, I’m not referring to Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos. Although he did insert himself into the proceedings. I’m still not sure how I feel about that Sparks/Franz collab.)
Since the traditional way to start a New Year, at least around my house, is with lost keys and a raging hangover, I figured we should start off 2015 here at Weird Band HQ with a track that evokes Jan. 1st in all its skull-splitting glory. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the aptly named “Concussed and Terrified,” the latest cold shower of noise from our old pal Richard, aka Army of Gay Unicorns. If you by some miracle do NOT already have a hangover, crank this one up and it’s the next worst thing.
Happy New Year, weirdos!