We’re back! Did you miss us? We promise to resume regularly posting Weird Bands of the Week and occasionally updating our Weird 100 chart, but other site updates will probably be more infrequent because we’ve both got demanding day jobs now. For our ever-popular Weird of the Day picks, follow us on Twitter or Facebook. And now, back to the weirdness…
This week’s “band” is a solo artist from New York named Thomas Truax (pronounced “True-Ax”) who plays guitar and a variety of homemade instruments, mostly of the beat-making variety. He started out as the bassist/vocalist for a ’90s trio called Like Wow that was part of downtown Manhattan’s “antifolk” scene (did anyone actually like the term “antifolk”? didn’t think so), then turned solo around 2000 or so. His signature instrument, seen above, is called the Hornicator. It’s a modified gramophone horn that he can both sing into and use as a twangy percussion instrument by plucking a string wrapped around its neck. It apparently also has a kazoo inside it, because really, any halfway decent homemade instrument may as well include a kazoo.
Musically, Truax tends to play his own spin on mutant, lo-fi blues, evoking shades of everything from Nick Cave to Jon Spencer to another weird artist famous for cleverly constructed analog drum machines, Mr. Quintron. He’s done an entire album of songs from David Lynch films and another of original songs to accompany a production of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. More recently, he’s teamed up with ex-Dresden Doll drummer Brian Viglione. But it’s his solo live shows, where he unleashes his Hornicator and a variety of steampunky percussion instruments with evocative names like the Sister Spinster and the Mother Superior, that really showcase Truax’s weirdness.
Truax has also made more than his fair share of memorable music videos over the years. Here’s our favorite, suggested by reader Chas (thanks, Chas!), for a typically offbeat Truax original called “Prove It to My Daughter” that doubles as both a song and a hypnosis session:
One of the weirdest music and art venues in the world is in, of all places, Phoenix, Arizona. There, the self-described “world’s oldest gay Canadian rapper,” Space Alien Donald, does shows and hosts art exhibits in a little house near the airport called Funny World. We hope to visit soon, because it sounds like the kind of place that The Man could shut down at any moment. Especially in a place like Arizona, where anyone suspected of being an alien is just one broken taillight away from getting deported.
Actually, when Space Alien Donald bought Funny World in 2011, he was apparently told by the city that it would be torn down in six months to make way for a parking lot. But three years later, it’s still there. Even in Arizona, the weirdos are winning.
How did a 70-something gay Canadian rapper wind up hosting semi-legal punk shows in his house in Phoenix? We’re a little hazy on the specifics, but according to this article in something called the Downtown Devil, the man born Donald Roth moved to the U.S. from Ontario in the ’60s to work in electronics. After working in Silicon Valley, where he faked his school records to get jobs, he eventually settled in Prescott, a small city north of Phoenix, where he began developing his sci-fi inspired alter ego, Space Alien Donald.
Donald calls himself a rapper, but that’s not quite accurate. He really just kind of sing-speaks lyrics about science, astronomy, aliens and one of his favorite topics, a hypothetical particle called the tachyon that, like many things in Space Alien Donald songs, may be legit science or may be a bunch of pseudo-scientific hooey. He does this over synth backing tracks that sometimes are just the preset beats and chord progressions built into cheap electronic keyboards. So basically, he’s like nerdcore meets Mission Man meets a less schizophrenic Wesley Willis. Only older and more Canadian.
Donald just released his latest album, Must Be Funny, on Related Records. It’s got songs about how aliens built the moon and it has penises on the cover and it’s awesome. You can stream the whole thing over on Bandcamp and buy it for five bucks if you’re awesome, too. Here’s one of our favorite tracks:
To get more of the full Space Alien Donald story, this documentary, made by one of the residents of Funny World (yeah, people live there, too), tells you all you need to know:
Big thanks to Kai of Toxic Chicken for introducing us to Space Alien Donald’s weirdness.
Polish hip-hop duo Donatan and Cleo went back down to the farm for their latest single/video, “BRAĆ,” and you know what that means: More high-sterical combinations of Polish rural life and hip-hop video clichés. Sexy vixens washing an old tractor like it’s a Bentley? Check! Old Polish dudes doing vodka shots like they’re sipping Cristal in the club? Check! Roosters wandering around for no reason? Checkity-check-check, baby. Slavschool in full effect!
The new video also features a new collaborator: A Polish/Ukrainian band called Enej, who bring the requisite Slavic folk flavor to the proceedings by way of a little gypsy-punk accordion and horns. Here’s what they usually sound like, so we gotta say, Donatan does a good job recasting them in a hip-hop context.
Our friend Kai from Toxic Chicken sent us this bonkers track by a Canadian producer working under the name Funturistic, on which very formal, almost Baroque-sounding music is performed entirely using sampled animal sounds. It’s called “Rural Kerfuffle” and it’s a 10-minute epic with movements and everything. It is, admittedly, not far removed from those stupid Christmas novelty records where cats meow “Silent Night” or whatever, but taken to a pretty crazy extreme. Enjoy.
So our last Weird Band Poll™ got a little…contentious, let’s say. In the end, L.A.Drones! won by a pretty wide margin, but not before freaking out and accusing this week’s weird band, Shibboleth, of cheating. To which we say: Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. We’re not high-tech enough to track every last vote. We believe in the honor system.
But however they got all their votes, Shibboleth deserve an “A” for effort and a belated, runner-up shout-out as our Weird Band of the Week. In most months, they would’ve won the poll. Not because our polls are that easy to game…more just because it doesn’t take all that many votes to win one.
So who or what is Shibboleth? Actually, we’re still not sure. We know they’re from Ireland, there seems to be three of them, and one of them is named Jonathan. We know one of them plays a banjo. We know they like to wear masks and weird sunglasses. We know they have a four-song EP called Farewell and they followed that up just a few weeks ago with a new song called “Crooked Frame.” We think the other two guys might be named John and Joshua. And that’s about it, really. Like a lot of good weird bands that haven’t been around long, they’re a bit shrouded in mystery.
Musically, Shibboleth veer between creepy, ambient doom-rock and full-blown, guitar-bashing noise. Throw in that banjo and some backwards vocals and they’re like a Celtic bluegrass version of Sun O))).
Here’s the video for their song, “The Cannibal’s Standpoint”:
And here’s their video response to the Great Weirdest Band Cheating Scandal of 2014, which we’re pretty sure is the first time any band has made a video specifically in response to something that happened on this blog:
After we saw that, how we could not make them Weird Band of the Week?
Any kid who’s ever gone to Disneyland has probably been dragged by their parents to the park’s least entertaining attraction, Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln, at which a creepily dead-eyed Abe Lincoln animatronic intones bits and pieces of the celebrated president’s most famous speeches. If you were ever one of those kids, you’ll probably get a kick out of Negativland‘s latest bit of pop-culture appropriation, “Right Might,” which uses chopped-up outtakes from Disney’s Lincoln voice recordings to deliver a goofily incoherent and frequently interrupted imperialist screed.
The backstory of “Right Might” is maybe even more entertaining than the track itself (which you can stream below). A few years ago, a Disney insider offered to send Negativland a bootleg copy of the Disney audio archives, which included outtakes from most of Disneyland and Disney World’s various theme park ride soundtracks. The corporate prankster eventually sent the Negativland guys nearly 100 CD-R’s filled with sound effects and voiceovers from decommissioned Disney rides, as well as various outtakes, bloopers and alternate takes from rides still in use. Among the treasures never before heard outside the Mouse House: hours of raw, unedited studio recordings of actor Royal Dano declaiming what would become the speeches for Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln.
“Right Might” will appear on Negativland’s first album in six years, It’s All in Your Head, out Oct. 28th on the band’s own Seeland Records.
MC Frontalot‘s new album Question Bedtime mostly features fairy tales unfamiliar to us folks raised on Mother Goose and the Brothers Grimm. On those few occasions when the good MC does take on a more well-worn story, he always flips the script on it. Case in point: “Gold Locks,” which imagines what the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears would sound like as a bedtime story told to young bears. Needless to say, from the bears’ perspective, Goldilocks (played by rapper Jean Grae) is a horrible monster who, if you’re not good, will sneak into your house and eat all your food. And you, if you’re not careful.
For now, the video is an Entertainment Weekly exclusive, so you’ll have to cruise over to EW.com to watch it there. It’s OK, boo, you’re allowed to see other websites.
In other Frontalot news: Having just conquered America, he’s off to Europe next. Here are those dates:
9/24 in Southampton, EN @ Talking Heads
9/25 in Newton Abbot, EN @ The Jolly Farmer
9/26 in Perranporth, EN @ Watering Hole
9/28 in Bristol, EN @ Thekla
9/29 in Swansea, Wales @ Sin City
9/30 in Stourbridge, EN @ The River Rooms
10/1 in St. Albans, EN @ The Horn
10/2 in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire @ Bucks Student Union
10/3 in Bedford, EN @ Esquires Beford
10/4 in Hatfield, EN @ Forum Hertfordshire
10/8 in Cork, IR @ Cyprus Avenue
10/9 in Dublin, IR @ Café En Sein
10/10 in Newry, UK @ Magnet Young Adult Center
10/11 in Sligo, IR @ 5th on Teeling
10/13 in Holyhead, EN @ Canolfan Ucheldre Centre
10/14 in Liverpool, EN @ East Village Arts Club
10/15 in Manchester, EN @ Manchester Academy
10/16 in Wakefield, EN @ Warehouse 23
10/17 in Cleethorpes, EN @ The Beachcomber
10/18 in Newcastle upon Tyne @ Think Tank in Riverside
10/19 in Glasgow, Scotland @ O2 ABC 2
10/20 in Blackburn, Lancashire @ King Georges Hall
10/21 in Stoke on Trent @ The Sugarmill
10/22 in Guilford, EN @ Boileroom
10/23 in Southend On Sea, EN @ Chinnery’s
10/24 in London, EN @ The Garage
10/25 in Milton Keynes @ The Craufurd Arms
I’ve just started reading Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, author Simon Reynolds’ very convincing argument for considering the six years following the breakup of The Sex Pistols to be among the most wildly creative in pop music history. I’m only a few chapters in, but already it’s reacquainted me with, or introduced me to, a slew of fantastic music from that era that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.
I’d put The Normal in that overlooked category. Although it’s certainly a project familiar to anyone who grew up in the U.K. in those years, or went to industrial and EBM clubs in the ’80s, most younger fans have probably never heard of Daniel Miller’s post-Kraftwerk experiment in clinically stark electronic music—in part, because Miller only put out two songs as The Normal, before he got more interested in releasing other artists through his label, the influential (and still going strong) Mute Records.
Both of The Normal’s two songs are pretty weird. “T.V.O.D.” is all about sticking TV antennas into your veins, but “Warm Leatherette,” inspired by the J.G. Ballard novel Crash, is about fucking someone who’s just been in a car crash right before they die. So just in terms of creep factor, “Warm Leatherette” wins. There’s also something about its electro-shock synths that still sounds futuristic, even after four decades (it was released in 1978).
Some of my best friends are Christians. Some of my best friends are also heathens and Satanists, so cocktail party conversation at my place can get pretty interesting. But to my Christian friends, I just want to say: When I proceed to make fun of the video I’m about to show you, I’m not making fun of all Christians. Just the ones with bad pitch and dorky breakdance moves.
This video is from a New Agey Christian ministry based in Ohio called The Way International. On YouTube, it’s marked copyright 2007, so I really hope it was actually made in 2007, because that would make it even more awesome. As it is, it seems like the kind of thing that was probably done in the early ’90s when white people from Ohio were just discovering synthesizers and breakdancing, but who knows? Maybe the folks at The Way International took a bit longer to catch on to such innovations.
Actually, you know what? I’m not even gonna make fun of this video. I’m just going to show it to you, because it’s the kind of thing that speaks for itself. And speaks for itself with a really dramatic echo effect.