Some artists are just too weird for any one genre to contain. After getting pigeonholed in the breakcore and chiptune scenes while working under the name Nero’s Day at Disneyland, Sacramento-based producer Lauren Bousfield dropped that moniker and began making even stranger music under his own name. As great as Nero’s Day was—and some of it was pretty flippin’ fantastic—Bousfield’s first solo album, Avalon Vales, is even better, because it refuses to stay in one place, skipping across genres like a rock across a pond. It still owes a debt to more experimental breakcore producers like Venetian Snares, but it’s on its own trip. No wonder one of his genre tags on Bandcamp is just “____.”
You can stream the whole towering, beautiful mess that is Avalon Vales on Bandcamp. Meanwhile, for a little taste, check out this video for the aptly named “Cracknight,” and remember, if you ever have Bousfield over for dinner, don’t let him anywhere near the electrical tape.
The creator of today’s weirdness is primarily an animator, but he also writes nifty little electro-bleep music loops for his original videos, including the mind-bending clip below. He’s also created videos for artists like Bloc Party, Flying Lotus and Bonobo. He does most of his animations using Photoshop and After Effects, which is kind of amazing considering how clever and highly detailed they can get.
If you have a few hours to kill, go and get lost on his website. But we’re not kidding about the “few hours” part. His clips are highly addictive.
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.
We’ve been getting into the idea of having regular “Flashback Fridays” here at TWBITW. Last week we went into the vaults for some ’70s Italian exorcist rock with Jacula; the week before that, it was ’60s NYC freak folk courtesy of The Godz. The past is fun!
This week, we’re taking the ol’ Wayback Machine for a more leisurely spin, cruising back to the more recent past of 2003. That’s when British electronic duo Plaid made this truly amazing video for “Itsu,” the opening track off Dial P, a mix album that was released only as a bonus insert in some copies of their 2003 album Spokes. Like most Plaid tracks, the music itself is frisky and experimental, with lots of sudden left turns between soothing, ambient electronica and glitchier, breakbeat-fueled passages. But it’s the video that really stands out here. You may never be able to sit through a PowerPoint presentation with a straight face again.
Good luck finding a copy of Dial P—only 2,000 copies were ever made and they’re in very limited circulation. But if you want to find a copy of Plaid’s latest album, Reachy Prints, which just came out in May, that’s easy enough: Just try Amazon. (It’s pretty weird, too, but we couldn’t feature it because hey, it’s Flashback Friday.) And for more of the deliciously offbeat sounds of Plaid, check out their official website.
I don’t know about you, but some of my favorite weird music videos are the ones where you can quite tell if the band is kidding or not. When I first watched “Psychedelic Spaceship” from self-proclaimed “sassy synth master” Erleen Nada, I was sure the whole thing was a big goof. Now I’ve watched it like 10 times, because it’s awesome, and I can’t tell anymore. She’s like the sexy lovechild of Jan Terri and Fred Schneider. Is she really gonna take a ride on a psychedelic spaceship? Is she really infinity? I think maybe she is. Take me with you, Erleen!
For more from Erleen, who’s yet another weirdo from right here in Lost Anjealous, check out her website.
Maybe it’s because they’re one of those bands hipsters lose their minds over, but we’ve never been able to get into Animal Collective. They’re fine; we’ve just never thought their stuff was as good or as weird as their reputation might suggest. But in 2010, Animal Collective member Avey Tare released a solo album called Down There that is everything we’ve always hoped Animal Collective would do more of. It’s murky but melodic, soulful but alien and distorted, filled with what could probably be called pop songs if they weren’t performed on instruments that seemingly never before existed. Even if you, like us, have never gotten on the Animal Collective bandwagon, it’s worth checking out. Here’s the opening track.
We were catching up over the weekend on some old shows by our friend Bepi Crespan, CiTR-FM Vancouver’s leading weird music deejay, and were immediately intrigued by the playful electronic soundscapes of Moebius Neumeier Engler, an improvised collaboration between pioneering German/Swiss electronic music composer Dieter Moebius, jazz/krautrock drummer Mani Neumeier and industrial rock icon Jürgen Engler of Die Krupps. Unfortunately, you can only hear snippets online of their brand-new album, Another Other Places, but its 1996 predecessor, Other Places, has a few tracks streaming on YouTube. Here’s one of the more ominous numbers, a mix of industrial stomp and swarm-of-bees synths called “Anabolica”:
For more on Moebius Neumeier Engler, visit their label site, Bureau B.
So as usual, we got something wrong when we first wrote about this week’s weird artiste, the inimitable Mr. Vast. We said he’s from Germany. But that’s not quite right. He is apparently based, at the moment, in Germany. But he’s British. His accent should have tipped us off, but we were probably day-drinking again. Anyway, our apologies to the entire nation of Great Britain for not properly crediting you with bestowing Mr. Vast upon the world.
Mr. Vast is the alter ego of one Henry Sargeant, an actor, musician and performance artist whose previous musical project was (or maybe still is—they’re still releasing music and Sargeant might still be involved) a jokey crew called Wevie Stonder. He relocated to Germany in 2005 and took a break from Art to become a Dad. (Not that those two occupations are mutually exclusive, but the hours are pretty brutal in both.) He returned to music in 2012 as a solo artist called Mr. Vast, making what I shall tentatively describe as tongue-in-cheek New Wave electro-glam-pop until somebody comes up with something catchier to describe his bizarre but surprisingly infectious tunes.
At his best, Mr. Vast reminds us a little of our current favorite Australian weirdo, Kirin J Callinan. Like Callinan, there’s something highly theatrical and fully formed about Mr. Vast, like he’s already a rock star and the world just hasn’t discovered him yet. Also like Callinan, he’s capable of being both unabashedly pop and slightly avant-garde, often in the same song, and doing both in a way that feels both fully committed and slightly tongue-in-cheek. Take, for example, “Teflon Country,” which might be a country-fried psych-rock parody, or it might be actual country-fried psych-rock, albeit one with a junkyard dog impersonation in the middle of it:
That’s from Mr. Vast’s one and only album, by the way, a brilliant, 14-track opus called Grievous Bodily Charm that we pretty much can’t stop listening to. It’s got sci-fi Afro-pop workouts (“Process of Illumination”), fuzz-toned heavy rock freakouts (“Henry the 8th”), Groove Armada-style downtempo makeout music (“Elemental,” which contains the high-five-worthy lyric, “The sangria made me angrier”). You can listen to the whole thing on SoundCloud and decide for yourselves if it’s a masterpiece. We’re leaning towards yes, but it might be the sangria talking.
We’ll leave you with a few videos, because that’s how we do it. First up: An extended experiment in toast physics called “Buttercide.” For the record, this is one of Mr. Vast’s weirder tracks, so if you can’t hang with it, don’t give up on him yet.
Next: The far funkier “Ease & Speed,” which we maintain is best described as Gary Numan meets Professor Elemental (I think last time we said Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer, but hey, po-tay-to, po-tah-to).
And finally, here’s a glimpse of Mr. Vast live and in concert. Well, it’s not so much a glimpse as a bit fat fucking eyeful. Not since David Byrne has oversized costumery looked so sexy.
We now present a public service announcement from Kid606 and his buddy, Mr. Wobble. Remember, parents, don’t let your kids go to those crazy underground rave parties. Those things are dangerous!
Kid606 is electronic producer Miguel De Pedro, originally from Venezuela but now based right here in L.A. You can hear more of his tracks on his SoundCloud page.
Our pals Chimney Crow just released the fourth video from their album Chimney Crow Is a Band. It’s for the song “Teddybear and His Bullet” and it features a lightbulb microphone and some cool Christmas lights with crows in them, because you know, Chimney Crow. But I think my biggest takeaway from this video is that this guy Teddybear sounds like a real asshole. Walking around with a bullet all the time, always mooching off his friends. The dude even doesn’t like music anymore. What kind of tool doesn’t like music? What the fuck is wrong with this guy?
I guess there’s one good thing about Teddybear: He inspired this song, which is pretty groovy in a disco-night-at-the-goth-club kinda way. Nice work, Chimney Crow. But damn, find yourselves some better friends.