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.)
Since the traditional way to start a New Year, at least around my house, is with lost keys and a raging hangover, I figured we should start off 2015 here at Weird Band HQ with a track that evokes Jan. 1st in all its skull-splitting glory. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the aptly named “Concussed and Terrified,” the latest cold shower of noise from our old pal Richard, aka Army of Gay Unicorns. If you by some miracle do NOT already have a hangover, crank this one up and it’s the next worst thing.
Happy New Year, weirdos!
Hey, so remember how we took that looooong break a couple months back? Well, contrary to Internet rumor, it wasn’t just because we went off our meds. (That was just me.) The main reason it happened was because my partner Andy got himself a fancy-pants new job as the music editor for LA Weekly. They still come out once a week in newsprint form, which seems kinda last century to me, but everyone I talk to assures me it’s still a pretty big deal. So yeah, you should all congratulate him and shit.
Anyway, this means Andy now gets to sneak some weird content onto the LA Weekly website from time to time. He was freelancing for them before, so he’s already gotten some weirdness on there, but now that he’s a shot caller it may become a regular thing. Our devious scheme to spread weird music to the masses is coming to fruition!
So here’s the first weird train pulling out of the LA Weekly station on Andy’s watch: a recap of 10 of our favorite weird videos from the past year. Yeah, Andy threw “Turn Down for What” in there, but the rest of it’s pretty out there for a website that still puts itself into newsprint form once a week.
Andy’s still trying to impress his bosses, so be sure to check out the full list on LAWeekly.com so they gets lots of page views and shit. Maybe you could even leave a comment or tweet it or post a selfie of you jerking off to it on Snapchat or whatever you damn kids do these days. Basically, just spread the word, K?
We had a feeling that after their last video, the Yo Gabba Gabba-esque “Public Enemy,” Russian rap-ravers Little Big were going to return to the dark side. And boy did they ever. “Dead Unicorn,” their latest, combines child rape, skin suspension, human centipedes and the Saw movies with, well, unicorns. Dead ones. It’s hard to watch and you won’t be able to look away.
Sorry you can’t unsee that.
On the brighter side: Little Big have promised some European tour dates in February and March, culminating in an appearance at the Paaspop Festival in the Netherlands April 3-5. Given the current shitty state of affairs between Russia and the U.S., we’re not holding our breath for any Stateside dates, but maybe—like a magical, non-sewn-together-from-dead-bodies unicorn—they’ll pleasantly surprise us.