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.)
British music news rag NME broke some eyebrow-raising news last week: For their next studio project, avant-pop duo Sparks are collaborating with Scottish rockers Franz Ferdinand. Apparently sessions have been in progress since April 2013 and should be completed by this summer.
If you think this sounds like a trainwreck in the making, you’re not alone. Sparks keyboardist Ron Mael agrees with you. “If there was a train crash between Franz Ferdinand and Sparks,” the mustachioed Mael brother told NME, “this is what the wreckage would sound like.” I’m sure he meant that in a good way, but still, we’re concerned. Not that Franz Ferdinand are the worst of the early ’00s crop of Brit-rock bands; at least Sparks aren’t collaborating with, say, Razorlight. Alex Kapranos and co. are fine, and even occasionally catchy in a Scottish Strokes sort of way. But they’re not exactly weird or innovative or groundbreaking—so for this pairing to be anything more than a curiosity, Ron and Russell Mael are going to have to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
Oddly, this isn’t the first time there’s been talk of a Sparks and FF collab. Way back in 2006, there were reports that Franz Ferdinand was working on an entire album of Sparks covers (which never came to fruition, obviously). Turns out Kapranos and his mates really are huge Sparks fans—so who knows? Maybe working with the brothers Mael will bring out a side of FF we haven’t heard before.
We’ve really been slacking on catching the uncategorizable duo Sparks on their “Two Hands, One Mouth” tour. Not only did we skip seeing them at Coachella—a move I don’t regret at all, I might add, because seeing one of your favorite bands at Coachella is like kissing your biggest high school crush through a T-shirt soaked in other people’s sweat—we also totally missed the boat on seeing them perform at the Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which is a gorgeous venue and way less sweaty. (We saw Matmos there earlier this year and it was awesome.) Fortunately, Sparks have decided to be kind to us slackers and return to North America this fall for another round of tour dates.
This time, Ron and Russell Mael have redubbed their “Two Hands, One Mouth” tour and are calling it “The Revenge of Two Hands, One Mouth”—on account of that terrible thing you people did to Sparks on the first “Two Hands, One Mouth” tour. Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about.
Whatever you want to call it, “Two Hands, One Mouth” is just that: Ron Mael’s two hands on keyboards, and Russell Mael’s mouth on vocals. No band, no computers, no pre-recorded backing tracks. Just one of the weirdest and most eclectic catalogs in pop history, whittled down to its bare essentials. Here’s a taste of the format from that Masonic Lodge show we missed; full tour dates after the clip.
The Revenge of Two Hands One Mouth Tour Dates:
10/23: Atlanta, GA @ The Variety Playhouse
10/25: Asheville, NC @ Mountain Oasis Festival
10/27: Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
10/28: New York, NY @ Webster Hall
10/30: Boston, MA @ Brighton Music Hall
11/1: Montreal, QC @ Le National
11/2: Toronto, ON @Lee’s Palace
11/4: Detroit/Pontiac, MI @ Crofoot Ballroom
11/6: Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
11/7: Chicago, IL @ Lincoln Hall
11/8-11/10: Austin, TX @ Fun Fun Fun Fest
11/11: Los Angeles, CA @ Fonda Theatre
Let’s face it: Most love songs suck. If you’re like me, you can’t fire up the Whitney Houston come Valentine’s Day for fear of your lady love punching you in the face (and rightly so, I might add). So what’s a misfit in love to do? Don’t worry, TWBITW is here to help.
These 19 unconventional love songs will help you get your freak on with that special someone—of, if you don’t have a special someone, they’ll make you feel great about being single. Yes, they can do both. They’re just that fucking good.
So fire up your Spotify player, or use the nifty embedded player below, and let’s start the seduction.
Some notes on your listening experience:
1. Leslie Hall, “Power Cuddle.” Our current Weirdo of the Week starts us off with a little heavy petting. Spoiler alert: “Take me to Miami, we can hold handies” is the best lyric in this entire playlist. It’s all downhill from here.
2. Dirty Sanchez, “Give Head & Be Beautiful.” Now that we’ve got the cuddling out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.
3. Gonken, “Robot Lovin’.” OK, slow jam time. This one goes out to everyone whose significant other is one screw short.
4. Goldie Lookin’ Chain, “You Knows I Loves You.” Wales’ greatest (only?) hip-hop crew puts on the moves. Eat your heart out, R. Kelly.
5. Die Antwoord, “U Make a Ninja Wanna Fuck.” Believe it or not, this is actually the South African rap-ravers’ romantic side. They even quote Tiffany!
6. Here Come the Mummies, “Bed, Bath & Behind.” In which a bunch of funky mummies do the nasty all over your nice furniture. Don’t think about the cleaning bills, just go with it.
7. Baby Seal Club, “Silly Human Sentiment.” If you’re incapable of expressing love without feeling like an idiot, this is the song for you. Also, you might need therapy. Just sayin’.
8. DEVO, “The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise.” We’re not really sure what’s wrong with Mark Mothersbaugh’s baby, but it doesn’t sound good. But his devotion sounds undying, which makes this about as close to a pure boy/girl love song as DEVO’s ever likely to write.
9. Barnes and Barnes, “Girl of My Dreams.” The “worried young man” of this song might a stalker, but at least he’s a romantic stalker.
10. The Emotron, “Love Song.” Boy meets cigarettes. Boy loses cigarettes. Boy loses his shit. It’s a love story for the ages.
11. Sparks, “Perfume.” If your girlfriend asks why you didn’t get her any perfume for Valentine’s Day, just play her this song instead. Unless you don’t want to spend your life with her. Then things might get awkward.
12. Nous Non Plus, “Acte Manqué/Freudian Slip.” We have no idea what this song is about, but a boy and a girl singing to each other in French always sounds romantic.
13. The Wet Spots, “Labia Limbo.” We got away from songs about sex for awhile there, didn’t we? Unless that French song is all about fucking like bunnies. Anyway, Canada’s favorite kinky lounge act leaves no doubt what we’re talking about.
14. GWAR, “Sexecutioner.” You know what else this playlist needs? Some whip-crack and barnyard animal sound effects. Also, some metal. And genital wart and golden shower references in a ridiculously bad fake European accent. Now we’re ready for sexytime.
15. Anti-Nowhere League, “Woman.” Our old pal Army of Gay Unicorns recommended this track to us, and it is indeed the most romantic hardcore ’80s punk song we’ve ever heard, not to mention a harrowingly accurate depiction of marriage. (Love you, honey!) Also, the lead singer impersonates Animal from the Muppets, which is always a bonus.
16. The Residents, “Perfect Love.” Wise words from the patron saints of Weirdest Band in the World. Remember this song when you’re home alone crying this Thursday.
17. The Tiger Lillies, “My Funny Valentine.” When performed by our favorite Goth-punk cabaret trio with a full orchestra, the inherent twistedness of this old show tune really comes through. Did he really just call his lady love “unphotographable”? That’s some cold shit right there, Rodgers & Hart.
18. Klaus Nomi, “Valentine’s Day.” Shout-out to reader Adela for reminding us about this thematically appropriate (albeit indecipherable) song from the late, great synth-pop counter-tenor’s unfinished masterpiece, Za Bakdaz.
19. Ween, “Sweetheart.” After you’ve finished ravishing your lover and/or lotion collection with the sensual sounds of this playlist, you’ll probably want to lie back in post-coital bliss and crank some smooth, sweet yacht-rock, courtesy of the only band we’ve ever blogged about that’s done anything even remotely resembling a Boz Scaggs record. Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all!
Imagine our excitement when we heard the elusive duo of Ron and Russell Mael, aka Sparks, were doing a month-long tour! Now imagine our disappointment when we learned that said tour won’t come any closer to our little corner of Mother Earth than Dublin, Ireland. Damn you, Sparks! Why must you torment us so?
All is not lost, however. We’re assured they’ll visit the U.S. and Japan in 2013. In the meantime, we’ll just have to settle for a maddeningly brief taste (YouTube clip after the jump) of a new sexytime track called “Two Hands, One Mouth,” which also happens to be the name of their new tour. “Two hands, one mouth,” go the lyrics. “That’s all I need to satisfy you.” Promises, promises, boys!
Sparks “Two Hands, One Mouth” tour dates:
October 04 – Vilnius, Lithuania (Forum Palace)
October 05 – Ventspils, Latvia ( Jūras Vārti Arts Centre)
October 07 – Helsinki, Finland (Tavastia Klubi)
October 08 – Oslo, Norway (Parkteatret)
October 09 – Stockholm, Sweden (Södra Teatern)
October 10 – Stockholm, Sweden (Södra Teatern)
October 12 – Malmö, Sweden (Moriska Paviljongen)
October 13 – Berlin, Germany (Postbahnhof)
October 14 – Hamburg, Germany (Gruenspan)
October 16 – Frankfurt, Germany (Batschkapp)
October 17 – Bochum, Germany (Zeche)
October 19 – Gent, Belgium (Vooruit)
October 21 – Edinburgh, Scotland (HMV Picture House)
October 22 – Manchester, England (HMV Ritz)
October 23 – Birmingham, England (HMV Institute)
October 25 – Brighton, England (Brighton Dome)
October 26 – London, England (Barbican Centre)
October 29 – Dublin, Ireland (Button Factory)
It’s been too long since we posted a new Weirdify playlist, don’t you think? Let’s make up for lost time with an extra long mix for your first of what will hopefully be many backyard summer shindigs. Fire up the grill and dig in, kids. Memorial Day is just around the corner.
1. Signmark feat. Osmo Ikonen, “Speakerbox.” We’ll kick things off with our favorite feel-good jam from the world’s only (as far as we know) deaf Finnish rapper, Signmark. No, this song isn’t actually the least bit weird, but you don’t want to start your guests off with Caroliner, for Christ’s sake. Let the poor people ease into it.
2. Here Come the Mummies, “Freak Flag.” OK, now we’re getting at least slightly weird, courtesy of Tennessee’s most decomposed funk band. We’ll have a Mothership connection in 3, 2, 1…
3. Parliament, “Rumpofsteelskin.” If all you really know about George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic is “Give Up the Funk,” you’re probably wondering why we included them on the Weird List in the first place. This song should help clear that up.
4. That 1 Guy, “Funk Bean.” Nearly as funky as a fully operational Mothership, Mike Silverman’s Magic Pipe can summon Primus fans from miles around like a giant dog whistle. Even to non-Primus fans, it’s pretty groovy. (Also, apologies to That 1 Guy for jacking the cover art to his album Packs a Wallop! for this playlist. Don’t wallop us with your Magic Pipe, K?)
5. Fol Chen, “Cable TV.” Because nothing says summer like a song about watching Pay-Per-View in a fleabag motel. Or does that say “meth deal”? Either way, it’s got a beat and you can bop to it without spilling your margarita.
6. Hank3, “Six Pack of Beer.” After much deliberation, we decided to spare you and your BBQ guests the mighty racket that is Hank3’s cattlecore (that’s cattle auctioneers set to speed metal, y’all) in favor of this pickin’ and grinnin’ ode to the beverage of choice at BBQs everywhere.
7. Bob Log III, “Shake a Little, Wiggle It and Jiggle It Too.” The other great “III” on our Weird List, Bob Log III dresses up like a down-on-his-luck Evel Knievel and plays gutbucket slide-guitar blues, preferably while a willing young lass perches on his knee. And yes, he’s our hero.
8. tUnE-yArDs, “My Country.” This song from Merrill Garbus and her oddball, lo-fi jam band is perfect for Fourth of July parties. Sort of.
9. Dolchnakov Brigade, “Dating in Space.” It’s about time in the party for a little jam for the ladies, don’t you think? This DEVO-esque electro-pop freakout from our favorite pseudo-Russian Brooklyn band is just the ticket for getting the girls moving, at least in a confused, slightly epileptic way. (Can you be only “slightly” epileptic? You can when Dolchnakov Brigade is playing.)
10. DEVO, “Beautiful World.” Name-checking DEVO reminds us—every good party mix needs a little DEVO, don’t you think? Also, is it DEVO or Devo? Discuss.
11. Yip-Yip, “Slime Shuns Sun Shine.” Quick, say that song title ten times really fast. Now quick, try dancing to it. Which is harder? Discuss.
12. Waylander, “Re-Born to the Fight.” We’ve neglected the headbangers at your little backyard shindig for far too long. A little Celtic metal should satiate their desire for something more rockin’, while giving your other guests a chance to do a little jig and/or whiskey shots. Everybody wins.
13. The Misfits, “Teenagers From Mars.” You might think the punk band most closely associated with Halloween is not a very appropriate choice for a summer-themed party mix. And you’d be right. But fuck it, we’re throwing them in there anyway. Have another beer and roll with it.
14. The Flaming Lips, “Fryin’ Up.” Not the weirdest song the Lips ever did by a long shot, but it’s got a good party-rock vibe and that lyric about “blowin’ everything off on Monday,” which seems appropriate. Plus, the title is a reference to fryin’ burgers, right? Right?
15. The Upper Crust, “Eureka – I’ve Found Love.” We continue the rock portion of this mix with a tender love song from our current Weird Band of the Week, the Boston-based AC/DC-meets-Marie-Antoinette awesomeness that is The Upper Crust. Bibo ergo sum! Look it up, motherfuckers.
16. Bang Camaro, “Pleasure (Pleasure).” Boston’s other great novelty rock act (seriously, it’s like no one there can just headbang without irony), Bang Camaro achieve that multi-tracked ’80s hair-metal vocal sound with a ten-plus member “dude choir.” They have also clearly studied Pyromania to an unhealthy degree. OK, that’s enough rock for one party, don’t you think? Moving on…
17. Fool’s Gold, “Surprise Hotel.” This Afro-Hebrew-jam-pop band was one of the first acts we ever blogged about. In hindsight, they actually don’t seem all that weird compared to most of the bands on the Weird List, but damn if songs like this one don’t shout “summer!” like a happy parent shouting “mazel tov!” at their daughter’s wedding.
18. MaxNormal.TV, “HipnWidIt.” We’ve never featured our current No. 1 Weirdest Band on a Weirdify playlist before, and I wasn’t sure we’d be able to, considering Waddy Jones and co. pretty much scrapped this whole band when they reinvented themselves as Die Antwoord. But amazingly enough, Spotify does have some Max Normal tracks, including this shameless “Blue Monday” rip. But hey, even a secondhand version of the familiar New Order synth riff should get your more well-lubricated guests shaking a leg or two.
19. Dirty Sanchez, “Really Rich Italian Satanists.” Let’s keep the dance party vibe going with a little high-camp electroclash. Nothing says “party” like a bunch of drag queens channeling an Italian Satanic murder cult, am I right? Now pass the Campari, bitch.
20. Sir Ivan, “Hare Krishna.” We interrupt this party for a hands-in-the-air hippie moment from our favorite Raver Billionaire. Everyone loving one another? Good, let’s move on…
21. Sparks, “Now That I Own the BBC.” We really don’t mention often enough how freakin’ awesome Sparks are. This is from their Pet Shop Boys on Acid phase, as I like to call it. Enjoy.
22. The Superions, “Who Threw That Ham at Me.” We introduced this band from Fred Schneider of the B-52’s as a strictly Christmas-themed group, but they do summer-themed songs, too. And then they do this song about canned-meat tossing. You might want to make sure all the meat at your BBQ is in a secure place before this comes on.
23. The Wet Spots, “Do You Take It…?” (Dr. Feelin’s O.R. Dance Remix). By this point in the party, you’re probably wondering which of your guests like to get freaky. Here’s a hint: The ones who won’t look you in the eye while this track is playing? Not freaky.
24. Mojo Nixon, “I Ain’t Gonna Piss in No Jar.” OK, so by now, if you’re a party host worth your margarita salt, most of your guests are too drunk to dance. But too drunk to sing along to a Mojo Nixon song? We’re pretty sure that’s not physiologically possible.
25. Naked & Shameless, “And Then the Drugs Ran Out.” At all of Jake’s parties, this song is basically last call.
Hope you enjoyed this week’s mix. And remember: Always recycle your empties. Unless someone peed in them.
When U.K. songstress Gemma Ray decided to cover a couple of tunes by one of her favorite weird bands (and ours), Sparks, she got a little more than she bargained for. The Sparks boys were so taken with her torchy vocals on two of their songs, “How Do I Get to Carnegie Hall” and “Eaten by the Monster of Love,” they decided to “Sparks-ify” them by adding their own quirky arrangements and production touches. Call it Sparks remixing Gemma Ray covering Sparks. Or something like that. Actually don’t overthink it, just head over to The Quietus, where you can stream both tracks.
Ray also shot a silly but rather awesome video for “How Do I Get to Carnegie Hall,” which recently premiered on NME.com. We must confess to not knowing much about Gemma Ray, but she sure is prettier than Sparks’ Mael brothers (sorry, guys).
The “Gemma Ray Sings Sparks With Sparks” single comes out Feb. 21st on Bronze Rat Records. You can pre-order the 7″ vinyl here.
As for Sparks? They’re still tinkering with their Ingmar Bergman musical. Those crazy kids!
Some bands, when you first encounter them, might seem a bit quirky, but they don’t strike you as especially weird. Then you find out they’ve been at this for 40 years—and during that time, they’ve gone from everything to glam-rock to disco to New Wave to chamber-pop to (no joke) Swedish radio musicals. Oh, and one of the guys favors creepy Hitler/John Waters mustaches.
Sparks was started in 1968—1968!—by a pair of brothers from L.A. named Ron and Russell Mael. Originally calling themselves Halfnelson, they signed to Todd Rundgren’s Bearsville record label, changed their name to Sparks, and put out a couple of albums of eccentric but unremarkable, Pink Floyd-influenced psychedelic rock. Their first big break came after they parted ways with Bearsville, relocated to London, and got involved in the glam-rock scene. Their two 1974 albums, Kimono My House and Propaganda, were big hits in the U.K., even landing the band on Top of the Pops. Their music from this era was sort of a weird mix of Roxy Music, T. Rex and bubblegum pop, and seemed to anticipate the rise of New Wave.
By the time the rest of the rock world had caught up to Sparks, the Mael brothers had moved on, teaming up with disco/electronica pioneer Giorgio Moroder for their synth-heavy 1979 album, No. 1 in Heaven. The band continued to explore various synth-pop and New Wave styles for the next decade, scoring their first U.S. hit in 1983 with “Cool Places,” a song they recorded with one of their biggest American fans, Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Go’s.
After a late ’80s/early ’90s hiatus, the band resurfaced in 1994 with Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins. Although not a commercial success—except, for some reason, in Germany—it was one of the most well-reviewed albums of Sparks’ career and was instrumental in establishing the Mael brothers as icons of campy, outsidery pop music. Ron, the principal lyricist, was writing increasingly eccentric and sometimes flat-out goofy songs like “(When I Kiss You) I Hear Charlie Parker Playing” and “Now That I Own the BBC”—both of which kind of sound like send-ups of the Pet Shop Boys, except that the Pet Shop Boys actually stole most of their ideas from Sparks in the first place.
Since then, Sparks have released an album of alternate versions of their own songs (called, appropriately, Plagiarism, and featuring cameos from Mike Patton, Erasure and Jimmy Sommerville), an experimental symphonic album called Lil’ Beethoven, a satirical concept album about modern romance called Hello Young Lovers, and this year, a radio musical commissioned by Swedish National Radio called The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman. Clearly, these guys will try pretty much anything. In 2008, they even performed all 21 of their albums on consecutive nights in London (Ingmar Bergman was album #22).
Taken individually, any one Sparks song—or even any single album—isn’t that weird. With this band, it’s more of a cumulative effect thing. Still, much of the material on 2006’s outstanding Hello Young Lovers stands as some of the weirdest stuff they’ve ever recorded—and how many bands can claim to be out-weirding themselves 38 years into their career? To quote the song featured in the video below, “Screw the past!”