Monthly Archives: September 2009
For our next TWBITW candidate, we have to go all the way to Japan, which has certainly produced its fair share of weird music over the years: Merzbow, Boris, Yellow Magic Orchestra. (Honestly, though, we even think Puffi AmiYumi is kinda weird…but we’re probably just racist.) But the Boredoms operate on a whole ‘nother plane of weird that even most Japanese bands never quite get to.
Started in the mid-’80s as a punk/no-wave band, the Boredoms featured a frontman named Yamantaka Eye, whose previous band, an industrial group called Hanatarash, had broken up mainly because they were banned from playing nearly every music venue in Japan (Hanatarash’s live shows featured highly dangerous use of power tools and, on at least one occasion, a backhoe). Although their music was considered highly abrasive even in noise-rock and no wave circles, they got the attention of other artists like John Zorn and Sonic Youth and, by the late ’80s, had developed a sizable U.S. following.
In the ’90s, the Boredoms began incorporating more electronic elements into their sound and experimenting with Krautrock, drone and, increasingly, tribal percussion. After an four-year hiatus, the band resurfaced in 2003 under the new name V∞redoms and with a new lineup featuring three drummers. The band’s fascination with percussion culminated in a series of recent concerts called 77 Boadrum and 88 Boadrum. 77 Boadrum took place on July 7, 2007 in New York and featured 77 drummers. 88 Boadrum took place simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles on August 8, 2008 and featured 88 drummer performing an 88-minute composition. (They also did an NYC concert on 9/9/09, but it featured only nine drummers.)
So what does the world’s most drum obsessed Japanese noise-rock band sound like? Here’s a taste from 77 Boadrum.
Let’s be honest: alot of the time, the bands we refer to as weird on this blog are basically just normal bands that found a good gimmick to make them seem less normal. You know, wear costumes, hire 20 lead singers, base all your songs on a TV show. If you hose down Bang Camaro, for example, they’re pretty much just a pop-metal band.
Well, today’s Weirdest Band candidate doesn’t really have a gimmick. They’re just plain weird. There’s really no other way to describe Ponytail.
Started as an art school project by four kids from Baltimore, Ponytail basically just mixes up layers of guitar noise, thunderous percussion and a bunch of weird shrieks, yowls, hoots and hollers by a pint-sized “singer” (for lack of a better term) named Molly Siegel. The results barely qualify as music, but they sure are fun.
I got to see Ponytail at SXSW and what struck me most is that unlike a lot of other socalled “noise pop” bands like Deerhoof, there’s nothing really arty or pretentious about these guys. They just like rocking out without worrying about things like, you know, melodies. Or lyrics. Or time signatures. Or keeping your guitar in tune. There’s something kind of childlike about it, especialy when Molly starts bouncing around like an autistic Ewok.
I’ll embed the YouTube vid here like we always do, but I totally recommend going over to YouTube itself to check out the user coments, which are hilarious. People really have no idea what to make of this stuff.
Normally, we wouldn’t really classify The Flaming Lips as all that weird. Sure, they sing songs about pink robots and have people cavort onstage in animal costumes, but by definition, if your music is regularly played on KCRW, sorry–you’re just not that weird.
But tonight, Stephen Colbert had the Lips on as his musical guest, and he specifically told Wayne Coyne, “You guys are weird.” Good enough for us! You’re in, Lips. Just don’t think this means you can start coasting again on that bland power-pop you crapped out on At War with the Mystics.
KCRW rotation aside, we guess it’s actually pretty fair to characterize these Oklahoma boys as weird. After all, it’s not every band that releases an album of four CDs meant to be played simultaneously or writes a song for the Spongebob Squarepants soundtrack called “Spongebob and Patrick Confront the Psychic Wall of Energy.” Gotta admit, it’s never hard to Google a Lips song.
By now, everyone’s seen images of Wayne rolling around the audience in the giant transparent ball and the people dressed up in panda suits romping around the stage…so to give you an idea of how weird the Lips are capable of being, here’s a video from one of their 1996 “boom box experiments.” We’ll let a very young Wayne explain:
We have a first today on TWBITW: our first-ever reader-submitted weird band! Okay, actually, it was suggested by a friend of ours at the bar the other night, but he does read the blog. Or at least he claims to.
Anyway, we were a little skeptical at first when our friend/alleged reader brought up the old novelty act Barnes & Barnes, they of “Fish Heads” fame. (“Eat them up, yum!”) After all, if we nominated every novelty act that’s ever come down the pike for TWBITW status, this blog would quickly turn into “Dr. Demento.” And no one wants that.
But we started doing a little digging into B&B’s music and their long, checkered history, and we had to admit–even for a so-called novelty act, these guy are pretty freakin’ weird. Started as early as 1970 but not really doing anything of consequence until the late ’70s, when “Fish Heads” blew up, the duo brought a distinctly surrealist sensibility to their spazzy, New Wave-inspired comedy rock. And they were dark: Weird Al may have a twisted sense of humor, but he would never record a song called “Boogie Woogie Amputee.” Or name an album Sicks. Or, for that matter, sing a song about how when they took their fish head to the movies, they didn’t have to buy it a ticket. You get the idea.
The real names of Art Barnes and Artie Barnes are Bill Mumy and Robert Haimer. Haimer you’ve probably never heard of, unless you’re already a hardcore B&B fan; but if Mumy’s name rings a bell, it’s probably because he played Will Robinson on “Lost in Space.” Rumor has it that to this day, if you walk up to him and go, “Danger, Will Robinson!”, he will punch you in the face, but we can’t confirm that.
Random factoid: the actor Bill Paxton was buds with Mumy and Haimer and directed and co-starred in most of their early videos, including the clip for “Fish Heads.”
Even more random factoid: after an 18-year hiatus, Barnes and Barnes returned just this year with a new album, Opbopachop. The album addresses themes of entering middle age in such thoughtful tunes as “Life Is What You Do in Between Orgasms” and “Our Dead Dads.” Sounds like they haven’t lost it!
Since the whole universe is pretty well-acquainted with “Fish Heads,” we’ll leave you with a video for another B&B classic, the delightfully absurd and more than a little creepy “Pizza Face.” It’s sort of like Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” but with a thinner crust and extra cheese. See if you can spot Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and actor Miguel Ferrer.
P.S. Is it just us, or does Robert Haimer kind of look like Jon Stewart’s mildly retarded older brother?
Okay, let’s see: You dress up as Frankenstein and the Wolfman in your publicity photos. Your first song features a children’s chorus–dressed up in Halloween costumes. Some of your first concerts are taking place at a children’s marionette theatre. Sounds like a TWBITW candidate to us!
But wait, it gets better: Dead Man’s Bones is a collaboration between L.A. actor/musician Zach Shields and…wait for it…actor/musician Ryan Gosling. Yes, the Ryan Gosling. The dude who was so awesome in Lars and the Real Girl and Half Nelson…and The Notebook, or so my girlfriend tells me. Who says all actor-fronted bands suck?
According to the band’s official bio, Dead Man’s Bones sprang into existence from a shared love of the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland, plus old horror movies, ghosts, graveyards and anything generally creepy and macabre. It evolved according to a strict set of rules that forced Gosling and Shields not to conceal their occasional amateurishness, or that of their collaborators, which mainly include local choruses and choirs. The resulting music sounds kinda like what Tom Waits might create if he gave up making records and went off to run a children’s theatre. It’s spare and spooky and surprisingly elegant–and very, very weird. Their debut album is due out October 6th on Anti Records–also home to Tom Waits, as it turns out. We can’t wait to hear the rest of it.
When I was in college, I went through a phase where my opinions were easily swayed by those of Big Influential Music Critics. In particular, I remember owning a book Rolling Stone put out called “The 100 Greatest Rock Albums of All Time” or something similar, based on polling hundreds of critics, musicians, record execs and probably whoever else Jann Wenner had in his Rolodex in 1987. It was a pretty standard list—lots of Beatles and Dylan and Rolling Stones—but in the top 10 was an album I had never heard of called Trout Mask Replica, by a Frank Zappa associate named Don Van Vliet who went by the admittedly awesome name of Captain Beefheart. So, dutiful acolyte of the music cognoscenti that I was, I immediately went out and bought the album, on cassette, without having actually heard a note of it. We used to do that back before the Internet.
The punchline, of course, is that I hated it. It was a double-album made up almost entirely of what, to my collegiate ears, was just noise: lurching, arrhythmic guitars and saxophones stumbling along over halting, start-stop drums and occasionally what sounded like some drunk hollering nonsense over the top of it like, “Pies steam stale/Shoes move broom ‘n pale/Moon in a dime store sale.” It sounded kind of like The Doors, I supposed, but mainly it just sounded like a bunch of pretentious jackasses who’d done too much peyote and wanted to make a record that would Freak Out The Man. (Come to think, not an altogether inaccurate description of The Doors, either.)
The only parts me and Jake liked were the brief spoken word sections, where Beefheart would intone nonsense like, “A squid eating dough in a polyethylene bag is fast and bulbous…got me?”, right before his band came stampeding in with another flurry of atonal guitar licks. We used to play these parts for anyone in the dorm whose attention we could get for two minutes, and then laugh our asses off while they looked at us with a mix of confusion and disgust before bolting from the scene.
I have no idea whatever happened to that cassette, but here’s the even better punchline: I’ve since gone back and relistened to a lot of those old Trout Mask Replica tracks and some of them ain’t half bad. Either my taste has gotten weirder or Beefheart was truly a man ahead of his time and it’s taken the rest of us 40 years to finally be able to pick up the signal of whatever frequency he was tuned to. Probably a little of both.
That being said, Captain Beefheart is still one hell of a weird dude and Trout Mask Replica still ranks as one of the weirdest albums ever released on a major label (it came out on Warner/Reprise in 1969). Produced by Frank Zappa, most of the album was allegedly recorded in only about six hours of studio time after the band spend months rehearsing the tracks at a house in the San Fernando Valley. On it, Van Vliet sings (sort of) and plays various woodwind instruments, mostly sax; his band, to whom he gave such colorful names as Zoot Horn Rollo and The Mascara Snake, played various guitars, bass, drums and the bass clarinet, which gives many of the tracks a spooky, free jazz vibe. Some of my favorite tracks on the album were recorded by Zappa on cassette tape in the style of primitive “field recordings,” as if Van Vliet was some old bluesman he had discovered in the boonies. Of these, “China Pig” is probably the most memorable, featuring Van Vliet’s Tom Wait-ish, stream-of-consciousness lyrics and guitar by Doug Moon, who was in the original Magic Band even though he doesn’t appear on the rest of the album. Give it until about the 1:30 mark and it gets interesting, trust me:
Beefheart and His Magic Band continued making albums until the early ’80s, including at least one more, 1980’s Doc at the Radar Station, that’s widely considered to be almost as much a classic as Trout Mask. He retired from music in the early ’80s to take up painting and has rarely performed or recorded since. Which is a shame, really, because I think the world needs more performances like this one, don’t you?
Here at TWBITW, we have very strict criteria for weirdness. Start a fake French garage-rock band in New York? Not weird enough. Start a fake version of the fake French garage-rock band, using the same name? Now you’re talkin!
Details of what exactly went down are a bit sketchy, but we know this: at some point, various members of fake French band #1, Les Sans Culottes, got fed up with the band’s lead singer and ringleader, Clermont Ferrand, and decided to start their own fake French band instead. The problems arose when they decided to keep using the name Les Sans Culottes, even though Ferrand had already assembled a new band and was also performing around town as Les Sans Culottes. Ferrand (real name: Bill Carney) eventually took his old bandmates to court, where we can only imagine the judge was tempted to bitch-slap the whole fake French lot of them. The melee was ultimately resolved, however, with Ferrand able to keep calling his band Les Sans Culottes and the second crew of fake Frenchies rechristening themselves Nous Non Plus (which means something like “us no more”).
To make matters even more confusing, there’s also a NYC restaurant called Les Sans Culottes. The phrase, which literally translates to “those without underpants” or, more archaically, “those without knee-breeches,” was apparently originally coined to describe the poorly equipped conscripts of the French Revolutionary army in the late 1700’s.
Anyhoo, although we were bummed that the original incarnation of Les Sans Culottes broke up (we saw them live a few times and they were pretty great), it’s kinda nice to now have not one, but two fake French bands to choose from. Les Sans Culottes 2.0 still sounds like a cross between the B-52’s and a French Ramones; Nous Non Plus, for their part, have taken the music in more of a power-pop direction, but the silly Franglish lyrics still take center stage.