One of the weirdest music and art venues in the world is in, of all places, Phoenix, Arizona. There, the self-described “world’s oldest gay Canadian rapper,” Space Alien Donald, does shows and hosts art exhibits in a little house near the airport called Funny World. We hope to visit soon, because it sounds like the kind of place that The Man could shut down at any moment. Especially in a place like Arizona, where anyone suspected of being an alien is just one broken taillight away from getting deported.
Actually, when Space Alien Donald bought Funny World in 2011, he was apparently told by the city that it would be torn down in six months to make way for a parking lot. But three years later, it’s still there. Even in Arizona, the weirdos are winning.
How did a 70-something gay Canadian rapper wind up hosting semi-legal punk shows in his house in Phoenix? We’re a little hazy on the specifics, but according to this article in something called the Downtown Devil, the man born Donald Roth moved to the U.S. from Ontario in the ’60s to work in electronics. After working in Silicon Valley, where he faked his school records to get jobs, he eventually settled in Prescott, a small city north of Phoenix, where he began developing his sci-fi inspired alter ego, Space Alien Donald.
Donald calls himself a rapper, but that’s not quite accurate. He really just kind of sing-speaks lyrics about science, astronomy, aliens and one of his favorite topics, a hypothetical particle called the tachyon that, like many things in Space Alien Donald songs, may be legit science or may be a bunch of pseudo-scientific hooey. He does this over synth backing tracks that sometimes are just the preset beats and chord progressions built into cheap electronic keyboards. So basically, he’s like nerdcore meets Mission Man meets a less schizophrenic Wesley Willis. Only older and more Canadian.
Donald just released his latest album, Must Be Funny, on Related Records. It’s got songs about how aliens built the moon and it has penises on the cover and it’s awesome. You can stream the whole thing over on Bandcamp and buy it for five bucks if you’re awesome, too. Here’s one of our favorite tracks:
To get more of the full Space Alien Donald story, this documentary, made by one of the residents of Funny World (yeah, people live there, too), tells you all you need to know:
Big thanks to Kai of Toxic Chicken for introducing us to Space Alien Donald’s weirdness.
A gentleman by the name of John Wedge dropped a band from Liverpool called ZX Electric into our inbox over the weekend, and we’re definitely intrigued by their lo-fi, retro sound and especially the strangled, haunted voice of their lead singer, Ben Mawdsley. They have two albums up on Bandcamp called Obsolete (posted May 2013) and Fixed Unknown (posted January 2014). At first, because of the music’s sparse, no wave vibe and squiggly, analog synths, we thought they might be reissues—especially when we found one of the band’s YouTube videos and it was tagged “rare post punk obscure 1981.” But we’re pretty sure they’re contemporary.
Here’s a track from Fixed Unknown, “Altered States.” To quote Julian Cope, who’s a fan: “Kiddies, this artist deploys enormous emptiness as part of his major musical arsenal, occasionally tearing at the heartstrings with hoary chord sequences and anguished vocals so appallingly pained that, veritably, it maketh me want to rend my own garments.” What he said!
You can hear more of ZX Electric’s desolate ditties on Bandcamp.
Sometimes we get so excited that people in Poland or Brazil or South Africa are reading our blog that we neglect the weirdness in our own backyard. Yep, Los Angeles is a city full of freaks, contrary to the image most of y’all probably have in your heads of tanned, wannabe actors rollerblading between juice bars and Pilates classes (we have those, too, but no one here cares about them). And in their own, adorable way, Bloody Death Skull are as freaky as they come.
Musically, BDS aren’t all that weird, at least not in a hit-you-over-the-head way. Their songs are shaggy and shambling and cutened up by head Skull Daiana Feuer’s jangling ukulele and guileless, girlish vocals. Lyrically they can get pretty dark, with songs about death and prostitutes and drowning Mormons in swimming pools, but the grim subject matter is always served up with a wink. (Actually, depending on your point of view, I guess a song about drowning Mormons in swimming pools could be right up there with Pharrell’s “Happy.”) They cover lots of old murder ballads and doo wop love songs, which makes sense, and Ying Yang Twins, which doesn’t, but somehow works anyway.
Their live shows delight in the unexpected. They plays shows at strip clubs and former zoo animal enclosures. They dress up in elaborate costumes with inscrutable themes. When I saw them opening for Bob Log III, the theme was “things you might encounter in the forest,” which in Bloody Death Skull’s world includes alien princesses, soldiers in gas masks and a woman in a head-to-toe burqa representing “darkness.”
They have four core members—besides Feuer, there’s Donna Suppipat, Beth McSelf and Gerard Olson—but their live incarnation can have as many as 10 people onstage, many of them sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by xylophones and toy pianos and various things to bang on. The effect is both childlike and somehow psychedelic—by which I mean, they kinda look and sound like a bunch of people on heavy doses of psychedelics. Like, “Mind if I sit? ‘Cause my legs seem to have stopped working” doses.
(For the record: I’m pretty sure no one in the band is actually high. When they were done with their Bob Log III opening set, they all stood up and left the stage in a very orderly fashion, fastidiously picking up their giant collection of instruments as they went. But they sure do a convincing job of seeming out of their gourds during their set—except Feuer, who presides over the chaos with the wry charm and patience of a den mother for a particularly low-functioning Girl Scout troop.)
I’ve done as much as I can to explain the weirdness and adorableness of Bloody Death Skull without showing you some videos, so here they are. First up: a sweet desert murder lullaby called “Psycho,” starring a ravenous tiger/panda. I believe the technical term for such a hybrid creature is “tiganda.”
Next, here’s a little taste of their live show. They did not have the tap dancer when I saw them, but they did have a Theremin. They like to mix it up.
And finally, the video that is quite possibly their masterpiece (at least so far): “Girls Like You,” which uses stop-motion Barbies to tell a heartwarming tale about prostitutes and the non-prostitutes who love them.
Our pals Chimney Crow just released the fourth video from their album Chimney Crow Is a Band. It’s for the song “Teddybear and His Bullet” and it features a lightbulb microphone and some cool Christmas lights with crows in them, because you know, Chimney Crow. But I think my biggest takeaway from this video is that this guy Teddybear sounds like a real asshole. Walking around with a bullet all the time, always mooching off his friends. The dude even doesn’t like music anymore. What kind of tool doesn’t like music? What the fuck is wrong with this guy?
I guess there’s one good thing about Teddybear: He inspired this song, which is pretty groovy in a disco-night-at-the-goth-club kinda way. Nice work, Chimney Crow. But damn, find yourselves some better friends.
Yesterday we got an email from a guy from Kansas City named Burnie Booth, who makes music under the name Folkicide. Here’s how one local journalist describes Folkicide’s sound: “It’s like he’s attempting to exterminate folk music by playing it in the most offensive, bastardized way imaginable.” Booth himself gets the same concept across even more succinctly by calling his stuff “misanthro-pop.”
Booth has a new album out this week called Meaningless Glare of Broken Human Beings, which you can hear tracks from on his SoundCloud page. But our favorite intro to Folkicide comes via this Monty Python-esque, NSFW video for an older track, “Empire of the Ants,” possibly inspired by Booth’s day job in pest control. Remember: If the spider eggs behind your eyes all hatch at once, seek medical attention immediately.
For more Folkicide—including Booth’s complete, album-length cover of Queen’s A Night at the Opera—check out their Bandcamp page.
We’ve had another democracy drive-by here at Weird Band HQ, and the only band spared from the massacre by your votes is a British one-man freak-fest called Free Chow. I don’t usually say this, but I think you guys got this one right. Free Chow is some seriously weird shit.
The man behind the Chow is named Roo Bhasin and we know almost nothing about him, except that he’s apparently in this other band from Oxford called Fixers, who kind of sound like a geekier and way less annoying Coldplay. Hopefully Roo will make some Free Chow videos eventually because this Fixers one is amazing.
Free Chow is pretty much the anti-Fixers. Where Fixers is all polished and anthemic, your average Free Chow song sounds like it was recorded by a sarcastic 12-year-old in his bedroom. This song, “Don’t Touch Kids,” is a pretty good example:
That’s from Free Chow’s one and only album, the awesomely titled Asleep With My Hand in Your Mouth. He also released a Christmas single called “Jesus in Furs” and if you know what that title is a reference to, I bet you know exactly what it sounds like:
Kinda stupid, but also kinda brilliant. Brilliantly stupid, if you will.
Anyway, congrats to Roo for winning our latest poll. Who will win the next one? Watch this space and you’ll find out.
The lesson of Chimney Crow’s new “Sarah Kristina” video is: Don’t accept a ride home from Chimney Crow
Hey, Chimney Crow! How’s it hanging? Hey, listen, I love what you guys have been doing lately with the Muppets and Deee-Lite covers and all, but I gotta be honest: Your latest video is freaking me out a little. Are you OK, Chimney Crow? I mean, do we gotta send in an FBI unit to pull up your floorboards and shit? ‘Cause you’re sounding a little…well, just listen to yourself, man!
But hey, I’m sure you don’t really know anyone named Sarah Kristina, right? This is all just an artful meditation on the alienation of modern life or some shit, right? I really hope so, because I don’t want to have to hide all my drug paraphernalia when the detectives show up on my doorstep asking, “So, how did you know the suspect?”
Today’s weirdness comes to us from reader GeeEs and the year 2007. Back then, a dude from Portland named Charlie Salas-Humara (that’s him on the left) made an album of awkward hipster lo-fi disco under the name Panther called Secret Lawns. He later added a drummer, Joe Kelly (that’s him on the right), and signed to indie label Kill Rock Stars, but he only managed one more album and an EP of Panther stuff before putting the project on ice. He now does psychedelic synth-rock under the name Grapefruit.
Panther didn’t leave much of a web footprint, but the project did produce at least one video that’s kind of genius: “You Don’t Want Your Nails Done.” This takes dancing around your room with a hairbrush pretending to be Justin Timberlake to a whole new level. Enjoy.
Here’s the Panther catalog on Amazon.com.
[Update: We love Panther so much we just made them our Weird Band of the Week. Motherfuckahh!!]
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.