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!
Wayne Coyne, all is forgiven. We forgive you for dickishly slagging your recently fired drummer in a lengthy Rolling Stone interview. We forgive you for hanging out with Miley Cyrus. We even forgive you for At War With the Mystics. Because though we had our doubts (boy, did we ever have our doubts) about this Sgt. Pepper tribute album you and the Flaming Lips have been teasing all year, when the full list of collaborators was revealed yesterday, it was guaranteed to raise a smile. Brian Chippendale’s electro-noise project Black Pus on “With a Little Help From My Friends”? Maynard James Keenan and Puscifer on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”? Julianna Barwick and Phantogram on “She’s Leaving Home”? Count us in!
Even the non-weird collaborators listed on With a Little Help From My Fwends (as they’re calling the whole shebang) are, for the most part, pretty solid. My Morning Jacket and Dinosaur, Jr. main man J. Mascis should give “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” a welcome heavy-psych kick in the pants. The combination of retro-rockers Dr. Dog, rapper Chuck Inglish and lo-fi psych-rocker Morgan Delt on “Getting Better” is intriguing, to say the least. Tegan and Sara are a bit shrill for my taste, but presumably they’ll turn “Lovely Rita” into a lesbian folk-pop ditty, so that’s cool. I’m even prepared to hear Moby and Miley Cyrus’s work on “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” with an open mind, so long as Miley doesn’t get too carried away with any melismatic bullshit and Moby doesn’t transpose the whole thing into a major key and try to make it sound like a sunrise yoga class at Burning Man.
The whole thing is due out Oct. 28th and will benefit the Bella Foundation, which helps struggling pet owners pay their vet bills.
The complete list of tracks and collaborators are below, right after this version of “Fixing a Hole” by Lips side projects Electric Würms. Sounds like that hole still needs some work, guys!
The Flaming Lips 2014: With a Little Help From My Fwends tracklist:
01 My Morning Jacket, J. Mascis, Fever the Ghost: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
02 The Flaming Lips, Black Pus, the Autumn Defense : “With a Little Help From My Friends”
03 The Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus, Moby: “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”
04 Dr. Dog, Chuck Inglish, Morgan Delt: “Getting Better”
05 Electric Würms: “Fixing A Hole”
06 Phantogram, Julianna Barwick, Spaceface: “She’s Leaving Home”
07 The Flaming Lips, Maynard James Keenan, Puscifer, Sunbears!: “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”
08 The Flaming Lips, Birdflower, Morgan Delt: “Within You Without You”
09 The Flaming Lips, Def Rain, Pitchwafuzz: “When I’m Sixty-Four”
10 Tegan and Sara and Stardeath & White Dwarfs: “Lovely Rita”
11 Zorch, Grace Potter, Treasure Mammal: “Good Morning Good Morning”
12 Foxygen and MGMT’s Ben Goldwasser: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”
13 The Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus, New Fumes: “A Day In The Life”
Baltimore guitarist Dustin Wong hasn’t gotten any less prolific or weird since his band Ponytail disbanded in 2011. After releasing several intriguing solo albums, Wong has now joined forces with Japanese singer Takako Minekawa to push his experiments into something resembling pop music, if pop music was a delicate vase just begging to be shattered into a million pieces.
The duo’s debut album, Savage Imagination, is due out next month on Thrill Jockey. For a taste, check out this video for the track “She He See Feel,” which features a diorama Dustin and Takako created for the album cover and some rubber-limbed dance moves.
You can pre-order Savage Imagination via the Thrill Jockey website.
When our friend Richard There played a few shows in the U.K. two years ago, one of the performers he was on the bill with was a British singer/songwriter named John Callaghan. I guess he turned John onto our website, because yesterday John wrote to us and shared a few of his delightfully eccentric videos, including his latest one, which we’ve embedded below.
“I’ve been described as ‘weird’ quite a bit,” Callaghan says in his email. “I certainly don’t take being weird as my starting point. I’ve always simply tried to be interesting and good because ‘being good is different enough.'” He calls his stuff “eccentronica,” which is our new favorite made-up word.
Callaghan’s songs, while certainly offbeat, also have an appealing retro-pop quality to them; in different arrangements, they could be Thomas Dolby or ’80s-era Bowie. And his videos are often quite ingenious. Here’s the backstory for how he created this one:
Whenever I’m in a large, empty and private space I always think I should record a music video. And I’ve been trying to overcome my inertia by producing more material, too. So when I had an art college studio to myself for an hour (after posing for a life drawing class) I used the costumes I’d brought to pose in and my tablet to record some footage to toy with.
To learn more about John Callaghan and hear more of his music, visit his website.
Meet our latest poll winners: Heiter bis Wolkig, self-described purveyors of “weird German cabaret bullshit.” And when it’s German bullshit, you better bring a plunger. That sausage and sauerkraut diet is murder on the ol’ gut pipes, if you catch my drift.
Anyway, we actually don’t know much about these guys, because they didn’t tell us much and nearly everything that’s been written online about them is in German. But hey, Google Translator to the rescue!
Apparently, Heiter bis Wolkig started way back in the ’80s as some kind of college theater art prank. A bunch of schoolmates from Cologne started making parody songs as part of a cabaret night and I guess things kinda just snowballed from there. They even had a sorta-hit in 1992 with a song called “Hey Rote Zora,” a parody of “Here Comes Pippi Longstocking.” If you speak German, I guess it’s fucking hysterical… although even for us non-Germans, the part where it turns into a snot-punk rave-up is pretty fun stuff.
In case you’re wondering, Heiter bis Wolkig either means “Partly Sunny” or “Partly Cloudy” or possibly both those things, because Germans are complicated.
Back in the day, Heiter bis Wolkig was a whole gang, but only two of them, Marco and Micha, have been crazy enough to keep at it into their forties. God bless ‘em, right? Seems like they revived Heiter bis Wolkig in 2012 after a long hiatus with a couple of releases: a “maxi-CD” called Pop Ma$$akker and a single called “Generation D.” No, I don’t know what a maxi-CD is, either. It’s either a CD that doubles as a tampon or it’s what we Americans call an EP or “extended play” release.
Anyway, Heiter bis Wolkig’s new stuff is still super-satirical, but it covers more ground genre-wise. Here they are making fun Lady Gaga-style electro-pop, while running around London in fat suits because I have no idea why:
Actually, maybe “satirical” isn’t the right word for lyrics like “Stupid Gaga music for fucking silly skanks.” How about we just call it put-down pop? That’s catchy, right?
Here they are making fun of pop-punk. Yeah, they’re shooting fish in barrels here, but there’s something ever so slightly off about the whole thing that makes it just downright delightful. Also, they throw in a “fucking motherfucker” madrigal interlude, just cuz. And they’re wearing white jumpsuits that say “ZOMBIEPROOF” on them. Because fans of pop-punk are a bunch of fucking zombies, I guess? I dunno, the fact that half of it makes no sense at all is what makes it work.
And finally, here’s the German version of their Lady Gaga parody, which honestly works even better than the English version. Side note: Back in my skate-punk days, I totally used to own that baseball cap.
So anyway, congrats on winning our poll, Heiter bis Wolkig! We look forward to you shitting on other forms of music us Americans love soon. Maybe dubstep? Dubstep is always a good target.
OK, this is one of the most batshit things we’ve posed in a long time, and you regular readers know I don’t make such claims lightly. Yesterday we were reading on Dangerous Minds (yeah, we spend way too much time on that blog) about a thing called “Asian Hitler chic,” where kids in Japan, Thailand and other parts of Asia dress up in Nazi garb because I guess they think it looks cool and because, hopefully, they have no idea that the Third Reich was one of the most evil, racist, genocidal empires in all of human history.
Anyway, the whole article is pretty mind-blowing, but for our purposes, the most mind-blowing part came at the end, when the author posted up this Mongolian music video of a dude crooning jazzy pop while dressed in full Gestapo drag, surrounded by swastika banners and comely video vixens. Wait for the part where it suddenly goes into some kind of digital hardcore breakdown and then a fucking Carpenters sample. It’s bonkers.
We tried really hard to dig up more info on the star of this thing, but so far we’ve come up empty. His name seems to be O. Ankhaa and the song is called “Gulug,” but that’s about as far as we’ve gotten. If anyone knows anything else about him, please share.
We’ve been doing this blog for a long time, so we like to think we’ve gotten pretty good at tracking down information about obscure artists over the years. But every once in awhile, one of you eagle-eyed readers points us to something so far off the pop culture grid, no combination of Google search terms yields many results. That certainly seems to be the case with the South African novelty act Pocket Lips.
A reader named Shane sent us a link to Pocket Lips’ one and only hit—and yes, by accounts it was a hit in South Africa back in 1987, when it climbed all the way up to No. 6 on the local pop charts. Also by all accounts, the band was a studio project made up of producers/musicians Ian Osrin (actually a highly respected South African recording engineer and record producer with an extensive list of legit credits), Zack Haynes and Sam Wingate, plus a vocalist named Keith Berel who had previously fronted a popular Johannesburg band called Flash Harry. How all these apparently talented individuals came to record a song as ridiculous as “It’s Amazing (The Incredible Dance)” is a bit of a mystery—although I suppose the bigger mystery is how a song as ridiculous as “It’s Amazing (The Incredible Dance)” became a top 10 hit. Was pop radio under apartheid a whites-only affair? Maybe that might explain it.
At any rate, this ridiculous song from this ridiculous band (not be confused with a more recent U.K. act called Pocket Lips, who are also ridiculous, but for different reasons) has an equally ridiculous video, which we will now share with you because ridiculous is kind of our thing. Enjoy.
(Guest post by Kai Nobuko)
Harry Merry is a living underground legend from the Dutch harbor city of Rotterdam. Dressed up in a sailor’s tunic and styled with an iconic haircut, he is out there to flabbergast with his unique brand of entertainment. His favorite keyboard is subjected to his own wild arrangements, full of odd chord changes and a tone scale of its own. Add Harry Merry’s unique, heavily accented voice and your ears will witness a match made in weirdo heaven.
Harry Merry has released a couple of LPs and a free downloadable 7″ single, “Village Life in 1905.” Coming from his Well… Here’s Another Nice Mess You’ve Got Me Into album is one of his more popular songs that attempts to stay in your head. The promotional video clip for it has been around on the Internet for quite a while, but in case you missed it (or lost a few brain cells and erased it by accident): Here is Harry Merry’s music video for “Stevie Storm.”
For more Harry Merry, visit his website.
Why does the Internet genius called TomCattt have
three four “T”‘s in his name? Because he’s a fucking stud, that’s why. He’s in his fifties (I’m guessing) and still rocks a mullet. He’s karate-kicking a keyboard in half on his website. He dances with not one, but TWO hot chicks in his videos, because one day-hire dancer is not enough to slake his unquenchable thirst for dancing with hot chicks. He’s basically the Chuck Norris of midlife-crisis DIY pop musicians. He even looks plausible in a black cowboy hat.
Our thanks to reader and Weird List inductee Army of Gay Unicorns for sharing with us the glory that is TomCattt and this song, “Yes Love,” that will now slowly eat away my brain from the inside. At least I’ll die laughing.
P.S. The album that this song comes from is called Hiiyaaaaaaaaaaa!, which I assume is supposed to be said like you’re just about to karate-kick a keyboard in half. The alternative is that it’s the sound TomCattt makes when he climaxes, but I don’t really want to contemplate that possibility.
Watch Flaming Lips and Miley Cyrus do their “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” cover at the Billboard Music Awards
Much as we’re loathe to admit it, collaborating with Miley Cyrus was probably a pretty smart career move for Wayne Coyne and his ragtag band of psych-rockers, the Flaming Lips. On their own, the Lips have pretty much a zero percent chance of getting invited to perform on any nationally televised awards show these days—but with Miley in tow, they’re not only invited to the party, they’re given full permission to let their freak flags fly. Their appearance on last night’s Billboard Music Awards (video below) would have been the talk of the Interweb today, had the entire awards show not been upstaged by that stupid Michael Jackson hologram.
Wayne and Miley were decked out in warpaint, feathers and tinsel (including, in Coyne’s case, a tinsel codpiece) to perform their cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which the Lips recently announced is but one track of a forthcoming Sgt. Pepper tribute album called With a Little Help From My Fwends. Shrewdly, they began taking pre-orders for the album last night, even though it’s not due out until October. I wonder how many hyperventilating Miley fans have already pre-ordered their copy, blissfully unaware that most of the record will be old dudes like Coyne and Moby doing weird Beatles songs they never heard of?
With a Little Help From My Fwends is due out Oct. 28th on Warner Bros. Records. A portion of the record’s profits will go towards the Bella Foundation, which helps elderly, low-income and terminally ill pet owners pay their vet bills. So every time we make fun of this project in the months ahead—and my guess is we’ll make fun of it A LOT—a portion of us will feel like assholes for doing so.
In other Lips news: Coyne recently fired the band’s longtime second drummer, Kliph Scurlock, prompting Scurlock to write a long letter to Pitchfork accusing Coyne of, among other things, “endless verbal (with threats of physical) abuse.” (You can read the entire letter here, if you’re so inclined.) While it’s hard to say how many of Scurlock’s accusations are true, it’s definitely true that Coyne chose to respond in the douchiest way possible, by giving a lengthy interview to Rolling Stone in which he repeatedly describes Scurlock—who was with the band for 12 years—as hateful, immature and uncreative. “Anybody that knows him knows what a hateful pathological liar he is,” he says, before adding, moments later, “But I don’t even want to speak about the hate, you know. I don’t have any hate for him.”
Well, we don’t have any hate for you either, Wayne. But I gotta be honest. Between the Rolling Stone interview and that moment at the Billboard Music Awards where you kissed Miley’s feet—we’re a little worried about you. Maybe take a little hiatus after this Beatles album, yeah? You seem like you could use some R&R.