Author Archives: jakemanson
September Weird Band Poll: Vote for The Artsy Chicks, Can Can Heads, L.A.Drones!, Shibboleth, The Velveteen, or WE
This is our biggest Weird Band Poll™ yet, people! No, it literally is. We usually only have four or five bands and this month we’ve got six. We like to keep you on your toes.
Here’s the dealio (don’t you hate when people say “dealio”?): Voting ends midnight Pacific time on Sunday, Sept. 14. The winner of the poll will be named our Weird Band of the Week starting on Wednesday, Sept. 17. Don’t cheat and vote multiple times, for fuck’s sake. It’s not like there’s some cash prize at stake. Save your cheating for more important shit, like marriage and taxes.
[Sorry, this poll has closed. Check back here Wednesday, when the winner will be revealed. And bookmark this page to partake of future polls. We do a new one every month(ish).]
For more on this month’s bands, read on:
The Artsy Chicks
There are zero chicks in the Artsy Chicks, so the name is kinda false advertising. But their music is pretty freaky, so we’ll let it slide. They’re a five-piece from Montreal and they do everything from free-form jazz-rock experimentation to finger-poppin’ surf rock. Here’s a link to the weirder of their two albums, Kwoto Zeetrus, and here’s their less weird album, which is more surf-inspired but still has some nice, skronky sax.
Can Can Heads
Another crazy quintet with some wailing sax, this time from Finland. Can Can Heads describe themselves as “violent music with a gentle heart.” If that’s a little too vague for you, they also say they’re “heavily influenced by No Wave, Skronk, Free Jazz, Hardcore Punk, all things noisy.” Most of their songs seem to be under two minutes long, except one seven-minute joint called “The Great Depression,” which makes sense, because that actual Great Depression lasted for-fucking-ever, as my granddaddy was fond of pointing out. Here’s a link to their latest album, Butter Life, and here’s something that looks like an agriculture instructional video but is actually a clip for their song “Breakdiscodance.”
L.A.Drones are a duo from right here in Los Angeles, which probably explains the exclamation point in their name. Us L.A. folks tend to get very excited about ourselves. Their name is a play on the Spanish word “Ladrones,” which means “thieves,” because much of their music is made up of samples stolen from other songs. Not that my Spanish is that good…pretty much all I know how to say is “Mas cerveza, por favor,” but that’s what L.A.Drones! tell us their name means. Being thieves, they wear masks. They list their influences as “Electro, KrautRock, Dub, Acid, Space, Noise.” Here’s their Facebook page and here’s a live video of them performing the song “Horrible Dreams.”
Shibboleth are a trio from Ireland that call their music “experimental dark-ambient,” which sounds about right. Sometimes it almost sounds like doom metal, other times it’s like weird, lo-fi Goth rock with banjos. We don’t know much else about them…they just emailed us with a few links and said, “We think we’re pretty weird.” Agreed, fellas. Here’s their EP Farewell on Bandcamp and here’s a zero-budget but pretty creepy video for their song “The Cannibal’s Standpoint.”
The Velveteen are also from right here in Southern California, but up the road a ways in Ventura, which is like a sleepier version of L.A. with less movie stars and more surfers. They’re a four-piece, assuming you count their puppet Fum, which you totally should because he’s the lead singer. They’re named after their guitarist/trumpet-playing rabbit, Baron Von Velveteen, who also plays bass in another weird band called Cirque Noir, and also have a keyboard/melodica player named Professor Z and a drummer named Christopher Coyle, who really needs to step up his game and come up with a wacky alter ego if he’s gonna be part of this band. Oh, and I guess they just added another puppet named Foe, so maybe they’re a five-piece now. They’re pretty new on the scene, having just played their first gig this past May. Here’s a live clip, and here’s their website.
You might call England’s WE a high-concept band. They take famous pop songs and do robotic electro-pop covers on them in which they replace the word “I” with the word “We.” That’s it. That’s literally the only thing they do. According to their website, “WE translate the monstrous, violent, and traumatic, revolutionary process of the abolition of identity into pluralized pop.” If you say so, dudes! Get in on all the pluralized pop action on their SoundCloud page, where you can hear such “We”-ified classics as “WE Want to Hold Your Hand,” “WE Kissed a Girl” and “(WE Will Be Your) Father Figure.”
So there you have it. Remember to cast your vote before midnight Sunday, Sept. 14, and may the weirdest band win.
It’s Labor Day here in America, so to celebrate, we thought we’d play you all something that has the power to actually induce labor. Here’s “Insomnia,” nine minutes of crazy from the Norwegian experimental singer Maja Ratkje. Our thanks to our old pal Miss Hawkline for this one. Miss M, when you post stuff like in the comments section, that’s how we know you really love us.
To hear more of Maja’s unearthly shrieks and sighs, check out her website.
Hey, so here’s another L.A. band we’ve been meaning to write about for awhile. Tartar Control claim to be God-fearing Mormons from Salt Lake City who try to spread religion through the power of snotty punk rock, but I’m not so sure. I think they might be actual snotty L.A. punk rockers who are just ripping off these guys. Oh, wait, their drummer is a robot? I take it all back then. They must be actual Mormons and their act is totally original! (Mormons love robots. It’s why their Chosen One is Mitt Romney.)
Anyway, Sean, Robert and Robot have a new album coming out in October called We Forgive You. You do? Thanks, Tartar Control! Glad that dead hooker is finally off our conscience.
While we wait for forgiveness, here’s a video for “Smoking Crack” off their first album, Holy Crap! Tartar Control forgives us, but who forgives Tartar Control?
For more Tartar Control, floss regularly and visit the band’s website.
If you heard a loud cheer in the distance on Monday intercut with what sounded like a skipping CD player, you heard the sound of Richard D. James’ fans rejoicing at the news that, for the first time in 13 years, there will be an official new album from Aphex Twin, the production alter ego through which the reclusive, mercurial man from Cornwall released some of the most game-changing electronic music of the ’90s.
True to form, James didn’t make the announcement with a simple press release. Instead, he launched a goddamn blimp with the Aphex Twin logo inside the zero of “2014” over London, then sent fans treasure-hunting into the deep web to uncover the new album’s title and track list. Turns out the new disc will be called Syro; no word yet on a release date. (If you, like us, have no idea how to get to the deep web, some kind soul mirrored the hidden Aphex Twin page here. But you might still need some help deciphering it.)
James has never really done anything conventional over the course of his 20-plus-year career. After first making a name for himself primarily as a producer of ambient music, James helped invent a twitchier, more experimental style of electronica that came to be known as “Intelligent Dance Music” or IDM (a term James himself has disavowed). His many forays into other new sounds and styles also influenced everything from glitch to breakbeat to drill ‘n’ bass. Just in terms of the sheer number of genres he helped shape or invent, he’s arguably the most influential electronic music artist since Kraftwerk.
Towards the end of the ’90s, James’s Aphex Twin releases began to take on a more satirical bent, especially when accompanied by a pair of groundbreaking videos he made with director Chris Cunningham. 1997’s “Come to Daddy” began, by James’s own account, as a death metal piss-take, before evolving into one of the first and most influential glitchcore tracks. Most of you have probably seen it before, but for those of you who haven’t, fair warning: It’s genuinely disturbing.
The creepy Richard James masks are a recurring motif in many Aphex Twin videos, as well as much of his album art (the cover of 1996’s Richard D. James being the most famous). For his second video with Chris Cunningham, 1999’s “Windowlicker,” they took an even more unsettling turn. (Most of you have seen this video, too, but another warning for those who haven’t: the first four minutes feature more N-bombs than Samuel L. Jackson’s entire filmography).
Prior to the announcement of Syro, the last proper Aphex Twin album was 2001’s Drukqs, a double album that alternated between pretty ambient works performed mostly on a computer-controlled piano and glitchier tracks featuring lots of intricate drum programming and melodic synths. He followed that up in 2003 with a remix compilation with the brilliantly cynical title 26 Mixes for Cash, and a 2005 collection of 42 acid house tracks released under the name Analord (he loves aliases; AFX, Polygon Window, GAK and Bradley Strider are among his others). Then, for the most part, he fell silent.
In the decade since, James has surfaced occasionally, at one point even claiming that he had six completed albums’ worth of Aphex Twin material. He’s rumored to be behind an anonymous glitch group called The Tuss, which released some music on James’s Rephlex label in 2007, but he’s never copped to it. He’s definitely behind an odd release earlier this year under the name Caustic Window—odd because the album, a relatively restrained foray into ambient techno and tech-house, was never really meant to be released. Recorded in 1994 but scrapped after just a test pressing, only a few vinyl copies of Caustic Window ever found their way into circulation, occasionally trading hands for thousands of dollars. Finally, some enterprising fans raised the necessary money to buy a copy and release it digitally (with James’s blessing) via a Kickstarter campaign this past June.
But all this activity aside, Syro is still the first official release of new Aphex Twin material in over a decade, which makes it a Very Big Deal in electronic music circles.
One other interesting thing to note about Richard James is that he’s really into hiding images inside his music—literally. At the end of track two of the Windowlicker EP, “Equation” (or as it’s officially titled, “ΔMi−1 = −αΣn=1NDi[n][Σj∈C[i]Fji[n − 1] +Fexti[n−1]]“), he conceals his trademark creepy grinning visage inside the last few seconds of the track’s spectrogram (which you can see here). And on the 2001 EP 2 Remixes by AFX, what sounds like a bunch of piercing, test-signal high frequencies is actually an SSTV transmission, which can be decoded with the appropriate software into what we’re told is an image of James sitting on a couch, along with some text listing all the software used to make the EP (although we couldn’t find this image online anywhere).
While we’re all anxiously awaiting the arrival of Syro, we’ll leave you with another of Aphex Twin’s greatest weird videos, from a 1995 EP called Donkey Rhubarb. Chris Cunningham did not direct this one, so it’s not quite as artful as “Windowlicker” and “Come to Daddy,” but the Teletubbie-like creatures cavorting around with James’s illustrated face (from the cover of his 1995 album I Care Because You Do) are pretty entertaining. Apparently he brought them out on tour for awhile and used them to mess with the audience before shows. He’s a prankster, that Richard D. James.
In fact, come to think of it, we probably shouldn’t believe he’s releasing a new Aphex Twin album until the day it actually arrives. There’s a good chance he could just be punking us. Or it’ll arrive, but it’ll be in binary code, or embedded in a microchip that can only be played via Apple IIc. Or maybe he’ll drop the only copies out of a blimp. Who knows?
Or, knowing Mr. James and his perverse sense of humor, maybe he’ll pull the ultimate prank on his audiophile fans and only release it via iTunes.