Category Archives: Band of the Week
So we kinda blew this one, guys. For the past three years, the weirdest hip-hop band on the planet has been Death Grips. And before we could get around to adding them to the Weird List, they broke up. Oops.
It’s not like they were toiling in obscurity. If anything, I think we were inclined to pay less attention to them because they were getting so much goddamned attention. Nothing that hyped, that embraced by the mainstream—signed to Epic Records, downloaded over 124 million times on BitTorrent, named one of the best albums of 2012 by NP fucking R—could possibly be that weird, right?
Wrong. Death Grips were a defiant, aggro, unheralded mix of rap, punk rock, noise and electronic glitch that almost gets more mind-blowing the longer you listen to it. And for their short lifespan, they churned out material at such a breakneck pace that even now that they’ve broken up, they’ve still promised fans one last double LP later this year, to go with three full-length albums, an EP and a mixtape, all released over the course of about two and a half years.
They were also totally uncompromising in the way they managed their career. Yes, they signed to a major label, but when that major label wouldn’t release their second LP, No Love Deep Web, less than a year after their first one, they leaked it themselves via BitTorrent (hence that record-breaking number of downloads), complete with cover art featuring the album title scrawled across a half-erect penis. Not surprisingly, Epic Records dropped them shortly after that little stunt.
Then came their breakup last week, which they announced via a scribbled note on a dinner napkin, posted on their Facebook page. “we are now at our best,” the noted began, “and so Death Grips is over. we have officially stopped.” This just weeks before they were scheduled to embark on a massive North American tour opening for Nine Inch Nails. Most of the 5,000-plus comments on the breakup note are variations on this one: “WHY?????” But Death Grips clearly felt they never needed to explain anything they did to anyone.
So what happens now? The band’s most famous member, freak-of-nature drummer Zach Hill, will probably go back to any number of his other projects, the foremost of which is his experimental math-rock band Hella. Producer/keyboardist Andy “Flatlander” Morin will probably make a synth-pop album. Tattooed frontman MC Ride can probably do anything he damn well pleases now, although it’s hard to imagine him ever coming out with anything that matches Death Grips’ intensity.
For those (probably few) of you who still haven’t experienced Death Grips in all their craziness, we’ll leave you with a couple of videos. The first features one of the glitchier moments on their debut mixtape, Ex Military:
Now here’s “No Love” from No Love Deep Web, which captures their balls-out live show. Kinda sucks that these guys may very well never perform together again, doesn’t it?
Finally, we must end this post with a shout-out to the many readers who tried to convince us to pay attention to Death Grips sooner: Patrick S., KrazyTrilla, Matt S., Frostoriuss and Steffon R. You guys totally called it. Death Grips is dead, long live Death Grips.
So we had bad news and good news this week regarding our first-ever Weird Band Night. You know, the one happening Friday, July 11th at the California Institute of Abnormalarts here in Los Angeles, that you’re totally gonna be at? Oh, you live in different time zone? Excuses, excuses! If you’re not there, you’re dead to us.
Wait, what were we talking about? Oh right, bad news and good news. So the bad news is that one of our headliners, Haunted Garage, had to bow out due to, uh, personnel issues. Or more specifically, bass player issues. In fact, if you happen to see Haunted Garage’s ex-bass player in line at Starbuck’s, and you happen to have a sudden uncontrollable urge to, oh I don’t know, pull his pants down, point at his junk and laugh laugh LAUGH hysterically…well, who are we to tell you what you can and can’t do at Starbuck’s? It’s a free country.
So that’s the bad news. Pretty bad, right? For a minute there, we were sure Weird Band Night was dead in the water. Now for the good news: We have ALREADY found an awesome replacement for Haunted Garage in the form of groovy ghoul rockers The Rhythm Coffin. Imagine The Misfits meets The Rocky Horror Picture Show meets a zombie Ramones cover band and you can see why the reanimated corpse of Weird Band Night is going to be even more fun than its mostly animated original incarnation.
Here’s just one of The Rhythm Coffin’s many dance crazes that are sweeping the underworld.
And here’s a song they do about coffee, which is basically just “Coffin” with two different letters. I just blew your mind, didn’t I? But if you think that’s crazy, get a load of this video. Who knew the undead drank coffee? Finally, something to look forward to in the afterlife. I thought it was all just clouds and harps and shit.
So thanks for rescuing Weird Band Night, The Rhythm Coffin! See you on July 11th.
To Western ears, there are few sounds eerier than the low-frequency groans and drones of traditional Tuvan throat singing. A technique also known as overtone singing, its mechanics have been widely discussed elsewhere and we won’t get into all the specifics styles and variations here. We’ll just say, when practiced by masters of the form like Albert Kuvezin, it’s basically the vocal equivalent of a really cool sleight-of-hand trick. He’s singing in two different frequencies! And one of them is, like, super-super-low! How the hell does he do that?
However he does it, Kuvezin has helped popularize the Tuvan style of throat singing through two groups: the more traditional Huun-Huur-Tu (which he quit shortly after helping to form the band in the early ’90s), and Yat-Kha, which mixes traditional Tuvan and Mongolian folk instruments with guitars and electronics. His original partner in Yat-Kha was Ivan Sokolovsky, a Russian avant-garde musician and composer who found lots of creative new settings for Kuvezin’s highly distinctive take on throat singing (which he calls “kanzat kargyraa”). Here, for example, is the title track from their 1995 album Yenisei Punk, a dizzying mix of flamenco rhythms, rock guitar and Kuvezin’s hypnotic chants:
Actually, Sokolovsky had quit Yat-Kha by the time of Yenisei Punk; the project is now primarily Kuvezin’s, along with a rotating cast of supporting drummers, bassists, guitarists and players of more traditional instruments like the morin khuur. But Sokolovsky’s influence over the band looms large.
Yat-Kha’s most famous release is probably 2005′s Re-Covers, an eclectic collection of Tuvanized versions of popular rock songs, from “Ramblin’ Man” to Bob Marley’s “Exodus.” When we shared their amazing version of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” last month, several readers noted that the Yat-Kha version of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” is even more powerful—and you’re not wrong, people, but that track is unfortunately only available on subscription sites like Spotify. So you’ll have to settle for their version of Iron Butterfly’s ridiculous proto-prog-rock epic, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” which is not as awesome as “Levee” but definitely gets bonus points for being one of the weirdest uses of throat singing ever, especially when they give the song a little bit of a Johnny Cash-style boom-chicka-boom cowboy rhythm.
Yat-Kha hasn’t released any new music since their a 2011 live album, Live at the Stray Dog. But they still tour pretty actively, at least in Russia and Eastern Europe, and will hopefully get back into the studio again one of these days. Until then, we’ll leave you with this live video from a 2013 performance in Poland. Is it just us, or does Albert sound a bit like Rammstein‘s Till Lindemann when he’s singing in rock mode? Now there’s a collaboration we’d like to hear.
(Note: Banner photo lifted from the website of Judd’s Hill Winery, a Jewish-owned winery in Napa, which we hear is very nice this time of year.)
Of the various orders and species of weird bands, one of our favorites is the Band Dedicated Beyond All Reason to an Incredibly Specific Joke. These can’t be one-and-done bands; they’ve got to release album after fucking album, for years and years and years, all based around the exact same premise. Within this little subcategory, you’ve got your Zambonis (all songs about hockey), your Beatallica (all Beatles/Metallica mashups) and your Previously on Lost (all songs based on the TV show Lost). Today, we are happy to add to the Weird List another Band Dedicated Beyond All Reason to an Incredibly Specific Joke: Meshugga Beach Party, a Jewish surf-rock band from San Francisco. “Meshugga,” for those of y’all who aren’t part of the tribe, means “crazy” in Yiddish, so these farkakte bastards live up to their billing. They’ve been mixing “Hava Nagila” with “Miserlou” since 2003. 2003! The only thing I’ve been doing consistently since 2003 is disappointing my parents.
But, I hear you say, gimmicks schmimmicks: How’s the music? Well, I gotta tell you, it’s ain’t half bad. Head meshuggener Mel Waldolf has been playing surf-rock for 20 years and even composed music for Spongebob Squarepants and My Favorite Martian, so he knows his way around a twangy solo. And the rest of the band can rip the curl right with him. (Is that how surfers talk? I’m neither Jewish nor a surfer, so I’m flying by the seat of my tuchas here.)
As previously mentioned, Meshugga Beach Party have been around for over a decade, so they’ve released a ton of music, including a Hanukkah album because hey, everybody loves that “Dreidel, Dreidel” song, right? Their other titles include Let’s Go Shlepping! and Twenty Songs of the Chosen Surfers. Most are available via their website, at prices that won’t make you plotz.
By the way, lest there by any confusion: Meshugga Beach Party is in no way affiliated with these guys. That’s a different and much more goyim kind of weird band. Although I’m sure they call their mothers every week, too.
We’ll leave you with MBP’s most famous track, which is indeed a mashup of that song people play even at non-Jewish weddings as an excuse to carry the bride and groom around on chairs, and the Dick Dale track made famous by the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.
When Charlie Salas-Humara started his Panther project in Portland, Oregon around 2006, he wasn’t really expecting it to become his main gig. The goal, he said later in a video interview, was “mostly just to irritate people.” Legend has it that for Panther’s first gig, he showed up to an acoustic singer-songwriter night with a drum machine. I’m sure he succeeded in pissing plenty of people off at that gig and others since, but he also produced some of the most entertainingly awkward, tongue-in-cheek electro-funk of the late ’00s. Especially on Panther’s first album, Secret Lawns, on which Salas-Humara comes off like Demetri Martin doing a Beck parody.
Beginning with their second album, 14 KT God, Panther became a duo, thanks to the addition of drummer Joe Kelly. They also signed to Kill Rock Stars, which is hardly the biggest label on the planet but was a pretty huge step up from the tiny Fryk Beat imprint that put out Secret Lawns. Perhaps inevitably, Panther’s KRS output became more accessible, sounding like the work of an actual band rather than a Prince stalker alone in his bedroom. But they still had a knack for quirky videos like “Birds That Move,” from their 2009 swan song EP, Entropy.
As far as we’ve able to discern, Salas-Humara hasn’t released any new Panther music since Entropy. He’s been busy with numerous other projects, including a solo synth-drone joint called Grapefruit; an experimental five-piece called Regular Music that once released an album in the form of a tiny speaker housed inside a CD case; and Sun Angle, a sort of post-rock/punk/cumbia fusion trio. Together it adds up to one of the weirdest and most unique bodies of work we’ve run across in ages, although none of it tops the brilliant absurdity of Panther’s finest moment, a song and video called “You Don’t Want Your Nails Done” that we’ve featured before and will now feature again, because we love it so.
We found this week’s weird band right in our own backyard. One of their videos was even partially shot in the parking lot of the 99¢ Only Store right down the street from Jake’s house. Actually, we found them in our inbox from a reader named William, because we don’t get out much. Which might be just as well, because Foot Village is not the kind of band you’d want to bump into in the dark parking lot of a 99¢ Only Store.
Foot Village is a self-described “drum-n-shout assembly” that makes insanely intense music almost entirely out of percussion and vocals. We’ve covered a lot of other drum-heavy bands on TWBITW over the years—starting with the granddaddies of them all, Boredoms and Crash Worship—but what Foot Village does with this limited palette is pretty special. Sometimes their songs are like invocations of dark, primal forces, and sometimes they’re like a schoolyard beatdown after a drug deal gone bad. In fact, one of their heaviest gut-punch numbers is actually called “This Song Is a Drug Deal,” and it has a video that’s like a William Burroughs short story set at a Coachella after-party.
Foot Village’s music would be intense enough on its own, but they have a knack for making equally intense videos, even when they don’t rely on gobs of black paint to make their point. Here’s the aforementioned 99¢ Only Store video, a disturbingly fresh spin on child abduction set to a thunderous war whoop of a song called “New Jersey.”
And finally, here’s a glimpse of their balls-out live show, filmed at L.A. noise-rock mecca The Smell.
The man born Herman “Sonny” Blount, better known to his colleagues, fans and disciples as Sun Ra, would have turned 100 today. Or rather, he is turning 100 today. He’s just doing it somewhere on Saturn, after the end of time.
More than any other jazz artist, Sun Ra created a whole cosmology around his music. Dressed in his flowing gold robes and Egyptian headdresses, he presided over a cacophonous blend of hard bop, New Orleans stride, free jazz, African-inspired polyrhythms, squiggly synth excursions and psychedelic jazz-rock fusion that still sounds otherworldly today. He claimed to be from Saturn, which was revealed to him in a vision he had as a young man of aliens with “one little antenna on each ear” and “a little antenna over each eye,” who told him it was his mission to speak to the people of Earth through his music. And speak he did.
Sun Ra’s recording career spanned five decades and a bewildering array of styles, from early masterpieces of comparatively straightforward, Thelonious Monk-style bebop like 1959′s Jazz in Silhouette to more abstract but still very jazzy late-period works like 1990′s Purple Night. In between, he pioneered the use of the electric piano and synthesizer in jazz, released an Afro-futurist sci-fi film and a string of groundbreaking, space-themed jazz fusion albums, and built up a stage show so elaborate that his Sun Ra Arkestra became, according to his official online bio, “the only jazz orchestra that brings a tailor on tour.”
It’s hard to know where to start with Sun Ra’s prolific output—so much so that iTunes, which just began releasing digitally remastered versions of his catalog this week, has created something called the “Explore the Cosmos” series that breaks up his oeuvre into more easily digestible, thematically linked chunks (for example, you can download the “Outer Space” section of the Sun Ra catalog, or the “Hard Bop” section, or even just the “Percussion” section, if you’re really into the parts where it’s basically just a bunch of people chanting over bongos). But probably the best-known work from his golden ’60s/’70s era is his 1972 album Space Is the Place, which later also became the name of that sci-fi film we were telling you about. The title track became the Sun Ra Arkestra’s theme song over the years.
Here’s a fantastic clip of them performing “Space Is the Place,” along with one of their peppiest numbers, “Face the Music.” (Plus, at the six-minute mark, an excerpt of an interview with Sun Ra talking about his visit to Saturn and how “music can wash clothes.”) I’m not sure what year this is from, but Sun Ra’s band is really at the peak of their powers here, a Parliament/Funkadelic (one of many bands they influenced) for the jazzbo set:
And here’s another of Sun Ra’s most famous numbers, from the 1982 album Nuclear War, which asks the immortal question, “Whatchu gonna do without yo ass?”
Here’s a complete list of the albums that were just issued in iTunes, complete with downloadable PDF liner notes by our hero, outsider music guru Irwin Chusid. It’s our understanding that many of these titles have been out of print or hard to find for many years, although we haven’t researched the Sun Ra catalog deeply enough to confirm this. Some of them contain previously unreleased or bootleg-only bonus material; 1966′s The Nubians of Plutonia, for example, has four bonus tracks, including a previously unreleased studio version of “Spontaneous Simplicity,” a flute-fueled meditation best known from its live version on 1968′s Pictures of Infinity. If you’re willing to live with downloads instead of physical product, it’s a potential treasure trove of Sun Ra ephemera.
Supersonic Jazz (1957)
Sun Ra Visits Planet Earth (1958)
Angels and Demons At Play (1965)
Interstellar Low Ways (1966)
Jazz in Silhouette (1959)
Nubians of Plutonia (1966)
Sound Sun Pleasure (1970)
We Travel the Spaceways (1967)
Fate in a Pleasant Mood (1965)
Holiday for Soul Dance (1970)
Bad and Beautiful (1972)
The Invisible Shield (1974)
When Sun Comes Out (1963)
Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy (1967)
Monorails and Satellites, Vol. 1 (1968)
Other Planes of There (1966)
The Magic City (1966)
Strange Strings (1967)
Astro Black (1972)
Universe in Blue (1972)
We’ve had another democracy drive-by here at Weird Band HQ, and the only band spared from the massacre by your votes is a British one-man freak-fest called Free Chow. I don’t usually say this, but I think you guys got this one right. Free Chow is some seriously weird shit.
The man behind the Chow is named Roo Bhasin and we know almost nothing about him, except that he’s apparently in this other band from Oxford called Fixers, who kind of sound like a geekier and way less annoying Coldplay. Hopefully Roo will make some Free Chow videos eventually because this Fixers one is amazing.
Free Chow is pretty much the anti-Fixers. Where Fixers is all polished and anthemic, your average Free Chow song sounds like it was recorded by a sarcastic 12-year-old in his bedroom. This song, “Don’t Touch Kids,” is a pretty good example:
That’s from Free Chow’s one and only album, the awesomely titled Asleep With My Hand in Your Mouth. He also released a Christmas single called “Jesus in Furs” and if you know what that title is a reference to, I bet you know exactly what it sounds like:
Kinda stupid, but also kinda brilliant. Brilliantly stupid, if you will.
Anyway, congrats to Roo for winning our latest poll. Who will win the next one? Watch this space and you’ll find out.
For our 250th Weird Band of the Week, we decided to go the crowd-pleasing route. Over the years, a metric fuck-ton of you* have said we should add Japanese noise rockers Melt Banana to the Weird List. Well, today, you freaks finally get your wish. Now please stop posting embeds of “Sick Zip Everywhere” in the Submit a Band comments, will ya?
Now in fairness to all y’all, Melt Banana are indeed a pretty weird band. In fairness to us, “Sick Zip Everywhere” is nowhere near their weirdest track. It’s just one of the few with an official video, and it does that whole B-movie karate flick “Hey, let’s badly dub American actors trying to sound vaguely Japanese over actual Japanese people!” thing that everyone can’t get enough of.
Here’s a better example of Melt Banana at their weirdest. This is from a “live” album they recorded with John Zorn in 1998 called MxBx 1998/13,000 Miles at Light Velocity and yes, those squeals that sound like turntable scratches or dive-bombing Roland 303s are all coming from Ichirou Agata’s guitar.
Pretty cool, right? The only other guitarist I know who can get tones like that out of his effects pedals is Tom Morello, although I’m pretty sure in a dueling guitars fight, Agata would kick Morello’s ass. Even though he always performs with a surgical mask over his face. What am I saying? Especially because he performs with a surgical mask over his face.
Agata formed Melt Banana in Tokyo in 1992 with Yasuko Onuki, a singer he had been playing with for about a year in another band called Mizu. With the addition of bassist Rika Hamamoto and a rotating cast of drummers, they developed a balls-out style that made even their one-minute songs sound kinda epic. Here, for example, is an early track called “Dust Head”:
By the way, Melt Banana’s first two albums were produced by none other than Steve Albini, the punk-rock “super producer” whose other credits include Nirvana’s In Utero. But he’s also the guy behind this band, so don’t hold that against him. He recorded MxBx (as the kids like to call ‘em) in his basement studio in Chicago and the albums definitely have a dirty, Midwestern basement vibe to them.
Melt Banana are also famous for their covers. Here’s my favorite.
After 20+ years, Agata and Onuki are still at it…although they cut Hamamoto loose in 2012 and now operate strictly as a duo. They released their last album, Fetch, in 2013, and their music is still completely…well, bananas. Sorry, I had to go there.
So there you have it, weirdos! Think we can get to 500 bands? Stick around and let’s find out.
*Metric fuck-ton including but not limited to: Frostoriuss, Spoon, Josh Gold, Alex, Lou and Genericus. Thanks for your patience and suggestions, dudes and dudettes. You complete us and shit.