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.
We first learned about the pioneering synthesizer work of Doris Norton when we did a post last month about the Italian esoteric prog-rock band Jacula, for whom she played keyboards in the early ’70s. Turns out she went on to create even weirder and more cutting-edge music as a solo artist, always testing the limits of the available technology to create never-before-heard sounds. She even got sponsored by Apple in the early ’80s to create some of the first music produced using personal computers.
Over the course of the ’80s, her music evolved into what we recognize today as synth-pop and early techno. But her first three solo albums, Underground (1980), Parapsycho (1981) and Raptus (1981), featured some of the craziest synth experiments of her time (or any time, for that matter). Among other things, she tinkered with translating biorhythms, brainwaves and “psychic energy” into synthesizer music—hence the title of the track below, “Psychic Research,” from Parapsycho. (It’s not the full track, but since Parapsycho was reissued last year, all unauthorized tracks from that album seem to have been pulled from YouTube.)
It’s Labor Day here in America, so to celebrate, we thought we’d play you all something that has the power to actually induce labor. Here’s “Insomnia,” nine minutes of crazy from the Norwegian experimental singer Maja Ratkje. Our thanks to our old pal Miss Hawkline for this one. Miss M, when you post stuff like in the comments section, that’s how we know you really love us.
To hear more of Maja’s unearthly shrieks and sighs, check out her website.