Monthly Archives: January 2011

Deerhoof

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So Deerhoof have a new album out, which kind of made us go, “Oh, crap. We still haven’t written about Deerhoof. How did that happen?” Let’s fix that right now, shall we?

Deerhoof is one of those bands that’s tough to pin down. Sometimes they don’t sound that weird at all, or maybe just weird in a cuddly, Cibo Matto sort of way. Other times they just sound like your basic, garden-variety noise-pop band, all distorted guitars and herky-jerky rhythms—more quirky than weird, and not all that different from a zillion other Pitchfork-approved bands (although it must be said, no one does herky-jerky rhythms better than Deerhoof, thanks mainly to the superhumanly awesome drumming of Greg Saunier). But then, just when you think you’ve got them figured out, they’ll smack you upside the head with something truly bizarre. And they’ve been at it for over 15 years. So they finally (belatedly) earn their place here on The Weird List.

In its earliest incarnation, Deerhoof was a bass/drums duo made up of Saunier and Rob Fisk. They arose from the dregs of an ill-fated Bay Area metal band called Nitre Pit. When both of Nitre Pit’s guitarists quit, Saunier and Fisk just carried on as a duo, making an extra cacophonous racket to compensate for the lack of lead instruments. On top of that chaotic early sound they eventually added the childlike shrieks, wails and coos of Satomi Matsuzaki, a recent Japanese immigrant with no musical training. Matsuzaki would ultimately prove to be the band’s secret sauce, learning to become a versatile, creative vocalist and a pretty solid bass player to boot. (Fisk switched to guitar, but eventually left the band in 1999.)

Starting with the Reveille album in 2002, Deerhoof added a new guitarist, John Dieterich, formerly of the math-rockers Colossamite. With Dieterich’s help, Deerhoof’s sound became richer and more melodic, although still pretty wildly experimental. Reveille and its 2003 foll0w-up, Apple O’—their first with second guitarist Chris Cohen—remain the band’s most widely acclaimed albums to date. (Next time you’re talking to a Deerhoof fan, just say the words “Panda Panda Panda” and watch them go completely apeshit.)

These days, Deerhoof’s experimentalism is based less on straight-up noise and more on oddball, art-rock juxtapositions: bubblegum pop melodies over lurching math-rock rhythms, or splashes of jazz-rock noodling interspersed with blasts of punk-rock guitar. “Super Duper Rescue Heads!“, the first single from their latest album, Deerhoof vs. Evil, could almost be mistaken for kitschy J-pop until about the 1:25 mark, when one of those weird math-rocky bridges kicks in. Credit (or blame, depending on who you ask) can probably go in part to new second guitarist Ed Rodriguez, who joined the band in 2008. Rodriguez used to play with Dieterich in Colossamite, and their jammy interplay, while still pretty out there, definitely sounds more like the work of two guys in the same band and less like the barely-held-together chaos that was the hallmark of Deerhoof’s earlier material.

We’re tempted to end with something from the earlier, weirder Deerhoof—”Rat Attack,” maybe, or this live performance of the early track “Flower,” which we think dates from around 2003. And we’re sure the label and publicity folks would much rather we post that “Super Duper Rescue Heads!” video (from their latest, Deerhoof vs. Evil—out now on Polyvinyl Records! Order your copy today!). But instead, we’re going to end with this very 8-bit video for “Buck and Judy” off the 2008 album Offend Maggie. Because, well, it’s awesome. Please enjoy.

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Metalachi

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Today’s band was suggested by Lulie, one of our Facebook fans. (Yeah, we have a Facebook page…what, you haven’t liked us yet? Well, what the fuck are you waiting for?) They’re a mariachi metal band, which might make them the most quintessentially L.A. band of all time. Sunset Strip meets East L.A., baby! If this taco truck’s a-rockin, don’t come…okay, we’ll stop.

Anyhoo, Metalachi claim to be a group of five identical twin…no, wait, not twin. What’s the word? Quinteplet? Sorry, I’m writing this drunk. Five identical born at the same time brothers who were born south of the border and snuck into our fair land to discover…well, apparently they discovered Black Sabbath, who are actually British, but let’s not get all technical here. The point is that they discovered metal and proceeded to apply their god-given mariachi skills to the fine art of banging heads. With trumpets, violins and whatever that one really big guitar is called. And one dude who dresses up like GWAR.

Their YouTube channel has a bunch of videos, and they’re all pretty cool in their own way. (The violinist really shreds on “Master of Puppets.”) But of all their covers, the one that sounds the most like an actual mariachi song is probably “Crazy Train.” Who knew?

P.S. If you like Metalachi, may we suggest also checking out Beatallica (Metallica/Beatles cover band), Tragedy (Bee Gees metal cover band) and Schwarzenator (Arnold Schwarzenegger metal tribute band). What is it about metal that attracts so many goofballs?

P.P.S. Since we originally posted this, Metalachi released their debut album, Uno. You can score yourself a CD or download copy over at Amazon.com.

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Wesley Willis

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Modern music has certainly had its fair share of cult figures with serious psychological issues. You’ve got your Daniel Johnstons, your Syd Barretts, your Roky Ericksons. Even Kanye West sometimes seems like he’s only one megalomaniacal publicity stunt away from jabbering lunacy. You don’t have to be crazy to be a rock star, but it helps.

But of all of music’s loose screws, the loosest and screwiest ever to reach a wider audience was probably Wesley Willis. A Chicago artist and street musician who suffered from schizophrenia, Willis became something of a local folk hero in the early ’90s and, very briefly, a national phenomenon, thanks to an appearance on The Howard Stern Show and a record deal with American Recordings, home to Danzig, Tom Petty and Johnny fucking Cash. He also released records on Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label, as well as something like 50 albums recorded and released on his own and sold mostly at his shows. He died of leukemia in 2003.

Willis’ songs are nearly all about two-and-a-half minutes long and nearly all feature more or less the same instrumental track, played on a Technics KN series keyboard, using the keyboard’s built-in drum and rhythm tracks. Over this, Willis would sing-speak various rants about modern life (“Cut the Mullet” is a fan favorite), bestiality-themed strings on insults (“Suck a Camel’s Pooty Hole,” “Suck a Cheetah’s Dick,” “Suck a Caribou’s Ass”…you get the idea), cartoon boasts (“I Whipped Spiderman’s Ass,” on which he catches Spidey cheating with his girlfriend and “beat him to a pulp with a rubber hose”), and oddly sweet tributes to various celebrities (“Britney Spears,” “Kurt Cobain,” “Oprah Winfrey,” etc.). He also, for some reason, liked ending his songs with random ad slogans; “Kurt Cobain,” for example, wraps up with “Timex—takes a licking and keeps on ticking!”

And that, honestly, pretty much sums up Willis’ music. It’s tempting to dismiss it all as childish, and to be fair, most of it is. But Willis’ music, which he called “Harmony Joy Music,” was also a kind of therapy for his schizophrenia. Writing and performing his songs was Willis’ way of taking a “Joy Ride” and avoiding what he called the “Hellrides,” schizophrenic episodes in which the voices in his head (which he identified as demons, complete with distinct personalities and names like “Meansucker” and “Nervewrecker”) would take over and cause him to lash out and behave in unpredictable ways. Occasionally he would describe these episodes in sad/funny songs like “My Keyboard Got Damaged,” in which he talks about getting thrown off a plane en route to a gig because he yelled “Fuck you!” at his “mean schizophrenic demon” just before takeoff.

Willis also briefly fronted a punk rock band called the Wesley Willis Fiasco, whose big claim to fame was a cover of Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film.” It’s not Willis’ finest hour, really, but it’s interesting to hear what he sounded like fronting an actual band. He’s not really any more crazy sounding than, say, Biafra on a bad day.

Ultimately, what Willis’ fans—and he still has a lot of them—seem to connect with most isn’t just the puerile novelty value of his music (though there’s plenty of that to go around), but the earnest sincerity with which he delivers it. This is a guy who wrote and sang music like his life depended on it—because, well, it kinda did.

We’ll leave you with a live performance of “Cut the Mullet.” Words to live by, no? We miss you, Wesley!

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Attila

Today’s band existed only briefly back around 1970 and as you can see from the above album cover, they definitely qualify as among the weirder acts of their time. Besides dressing up like Medieval Times employees and hanging out in meat lockers, they also played a very early, very primitive style of hard rock that featured no guitars, just organ and drums. It was like a couple of dudes heard Deep Purple’s “Hush” when they were really stoned and were all, “You know what would be heavy? Doing that shit with no fucking guitars!” And after less than a year together, even they finally realized this was a terrible idea and broke up.

But here’s the kicker: see that dude on the right? That’s Billy fucking Joel. Yes, Attila was one of Billy Joel’s first bands, before he finally wised up and launched his solo career. Listen to the track below and keep telling yourself that this is the same guy who went on to do “New York State of Mind” and “Just the Way You Are.” Kind of hurts your head, doesn’t it? Or maybe that’s just Attila’s music. Gotta admit, they were actually pretty heavy for a band with no guitars. Not very good, but heavy.

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The Amplifetes

One of the many things that sucks about American pop music is that if you’re not pretty or stylish–or preferably both–the Powers That Be won’t give you the time of day. We’ll let Kim fucking Kardashian declare herself a recording artist, but unless you’re model material, sorry–KIIS-FM will never play your single. Too bad for you, Beth Ditto.

Now, obviously, European pop stars can be stylish, too…they just aren’t so hung up on it all the time. And occasionally, they’re pretty much the opposite of stylish. Which is why the first we saw this band from Sweden called The Amplifetes, we practically crapped ourselves. These guys are making the most shamelessly catchy pop music this side of Katy Perry, and yet their lead singer looks like a cross between Jerry Garcia and our English lit professor at Wesleyan. Awesome.

We don’t know a whole lot about The Amplifetes because they haven’t really broken in America yet–and sadly, they probably never will. Most of what’s floating around online about them seems to have been written in either Swedish or French–or it’s just endless copy-paste jobs on their official English bio, which has even been reprinted verbatim on the band’s Wikipedia page. The bio says they’re a team of four “accomplished songwriters and producers,” although “accomplished” is a relative term in a country that churns out hitmaking producers like IKEA churns out dorm furniture. Henrik Jonback has the most impressive résumé, boasting a couple of credits on Britney Spears’ Blackout and Kelis’ Kelis Was Here; Henrik Korpi has worked with Geri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell and Dannii “Kylie’s less talented sister” Minogue; Tommy Spaanheden has produced a handful of breakbeat and club tracks; and Peter Ågren, the band’s fantastically frumpy lead singer, wrote a tune for Estonian pop tartlet Kerli. So these guys ain’t exactly Bloodshy & Avant.

And yet…there’s something undeniably infectious about The Amplifetes’ music, and something undeniably fabulous about the way they totally own their awkward Scandinavian swag. Especially in this video for their latest single, “Blinded by the Moonlight,” which features timorous white-boy dance moves, superfluous sci-fi interludes, gratuitous shirtlessness, and the single greatest rushing-back-up-to-the-mic-after-the-instrumental-break move since…well, okay, it’s not really the single greatest anything, but it’s at the 2:55 mark and it’s adorable.

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Mr. Bungle

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Another year, more weird bands! The fun never ends.

So it was exactly one year ago today that we finally owned up to our huge man-crushes on Mike Patton and wrote up what we considered to be the weirdest of his many bands, Fantomas. To which pretty much every single comment has been: “Fantomas? No way! Mr. Bungle is way weirder!” Did any of you people actually watch the Fantomas video we posted? But okay, fine, Bungle is pretty weird, too. So why not make it a tradition and declare Jan. 1st to be Mike Patton Day here at TWBITW? We’ll pick another of his projects to write up on Jan. 1, 2012. Start casting your votes now.

As for Mr. Bungle…if you’re not familiar, this was actually Mike Patton’s first band, started in Eureka, California with his childhood buds Trevor Dunn, Trey Spruance and Theo Lengyel. (The band’s original drummer, Jed Watts, quit before they got big.) The band’s early demos were a mix of metal, ska and free jazz, and their music just kept getting weirder from there; by the time they released their self-titled debut album in 1991, they were creating a mish mash of sounds unlike any other band in existence. They released two more albums in the 90s, Disco Volante and California, then finally called it quits in 2004, as Patton went on to his zillion other projects, Dunn went on to play bass with folks like Fantomas and John Zorn, Spruance carried on with his experimental rock group Secret Chiefs 3, and Lengyel went on to, as far as we can tell, drop off the face of the earth.

What’s particularly odd about Mr. Bungle is that, because their music included some elements of metal and because Mike Patton was also recruited to be the vocalist for funk-metal pioneers Faith No More, their fan base early on consisted mainly of headbangers. This led to a few shows in which the Bungle boys would turn on their own fans or vice versa (as described in this article, for example). It also means that, to Mike Patton’s eternal regret, Mr. Bungle was a huge influence on various, mostly crappy nu-metal bands like Korn, Slipknot and Limp Bizkit. (Patton once said of such bands, “It’s their mothers’ fault, not mine.”)

They also had a long-running feud with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, which led to this awesome parody performance at a Halloween show in ’99. Mike Patton does Anthony Kiedis better than Anthony Kiedis does, doesn’t he? (Say that 10 times really fast.)

Mr. Bungle only made one official music video, which was banned by MTV because it featured members of the band hanging from meat hooks and severed dolls heads flying around and various other images that, honestly, seem kinda tame now but were apparently too disturbing back in the days before anyone had seen a Saw movie. That video, for the song “Quote Unquote” is pretty great, but for a true taste of what made Mr. Bungle so wacky, we’re partial to this live video from a 1995 concert. They’re like the masked satanic hotel lounge band from hell. This must’ve sent the few remaining Faith No More fans in attendance scrambing for the exits.

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