Though they douse our inbox daily with a firehose of awful, mainstream crap, music publicists aren’t all bad. Occasionally they serve up something truly bizarre, like Shmu, a cut-and-paste solo project from Austin-based musician (and occasional Flaming Lips collaborator) Sam Chown that sounds like 10 different bands playing on top of each other at the same time — because that, essentially, is what you’re hearing.
Chown, who’s originally from Toronto and studied music at Berklee, also makes delightfully spazzy electro-noise-rock as the drummer half of the duo Zorch. As Shmu, he makes music that is at once more accessible and more abstract. At their heart, Shmu songs are shoegaze-y dream-pop; Chown cites My Bloody Valentine as an influence, although only inasmuch as he, like Kevin Shields, is fascinated with the happy harmonic accidents that happen when you keep layering sound on top of sound to the point where the human ear can no longer distinguish all the individual parts.
Here’s a good example of Chown in full-blown sensory overload mode. Listening to this on repeat kind of makes you feel like you’re having the world’s happiest seizure.
To achieve his “Tomorrow Never Knows” as remixed by The Field sound, Chown records multiple versions of the same track and then edits and layers them all together. Sometimes, when he doesn’t like where one song is heading, rather than scrap it entirely, he just mashes snippets of it into whatever he decides to do next. “Many [songs] even contain performances of me playing samples live that are samples of scrapped songs or of other entire songs — I’m performing a performance of a performance,” he says in that press release we somehow rescued from our inbox last week.
He applies the same technique to recording other musicians, as well. Shmu’s latest album, SHHH!!!!, is mostly him on the all instruments, but there are some additional guitars and bass and even a string quartet buried in there somewhere. On for one of the album’s coolest tracks, “Flutes,” he had two flautists play the same piece of music into five sets of microphones on five different delay pedals, then mixed the results together.
SHHH!!!! is Chown’s second Shmu album; the first one, 2012’s Discipline/Communication, is way less mental, but still worth checking out. It’s especially interesting to hear how the track “Turpentine” off that debut gets reimagined as a swirling, shoegaze guitar freakout on SHHH!!!!
We’ll leave you with the most ambitious track on SHHH!!!!, a 12-minute jam called “Harmonic” that closes out the album with a hurricane of Brian Chippendale-like drums, glitchy electronics and the epic post-rock sensibilities of fellow Austinites Explosions in the Sky. If this doesn’t convince you that Chown is something special, stop reading this blog and go buy the new goddamn Adele album.
One of the cool things about my day job is that I get to work with the great Henry Rollins, whose taste in weird and esoteric music is even more wide-ranging than mine and Jake’s. (He also knows more about music than the two of us put together. Like, a lot, lot more.) He hosts a radio show every Sunday night on KCRW-FM that I highly encourage you to check out — every week, he breaks out some new mind-bending shit you’ve probably never heard of. In the coming week’s, we’ll probably be mining Henry’s show for all sorts of new weird sounds.
Our first raid of the Rollins vaults comes in the form of a gentleman from France who goes by the nom de weird of Lieutenant Caramel. He describes himself as a “hunter of sounds” and collector of “resonant matters,” but his work transcends typical musique concrete and field recordings with a sense of wit and whimsy that makes even his most bizarre compositions as hilarious in places as a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Most of them clock in at around ten minutes or more, so they’re not for short attention spans — or then again, since they constantly warp and shape-shift, maybe they are.
Lieutenant Caramel is the alter ego of Philippe Blanchard, who lives in the ridiculously picturesque town of Annecy in the French Alps. In 1999, he founded a festival there called “Le bruit de la neige,” which translates to “The Noise of Snow.” Looks like the most recent one was just last month, so I guess Jake and I will just have to start planning now to hit the 2016 edition.
Not everything Blanchard produces as Lieutenant Caramel sounds like cartoon character stumbling through a tool shed. We’ll leave you with a track that’s more Lynch than Looney Tunes. There’s still some funny, distorted voices in there, but this time, you won’t know whether to laugh or hide under the covers.
To our South American readers: ¡Hola! How’s it hanging? Except for Brazil, we’ve kinda ignored you guys, and for that, we are sorry. You have your fair share of weirdos, too…starting with Argentina’s Reynols.
Reynols was started in 1993 by a drummer with Down syndrome named Miguel Tomasin and his two music teachers, Alan Courtis and Roberto Conlazo. They also had a fourth member named Christian Dergarabedian early on, and at some point Roberto’s brother Patricio got involved, so most photos and videos of the band show four members. According to Courtis and Conlazo, Tomasin introduced himself to them by saying, “Hello, I’m the world’s most famous drummer.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Inspired by Tomasin’s unique way of looking at the world, Reynols make music that most people probably wouldn’t consider music. Their first album, Hydrogenated Vegetable Fat (Gordura vegetal Hidrogenada), was a “dematerialized CD,” which is another way of saying that it was sold as an empty CD case with nothing in it. Because it doesn’t exist, Courtis and Conlazo explain, it’s everywhere. “Everybody has that record, even people who haven’t been born yet,” Courtis told one interviewer. “Napoleon has that record, Plato has the record, Jim Morrison has the record.”
They’ve also released Chickens Symphony for 10,000, a field recording done inside a chicken coop, and Blank Tapes, an album consisting entirely of tape hiss, from tapes the band claims they collected from all over the world. “The cheap tapes sound better than the expensive ones,” says Conlazo. “TTK tapes from Singapore. Maxwell tapes (not Maxell!) from Taiwan. The idea was to use all the possibilities, a lot of different frequencies.”
They’ve also made “music” based on the sound of banging things against the Eiffel Tower and gravestones of famous people. “They’re all very different. For example the Oscar Wilde statue sounds incredible. We played it with roses. We use different things to play each grave.”
When they make music in a more conventional band configuration, it’s still pretty weird, especially because Tomasin does all the vocals, wailing in a made-up language about a parallel universe called Minecxio. His bandmates accompany him with detuned guitars, effects pedals, feedback and the occasion ram’s horn. It’s trippy and noisy. But mostly noisy.
Weird though they may be, Reynols was a pretty successful cult band for about a decade, releasing a ton of records on labels from all over the world. They toured the U.S and Europe at least once, although Tomasin couldn’t travel with them to Europe for reasons that are unclear, so they brought along a big yellow poster of his face instead.
Oh, and they were also once nearly arrested for a street performance in which they played guitars plugged into pumpkins. Pumpkins don’t actually make very good amps, so the guitars didn’t make much noise, but apparently the authorities felt that the performance was “setting a bad example for the tourists.”
In 2004, Reynols announced they were breaking up. Since then, Alan Courtis has released tons more experimental music on his own, while Miguel Tomasin and Rob Conlazo have continued to work together occasionally, but seem to be much less active. Someone made a documentary about them in 2004 called Buscando a Reynols, but as far as we can tell, that was pretty much the last time anyone’s done anything to document the group or its members.
We’ll leave you with a live recording of Reynols in Chicago from 2001, which someone was kind enough to upload so posterity could hear how completely batshit these guys were. If anyone knows more about the Reynols story post-2004, let us know and we’ll update this post. Oh, and many thanks to reader MrAgalloch, who suggested we take the plunge down the Reynols rabbit hole.
It’s not every day you get to hear music by any band on our Weird List rendered by a 38-piece orchestra. It’s even more remarkable when that band is Sparks, the quirk-pop duo of Ron and Russell Mael, and even more remarkable when the focus of the event isn’t one of their more symphonic efforts like Lil’ Beethoven but their 1974 glam-rock opus Kimono My House, which featured nary a string section but plenty of fuzzy guitar solos and Russell Mael’s swooping falsetto vocals at their most mock-operatic.
The Mael brothers first gave Kimono My House the orchestral treatment last December in London, and decided to follow up those shows with a similar two-night run in their hometown of Los Angeles. The setting for both performances was the suitably stately Theatre at Ace Hotel, formerly the United Artists movie palace, a spectacularly ornate room with Gothic decorations nearly as elaborate as the music from Kimono My House.
As I usually do these days, I wrote the full review of the show for my day job over at L.A. Weekly. So you can read my full account on their site. Suffice it to say that while the orchestral reimagining of Kimono My House, most of the highlights (for me, anyway) came in the show’s second half, when they played an assortment of songs spanning Sparks’ amazing four-decade catalog. And at least one of those highlights involved a monkey. (And no, I’m not referring to Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos. Although he did insert himself into the proceedings. I’m still not sure how I feel about that Sparks/Franz collab.)
Just in time for autumn’s end, lo-fi queen Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin has released a video for “Autumn Leaves,” the seventh in her series of visual accompaniments to songs from her 2012 album, Fish Drive Edsels. This may be her most visually arresting work yet, thanks to animation and illustrations by British artist Jodie Lowther. It’s a bit like watching a painting come to life. A painting that just took a few hits of acid.
The next track on Fish Drive Edsels likely to get the video treatment is “Bagboy Cowboy,” a song about a trip to the grocery store. To buy fishheads, no doubt.
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:
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.
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.
I’m sure every reader of this blog is quite familiar with Iceland’s most famous musical export, the elfin creature with the powerhouse voice called Björk. In fact, I think a substantial percentage of you folks out there in Readerland have decried our failure to include Ms. Guðmundsdóttir on the Weird List. To which we say: Don’t worry, she’ll wind up on there eventually. We work in mysterious ways.
In the meantime: Since we live in busy times, we thought it was worth posting this video for “Mutual Core,” a song off her most recent album, 2011’s Biophilia, in case some of you missed it the first time around. Directed by an extremely talented young filmmaker named Andrew Thomas Huang, who has a genius for transforming the human body into inorganic materials and vice versa (his short film “Solipsist” is maybe even more amazing in this regard than “Mutual Core”), his visuals and Björk’s lyrics and dubstep-tinged music transform the geologic forces of plate tectonics into some kind of freaky-deaky mating ritual of the earth gods. Not even Neil deGrasse Tyson could make science this sexy.
You all know where to find more Björk on the Internets, I’m sure. But if you want to see more of Huang’s work (including videos for Sigur Ros and Thom York’s Atoms for Peace, as well as a cool “making of” video for “Mutual Core”), here’s his website.