The sixth video from Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin‘s Residents-channeling opus Fish Drive Edsels is a pretty literal interpretation of the song “House Plants.” Fortunately, MacPumpkin’s lyrics are so random that even a literal interpretation leads to some bizarre imagery.
There are plants with eyeballs for fruit and hungry, gaping mouths. (Feed me, Seymour!) There’s an angry frozen octopus and lots of hourglasses, because the song mentions something about “undermation of the hourglass,” whatever that means. Above all, there’s lots of Petunia singing into a megaphone and hanging out in her attic with her house plants, whom she tries to wake up, but never too soon—never too soon.
MacPumpkin is working her way through Fish Drive Edsels one track at a time, creating surreal videos for each of her cracked-calliope tunes. Next up is a song called “Autumn Leaves”—hey, just in time for autumn! I predict this one will feature lots of dead leaves and maybe a jack-o-lantern or two.
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.
I’m in the Bay Area today interviewing DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist about their upcoming Renegades of Rhythm tour, for which they’ll be playing all vinyl culled from hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa’s 40,000-plus record collection. So I thought it would be a good day to give Bambaataa a little shout-out here on TWBITW. After all, he was in many ways a pretty weird dude.
This 1983 video for “Renegades of Funk” is a nice reminder that, compared to most of the crap on the radio today, early hip-hop could get downright avant-garde. Aside from the Sun Ra/George Clinton Afro-futurist costumes worn by Bambaataa and his Soulsonic Force crew, the track itself is a forward-thinking mix of squiggly synths, stuttering drum machines and Bootsy-style bass. It also name-checks practically every major funk and hip-hop innovator, civil rights activist, and the original gangsta, Sitting Bull. Class is in session!
My DJ Shadow/Cut Chemist interview won’t run here; it’s one of them there paying gigs for another outlet. But we’ll probably link out to it from our Facebook page or something.
Nerdcore hip-hop heartthrob MC Frontalot (c’mon, you know those chunky glasses make your panties drop) has given us all another little taste of Question Bedtime, his not-really-a-children’s-album-exactly LP, which is due out Aug. 26th (we said Aug. 16th earlier, but we were trippin’). “Start Over” tells the story of Little Red Riding Hood—or rather, it tells the story of how we’re always changing up the story of Little Red Riding Hood, much to the consternation of small children who tend to get very, very attached to whichever version they’re most familiar with. It’s a meta-fairy tale, y’all! Remember, even when he’s rapping to children, Front is still nerdcore to the, um, core.
At the moment, you can only hear the track via USA Today’s Pop Candy blog, so take a deep breath and head over there to listen. Don’t worry, it’s way better than that time USA Today tried to make sense of Babymetal. There’s a really good Q&A with Front and everything.
And speaking of Q&As: Stay tuned for an interview I myself recently did with MC Frontalot. It’ll run on another site I freelance for called The Daily Dot but we’ll link to it from here. (Am I mad cuz USA Today scooped me? Nah. I got all sorts of exclusive material out of him. USA Today didn’t even touch on that one time he got really into bookbinding.)
Baltimore guitarist Dustin Wong hasn’t gotten any less prolific or weird since his band Ponytail disbanded in 2011. After releasing several intriguing solo albums, Wong has now joined forces with Japanese singer Takako Minekawa to push his experiments into something resembling pop music, if pop music was a delicate vase just begging to be shattered into a million pieces.
The duo’s debut album, Savage Imagination, is due out next month on Thrill Jockey. For a taste, check out this video for the track “She He See Feel,” which features a diorama Dustin and Takako created for the album cover and some rubber-limbed dance moves.
You can pre-order Savage Imagination via the Thrill Jockey website.
In what is clearly a match made in both heaven and hell, two of our favorite weird Polish artists, Dancing Deadlips and Potworow, have collaborated on a new track. It’s called “Buffalo Bill’s Defunct” and like each lady’s solo stuff, it’s dark, creepy, menacing and undeniably sexy all at once.
They’ve also put together a very Blair Witch-like video for the song, which you can see below. If you want to download the track for free, you can do so via Bandcamp.
It makes us so proud when obscure weird bands we blog about go on to bigger and better things. The latest weirdo to escape Internet obscurity for a taste of the big time is one-man Texas glitch tornado (glitchnado?) Computer Jesus Refrigerator, whose latest video “Rang Zulu” apparently had its premiere on Adult Swim this past week. I say “apparently” because we didn’t actually see it, but we’ll take CJR main man KOKOFREAKBEAN’s word for it.
Now that Adult Swim’s gotten their fancy premiere out of the way, the video is available on YouTube for non-stoned people to enjoy during daylight hours. Like all Computer Jesus creations, most of it looks like two Windows 95 screensavers making sweet, sweet love after candy flipping—but stick around for the Aztec human sacrifice, and for the ending, which features an army of ghost warriors invading what appears to be the dumpster alley behind a San Antonio supermarket, before they’re all sucked Ghostbusters-style into a little red jewelry box. To be continued? We can only hope.