When I think of Chicago, I think of deep dish pizza, Da Bears, Ferris Bueller, and that one time I bumped into Trent Reznor at O’Hare (true story). I certainly don’t think of weird music, but I may need to recalibrate my mental image of Da Chi. The city that gave us Wesley Willis and Jan Terri seems to be a reliable breeding ground for eccentric musical artistes. And carrying on in that grand tradition is the mysterious duo called Univore.
Univore first surfaced in 2010 with an album called Casale Project, which set the occasionally poetic ramblings of Italian-born artist Marco Casale to a series of breezy jazz/prog/disco/space-rock instrumentals. The music on Casale Project is semi-weird at best—though it does feature the occasional out-of-left-field blast of Love Supreme saxophone—but Marco Casale is a wonder, over-enunciating in his thick Mediterranean accent about America’s hair (“is like wheat on fire!”) and the dude he’s gonna bust up for stealing his bicycle seat. And when Univore started casting Casale is a series of zero-budget videos—all, for no apparent reason, with Asian subtitles—well, shit just got crazy in the best possible way.
Now it’s important to note that Casale is merely a guest vocalist and that, really, Univore is the work of two gentlemen by the names of David Bachmann and Nicholas Flandro. They describe themselves as a “media production duo” who are available (according to their website) for “original music, video production, content creation, ideating, as well as art direction and copywriting.” If I ever find myself stuck in O’Hare again (and Trent Reznor is nowhere to be found), I know who I’m calling when I’m in need of some ideating.
In addition to Casale Project, Univore have released two other albums: Love Letters, a 2011 concept album made up of “letters of affection to various fictional women” and Beasts From a Silk Womb, a “confluence of apocalyptic imagery” masquerading as makeout music from the ’70s. Here, for example, is a shag-run and lava-lamp jam about how we’re destroying the planet. Our technological advances will be our ultimate undoing, am I right, ladies??
Love Letters and Beasts From a Silk Womb don’t feature the campy vocal stylings of Mr. Casale, but Bachmann and and Flandro clearly know a good thing when they’ve found one and have been careful to cast the photogenic DeNiro/Aeillo lookalike in all their videos. Last year, they finally did a proper reunion with him and created a one-off song and short film called “I Dream the Video,” which is almost too well-produced for its own good. It left us longing for the simpler pleasures of their masterpiece, “Champagne Taste,” which against all reason and logic is impossible to stop watching. As one YouTube commenter put it: “Oh, no! I shouldn’t be watching this video.”
P.S. Many thanks to new reader Jake Kirby for turning us on to the unique charms of Univore, along with several other weird artists. Sorry we didn’t pick Hasil Adkins, Jake. Maybe next time.
If you like your avant-garde rock delivered with all the pomp and bombast of a full orchestra, and you happen to be in L.A. this coming week, we highly recommend scoring yourself a ticket to see the “world premiere” of 200 Motels, Frank Zappa‘s 1970 rock opera opus based on the early touring days of The Mothers of Invention. I put “world premiere” in quotation marks because, of course, there’s been a perfectly good film version of 200 Motels in circulation since 1971—and available in its entirety on YouTube since 2012, But according to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which is mounting the one-night-only performance, this will be the “first complete realization of Zappa’s musical vision.” This version will be based on the first live performance of the complete 200 Motels score, which also featured the LA Phil. Zappa was not happy with conductor Zubin Mehta’s interpretation of his music, so 43 years later, the Phil is giving itself a do-over.
This time around, the LA Phil will be conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, who in the classical world is a bit of a rock star in his own right. It will also feature former Mothers of Invention sax/keys player Ian Underwood and a cast of vocalists that includes Michael Des Barres, Rich Fulcher of The Mighty Boosh and Frank’s youngest and least weirdly named offspring, Diva Zappa. The program lists lighting, scenic and wig designers, so apparently there will be some production values, although we’re not sure if the whole thing will be fully staged.
Oh yeah, you might need to know the date, huh? It all goes down this coming Wednesday, Oct. 23rd at Walt Disney Concert Hall—which, amazingly, is not the first time the names Disney and Zappa have been associated with one another. Frank’s son Ahmet conceived and produced the Disney film The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Bet you didn’t see that random factoid coming, did you?
Tickets are $25-$83 and can be secured via the LA Phil website.
We’ll leave you with a fan favorite from the 200 Motels film soundtrack, “Magic Fingers.” Take it away, Ringo!
Classic Frank Zappa albums “Freak Out!” and “Over-Nite Sensation” getting the deluxe vinyl reissue treatment
Since regaining the rights to Frank Zappa‘s vast catalog, his heirs over at Zappa Records and Zappa Family Trust have wasted no time in finding new and creative ways to get his music out into the marketplace. Some moves, like selling CDs with a distribution license for $1,000 a pop, have struck us as a bit ill-conceived. But they’ve also put out some cool unreleased material and finally made his stuff available on iTunes, a long overdue boon to those of us who still quaintly insist of paying to download music instead of just listening to Pandora all day.
Even more quaintly, some of us still listen to music on big black pieces of vinyl—and now Zappa Records has those folks covered, too. Next month, they’ll be reissuing two classic Zappa albums on collector’s quality 180-gram vinyl: Freak Out!, the groundbreaking debut from Zappa’s band The Mothers of Invention, and another Mothers mind-bender, 1973′s Over-Nite Sensation, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Damn, I feel old just typing that.
No word yet on the exact release date of these suckers, but keep an eye on the somewhat bewildering Zappa.com site for (hopefully) more info soon. Meantime, let’s play out this post with a golden Frank oldie from Freak Out!, shall we?
Nashville doesn’t have a reputation as a hotbed of weird music, but maybe it should. Between Here Come the Mummies, H-Beam and now our latest Weird Band Poll winners, The Chewers, Music City U.S.A. has been flying its freak flag at full mast of late.
The Chewers are Travis Caffrey on (mainly) guitar and Michael Sadler on (mainly) drums, although their songs also feature a lot of programmed sounds and the occasional oddball instrument. (We’re particularly fond of the instrumental track “Don’t Go in the Tent,” which manages to make the usually goofy Siren Whistle sound like it’s coming to suck the breath from your body.) They describe themselves as “two freaks from the woods of West Virginia” and there is definitely a creepy, Deliverance-y quality to their off-kilter tunes, as though a couple of tattooed hillbillies decided to retire early from the bathtub speed trade and form a band based on the Residents and Tom Waits records they found at a yard sale in Wheeling.
But just because they’re hillbillies, don’t mistake them for rubes. There’s a smart, satirical edge to a lot of The Chewers’ best songs, like this two-for-one send-up of organized religion and the pharmaceutical industry (if you can’t see the SoundCloud players below, click here):
Then again, they’re also pretty great at just grunting salaciously, basically turning the first 30 seconds of The Doors’ “Back Door Man” into an entire song:
Finally, here’s a more recent track, “Burn It Down.” The vocals have gotten even weirder, but the music’s gotten groovier, too. We’re digging it.
They also make pretty good videos. Here’s one for “Techno-Slaves,” a track from their latest album, Chuckle Change and Also. We especially like the little saloon-keeper singing trio croaking away in the lower right hand corner.
So congrats on winning our April Weird Band Poll and keeping Nashville weird, guys. And if you see Brad Paisley, please bitch-slap him for us, OK? That “Accidental Racist” song might be the worst thing we’ve ever heard.
Despite our crusty, cynical exteriors, we’re really softies here at Weird Band HQ. So when a band loses one of our world-famous Weird Band Polls™ by just a few votes, it breaks our hearts. But not for very long, because we can just go ahead and add them to the Weird List anyway. You didn’t think that poll shit was binding, did you? This ain’t fuckin’ American Idol and I’m way better looking than that douchebag Ryan Seacrest.
So congratulations, H-Beam! You may have come in second to Barbara, but second place with over 500 freakin’ votes is still good enough in our book.
H-Beam are from Nashville, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say they are not gunning for a spot in the Country Music Hall of Fame. They’re more Dr. Demento than Grand Ole Opry. The brains of the operation seems to be a singer/guitarist/banana aficionado named (duh) Banana Matt. When he’s reeling off guitar-god psych-rock solos, they kinda just sound like another Bonnaroo side stage jam band. But Matt likes to write songs about talking hot dogs and masturbating pandas, and he’s surrounded himself quite the band of misfits: a magician/saxophonist, a dude who gives rides on his giant moustache, a lawyer pig named Bert DerHam, and a manager/hype-man named Mitch Huffman who wears a thrift-store pimp hat and says “Who touched all my shit?” a lot for no apparent reason. Even the masturbating panda shows up occasionally.
Banana Matt and company just released their third album this week: Episode 1: Shorn to Secrecy, a follow-up to the excellently titled Useful Box of Hair. It’s full of wacky skits and Zappa-like jams and it will make you smile. You can download the whole thing name-your-own-price-styley from Noisetrade. There’s an entire song about bacon, so you know that shit’s worth at least a fiver.
Now I will admit: 500 votes aside, half the reason H-Beam is scoring Weird Band of the Week honors is because they got Bert DerHam to make this awesome video giving us a shoutout. But the other half…maybe even the other two-thirds…is the video for “Love Panda.” Enjoy.
In the latest installment of what is now our continuing series of posts about artists and their representatives charging insane amounts of money for their music, the Zappa Family Trust recently announced a rather unique method of putting out some unreleased Frank Zappa live stuff: Instead of just selling the tracks themselves (for now, at least—more on that in a sec), they’re going sell what are known in the biz as “master duplication copies” for $1,000 a pop. Owners of said masters can then turn around and resell the music themselves—becoming, in effect, independent distributors of what ZFT has cleverly titled Roxy by Proxy (All Roxy No Elsewhere), a set of unreleased recordings from the same December 1973 shows that the produced the now-classic live album, Roxy & Elsewhere.
On paper, I suppose a thousand G’s for a master dupe sounds like a bargain. Under the terms of the sale, you get to manufacture and sell as many copies of Roxy by Proxy as you want—so for any really enterprising soul, this could even prove to be a money-making venture. But there are a few major caveats in the fine print.
First, you’re only allowed to distribute Roxy by Proxy on CD—not in any other format, including digital or increasingly trendy, collector-friendly vinyl. Second, you’re responsible for your own manufacturing costs—unless you decide to use ZFT’s manufacturer, in which case you’ll be charged the rather steep wholesale price of $11 per CD (plus shipping and handling) on top of the grand you already dropped. Third, ZFT retains the right to sell this same music itself in any format—so you might eventually be competing with them to get your copies of Roxy by Proxy out to the Zappa faithful.
The Family Trust says they’re doing this mainly to raise money to complete a concert film documenting some of those historic shows on which Roxy by Proxy and Roxy & Elsewhere are based. So in a way, this is sort of their own version of a Kickstarter campaign—except unlike with most Kickstarters, Roxy by Proxy has one tier only, and it’s strictly for high rollers. Which seems like a not very well-thought-out strategy to us, but what do we know? We’re just a couple of broke-ass bloggers. We’re sure Frank has more than his fair share of fans with an extra thou lying around.
For more information on how to license Roxy by Proxy, visit Zappa.com. And if you decide to pony up for a master duplication copy, just remember that you need to do so by Dec. 28th.
Hey, lookee here: A new Frank Zappa two-disc compilation has arrived, and it even contains some previously unreleased material—or at least reworked versions of some old Zappa classics. Called Understanding America, it purports to be “one of only three compilation albums produced and titled by FZ himself,” according to the press release. As far as we can tell, however, this is the first time any Zappa release has come out under the title Understanding America, so maybe a zombie Zappa is behind the whole thing. It did come out the day before Halloween.
The centerpiece of the album seems to be a new version of “Porn Wars,” a 1985 track that included samples of Zappa’s infamous Senate testimony protesting Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center. The new version, called “Porn Wars Deluxe,” is 25 minutes long, so if you really can’t get enough of Uncle Frank waxing statesmanlike over the dangers of censorship, you better go out and get yourself a copy.
After the tracklist, Frank’s widow Gail Zappa has some words for all our American readers about the importance of registering to vote. Especially all you lady Americans. Do any ladies read this site? If so, let us know, won’t you? The reader comments can be a bit of a bro-fest.
UNDERSTANDING AMERICA DISC 1
1. Hungry Freaks, Daddy
2. Plastic People
3. Mom & Dad
4. It Can’t Happen Here
5. Who Are The Brain Police?
6. Who Needs The Peace Corps?
7. Brown Shoes Don’t Make It
8. Concentration Moon
9. Trouble Every Day
10. You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here
11. We’re Turning Again
12. Road Ladies
13. What Kind Of Girl Do You Think We Are
14. Camarillo Brillo
15. Find Her Finer
16. Dinah-Moe Humm
17. Disco Boy
18. 200 Years Old
UNDERSTANDING AMERICA DISC 2
1. I’m The Slime
2. Be In My Video
3. I Don’t Even Care
4. Can’t Afford No Shoes
5. Heavenly Bank Account
6. Cocaine Decisions
7. Dumb All Over
9. Thing-Fish Intro
10. The Central Scrutinizer
11. Porn Wars Deluxe
12. Tinseltown Rebellion
13. Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk
Over to you, Gail:
This week marks the third anniversary of the launch of TWBITW. The traditional third anniversary gift, in case you’re wondering, is leather. Thanks in advance.
Actually, we like to celebrate anniversaries around here with two things: The consumption of booze (although let’s face it, we celebrate everything with the consumption of booze) and the addition to The Weird List of a classic artist. Last year, it was Primus; the year before that, it was Parliament-Funkadelic. This year, we’d like to finally make a whole shit-ton of you readers happy by belatedly inducting one Frank Vincent Zappa into our hallowed halls of weirdness. Welcome, Frank! Your arrival is long overdue, we know.
Full disclosure: Although I’ve come to appreciate him in small doses, I never was much of a Frank Zappa fan. Way back in high school, I knew a kid who owned a copy of Joe’s Garage, and he would occasionally play it for us with all the usual Zappa-head exhortations: “The guitar on this track will blow your mind,” “The rhythm changes on this part are nuts,” “Check it out—this whole song is about sausage!” I wish I could say he eventually won the rest of us over, but honestly, we all just shrugged and went back to our U2 records.
So despite being the keeper of a weird band blog, I’m not really the best person to expound on the weirdness of Zappa’s colossal ouevre, which encompasses more than 60 albums and a mind-bending mishmash of rock, jazz, funk, doo-wop, classical and avant-garde tape loop and sound collage experiments, sometimes all of the same album and always shot through with a surreal sense of humor that made it hard to tell when he was trying to make a point and when he was just fucking around.
Still, I will endeavor to enumerate just a few of the many, many reasons why Frank Zappa not only deserves to be on The Weird List—he should probably be the patron saint of this whole damn blog:
- At the age of 22, he played a bicycle as a musical instrument on the Steve Allen Show. Yes, video of this exists.
- In 1968, at the height of the Flower Power era, he and his band the Mothers of Invention released an album called We’re Only in It for the Money that was basically a giant fuck-you to hippie culture.
- He is the inventor of a recording technique called “xenochrony,” in which two different studio takes done in entirely different tempos, keys and/or time signatures are merged together to jarring effect. You can hear a good example of it in
this track. (Reader Waffenspiel referred us to this later track, which is actually a better example.)
- He ran a pair of independent record labels called Bizarre and Straight. Among the artists signed to them was this guy. Also this guy. Oh, and Alice Cooper.
- At a time when most people were too chickenshit to openly criticize Scientology, he openly mocked it with his made-up religion, Appliantology, led by a con artist named L. Ron Hoover, on Joe’s Garage. Had I known all this back in high school, I might have been more inclined to dig Joe’s Garage.
- This was his only Top 40 hit in America.
- He helped give the world Steve Vai.
- His most controversial work was a 1984 rock musical called Thing-Fish, which has been variously condemned as being racist, sexist, homophobic and just in general bad taste. Here, judge for yourself. When he couldn’t get the musical produced on Broadway as he originally intended, Zappa instead partially staged the whole thing for a photo shoot for Hustler magazine. (All of this helped set the stage for Zappa’s anti-censorship campaign against the Parents Music Resource Center, Tipper Gore’s lobbying group that prompted the advent of parental advisory stickers. Zappa’s Senate testimony against the PMRC ranks among the most entertaining performances of his career.)
- For much of the last decade of his life, he composed and recorded almost entirely on the Synclavier.
- The same year he released Joe’s Garage (1979), he also released albums called Orchestral Favorites and Sheik Yerbouti. Yes, Orchestral Favorites featured a full orchestra. No, Sheik Yerbouti was not a disco record.
I could go on, but you get the idea. No one colored outside the lines like Frank Zappa.
“I never set out to be weird,” Zappa told his hometown paper, The Baltimore Sun, in 1986. “It was always other people who called me weird.” Don’t all the best weirdos say that? (And in case we haven’t made this clear by now: Around these parts, we consider “weird” to be a high form of praise. “Weird” means you’re doing something original and exciting that changes people’s perceptions of what music or art can be. “Weird” should be a badge of fucking honor, not something used to belittle or trivialize an artist’s work. Can someone place explain that to this guy? Thanks.)
I’ll leave you, selfishly, with a song that’s not Zappa’s weirdest by a longshot. It just happens to be my favorite. After all, it’s our anniversary! Crank it up, and don’t forget to air out those python-skin boots.
P.S. As of Aug. 14th, Frank Zappa’s entire catalog is now available on iTunes. Frank would’ve been totally down with it.