I have to start off by thanking the guy who wrote us up on Metafilter last week, a website that apparently has the magical power to make even a half-assed music blog like ours more popular than catbeard photos. So thanks, narain! Hopefully by the time we post this, you and all the other Metafilterlings won’t have lost interest and moved on in search of…well, catbeard photos, probably. That shit is all the rage these days.
The Metafilter crowd suggested a ton of potential new Weird List fodder that Andy and I are still sifting through, but we wanted to jump right on at least one band submitted by all you highly opinionated newcomers. After much debate, we decided to go with symbioid‘s pick of glitch/noise outfit Computer Jesus Refrigerator, because we liked the name and their videos reminded me of when I used to scarf like 10 Pixy Stix all at once and spin around on the front lawn until it looked like the hedges were attacking me sideways. Yeah, I was basically the Gary Busey of my third grade class.
We don’t know a whole hell of a lot about Computer Jesus Refrigerator. They seem to be from Texas, but we’re not sure what part. This WFMU post says they’re from Austin, but their Bandcamp page is tagged San Antonio and their YouTube channel says they’re from Antarctica, which I assume is a joke but could also be an actual town in Texas for all I know. Maybe next to this one.
CJR is mostly the work of one dude named Michael Vasquez, who also goes by the name of KOKOFREAKBEAN. He likes to call his stuff “tonk honky,” which is as good a name for it as any. He plays drums, keyboards and samplers and also does all the project’s artwork, some of which is fucking amazing. He also designs the band’s costumes, which kind of look like his artwork come to life, in a very Caroliner kid’s-coloring-book-on-acid sorta way. Not sure if all CJR shows feature Vasquez on drums and another person on keyboards, but here’s a show from 2009 that does just that. I particularly like the way he yells at the audience in what sounds like a cross between Spanish, Swahili and Sullustese.
As mind-bending as that was, the videos Vasquez makes for CJR’s little 30-to-90-second bursts of glitchcore are even more extreme. Here’s our favorite.
As if all that weren’t enough, KOKOFREAKBEAN also makes disgusting little video shorts for Funny or Die. If you’re at work, don’t click that link. Guess I probably shoulda told you that in advance, huh?
Big news from Electric Phantom, the record label home to Chimney Crow and Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin. It arrived on our Facebook page earlier this week in the form of a video press conference hosted by Electric Phantom spokeswoman Melody McGinn and attended by the dying remnants of the music press. Let’s watch, shall we?
Very melodramatic, no? Next time we have a big announcement, we’re totally hiring Melody and her gang of ghouls to make it for us.
So now that you know the big news (you did watch the video, right? if not: Spoiler alert!), head over to electric-phantom.com and check out all the new goodies. Happy shopping.
Way back in 2009, when we were still a little ankle-biter of a blog, we wrote a post about a French band called Magma that spawned (the band, not the post) an entire genre of hyper-bizarre prog-rock/space-jazz/freak-fusion called Zeuhl. “Next time you hear a bunch of French dudes chanting nonsense lyrics over music that sounds sort of like Pat Metheny on acid,” we wrote, with that casual air of snark that only comes from having no idea what the fuck you’re talking about, “you’re probably listening to a Zeuhl band.”
Well, it’s taken us four years, but we’ve finally a.) admitted that, to this very day, we often have no idea what the fuck we’re talking about and b.) gotten around to writing about another Zeuhl band. Except this bunch is neither French nor, entirely, dudes. They’re from Japan and they’re a coed ensemble by the name of Koenjihyakkei, which translates to something like “The Hundred Sights of Koenji.” Koenji is a neighborhood in Tokyo, but does it really have a hundred sights? Beats me. Like I said, we often have no idea what the fuck we’re talking about.
Here’s what little we do know: Koenjihyakkei (also sometimes transliterated as “Koenji Hyakkei”) was started in the early ’90s by a drummer named Tatsuya Yoshida, whose previous band, Ruins, did a pretty fair approximation of Magma’s original Zeuhl insanity rendered down to just a bass/drums duo. Having apparently exhausted that format, Yoshida expanded his list of collaborators with Koenjihyakkei, adding a rotating cast of musicians to an increasingly epic and noisy take on Magma-esque jazz-prog mayhem. The band’s most recent lineup, seen in the above photo, features a lady who just goes by AH on vocals, Keiko Komori on reeds, Kengo Sakamoto on bass and Taku Yabuki on keys.
We also know that, sadly, the band appears to have been pretty inactive since about 2010 or so. Yoshida has been more focused on various new incarnations of Ruins: Ruins Alone, which is just him with a drum kit and electronics, and Sax Ruins, which is him with (you’ll never guess) a sax player. He’s also got a guitar/bass/drums power trio called Korekyojinn and a growing online photo archive called Stones of the World. Not pictures of international Rolling Stones cover bands—though that would indeed be awesome—but just pictures of interesting rock formations, made by both humans and nature. Worth a look, especially if you’re into stony things. Did I just make a really lame pot joke? Why, yes, yes I did. Thanks for noticing.
Koenjihyakkei’s music is difficult to describe, even for us. Is it Magma by way of Naked City? Boredoms by way of Shibushirazu Orchestra? Japanese show tunes as performed by “something so far off Broadway it’s on the moon”? (We didn’t come up with that last one, but it kinda sounds like something we would’ve written in 2009.) Whatever it is, it’s more overtly jazz-based than Magma or Ruins, but still prone to going off on the sort of crazy tangents that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Mike Patton side project.
We’ll leave you with two videos that should give you a sense of Koenjihyakkei’s full range of musical lunacy. The first is taken from their 2010 DVD Live at Koenji High and really showcases them (especially vocalist AH) as a sort of a jazz quintet from Mars. The oddly jaunty gang vocals at 2:50 are my favorite part. Also the part where she growls like a demon over some serious ’70s-style prog-rock synth runs. I’m not telling you where to find that part; you’ll just have to listen to the whole goddamned thing yourself.
Next: We would be remiss if we didn’t include the track that MVR (Most Valuable Reader) Stuart Johnson sent our way to introduce us to the awesomeness that is Koenjihyakkei. Thanks, Stuart! For a band that owes much of its existence to a single other band (i.e. Magma), Koenjihyakkei are about as original as it gets.
If there’s one thing Andy and I love, it’s when a band that we already thought was pretty weird gets even weirder. Well, our March Weird Band Poll winners Barbara have done just that. They’ve just released a music video for the song “TUM”…their first proper video, as far as we know…and it’s big ball of deep-fried crazy dipped in hot ‘n’ spicy freak sauce. Here, watch:
What’s your favorite part? Mine is the totally random shot of trash cans at around the four-minute mark. Also, all the parts where they’re singing and wearing what look like windbreakers that have been stitched to their faces. Also, the part where the girl says, “You all have drinks?” OK, fine, I love the whole fucking thing.
I can’t believe I’m writing this, but today marks the addition of our 200th band to The Weird List. I don’t think anybody, including us, thought we could keep at it this long…and honestly, without you amazing readers out there in Interweb Land, we wouldn’t have. So thank you. And now that we’ve gotten all that mushy shit out of the way…
We couldn’t make just any band our 200th. We had to go with a classic. And few weird bands are weirder or more classic than John Zorn’s Naked City, the whiplash jazz/punk/surf/lounge/thrash/ambient/noise quintet that blew into the world in the late ’80s and blew out again just five years later, leaving a trail of ringing ears, confused jazzbos and grotesque album covers in their wake.
Naked City grew out of an eclectic downtown Manhattan music scene in the late ’80s that coalesced around the original Knitting Factory. Punks went to see jazz combos; jazz musicians joined punk bands. You could see free jazz pioneer Cecil Taylor one night and Sonic Youth the next. Mike Doughty, the future lead singer of Soul Coughing, worked the door. If I had a time machine, right after I killed Hitler, I would go to the Knitting Factory circa 1990.
The ringleader of Naked City was an angry 36-year-old saxophonist named John Zorn, who had been active as an experimental composer and musician for over a decade. A fan of both avant-classical experimenter John Cage and cartoon soundtrack composer Carl Stalling, Zorn spent much of his early career devising what he called “game pieces”: essentially, highly structured improvisations featuring a mix of jazz, rock, classical and unconventional instrumentation. For some reason, most of Zorn’s game pieces had sports-themed names; here’s one, for example, called “Archery,” and another called “Lacrosse.”
To give you the best idea of how weird Zorn’s game pieces could get, here are two different versions of his most famous game, “Cobra”: first, from a 1992 documentary called On the Edge: Improvisation in Music; next, from a 2008 Zorn concert in Tel Aviv featuring Naked City drummer Joey Baron, jazz guitar god Marc Ribot and members of Mr. Bungle. In both clips, you can see Zorn “conducting” the game with yellow cue cards, which he mostly seems to use to whip his musicians into ever greater frenzies of atonal chaos.
In addition to his game pieces, Zorn also dabbled in experimental rock music (with Golden Palominos, among others), duck calls as musical instruments (most notably on The Classic Guide to Strategy), traditional Japanese music, and Ennio Morricone. But he was also listening to a lot of punk, speed metal and early grindcore—influences that really began to exert themselves on his music in the late ’80s, first with Naked City and then with even more overtly hardcore-influenced projects like Spy vs. Spy, his album-length tribute to free jazz legend Ornette Coleman, and Painkiller, his jazz/dub/grindcore trio with Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris and bassist Bill Laswell.
But enough about John Zorn’s lengthy CV. Let’s get to Naked City already, shall we?
Zorn founded Naked City in 1988 with fellow NYC jazz players Bill Frisell on guitar, Fred Frith on bass, Wayne Horvitz on keyboards and Joey Baron on drums. Borrowing the Naked City name from Weegee’s notorious book of gritty tabloid photography and the 1946 film noir inspired by it, Zorn seems to have originally envisioned the project as a chance to playfully riff on gangster movie soundtracks; the group’s self-titled debut album (which featured a graphic Weegee photo on its cover) included punked-up versions of the James Bond theme, complete with gunshots, and Jerry Goldsmith’s music from Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. But it also featured several hyper-condensed blasts of sheer noise, with titles like “Igneous Ejaculation” and “Demon Sanctuary,” often featuring the banshee-getting-a-prostate-exam vocals of Yamatsuka Eye of the Boredoms.
The band’s second album, Torture Garden, ditched the gangster-soundtrack angle entirely and just crammed 42 “hardcore miniatures” onto a single disc (including a few repurposed pieces from their debut). The shortest, “Hammerhead,” was just eight seconds long. The one that sounded the most like some kind of mission statement was called “Jazz Snob Eat Shit.”
Over the next four years, Naked City would release five more albums, each more bizarre than the last. By the 1992 album Radio, they were skipping with abandon from thrash metal to prog-rock to country to free jazz to Looney Tunes soundtracks, sometimes all in the same song. Their live shows became breakneck tours the last 50 years of popular music, often accompanied by the otherworldly shrieks of Eye or their other favorite live guest vocalist, Mr. Bungle’s Mike Patton.
Alas, it was all too weird to last. After 1993′s moodier, more ambient Absinthe, Naked City broke up and John Zorn went on to other, only slightly less nutty projects like his klezmer-inspired group Masada and the Moonchild Trio, his long-running collaboration with Joey Baron, Mike Patton and Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn.
But for awhile there, Naked City was truly, in the eyes of many, the Weirdest Band in the World. Naked City fans are a diehard breed, even among fans of weird music. This, from a 2005 review of the band’s complete recordings, is only slightly more extreme than usual: “Every time I move into a new place—even before I cart in the boxes—I set up a stereo and blast that [debut] LP in the living room: It cleans out the evil spirits and even clears out bad smells.” I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the guy who wrote that probably moves a lot.
We generally cater to short attention spans around here, and Naked City’s oeuvre offers plenty of material for the ADD crowd. So here’s 55 seconds of Zorn and co., with Eye on vocals:
But believe me when I tell you: To fully appreciate how truly, awesomely insane Naked City was, you need to watch all 93 minutes of this 1990 performance from a jazz festival in Switzerland. Or at least watch until about the 7:05 mark, when it takes Zorn longer to introduce the song “Igneous Ejaculation” than it does for the band to play it.
So to all you Naked City fans who read this blog: Sorry it took us 200 bands to get to them. And now, on to the next 200…
(P.S. Many, many readers have asked us to add Naked City to The Weird List over the years, but we have to give a special shout-out to reader Salvatore Intravaia for answering our call for 200th band suggestions on Facebook. Well-played, Salvatore! As soon as we get around to printing more T-shirts, you’ll get one.)
Fuckin’ Pitchfork, man. First they scooped us like a pint of Ben & Jerry’s with Matmos, now they’re the first kids on the block to stream the new Wolf Eyes album. Hey, Pitchfork guys: Weird bands are our thing! Isn’t there a new Fleet Foxes song you can go jizz yourselves over or something?
But hey, whatever, it’s cool. At least someone is giving us all a chance to purge our brains of all that Easter family time with some good, creepy, lo-fi Michigan basement avant-noise rawk. Compared to listening to my Aunt Phyllis complain about gay marriage, hearing Wolf Eyes’ dentist-drill racket is like a chorus of Marshmallow Peeps gently singing me to sleep.
Anyway, the new album is called No Answer: Lower Floors and you can stream the whole thing here. It comes out April 9th on De Stijl Records and I think it’s the first album since 2004′s Burned Mind to feature sorta-founding member Aaron Dilloway. But I don’t have the attention span to keep track of their whole catalog, so don’t quote me on that.
You want a track list? Boom. You got a track list. We may not stream whole albums yet, but we’re still goddamn informative.
1. Choking Files
2. Born Liar
3. No Answer
4. Chattering Lead
5. Confessions of the Informer
6. Warning Sign
“Confessions of the Informer” is the best of the bunch, despite being 12 fucking minutes long. You listening, Army of Gay Unicorns?
Let me just begin this post by saying: You people are awesome. And by “you people,” I mean not only our regular readers but fans of all the bands in our most recent Weird Band Poll. The response to this latest poll was unprecedented and finally led to a little band from Toronto called Barbara being crowned the winner, narrowly edging out the equally weird H-Beam from Nashville. So congrats, Barbara! And to H-Beam and all their fans: Don’t you worry. We’ve got a consolation prize in store for you guys. We don’t want to spoil the surprise, but we can tell you it’ s not a pony.
So who are these Barbara guys, you ask? They’re a brother duo named Tyler and Raynor Semrick-Palmateer and their music could perhaps best be described as pop music for schizophrenics. There are lots of distorted, layered yet occasionally soulful vocals, head-nodding beats and melodies that might have once been downright catchy before they got stretched like Silly Putty. It’s sort of The Residents meets “Bohemian Rhapsody” meets five episodes of Intervention all playing at the same time. They also appear to be partial to creepy-looking masks, which adds to the air of
Barbara haven’t released a ton of music yet; their one and only EP, Stuck to the Ground, is just three songs plus a handful of kooky little interstitial tracks in which a lady friend of theirs (Barbara herself, perhaps?) asks pertinent questions on behalf of the audience, like “Does anyone know who these people are?” and “Do you have any more songs?” The answer to that last one: Yes, actually. They have a non-EP dance mix of a song called “Fidelio” that, Tyler tell us, is comprised entirely of quotes from Eyes Wide Shut. And they perform a dance-off to it at the end of their sets. Here, watch.
Is it just me, or is the most unsettling thing about that whole performance the fact that one of them is carrying a briefcase?
More news recently arrived from Electric Phantom Productions, the home of two of our favorite weirdos, Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin and Chimney Crow. Seems Chimney Crow has just released the first video from their debut album, Chimney Crow Is a Band. And while I’m not gonna go so far as to accuse Chimney Crow mastermind Paul Isgone of being a serial killer, I am gonna say that there is no way I’m ever gonna follow this dude into his basement.
Let’s have a look, shall we?
So: Are you capable of understanding? And if so…can you explain it to us?
We’ll share more details on Chimney Crow Is a Band as soon as we get them. So far, to the best of our knowledge, the album is not yet available. But we’re sure it’ll be seeping up from the depths of Paul Isgone’s basement any day now.