Author Archives: weirdestband
Though they douse our inbox daily with a firehose of awful, mainstream crap, music publicists aren’t all bad. Occasionally they serve up something truly bizarre, like Shmu, a cut-and-paste solo project from Austin-based musician (and occasional Flaming Lips collaborator) Sam Chown that sounds like 10 different bands playing on top of each other at the same time — because that, essentially, is what you’re hearing.
Chown, who’s originally from Toronto and studied music at Berklee, also makes delightfully spazzy electro-noise-rock as the drummer half of the duo Zorch. As Shmu, he makes music that is at once more accessible and more abstract. At their heart, Shmu songs are shoegaze-y dream-pop; Chown cites My Bloody Valentine as an influence, although only inasmuch as he, like Kevin Shields, is fascinated with the happy harmonic accidents that happen when you keep layering sound on top of sound to the point where the human ear can no longer distinguish all the individual parts.
Here’s a good example of Chown in full-blown sensory overload mode. Listening to this on repeat kind of makes you feel like you’re having the world’s happiest seizure.
To achieve his “Tomorrow Never Knows” as remixed by The Field sound, Chown records multiple versions of the same track and then edits and layers them all together. Sometimes, when he doesn’t like where one song is heading, rather than scrap it entirely, he just mashes snippets of it into whatever he decides to do next. “Many [songs] even contain performances of me playing samples live that are samples of scrapped songs or of other entire songs — I’m performing a performance of a performance,” he says in that press release we somehow rescued from our inbox last week.
He applies the same technique to recording other musicians, as well. Shmu’s latest album, SHHH!!!!, is mostly him on the all instruments, but there are some additional guitars and bass and even a string quartet buried in there somewhere. On for one of the album’s coolest tracks, “Flutes,” he had two flautists play the same piece of music into five sets of microphones on five different delay pedals, then mixed the results together.
SHHH!!!! is Chown’s second Shmu album; the first one, 2012’s Discipline/Communication, is way less mental, but still worth checking out. It’s especially interesting to hear how the track “Turpentine” off that debut gets reimagined as a swirling, shoegaze guitar freakout on SHHH!!!!
We’ll leave you with the most ambitious track on SHHH!!!!, a 12-minute jam called “Harmonic” that closes out the album with a hurricane of Brian Chippendale-like drums, glitchy electronics and the epic post-rock sensibilities of fellow Austinites Explosions in the Sky. If this doesn’t convince you that Chown is something special, stop reading this blog and go buy the new goddamn Adele album.
Sometimes one weird band leads you to an even better, weirder band. That’s what happened this week when we started looking into a Ukrainian band called DakhaBrakha, who have a show in L.A. next week (with Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu, no less). DakhaBrakha describe their music as “ethnic chaos,” which sounded pretty promising — but it turns out that, although they’re a perfectly good band with a cool NPR Tiny Desk concert to their credit, they’re not that weird. Unique? Absolutely. But our minds were not blown — until we stumbled across a another project their cellist, Nina Harenetska, is sometimes part of, called the Dakh Daughters Band. We’ve been binge-watching their videos ever since and we’re still picking pieces of our brains off the keyboard.
Dakh Daughters Band is the product of Dakh Contemporary Art Center, a theater in Kiev. It’s seven actresses who also happen to be fantastic singers and multi-instrumentalists. Each song they perform is a mini-cabaret full of sung-spoken monologues, eerie Ukrainian folk harmonies, percussion, strings, stringed instruments turned into percussion, wailing, weeping, white face paint, moaning and gnashing of teeth. It’s like The Bacchae meets The Tiger Lillies meets Dead Can Dance, except even more awesome than that. Here’s their most famous video:
I mean, holy fucking shit, right? Just when you think, “OK, that one’s clearly the star of the troupe,” another one starts singing and steals the show. And then another. And another. They’re all amazing! How many kick-ass women are in the Ukraine?
As good as the “Rozy/Donbass” video is, clips of Dakh Daughters’ live performances are even more riveting. Prepare to witness the sexiest accordion-fueled murder ballad ever performed:
The Dakh Daughters started their self-described “freak cabaret” in 2012 as a one-night project for a performance in Paris. Apart from a bio on a website called What’s On Kyiv and a short Wikipedia page, very little has been written about them in English, so we don’t know much else about them, except that another of their members, Ruslana Khazipova, is in another Ukrainian band called Perkalaba, who play a sort of Ukrainian-gypsy version of ska-punk. And they’re playing Lyon, France in 2016. And we’re really fucking jealous of Lyon.
The Daughters’ latest music video is actually a cover of a Perkalaba song called “Zozulytsya.” In it, the girls seem to be trapped in some kind of cage in which they’re forced to play their instruments using household objects like wooden spoons and giant keys and whatnot. They’re also not wearing their trademark white facepaint, which I guess makes this their equivalent to KISS’ “Lick It Up,” only way less sucky. Give this one a few minutes; it builds. Oh, how it builds.
You probably think you can tell what PPL MVR sound like just by looking at them. I mean, it’s three guys dressed up like yetis. It’s gotta be knuckle-dragging, skull-pounding sludge metal, right? Or maybe theatrical death metal a la Band of Orcs. One way or another, it’s metal. Clearly. Only metal guys are willing to sweat that much.
But think again. Although PPL MVR’s sound does in fact rock hard, and their drummer does in fact play with sticks shaped like thigh bones, they owe more to strutting, ’70s-style cock-rock than to anything on today’s headbanger circuit. In fact, once you throw in some pedal-distorted guitar and talkbox-distorted vocals, they kinda sound like ELO trying to do Sabbath covers. At least they’ve got all windmilling-in-the-wind-tunnel moves down, though. Whatever planet they’re from must have Headbangers Ball reruns.
PPL MVR—or “The One and Only PPL MVR,” as they sometimes go by—are from right here in TWBITW’s home base of Los Angeles, but like all good costumed bands, they’ve done a pretty good job so far of keeping their identities secret, going only by their yeti names of SNWBLL, K-PO and Q. They give great interviews, staying totally in character, and we’ve heard their live shows are great, too, though we haven’t yet had the pleasure.
And they must have a really good manager, because even though they’ve only been in existence for about a year, they’ve already appeared at Sundance, Tenacious D’s Festival Supreme, the Playboy offices, and something called the Spike TV Guys’ Choice Awards, because y’know, all those other awards shows don’t let guys give each other enough awards. They’ve even been signed to Elektra Records, which is pretty big time. I mean, yeah, they live in L.A. and their songs are catchy as hell, but still—bands like Extreme Turbo Smash must be looking at PPL MVR like, “Fuck. What do we have to do to get in on that action?”
Not much else is known about PPL MVR at this point, because well, they’ve only been around for a year and the only interviews they’ve given so far have consisted of grunts and snarls. So we’ll just leave you with what appears to be their latest video, for a song called “Let’s Take This Outside.” I’m no expert on yeti social customs, but my strong advice to you is: Do NOT take it outside with PPL MVR. Let the beasts eat their pancakes in peace.
One of the cool things about my day job is that I get to work with the great Henry Rollins, whose taste in weird and esoteric music is even more wide-ranging than mine and Jake’s. (He also knows more about music than the two of us put together. Like, a lot, lot more.) He hosts a radio show every Sunday night on KCRW-FM that I highly encourage you to check out — every week, he breaks out some new mind-bending shit you’ve probably never heard of. In the coming week’s, we’ll probably be mining Henry’s show for all sorts of new weird sounds.
Our first raid of the Rollins vaults comes in the form of a gentleman from France who goes by the nom de weird of Lieutenant Caramel. He describes himself as a “hunter of sounds” and collector of “resonant matters,” but his work transcends typical musique concrete and field recordings with a sense of wit and whimsy that makes even his most bizarre compositions as hilarious in places as a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Most of them clock in at around ten minutes or more, so they’re not for short attention spans — or then again, since they constantly warp and shape-shift, maybe they are.
Lieutenant Caramel is the alter ego of Philippe Blanchard, who lives in the ridiculously picturesque town of Annecy in the French Alps. In 1999, he founded a festival there called “Le bruit de la neige,” which translates to “The Noise of Snow.” Looks like the most recent one was just last month, so I guess Jake and I will just have to start planning now to hit the 2016 edition.
Not everything Blanchard produces as Lieutenant Caramel sounds like cartoon character stumbling through a tool shed. We’ll leave you with a track that’s more Lynch than Looney Tunes. There’s still some funny, distorted voices in there, but this time, you won’t know whether to laugh or hide under the covers.
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.
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.)