The Minstrel Cycle

Confession time: yes, I spent many of my high school and college years playing Dungeons & Dragons. (Jake did, too, even though he vehemently denies it.) So needless to say, I was pretty excited to discover that there’s a band out of Chicago called The Minstrel Cycle that’s basically a rock band for fantasy gaming geeks. Finally! A band that probably decides their set lists by rolling 12-sided dice!

Apparently, Minstrel Cycle (a name that definitely would have reduced my Gary Gygax-worshipping 15-year-old self to uncontrollable fits of Beavis-like snickering) is the brainchild of a couple of a guys from another Chicago band called CAW! CAW! who are themselves pretty quirky; no less a luminary than Chicago Sun-Times music critic Jim Derogatis called them “gleefully tuneful, ceaselessly energetic and at times willfully naïve.” Still, where the stuff on CAW! CAW!’s MySpace page falls pretty squarely into messy indie rock territory, Minstrel Cycle appears to be a little bit more all over the map. Based on this MP3 excerpt from one of their 24-minute epic songs (all their songs are apparently designed to be the length of an LP side, a la classic Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull), they’re definitely trying for something a little more prog-rock, but as you’ll hear in the YouTube clip below, their stuff can also be pretty Tull-meets-Spinal Tap…and not necessarily in a good way. They do get bonus points for having a drummer who appears to be wearing some kind of goblin mask though. That’s pretty RPG fabulous.

Anyway, Minstrel Cycle is on the same label as CAW! CAW!, a little L.A.-based indie called Slanty Shanty, and it appears that currently, the only music available from them is a cassette tape called Tales From the Books of Lore. Hopefully they’ll come out with a CD soon, too…or a dice-based role-playing game about a wandering band of musician-paladins who fight dragons and orcs in between gigs at seedy, mead-soaked taverns. That would be AWESOME.

Sorry the below clip is so damn dark, by the way…as of this posting, it’s one of only two that are available. There are a few other YouTube clips labeled Minstrel Cycle, but they appear to feature either this theatrical troupe from Eau Claire, Wisconsin or this punk band from Iowa. Seriously, guys…three different acts all called Minstrel Cycle? Really? It’s not that funny.


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Little Women

(photo credit: Alexander Perrelli)

For some bands, being weird has nothing to do with high-concept gimmicks or wacky outfits. They just show up, plug in their instruments, and the weirdness smacks you in the face with the force of a two-by-four. Such a band is Brooklyn’s Little Women.

According to Little Women’s press release, this quartet “creates music whose aim is transcendence via brutally precise sonic assault and ascendant melodies.” For those of you who don’t speak Music Press Release, that translates to four guys with two saxophones, a guitar and a drum kit wailing away to create a wall of revved-up noise so hard to listen to, you’d be forgiven for assuming they must all be schizophrenic.

To be clear, it’s not that Little Women is the only band in history to make a living by pummeling their audiences with atonal, free-jazz skronk played with the savagery of speed metal and the whiplash tempos of math rock. Ever since Ornette Coleman decided that the best way to play a saxophone was to pretend you were strangling it, plenty of artists have been testing the outer reaches of music with stuff that most people would dismiss as noise. But there’s something about the way Little Women do it that is, in the words of one critic, “terrifying.” This would be very, very bad music to listen to while under the influence of psychedelic substances…especially this part:

(Bonus fun fact: New York is also home to an all-female pop/alt-country quartet called The Little Women Band. Wonder how many of their fans have clicked on the wrong MySpace page and been totally traumatized.)


The Metal Shakespeare Company

Even though we blog together, roomed together in college and have probably gotten drunk together more times than Tiger Woods cheated on his wife, the truth is that Eddie and I have pretty radicaly different taste in music. Where I tend to go more for the headbang/facemelt school of rawk, Eddie mostly prefers bands you can listen to without fear of spilling your part-skim soy latte. Highbrow high-fallutin sissy music, as I like to call it–but only to his face, because it’s fun to watch the way it makes his ears turn red.

But the other day, our pal Nicole (thanks, Nicole!) turned us on to a band that, for once, we can both agree on. They’re called The Metal Shakespeare Company and their name says it all, really. If Ozzy even played a Renaissance Faire (yeah, like that’ll ever happen), it would probably sound like these guys.

Anyway, this video pretty much tells you everything you need to know about these guys. Has theater geek dorkiness ever looked this awesome? I thinkest not.

(All lyrics by Shakespeare himself, or so the band claims. I’m frankly not that up on my Bard quotes, and even if I was, most of the time the strangled cries of lead singer Lord Simms are pretty much impossible to understand, anyway.)


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Max Normal (or, Die Antwoord v.1.0)


Of all the weird bands we’ve blogged about here on TWBITW, the one that’s gotten by far the biggest response so far is Die Antwoord, the South African “zef rap-rave crew” fronted by a scrawny, prison-tatted MC named Ninja and an even scrawnier singer/rapper/fly-girl named Yo-landi Vi$$er. Like a lot of baffled yet undeniably delighted observers, we suspected the whole thing might be a put-on, but there was something so awesome about the group’s outlandish attitude that we decided they were probably for real.

Well, it turns out we were had—sort of. Die Antwoord is actually the latest incarnation of another group called Max Normal, an earlier hip-hop crew which also featured the inimitable Ms. Visser (minus the dollar signs) and a fellow by the name of Waddy Jones, an actor/musician/artist/troublemaker who, before he created the Ninja character, fronted his Max Normal crew in a three-piece suit and (according to a band site that’s been taken down but is still viewable in archive form) performed “motivational speaking style raps” to deliver “high energy hip-hop power point presentation[s].” Quite a far cry from Die Antwoord’s ghetto fabulous approach, although judging from the above publicity photo, both groups do share the same Keith Haring-esque design aesthetic.

Waddy and co. have clearly attempted to cover their tracks: the old website has been taken down and replaced with a deliberately primitive-looking WordPress “advertising blog” [Update: It’s now been taken down altogether] ; similarly features a very plain-envelope article directory link farm, which we’re guessing (although we can’t find an archived version) has not always been the case. [Update: It now redirects, randomly, to this guy‘s visual artist website.] Even the Max Normal Wikipedia page was just taken down yesterday—ostensibly for copyright infringement. [Update: It’s since been restored and gives a very good and seemingly accurate history of the band.]

Not that we’re complaining about any of this. As the rest of the blogosphere has already widely proclaimed, what Jones and his crew are doing is so clever that an added layer of Borat-like chicanery is all just part of the fun. So enjoy this Max Normal video—which, as near as we can tell, is about two years old—and appreciate a.) how fucking versatile these guys are, and b.) how much better they’ve gotten in just a few years. If Waddy Jones doesn’t have his own HBO special by this time next year, we’ll guzzle the juice in this fish paste jar.

[Update: The video we originally posted has since been taken down due to a copyright claim. This one is even older, apparently dating back to 2001.]

[Bonus factoid: the dude in Die Antwoord with progeria has been widely identified as an artist/DJ named Leon Bartha Botha. Another zef rap-rave mystery solved! (And thanks to reader David for correcting our fucked-up spelling of his name.)]

[Sad update dept.: Botha died on June 5, 2011, of complications from progeria, which among things apparently speeds up the aging process. He was 26 and the oldest known survivor of progeria at the time of his death. We belatedly pour one out for you, Leon.]

You might also like: MC Frontalot, DJ Nu-Mark, Zayde Buti

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Our next weird band comes to us from Florida, land of spring break, old people, Disney World, stolen presidential elections, and death metal. Not many people know about that last one, but it’s true—many of the evillest sounding metal bands of all time hail from the Sunshine State. When you grow up surrounded by beaches and old farts in golf carts, screaming your head off about death and carnage over jackhammer-fast riffs seems like as good a response as any.

To our ears, Yip-Yip kinda sounds like what might happen if a couple of computer science geeks tried to combine their love of Devo and, oh, let’s say Donkey Kong with one of the more technical death metal bands like Cynic. There are no guitars, just lots of spazzy synthesizers and the occasional saxophone or robot vocal, all kind of sounding violent and playful at the same time, like a really good mosh pit. Do people mosh at Yip-Yip shows? If they don’t, they should.

The Yip-Yip dudes heighten all this electro insanity with a fondness for strobe lights (seriously, epileptics should NOT visit this band’s MySpace page) and these goofy checkerboard costumes, although judging from their more recent videos and live performance clips, they seem to be ditching the checkerboards in favor of a beret-wearing look that’s more sort of Nerd Special Forces. They still love those strobes though.

Anyway, here’s a recent video from Yip-Yip’s YouTube channel, which has got all kinds of great stuff, including a truly hilarious clip of them playing a high school homecoming dance. Seriously, those kids at Lyman High don’t know how lucky they are—at my high school dances, we just got lame-ass top 40 DJs and one time, a really shitty ska band. (Warning: more strobe effects!)


Evelyn Evelyn

Conjoined twins called Evelyn Evelyn who only have two arms between them, but somehow manage to play everything from accordion to piano to guitar to ukulele. It’s a heartwarming tale, really, of overcoming physical obstacles in the pursuit of creative self-expression. Maybe they can get a Discovery Health Channel special and a Lifetime movie of the week.

Spoiler alert: Despite their rather elaborate backstory (born Eva and Lyn Neville on a farm in Kansas in 1985, shipped off to the circus at age 11, etc., etc.), Evelyn Evelyn are clearly the invention of the musical duo who claims to have “discovered” the twins via MySpace: Amanda Palmer, of Dresden Dolls fame, and Jason Webley, an accordionist and former street musician from Seattle who shares Palmer’s love of vaudeville, Brecht and old-timey folk music. We weren’t familiar with Webley before (based on his MySpace page, his solo stuff kinda sounds like a cross between Tom Waits and the Decemberists), but we’re big fans of Palmer, and we gotta say—even by her eccentric standards, Evelyn Evelyn is pretty out there. Conjoined twins shtick aside, the duo’s debut album (due out in March) reportedly features a song called “MySpace” featuring guest vocals by (ready?): Weird Al, Andrew W.K., Neil Gaiman, Tegan & Sara, Gerard Way and Frances freakin’ Bean Cobain. Somewhere in rock ‘n’ roll heaven, Kurt Cobain is laughing his ass off.

Anyway, here’s a little interview with Palmer and Webley, along with a clip from Evelyn Evelyn’s first public performance. Perhaps the biggest mystery of all: Where did Webley’s beard go?


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Die Antwoord

We gotta say, 2010 has gotten off to a pretty slow start here at TWBITW. There just isn’t much genuinely weird shit out there these days. Note to bands: There were over 100,000 new albums released last year. You might wanna try to, y’know, stand out a little.

So thank Christ on a crutch that someone finally hipped us to this “zef rap-rave crew” from South Africa called Die Antwoord. Frontman Ninja is fond of mentioning in every one of the group’s songs, videos and interviews that his crew is onto some “next level futuristic shit” and we gotta say—dude ain’t lying.

Die Antwoord—whose name apparently means “The Answer” in Afrikaans—also consists of singer/dancer/future American Apparel model Yo-landi Vi$$er, producer/DJ Hi-Tek (who will no doubt be getting a cease-and-desist letter shortly from this dude), and a little guy with progeria syndrome whose main job seems to be to stand around looking weird. Based on the intro to this video, you’d think the whole thing was a joke, but then Ninja starts rapping like a white South African Busta Rhymes over Hi-Tek’s squiggly beats and Yo-landi’s helium-voiced croons and something undeniably awesome starts to happen. What that something is exactly, we’re not sure, but we like it.

It’s hard to pick just one of Die Antwoord’s videos because they each showcase a different aspect of the group’s goofy, slightly malnourished charm. But the one that probably blew our minds the hardest was “Enter the Ninja”…especially the little inspirational monologue at the 4:05 mark. If you’re hungry for more, we’d also recommend the video for “Wat Pomp,” which appears to use the same set. Recycling—it’s da bomb, baby!

P.S. For a long time, the above video wouldn’t play as an embed, but since Die Antwoord ended their contract with Interscope Records, it’s back. Sweet!

P.P.S. See also our post about Max Normal, the “motivational speaker-style” rap group that Ninja and Yo-landi were in prior to Die Antwoord.