Monthly Archives: March 2012
(Photo: J. Michelle Martin Coyne)
Well, it’s not quite as bizarre as a 24-hour song released inside an actual human skull, but it’ll have to do. The Flaming Lips are releasing a new album of collaborations on limited-edition colored vinyl on Record Store Day (April 21st) and the guest list reads like one of those blatantly bogus Coachella lineups. Among the artists lending their vocal and musical talents to The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends: Chris Martin, Nick Cave, Yoko Ono, Erykah Badu, Bon Iver, Biz Markie, Neon Indian, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Jim James of My Morning Jacket, Prefuse 73, Tame Impala, Lightning Bolt, and Ke$ha. Yes, Ke$ha will appear on the same album as John Lennon’s widow and our favorite bass/drums noise-rock duo. We’ll give you a moment to bang your head on your keyboard and weep for humanity.
But wait, it gets
better worse: Wayne Coyne recently told Rolling Stone that he had so much fun working with the slutwave princess that he’s considering teaming up again on her next album. “She’s a lot of fun and crazy and open to ideas,” Coyne insisted, “and she’s creative. She’s all these things that you don’t know.”
Now, to be fair, we haven’t heard the Ke$ha/Lips/Biz Markie track “2012” yet, so who knows? Maybe it will blow our minds. After all, we’re talking about a band that once recorded a pretty dope song about Spongebob Squarepants. So anything’s possible. But Ke$ha brings such a diverse array of suck to everything she touches, from Flo Rida hooks to Bob Dylan covers, that we are not optimistic.
As for the rest of Heady Fwends: Several tracks from it are widely available on the Interwebs, including a live version of the Neon Indian collab, “Is David Bowie Dying?”, and the Bon Iver track, “Ashes in the Air,” which is predictably the one that has the hipster blogs all atwitter. But this being Weirdest Band in the World, we must leave you with the Lightning Bolt tune, which bears the fantastic title “I’m Working at NASA on Acid” and comes with this nifty little video released last August. Bolt fans, stay with it until about the three-minute mark; things start to get interesting, trust us.
The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends will only be available on Record Store Day (Saturday, April 21st) at select independent retailers. To find a participating store near you, visit the official RSD site. You also might want to call ahead, because not every store will be carrying it, and the ones that do have it might sell out in a hurry.
There’s also a really cool video on the Flaming Lips website showing how the multi-colored vinyl for Heady Fwends was pressed. As you can see, every single copy is unique. Wonder what these puppies will fetch on eBay in a few months?
Have we mentioned lately how much we love our readers? Well, it’s true. You guys rock. Thanks to you, we have a backlog of weird bands that should last us until at least 2013. So stick around, people! Or just go to our Submit a Band page, which is basically just one long spoiler for which bands we’ll be populating the site with over the next several months.
One reader who rocks especially hard is Mr. Ian Frost, who recently flooded the Comments section with a raging torrent of serious weirdness. Of all the bands Ian mentioned, the one that really jumped out at us (we’ll get to Buckethead soon, Ian, promise) was a British band called Whitehouse, who back in the early ’80s invented their own spin on industrial music, which they dubbed “power electronics.” And as anyone who’s read our posts on witch house, pornogrind and pagan Celtic folk metal already knows, there’s nothing Jake and I love more than peeling back the layers on an obscure subgenre. So let’s dive into this whole power electronics thing, shall we?
Power electronics uses synthesizers less as musical instruments than as pure noise-making devices, taking advantage of their wide frequency range to pump out ear-splitting, high-pitched shrieks coupled with bowel-melting bursts of bass. Over the top of this, they scream lyrics that are often just profanity-laced tirades—not unlike the sort of invective your neighbors will probably hurl at you if you play this stuff on anything louder than a well-insulated pair of headphones.
The man behind the band Whitehouse and power electronics is a fellow named William Bennett—no, not the former Drug Czar for the George H. W. Bush White House, although that is indeed a pretty excellent coincidence. No, this William Bennett was a teenaged guitar player in a post-punk band called Essential Logic who, around 1978, discovered early industrial bands like Throbbing Gristle and became intrigued with the idea of creating music that could, in his words, “bludgeon an audience into submission.”
While on tour with Essential Logic, Bennett met synth-punk pioneer Robert Rental, who sold the young guitarist “an uncontrollably vicious beast of a synthesiser which subsequently became the heart of the Whitehouse sound.” We’re pretty sure the synth he’s referring to is a strange little gizmo called the EDP Wasp, which was famous for having a black and yellow “keyboard” that was completely flat and therefore virtually impossible to play by touch. But for Bennett’s purposes, it was probably ideal, since he was mainly just interested in mashing down several keys at once and then twisting the knobs to get the most atonal squall of electronic noise the little keyboard could muster.
After releasing a single in 1979 under the name Come, Bennett formed Whitehouse in 1980 and proceeded to go on a recording tear, releasing seven albums over the next three years. He coined the term power electronics in 1982 in the liner notes for Whitehouse’s seventh release, Psychopathia Sexualis, one of several Whitehouse albums dedicated entirely to the subject of serial killers. You see, it wasn’t enough for Bennett that his music be brutal; he wanted the lyrics to be brutal, as well, even though they were usually completely unintelligible over the roar of all those maxed-out synths. Early Whitehouse track titles include “Shitfun,” “Rapeday” and “Dedicated to Albert de Salvo – Sadist and Mass Slayer,” a heartwarming tribute to the Boston Strangler. He was kind of a dark guy, that Bennett.
By 1983, Whitehouse had added two new members who would go on to be highly influential in the power electronics scene (and yes, by this point, it was a scene): Kevin Tomkins and Philip Best.
Although Tomkins contributed to two of Whitehouse’s most extreme albums, Right to Kill and Great White Death, he pushed the power electronics envelope even further with his own band, Sutcliffe Jügend, named after one of England’s most notorious serial killers, Peter Sutcliffe, and the Hitler Youth (“Hitler Jügend,” in German). This is one of their gentler numbers. As one reviewer of their 1998 album, When Pornography Is No Longer Enough, quite aptly put it: “SJ’s music would make for an extremely effective CIA interrogation tool.”
Best joined Whitehouse when he was just 15 and (being, you know, 15 and all) dropped out again just one year later. But he was a steady member of Whitehouse from 1993 to 2008, after which he quit to focus on his artwork and his own musical project, Consumer Electronics. From 2003 to 2008, Whitehouse performed frequently as the duo of Bennett and Best and underwent what one writer called “an unlikely vogue,” getting invited to lots of experimental music and noise-rock festivals and frequently cited as a major influence by younger, trendier noise bands like Wolf Eyes and Black Dice. They also developed a fondness for taking their shirts off—which is normally the worst kind of rock-dude cliché, but coming from two scrawny guys screaming things like “You look like a fucking bat, you old slut” over dentist’s drill synths, is downright confrontational and more than a little creepy.
Speaking of creepy: The other semi-constant member of Whitehouse, from 1983 to 2003, was Peter Sotos, an American-born writer whose work mostly explores brutal crimes committed against children. It’s probably to Sotos that the group owes its frequent use of spoken-word passages sampled from interviews with serial killers, rape survivors, and the parents of murdered or abducted children. Where Bennett, Best and even the rather intense Tomkins seem to be drawn to gruesome subject matter mainly for its shock value, Sotos seems genuinely, pathologically obsessed with it. There’s no proof that the man ever did horrible things to children himself (he was convicted of possession of child pornography in 1986, but the evidence was sketchy and his sentence was suspended), but he’s sure researched the subject with enough zeal to make you wonder if it’s all he talks about at dinner parties. Bennett has said that he and Sotos parted ways over “a notable difference in lifestyle attitudes,” which is kind of ominous coming from a guy who titled his band’s fifth album after a Nazi concentration camp.
A few other fun random factoids about Whitehouse: Their name is a reference both to Mary Whitehouse, a British conservative activist who did quite a bit of railing against indecent TV programming (like, you know, Dr. Who) in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, and to a pornographic magazine and website, Whitehouse (formerly on Whitehouse.com), that satirically named itself after the famed prude. All of their ’90s albums were produced by Steve Albini, best known for his work with the Pixies and Nirvana. Currently, the band consists of Bennett and a young woman named Mimsy DeBlois, who may or may not be the same woman who appeared with Whitehouse under the name Loulou at a concert in Portugal in 2009. Here’s a clip from that performance. In a 2010 interview with British mag The Wire, Bennett revealed that he and DeBlois are changing Whitehouse’s name to Bad Girls Get the Fuck Over It (the interview’s not available online, but Bennett confirmed the name change on his blog). Or he might just be yanking our chains a bit.
Bennett has scrupulously documented every single Whitehouse performance—he calls them “Live Actions”—and cataloged all 178 of them on the website for his record label, Susan Lawly. We’ll leave you with a vintage video clip from Live Action 39, which apparently took place right here in Los Angeles back in 1984 at a now-defunct record shop called Bebop Records. That’s Kevin Tomkins and Peter Sotos working the Wasps and a very young William Bennett doing the screaming. This is supposedly taken from a documentary called D.U.I.—if anyone knows anything else about it, we’d love to hear from you. When we searched “D.U.I.” online, all we got were a bunch of Bobby Brown articles.
When we first wrote about the Die Antwoord precursor, Max Normal (aka MaxNormal.TV), they remained something of a mystery, a group that had once performed “high energy hip-hop power point presentations” in business suits but had since erased nearly all of their online presence. But with the growing interest in Die Antwoord and their uniquely South African spin on foul-mouthed party rap, we’re happy to report that several enterprising souls have restored significant chunks of the Max Normal catalog to YouTube.
A quick YouTube search now reveals about 20 Max Normal tracks, including such hints at future Die Antwoord brilliance as “Punch My Teeth Out” and “Angel Claw,” as well as a 2007 interview with Waddy Jones (the future Ninja) and Yo-Landi Visser (the future Yo-Landi Vi$$er) that seems disarmingly frank and honest. At the time, Jones was 33 (which would make him 37 or 38 now) and Visser was a vegetarian (and maybe still is). Who knew?
Of all the Max Normal tracks and videos that have resurfaced of late, this montage from one of their live shows is probably our favorite. It gives you an idea of, on the one hand, how incredibly talented Jones and his crew were even back in the day and, on the other, how hopelessly dorky the whole Max Normal concept was. Then again, if the Jones hadn’t spent all those years doing his rapper-as-motivational-speaker shtick, he probably never would have had the wherewithal to transform himself into Ninja. Like Max Normal says in the intro, “If you conceive it and you believe it, you can achieve it!”
Here at TWBITW, we’re always up for supporting a good cause. So when we learned that self-described drag terrorist and “sexually infused sewer of vile shamelessness” Christeene had only three days left on her Kickstarter campaign and was still more than $2,000 short of her goal, we just knew we had to leap into the breach. Even though we were a little afraid of using the word “breach” in a sentence about Christeene.
For those of y’all not familiar: Christeene Vail is the creation of singer/rapper/filmmaker/drag artist Paul Soileau, born at a queer open-mic in Austin about three years ago (Christeene, not Paul—Paul looks to have been born sometime in the late ’70s, though only his makeup technician knows for sure). Paul had performed for years as a more conventional drag queen named Rebecca Havemeyer, but he concocted Christeene because he wanted a persona that was more, in the words of one writer, “quick, destructive and fun—something to leave his audience speechless in less than five minutes.” Mission accomplished!
Christeene is a foul-mouthed, dirty-minded, trailer-trash naif who makes improbably catchy electro-pop with touches of R&B, hip-hop, dubstep and booty bass. She’s sort of what might have happened if Crazy Britney had spent less energy on shaving her head and attacking cars with umbrellas and more on actually making music as provocative as her pantyless bouts with the paparazzi.
Christeene’s performances and amazing, totally NSFW videos (made with filmmaker PJ Ravel under the name Three Dollar Cinema and mostly available on Funny or Die) are aural and visual assaults of gold teeth, smeared lipstick, flashed privates, ass-cheek-spreading backup dancers, and gender-bending songs and raps about ass play (“Bustin’ Brown”), sad hookers (“Tears From My Pussy”) and what we can only assume is old-people sex (“Workin’ on Grandma”). It’s not for the faint-hearted, even though Christeene herself maintains an endearingly childlike, Adam Sandler-ish quality throughout.
Arguably the weirdest—inarguably the most downright nasty—thing Christeene’s ever produced is “Bustin’ Brown,” a song about anal sex (“breakin’ laws in your bee-hind”), with a video that mostly takes place inside a giant colon. But for sheer NSFW hilarity, we have to agree with reader Hirsh, who first brought Christeene to our attention on our Submit a Band page by posting the “Fix My Dick” video along with the that-about-sums-it-up comment, “Mmmm yes.” (Did I mention this video is NSFW? I really, really can’t stress that enough.)
If you enjoyed that, please for the love of Jesus proceed immediately to Christeene’s Kickstarter page and give generously so that her debut album, Waste Up, Kneez Down, may see the light of day. Jake just stole one of my credit cards and gave five bucks, and if that raging homophobe can support this hot mess with someone’s else money, you sure as shit can, too. (I kid. Jake’s not a homophobe. He just gets squeamish about hairy guys in thongs.)
[Update: Well, shit. Christeene just hit her $10,000 Kickstarter goal with 46 hours to go—and barely 24 hours after we first wrote this post. Y'all just got the Weird Band Bump, Christeene! Congrats.]
The only thing weirder than a weird band is a weird loner armed with a guitar, ukulele or thrift store keyboard. This week’s playlist celebrates some of the best, greatest and (to use a clinical term) craziest of those loners, along with a few other slightly more socialized purveyors of what’s come to be known as outsider music.
What is outsider music? Usually (though not always) it’s music created by someone with no formal training and often rudimentary technical abilities. To the untrained ear, it nearly all sounds terrible, but if you listen to enough it, you start to find some diamonds in the rough.
For more on the subject of outsider music, I highly recommend seeking out a copy of Songs in the Key of Z, an authoritative book on the subject by the great Irwin Chusid. That book informed much of this playlist—and, to be honest, much of this entire blog. Chusid’s the guru, we are but his lowly disciples.
Ready to take a walk on the weird side? Fire up your Spotify and make sure your headphones aren’t strapped on too tight.
1. Daniel Johnston, “Walking the Cow.” Maybe the most famous outsider singer/songwriter of his generation, Johnston is a diagnosed schizophrenic from Texas who writes surprisingly beautiful, simple little pop songs and sings them in an achingly childlike voice. Throughout the ’80s, he gained a sizable cult following for his homemade cassette tape albums, all illustrated with his own bizarre cartoon creatures like the one we swiped for this playlist’s artwork. There’s a documentary about him called The Devil and Daniel Johnston, and if you haven’t seen it, you should.
2. B.J. Snowden, “School Teacher.” Maybe the best way to describe this Massachusetts native is that she’s a female, less crazy version of Wesley Willis (see below). She claims to be a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, and works as a music teacher, but her songs mostly feature very rudimentary piano playing and cheesy, pre-programmed keyboard backbeats, a la Willis. Still, her stuff undeniably brings to mind words like “jaunty.” Fred Schneider of the B-52’s is a big fan.
3. Tiny Tim, “People Are Strange.” You’re probably too young to remember this, but this totally untiny performer, with his ukulele and unmistakable warble of a voice, was once one of the most famous musicians in the world. Bizarre, but true. Tiny Tim’s version of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips,” which he performed on Laugh-In in 1968, became a huge hit, making him a regular guest on that SNL precursor as well as The Tonight Show (he even got married on Johnny Carson’s set in late 1969, in what was at the time one of the most watched events in television history). As mind-blowingly ridiculous as his version of “Tulips” is, I thought this Doors cover was more apropos to this week’s theme.
4. Lucia Pamela, “Hap-Hap-Happy Heart.” Like many outsiders, the biographical details of this Missouri native are a bit hazy. She claims to have been crowned Miss St. Louis in 1926, which sounds plausible, and to have performed in the Ziegfeld Follies, which we’ll also buy—but then, she also claims to have been the first person on television, so who knows? What we can confirm is that, in her mid-sixties, she recorded an album in 1969 called Into Outer Space with Lucia Pamela and it’s kind of amazing. She’s one of Irwin Chusid’s favorites.
5. The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, “Someone Took the Yellow From My Egg.” A little a cappella interlude from Lubbock, Texas’ greatest proto-psychobilly lunatic.
6. Charles Manson, “People Say I’m No Good.” Yes, that Charles Manson. One of the world’s most notorious cult leaders and mass murderers is on Spotify. Yeah, we’re not sure how we feel about it, either.
7. Wesley Willis, “Mojo Nixon.” Chicago’s late, great purveyor of “Harmony Joy Music” (and our playlist’s second schizophrenic), Willis wrote bouncy tribute songs to everyone from Oprah Winfrey to Kurt Cobain. This, as far as I know, is the only song of his about another artist we’d already added to The Weird List.
8. Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper, “I’m Gonna Dig Up Howlin’ Wolf.” And here he is, Mr. Mojo himself, singing about digging up famous dead bluesmen and affixing their skulls to his guitar. We’re sure he’s just speaking metaphorically.
9. Bob Log III, “I Want Your Shit on My Leg.” For 20 years, Bob Log III has been persuading sweet young things the world over to put their “shit” (read: ass) on his leg so he can bounce them around while playing kick drum and high-hat with his feet. Yes, he’s a one-man Delta blues wrecking crew. In an Evel Knieval jumpsuit, no less.
10. Roky Erickson, “Don’t Slander Me.” Our playlist’s third schizophrenic, Roky (pronounced “Rocky”) was a psych-rock pioneer with his ’60s band, the 13th Floor Elevators, before a trip to the loony bin sidelined him in 1968. He’s since made something of a comeback and is now a celebrated cult hero of psychedelic rock and outsider music. This track isn’t his nuttiest by a long shot—it kinda sounds like Creedence Clearwater Revival, which make sense given that he worked a lot with former CCR bassist Stu Cook in the late ’70s and early ’80s—but something about the sentiment makes it a perfect outsider anthem.
11. GG Allin, “I Live to Be Hated.” The original rock ‘n’ roll outsider—angry, obscene and unrepentant. This is actually one of his moodier, more introspective numbers.
12. The Mad Daddy, “Record Acid Test.” Just decided to throw in a wacky little transition from Cleveland’s Pete “Mad Daddy” Myers, one of the original lunatics of rock ‘n’ roll radio. Alan Freed may have “invented” rock DJing, but The Mad Daddy made it shake, rattle and roll, one wavy gravy platter at a time. (For more on Myers, this post is pretty excellent.)
13. Mission Man, “Gotta Work Hard.” If Mad Daddy had lived (sadly, he took his own life in 1968) to hear his fellow Ohioan Mission Man doing his stoned-Lou-Reed-rapping routine, we’re sure he would have approved. Or he might have said, “What the hell is this shit?” and put on another Elvis record.
14. Gonken, “Rockin’ Robots.” Another modern outsider for the electronic age, this time from Seattle. He’s making fun of pop music, sort of. But on another level, he’s just making so-bad-it’s-actually-kinda-good pop music.
15. Deerhoof, “My Pal Foot Foot.” One of our favorite current weird bands pays tribute to one of our favorite weird bands of yore, The Shaggs, by covering their immortal song about looking for a lost cat named Foot Foot. Magic ensues.
16. Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, “Grown So Ugly.” In many ways, Don Van Vliet doesn’t actually fit the classic mold of the outsider musician. The dude could actually play, as could his band, all of whom had deep roots in blues, jazz and the psychedelic rock scene of the late ’60s. But somehow, they managed to never let those skills or influences get in the way of creating records so original they were sometimes kinda frightening.
17. Arcesia, “Butterfly Mind.” Another discovery courtesy of the bottomless fount of weirdness that is Songs in the Key of Z, Arcesia was actually the work of a veteran big band crooner from Rhode Island named Johnny Arcessi who moved to California and became an acid casualty in the late ’60s. In 1970, at the age of 52, he released his one and only album as Arcesia, Reachin’, and it’s an amazing relic of that strange time in American history, an acid folk freakout delivered by a guy who clearly had lost all interest in phrasing, pitch or lyrical comprehensibility. Needless to say, it’s now a highly prized collector’s item—the fact that it’s on Spotify is almost as mind-blowing as Arcessi’s adenoidal bray.
18. Syd Barrett, “No Good Trying.” No self-respecting mix of outsider music would be complete without an appearance from that most famous acid casualty of all, Uncle Syd. R.I.P., gentle sir.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s mix.