This week’s weird band was suggested by an excellently named reader called Adam Whybray. He describes a.P.A.t.T. as sounding “a bit like a glitchy Mr. Bungle cult that formed down the pub.” And while that’s probably as good a description as any of these cheeky Liverpudlians (although it doesn’t contain the word “Liverpudlian,” which is one of those words you should use every chance you get), it really only scratches the surface of what this avant-pop art-school project has achieved in its 15-odd years of existence.
a.P.A.t.T. (what does it stand for? how do you pronounce it? who knows? who cares?) formed in Liverpool in 1997 or 1998. Their early goal, according to their Wikipedia page (which the band links to from their official site, so let’s assume it’s semi-accurate), was to “make, find, imagine, and create ‘secret music,’” by which they seemed to mean music that abandoned traditional song structures and instrumentation. You can hear some of the band’s early stuff on Welcome to a.P.A.t.T. Island – A collection of earlies, which veers sharply between abstract, ambient noise and bursts of spastic, genre-hopping art-pop that reveals some of those Mr. Bungle influences that Adam picked up, as well as an even more direct early influence (and another favorite of ours around here), Cardiacs.
By 2005 or so, the band’s music had become even harder to categorize. On the Fre(e.P), they started doing Girl Talk-like mashups, mixing recognizable pop and classic rock samples with trip-hop beats and trashy club rap, but doing it in a style meant more to be unsettling than party-starting. Check the amazing “Megamix Part 1″ for a taste of what happens when you cram the Jackson 5, Coolio, Portishead and “What a Day for a Daydream” into the same track.
Meanwhile, they were also developing a live soundtrack for the silent-film-era vampire classic, Nosferatu, complete with strings. Because hey, why not?
In 2008, they reinvented themselves yet again, transforming into a Zappa-like prog/jazz/metal/psych-rock orchestra on the epic, 27-track Black & White Mass. Most recently, they released Paul the Record, a split album with a band called Peepholes, then decided to embrace the “playlist on shuffle” mentality of our modern age with Ogadimma, a 14-track set on which no two songs are done in the same style. They’ve also shot videos for all 14 songs; taken collectively, they’re pretty amazing. Here they are, for example, in full-on Prince-meets-Of-Montreal mode:
Now try to remember, as you watch this next video, that this is the same band:
They also cite Ween as one of their influences, which honestly didn’t make sense to me until I heard the casual, tongue-in-cheek virtuosity of the Ogadimma stuff: “Oh, you want to hear us do some ’80s synth-pop? Sure, here you go. No big whoop.” (Among their other listed influences: The Residents, Duran Duran, Captain Beefheart, John Zorn, Slayer, Claude Debussy, ABBA, and The Beatles. Much like a.P.A.t.T.’s actual music, this list simultaneously makes no sense and all the sense in the world.)
You’ll notice up until now that I haven’t mentioned any of a.P.A.t.T.’s members by name. That’s because, quite frankly, I have no idea who these people are. a.P.A.t.T don’t perform wearing masks or anything, but they do (mostly) stick to an all-white costume palette that seems to help them maintain a semi-anonymous quality. That plus, let’s be honest here, a.P.A.t.T. is not the world’s most Google-friendly band name. According to their Wikipedia page, their core members go by the names General MIDI, Field Marshall Stack, Dorothy Wave, Master Fader and The Researcher, but that’s all I know.
We’ll wrap this post up with a clip of a.P.A.t.T’s live show (non-orchestra version), which looks like jolly good fun. That lady keyboard player (Dorothy Wave, we presume) has sure got some sick dance moves.
Way back in 2009, when we were still a little ankle-biter of a blog, we wrote a post about a French band called Magma that spawned (the band, not the post) an entire genre of hyper-bizarre prog-rock/space-jazz/freak-fusion called Zeuhl. “Next time you hear a bunch of French dudes chanting nonsense lyrics over music that sounds sort of like Pat Metheny on acid,” we wrote, with that casual air of snark that only comes from having no idea what the fuck you’re talking about, “you’re probably listening to a Zeuhl band.”
Well, it’s taken us four years, but we’ve finally a.) admitted that, to this very day, we often have no idea what the fuck we’re talking about and b.) gotten around to writing about another Zeuhl band. Except this bunch is neither French nor, entirely, dudes. They’re from Japan and they’re a coed ensemble by the name of Koenjihyakkei, which translates to something like “The Hundred Sights of Koenji.” Koenji is a neighborhood in Tokyo, but does it really have a hundred sights? Beats me. Like I said, we often have no idea what the fuck we’re talking about.
Here’s what little we do know: Koenjihyakkei (also sometimes transliterated as “Koenji Hyakkei”) was started in the early ’90s by a drummer named Tatsuya Yoshida, whose previous band, Ruins, did a pretty fair approximation of Magma’s original Zeuhl insanity rendered down to just a bass/drums duo. Having apparently exhausted that format, Yoshida expanded his list of collaborators with Koenjihyakkei, adding a rotating cast of musicians to an increasingly epic and noisy take on Magma-esque jazz-prog mayhem. The band’s most recent lineup, seen in the above photo, features a lady who just goes by AH on vocals, Keiko Komori on reeds, Kengo Sakamoto on bass and Taku Yabuki on keys.
We also know that, sadly, the band appears to have been pretty inactive since about 2010 or so. Yoshida has been more focused on various new incarnations of Ruins: Ruins Alone, which is just him with a drum kit and electronics, and Sax Ruins, which is him with (you’ll never guess) a sax player. He’s also got a guitar/bass/drums power trio called Korekyojinn and a growing online photo archive called Stones of the World. Not pictures of international Rolling Stones cover bands—though that would indeed be awesome—but just pictures of interesting rock formations, made by both humans and nature. Worth a look, especially if you’re into stony things. Did I just make a really lame pot joke? Why, yes, yes I did. Thanks for noticing.
Koenjihyakkei’s music is difficult to describe, even for us. Is it Magma by way of Naked City? Boredoms by way of Shibushirazu Orchestra? Japanese show tunes as performed by “something so far off Broadway it’s on the moon”? (We didn’t come up with that last one, but it kinda sounds like something we would’ve written in 2009.) Whatever it is, it’s more overtly jazz-based than Magma or Ruins, but still prone to going off on the sort of crazy tangents that wouldn’t sound out of place in a Mike Patton side project.
We’ll leave you with two videos that should give you a sense of Koenjihyakkei’s full range of musical lunacy. The first is taken from their 2010 DVD Live at Koenji High and really showcases them (especially vocalist AH) as a sort of a jazz quintet from Mars. The oddly jaunty gang vocals at 2:50 are my favorite part. Also the part where she growls like a demon over some serious ’70s-style prog-rock synth runs. I’m not telling you where to find that part; you’ll just have to listen to the whole goddamned thing yourself.
Next: We would be remiss if we didn’t include the track that MVR (Most Valuable Reader) Stuart Johnson sent our way to introduce us to the awesomeness that is Koenjihyakkei. Thanks, Stuart! For a band that owes much of its existence to a single other band (i.e. Magma), Koenjihyakkei are about as original as it gets.
Classic Frank Zappa albums “Freak Out!” and “Over-Nite Sensation” getting the deluxe vinyl reissue treatment
Since regaining the rights to Frank Zappa‘s vast catalog, his heirs over at Zappa Records and Zappa Family Trust have wasted no time in finding new and creative ways to get his music out into the marketplace. Some moves, like selling CDs with a distribution license for $1,000 a pop, have struck us as a bit ill-conceived. But they’ve also put out some cool unreleased material and finally made his stuff available on iTunes, a long overdue boon to those of us who still quaintly insist of paying to download music instead of just listening to Pandora all day.
Even more quaintly, some of us still listen to music on big black pieces of vinyl—and now Zappa Records has those folks covered, too. Next month, they’ll be reissuing two classic Zappa albums on collector’s quality 180-gram vinyl: Freak Out!, the groundbreaking debut from Zappa’s band The Mothers of Invention, and another Mothers mind-bender, 1973′s Over-Nite Sensation, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. Damn, I feel old just typing that.
No word yet on the exact release date of these suckers, but keep an eye on the somewhat bewildering Zappa.com site for (hopefully) more info soon. Meantime, let’s play out this post with a golden Frank oldie from Freak Out!, shall we?
In the latest installment of what is now our continuing series of posts about artists and their representatives charging insane amounts of money for their music, the Zappa Family Trust recently announced a rather unique method of putting out some unreleased Frank Zappa live stuff: Instead of just selling the tracks themselves (for now, at least—more on that in a sec), they’re going sell what are known in the biz as “master duplication copies” for $1,000 a pop. Owners of said masters can then turn around and resell the music themselves—becoming, in effect, independent distributors of what ZFT has cleverly titled Roxy by Proxy (All Roxy No Elsewhere), a set of unreleased recordings from the same December 1973 shows that the produced the now-classic live album, Roxy & Elsewhere.
On paper, I suppose a thousand G’s for a master dupe sounds like a bargain. Under the terms of the sale, you get to manufacture and sell as many copies of Roxy by Proxy as you want—so for any really enterprising soul, this could even prove to be a money-making venture. But there are a few major caveats in the fine print.
First, you’re only allowed to distribute Roxy by Proxy on CD—not in any other format, including digital or increasingly trendy, collector-friendly vinyl. Second, you’re responsible for your own manufacturing costs—unless you decide to use ZFT’s manufacturer, in which case you’ll be charged the rather steep wholesale price of $11 per CD (plus shipping and handling) on top of the grand you already dropped. Third, ZFT retains the right to sell this same music itself in any format—so you might eventually be competing with them to get your copies of Roxy by Proxy out to the Zappa faithful.
The Family Trust says they’re doing this mainly to raise money to complete a concert film documenting some of those historic shows on which Roxy by Proxy and Roxy & Elsewhere are based. So in a way, this is sort of their own version of a Kickstarter campaign—except unlike with most Kickstarters, Roxy by Proxy has one tier only, and it’s strictly for high rollers. Which seems like a not very well-thought-out strategy to us, but what do we know? We’re just a couple of broke-ass bloggers. We’re sure Frank has more than his fair share of fans with an extra thou lying around.
For more information on how to license Roxy by Proxy, visit Zappa.com. And if you decide to pony up for a master duplication copy, just remember that you need to do so by Dec. 28th.
Hey, lookee here: A new Frank Zappa two-disc compilation has arrived, and it even contains some previously unreleased material—or at least reworked versions of some old Zappa classics. Called Understanding America, it purports to be “one of only three compilation albums produced and titled by FZ himself,” according to the press release. As far as we can tell, however, this is the first time any Zappa release has come out under the title Understanding America, so maybe a zombie Zappa is behind the whole thing. It did come out the day before Halloween.
The centerpiece of the album seems to be a new version of “Porn Wars,” a 1985 track that included samples of Zappa’s infamous Senate testimony protesting Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center. The new version, called “Porn Wars Deluxe,” is 25 minutes long, so if you really can’t get enough of Uncle Frank waxing statesmanlike over the dangers of censorship, you better go out and get yourself a copy.
After the tracklist, Frank’s widow Gail Zappa has some words for all our American readers about the importance of registering to vote. Especially all you lady Americans. Do any ladies read this site? If so, let us know, won’t you? The reader comments can be a bit of a bro-fest.
UNDERSTANDING AMERICA DISC 1
1. Hungry Freaks, Daddy
2. Plastic People
3. Mom & Dad
4. It Can’t Happen Here
5. Who Are The Brain Police?
6. Who Needs The Peace Corps?
7. Brown Shoes Don’t Make It
8. Concentration Moon
9. Trouble Every Day
10. You’re Probably Wondering Why I’m Here
11. We’re Turning Again
12. Road Ladies
13. What Kind Of Girl Do You Think We Are
14. Camarillo Brillo
15. Find Her Finer
16. Dinah-Moe Humm
17. Disco Boy
18. 200 Years Old
UNDERSTANDING AMERICA DISC 2
1. I’m The Slime
2. Be In My Video
3. I Don’t Even Care
4. Can’t Afford No Shoes
5. Heavenly Bank Account
6. Cocaine Decisions
7. Dumb All Over
9. Thing-Fish Intro
10. The Central Scrutinizer
11. Porn Wars Deluxe
12. Tinseltown Rebellion
13. Jesus Thinks You’re A Jerk
Over to you, Gail:
This week’s band comes to us from Norway, which seems to have more weirdness per capita than most EU nations (see also: Mayhem, Hurra Torpedo, etc.). And even though Norway is only like fifth on the list of Countries Where They Actually Read Our Blog, this band kicked major ass in our latest Facebook poll. Somebody from the Obama campaign should hire them to run their get-out-the-vote efforts in Ohio. Ohio is kinda like Olso, right? They both have shitty winters and begin and end with an “O.” Close enough for government work, as they say.
But about this band, which is called Ping: They’re a prog/psych-rock/jazz/fusion/whatever five-piece who have been around since 1999, when they were started by guitarist Mattis Janitz and bassist/vocalist Jørgen Greiner. They list such TWBITW favorites as Frank Zappa, Mike Patton and Ween among their many influences (also Wilco, but probably just for the Nels Cline guitar solos). And one of their albums is called Discotheque of Darkness, but is neither disco nor especially dark. So while they’re hardly the weirdest band we’ve ever blogged about, Ping definitely keep the quirk factor high.
The fan-made video below isn’t really Ping at their weirdest (for that, I’d have to recommend checking out the very Zappa-like “Anyway But Now“), but it does feature a truly amazing array of misfit goth/metal fan photos, plus a few shots of some of our favorite bands (keep an eye out for GWAR). Our kinda people!
Ping’s fourth album, The Hurricane Spoof, came out this past May. You can get it, along with the rest of their catalog, from the Norwegian version of iTunes.
P.S. Want your heart and/or other body parts to swell with pride when you see next month’s reader-voted Weird Band of the Week? Then go vote in our new Facebook poll. You’ll have to like our Facebook page first, but don’t worry, we’ll keep it casual.