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Thomas Truax

This photo by Andrew Werner; banner photo by Chris Saunders

This photo by Andrew Werner; banner photo by Chris Saunders

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:

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Weird of the Day: Funturistic, “Rural Kerfuffle”

Funturistic

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.

Maywa Denki

Novumichi Tosa of Maywa Denki

We’re cheating a bit with this week’s “band,” which is really more of a multimedia art project. But music is an integral part of the Japanese “art unit” Maywa Denki, so we’re giving them a pass.

Maywa Denki specializes in creating what co-founder Novumichi Tosa calls “nonsense machines”: mechanical objects that may or may not serve some useful purpose, but achieve that purpose in absurd or impractical ways. Their most famous creation, which Novumichi is brandishing in the above photo, is a note-shaped musical instrument called an otamatone, a made-up Japanese word that sounds (intentionally, we presume) quite a bit like “automaton.” You play the otamatone by sliding one finger up and down the instrument’s neck to hit specific notes, while squeezing the instrument’s “mouth” to control volume, tone and pitch. They come in various sizes and, in the right hands, can be made to produce all sorts of different (but always vaguely silly) sounds:

Maywa Denki has mass-produced some smaller versions of the otamatone, which has helped spread its popularity and led to some pretty great YouTube videos by other musicians. But the otamatone is just the tip of the nonsense machine iceberg. Maywa Denki has an entire product line called Tsukuba dedicated to ridiculously elaborate (but, usually, easy to play) musical instruments, like a set of six guitars played via a pedal organ and a “rhythm-making machine” that’s basically just a series of on/off switches attached to a turntable, all of which can be worn like a keytar.

Most of Maywa Denki’s larger instruments haven’t been mass produced, for obvious reasons, but Novumichi and his brother, Masamichi, occasionally take their nonsense machines out for concerts—or, as they like to call them, “product demonstrations.” Dressed in DEVO-like matching blue jumpsuits, the Tosa brothers and their assistants put a dizzying array of different machines through their paces in the service of creating music that is, surprisingly, pretty catchy and accessible. Videos don’t quite do the whole spectacle justice, but this Slovenian clip is one of the better ones we could find:

More recently, Maywa Denki have launched their own fashion line, Meewee Dinkee. Naturally, they produced an indecipherably bizarre video to promote it:

Sadly, most of the coolest pieces in the fashion line are already sold out. But we have no doubt the brothers Tosa are already hard at work on their next art “products.”

Our thanks to reader Frederick for posting the Meewee Dinkee video on our Submit a Band page and sending us plunging down the Maywa Denki rabbit hole. We’d like to dedicate this otamatone video to you, sir!

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Sly & The Family Drone

Photo swiped from ATTN:Magazine

Photo swiped from ATTN:Magazine

Like a mono outbreak on prom night, democracy has struck again here Weird Band HQ, and a new Weird Band of the Week has infested our tender, nubile pages. Did that last sentence totally creep you out? Well, this band might, too.  Meet Sly & The Family Drone, a British crew whose only resemblance to Sly & The Family Stone is that their leader has spent at least a few years living in a van. Possibly. Or not. What do you want from us, research?

Led by a gentleman called (duh) Sly, S&TFD started out in 2010 or thereabouts as a drums and tape effects noise ensemble, sort of a cross between Crash Worship, Wolf Eyes, Whitehouse and that sound my old Gorilla amp used to make when I would get really stoned and just drag my Mexicaster fretboard back and forth across the face of it for hours. They’ve released some studio recordings, including an EP that just came out this past month called Unnecessary Woe, which is the only kind of woe in a world that has bourbon and bands that sound like Crash Worship.

But they’re best known for their live shows, which involve a shit-ton of drums and lots of shirtless dudes crawling around manipulating effects pedals and oscillators and audience members banging on cymbals and just the kind of general, participatory mayhem that makes any good live show more than the sum of its racket. They also sometimes throw some harmonica in there, just to give it a little of that homeless-guy-busking-at-the-bus-station pizzazz. You probably have to be there to fully appreciate the whole thing, but here’s a video clip, anyway. Don’t worry, you don’t have to watch all 51 minutes to get to the weird stuff. It gets weird right out of the gate.

Best line from their official bio: “There is no place for guitars within this band.” It’s about time someone took a stand against all these fucking guitars! Goddamn things are everywhere.

Here’s a track from Unnecessary Woe called “Grey Meat,” which like their live shows was totally improvised. I’m pretty sure you can dance to this one, or at least break stuff.

So congrats on winning our Weird Band Poll, S&TFD! Hopefully this catapults you to enough fame and fortune that you can come wreck some drum kits here in America.

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P.S. After we join our fellow Americans in stuffing our faces with turkey and trampling fellow shoppers in a stampede for the new iPads, we’re taking a little vacation time. But don’t worry, this break will be much shorter than our last one. We’ll be back with more weird bands in a couple weeks. Y’all try to stay out of trouble till then, OK?

Pan

Pan

Meet our latest Weird Band Poll winners: Pan! These guys just moved last year from sunny Los Angeles to cold, desperate Detroit, so you know they’re weirdos.

Pan’s music kinda sounds like post-economic-meltdown Detroit, too: Junky, spooky, broken down but not without its charms. John, one half of the duo, describes their music as “musique-concrete folk,” which sounds about right. There are lots of weird, ambient noises and out-of-tune guitars that sound like they’re being played with kitchen utensils. It’s not for nothing that when John told us about Pan’s music, he put the word “music” in quotation marks.

So far Pan have released just two records: a self-titled 2011 EP and a 2012 full-length called Pan 2. Both are available on Bandcamp here and here. For maximum weirdness, start with the EP, which makes me feel like I’m watching the Deliverance sodomy scene over and over again after one too many Vicodins.

John and his partner, Dithyramb, run a label called Homotown Records, which has a Facebook page but not much else.  They haven’t shot any videos for Pan or posted any Pan tunes on YouTube, but here’s a Soundcloud for a non-album track called “Dithy” that should give you an idea of why they pretty much crushed it in this month’s poll.

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Watch “A Day With Nick Zammuto” mini-doc

(Photo swiped from BoingBoing.net)

Anticipation really seems to be building for the debut album from Zammuto, the new band/solo project from Nick Zammuto, one-half of sound collage mavericks The Books. Just today, Pitchfork gave a “Best New Track” shout-out to “F U C-3PO,” an almost proggy jam with robot vocals and distortion pedals set to stun. And last week, director Matthew Day debuted a short documentary called “A Day With Nick Zammuto” that shows the musician hard at work on his new music and chilling in his amazing self-built house with his wife and ridiculously cute children. We’ve embedded the YouTube version of the film below, or you can watch the original on Day’s website, Naked Musicians.

Zammuto will be making their live debut on Feb. 3 at Mass Moca in North Adams, Massachusetts. If anyone goes, give us a report!

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The Vegetable Orchestra

Doing this blog really is a gift that keeps on giving. You’d think by our third year of operation, bands like Austria’s Vegetable Orchestra would be old hat to us. But truth be told, we only just recently discovered that these guys existed. Apparently, we’re not very good at our jobs.

The Vegetable Orchestra (also known as the First Viennese Vegetable Orchestra, or Das erste Wiener Gemüseorchester in their native tongue) was founded in 1998 by a group of college students who were interested in exploring the acoustic properties of, well, vegetables. Initially they created vegetable-based instruments that closely resembled their wood and metal counterparts: drums made of pumpkins and celery roots, flutes made of carrots, a “cucumberphone” made from a hollowed-out cucumber with a bell pepper at one end and a carrot doubling as a reed at the other. Since then, their instruments have gotten increasingly bizarre, often with the aid of electronics; how the hell the “leek violin” works, to give just one example, we have no idea.

When performing live, the VO buys fresh, organic produce that day and assembles it into instruments just hours before showtime. At the end of each performance, they use the vegetables to make soup, which they then serve to the audience. Fresh veggies in a warm broth of Austrian saliva–yummers!

The Vegetable Orchestra have released three albums over the course of their 14-year existence. Their latest, Onionoise, is a mix of techno, tribal, ambient, industrial and avant-garde sounds that would be pretty darned weird even if it wasn’t being mostly produced on produce.

Here’s a 2007 promotional video of the Orchestra in action. Apparently they had to disable comments on YouTube because some people were attacking them for wasting perfectly good vegetables in the face of world hunger. To which we say: Come to a Vegetable Orchestra show and have some soup, you darned crankypantses!

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Vocal Trash

What do you get when you cross Stomp, Rockapella, and the kind of highly enthusiastic but somewhat amateurish cover bands you see at B-list state fairs in places like Iowa and Delaware? You get Vocal Trash, a band that combines a cappella, found-object percussion, tap dancing, trumpet solos and, oh, let’s just throw a little break-dancing in there, shall we? I mean, why the hell not?

Vocal Trash was started about 10 years by a guy from West Texas named Steve Linder, who judging from the amount of eyeliner he wears probably did not fit in with the other kids in the Lone Star State. The group was originally pretty much just a cross between show choir and banging on trash cans—”Glee with a kick!” as the press materials proclaim. There was something goofy and white-trash but undeniably awesome about them, especially when they unleashed their junkyard swag on the confused but obviously entranced masses on the state and county fair circuit:

More recently, the band has slicked up its stage show by adding more instruments, choreographed dance moves and a very Stomp-like stage set—all of which can seen in this somewhat depressing promotional video. Apparently they do lots of corporate events and theme parks and such these days, which explains the snazzier production values and the inclusion of the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” in their set list.

And hey, we get it—they’ve been doing this for 10 years, and at a certain point, if the quirky junkyard show band shtick isn’t landing you those major corporate gigs, you lose the fat dude with the biker mustache and bring in the break-dancers. But we still shed a tear for the demise of the rag-tag group in this no-budget video, which looks like it was shot in haste before they were chased off by the scrapyard Rottweilers:

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Ghedalia Tazartes

One of the hazards of doing a blog like TWBITW is that you tend to get pretty jaded. Jake and I sift through so much oddball music that after awhile, we start to get a little hung up on the dog and pony aspect of the whole thing. It’s like—yeah, okay, you guys sound kinda weird, but do you wear goofy costumes or claim to be from another planet? No? Next!

But every so often, someone introduces us to a piece of music that’s just so downright bizarre, so totally unlike anything we’ve ever heard, it really doesn’t need any kind of wacky backstory or WTF visual accompaniment. Such was the case with French musician-composer Ghédalia Tazartès and his 1979 masterpiece, Diasporas.

We got wind of this completely wackadoodle album thanks to a cool little reissue label called Dais Records, who have only been around since 2007 but have already rescued a shit-ton of weird music from the scrapheap. Apparently it’s not quite available yet—we’re not sure what the release date is—but we got an email with a download of the track “Un Amour Si Grand Qu’il Nie Son Objet” and it pretty much knocked us on our asses. You can hear the whole sighing, moaning, nine-minute monstrosity in the YouTube clip below. [Update: No, you can’t. And the Diasporas reissue is sold out. Read more below.] Trust us: Don’t listen to it alone after dark or in an altered state of consciousness. Actually, listening to this will probably alter your consciousness all by itself.

We haven’t been able to find out too much else about Tazartès. We do know that he still occasionally does concerts (and he and his music are as bizarre as ever) and, according to his French Wikipedia page, he still releases music. He also apparently operates out of a home studio in Paris that looks like something out of a Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie. He was interviewed in the September 2008 issue of Wire but as far as we can tell, the interview’s not available online. The only other English-language article we could find on him is this unreadably pretentious mess. So he remains a bit of enigma, at least to us poor Americans. Hopefully the Dais reissue will help to change that.

We could attempt to describe Tazartès’ music–French avant-garde gypsy trance minimalism?–but really, there’s not much point. You just have to hear it. This guy is attuned to some other frequencies, for real.

P.S. We originally embedded a YouTube clip of this track from a YouTube channel called Undergroundedful, but the whole channel has since been taken down due to copyright claims. While we totally recognize the right of copyright owners to protect their work, we also think it’s a bummer when obscure and hard-to-find music gets taken off the Internet and put further out of the reach of potential new audiences. Anyhow, hopefully the above YouTube video stays up a while longer.

P.P.S. Okay, so the second YouTube clip was also removed due to copyright claims. Apparently Mr. Tazartes, or one of his representatives, really doesn’t want the Internet to know he exists. But hey, third time’s a charm, maybe?

P.P.P.S. A kindly reader provided a Soundcloud link to “Un Amour Si Grand Qu’il Nie Son Objet” in the comments, but we decided to delete it because, unfortunately, we have to be careful about such things. If anyone knows of any authorized Tazartes music available online, let us know about it, please! We’d like our readers to hear more of his weirdly beautiful stuff for themselves.

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Einsturzende Neubauten

(Photo copyright Thomas Rabsch)

It’s been awhile since we blogged about an oldie but goodie here on TWBITW, so we thought it was high time we give a shout-out to Einstürzende Neubauten. While these German art punks didn’t actually invent industrial music, they probably influenced its development as much as earlier acts like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire–maybe more, actually. Guys like Trent Reznor and Nivek Ogre of Skinny Puppy definitely took a few style tips from Neubauten’s tormented, black-clad frontman, Blixa Bargeld.

Einstürzende Neubauten–whose name means “Collapsing New Buildings”–started in Berlin in 1980, and right away, they brought a scary intensity to their music and their live act that made the British industrial acts seems almost polite by comparison. Blixa and his co-conspirators, N.U. Unruh and Alexander Hacke (the most constant members in a rotating cast), liked using power tools and found objects as percussion, and they sometimes took their use of such objects to some pretty wild extremes. Early Neubauten shows tended to look more like construction sites than rock concerts: band members would drill holes in the stage, set fires, swing huge oil drums suspended on chains out over the audience, maybe do a little arc welding–oh and play some distorted, detuned guitar and yell a lot, too.

Eventually, Einstürzende Neubauten’s sound became a little less chaotic and by the mid ’90s, they were producing records like Ende Neu that employed actual recognizable melodies and instruments–though always with plenty of weird noises created on specially made instruments (like the “bassfeder,” a giant steel spring struck with sticks to create a twangy, bass-like sound) and always with Blixa’s distinctive, cadaverous vocals. But it’s those crazy early live shows and wildly experimental, almost unlistenable albums like 1981’s Kollaps that earn them a spot on The Weird List.

Speaking of Kollaps: here’s a video from that album for the Kollaps song “Sehnsucht” from a 1986 film called Halber Mensch, shot while the band was in Japan, that pretty neatly sums up the early Neubauten vibe. (Thanks to reader “tertius” for pointing out the source of this video…our research dept. was clearly falling down on the job when we originally posted it.)

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