For some performers, the weird is not something they rinse off after the show. Their weirdness runs soul-deep. Such a performer is this week’s artiste, Australia’s Kirin J. Callinan.
We first discovered Callinan through the Beggars Group, probably the closest thing us weirdos have to a major label. Among the Beggars Group’s many imprints is a newish label called Terrible Records, which also recently became home to rap provocateur and Weird List inductee Le1f. Who’da thunk our new favorite label would be co-founded by one of the guys from Grizzly Bear?
Anyway, Beggars sent out a press release a couple months back announcing Callinan as the opening act for fellow antipodean eccentric Connan Mockasin on an upcoming U.S. tour (dates below). So right away, we were intrigued. Then we read this, about a video he just shot in New York for YoursTru.ly: “Never one to bore, the video features Kirin getting interviewed whilst being massaged (a non-negotiable requirement of his interview policy).” So now we were really intrigued. Non-negotiable massages? Who is this guy?
Sure enough, in the YoursTru.ly video, there’s Callinan, getting worked over on a massage table as he talks about his childhood (“My parents would offer me two dollars for any report that didn’t say ‘easily distracted’; I don’t think they ever gave me any money”). Then he goes into an awkward yet oddly compelling solo piano performance of a song called “Victoria M.” Before you watch the YoursTru.ly video, I recommend starting with the original:
That’s the campiest of Callinan’s videos, but it’s far from the weirdest. That honor probably goes to “Way to War,” a flickering, mostly black-and-white video in which a series of disturbing tableaux appear to be seen through a broken View-Master. It won something called the J Award in Australia for Best Music Video in 2012.
As you can probably tell from those two tracks, Callinan’s style is pretty eclectic. But they really only hint at the range of his 2013 debut album, Embracism. Over the course of 10 tracks, he tackles everything from minimalist electronic noise to stately, Leonard Cohen-esque hymns to turgid, quasi-industrial freakouts like the amazing “Come On USA,” which somehow manages to name-check Springsteen while still sounding like Ministry. Vocally, his rubbery baritone owes a lot to avant-garde singer-songwriter Scott Walker; in an interview with V Magazine, he admitted that it wasn’t until he heard Walker that became confident in his own singing abilities. “It’s over the top and ridiculous,” he says of his own singing. But hearing Walker, he told V, “validated, in a sense, that vision I had of my own voice. I wasn’t ready for anyone to hear it before.”
Callinan’s music is so compelling he almost doesn’t need a backstory, but we’ll give you a brief one anyway: He got his start as the guitarist in a surprisingly conventional post-punk band called Mercy Arms, but quit over creative differences with the band’s singer. He briefly did improvisational tribal/ambient rock with a loose collective of musicians called Fashion Launches Rocket Launches, but apparently the collective was too loose to stay together long. In the same interview with V Magazine, he says his solo career started after the end of a long relationship, which might explain the raw-nerve quality of his music.
Most descriptions of Callinan’s live shows seem to focus on how he likes to get naked, or at least strip down to his skivvies. But based on the few good clips we’ve been able to find online, these descriptions seem to overstate Callinan’s nudist tendencies. Yes, there’s something overtly sexual about Callinan’s music and stage presence, but there’s also a lot of humor, goofy charm and a genuinely innocent quality, too. He might just be taking his clothes off because it gets hot up there. Or he wants to feel free. Anyone who finds his bare skin either confrontational or vulnerable might be projecting a bit.
We’ll leave you with Callinan’s most recent video, for one of Embracism‘s loveliest songs, “Landslide.” It’s actually an incredibly simple setup, but the effect, combined with Kirin’s aching baritone, is pretty disconcerting, no?
Kirin J. Callinan’s U.S. tour dates (all with Connan Mockasin):
4/28 Washington, DC – Rock and Roll Hotel
4/29 Philadelphia, PA – Boot & Saddle
4/30 Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
5/1 New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
5/2 Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall Of Williamsburg
5/4 Montreal, QUE – Cabaret Mile End
5/5 Toronto, ONT – Lee’s Palace
5/7 Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
5/11 Seattle, WA – Barboza
5/12 Vancouver, BC – Electric Owl
5/13 Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
5/15 San Francisco, CA – Independent
5/16 Los Angeles, CA – Echoplex
Lots of bands make use of toy instruments, but apart from our old “toytronica” friend Twink, we’ve never met anyone more committed to toying around than Igor Krutogolov. His 10-piece group plays all of their music exclusively on stuff aimed at the six-and-under set: toy guitars, toy drum kits, toy clarinets, teeny little accordions and xylophones and glockenspiels and things that squeak when you squeeze them. All of which sounds adorable, right? Except they somehow manage to twist those instruments into infectious but slightly menacing grooves with hints of punk, jazz, klezmer and even metal, over which Krutogolov groans and growls like an old blues singer with lungs full of cigarettes. It’s like a Tom Waits concert broke out at Toys “R” Us.
Krutogolov’s band, alternately referred to as the Karate Band or the Toy Orchestra, is based in Israel and released their first album, Children 4 Muzik, back in 2005. Then they went on a long hiatus so Krutogolov could focus on other projects, including his equally weird avant-klezmer band, Kruzenshtern i Parohod. But the toys kept calling to him, so this year he’s brought the Karate Band/Toy Orchestra back with a brand-new album, How to Be a Crocodile.
The music on How to Be a Crocodile is so much fun we can hardly stand it: playful, dark, funny, funky and nasty-sounding in a way that totally defies its toy instrumentation. Here’s a video from one of the album’s recording sessions, for the song “Mad Medow.” Sounds like the best cartoon villain theme song ever, doesn’t it?
And here’s a recent live performance of the Crocodile track “Skeleton Dance,” which bears little resemblance to the Carl Stalling music from the old Disney cartoon:
- Igor Krutogolov’s Karate Band (Toy Orchestra) on Facebook
- How to Be a Crocodile on Bandcamp
- Kruzenshtern i Parohod official site
- Auris Media Records (label for all of Krutogolov’s various projects)
So the other day, Travis from backwoods clatter-punks The Chewers writes us and is all like, “Our second album Chuckle Change And Also has just been released on real-life CD through Cimmerian Shade Recordings, fully mastered. Will you tell the kids about it?” And we were all like, “Hells yeah we will! An album released on CD? I hear that shit is the new vinyl! Everyone’s gonna want a copy cuz it’s all retro.”
But seriously, the new CD has cool artwork and four live bonus tracks and at eight bucks plus free shipping in the U.S., it’s a pretty good deal for a piece of technology that’s only somewhat obsolete.* If you wanna be all 21st century about it, you can also buy a digital download of the album for five bucks. But get the CD so you can wave it around when The Chewers blow up and be all, “I was into them back when people still bought CDs, bitches!“
Anyway, both CD and download are available via the Cimmerian Shade website, which calls The Chewers “mind-melting, idiosyncratic, Beefheartian punk from the outer limits.” Wish we’d come up with that. Has a much nicer ring to it than “a couple of tattooed hillbillies who 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.” That was the best we could come up with when they won our Weird Band Poll back in April ’13. Bit long-winded in retrospect.
Let’s play this post out with a sample of Chuckle Change And Also‘s fully mastered charms. This is called “Smiling Samuel” and I’m pretty sure it’s about a guy I used to work with at the DMV.
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.