Monthly Archives: September 2010
Ever since Kronos Quartet tackled Hendrix back in the ’80s, classically trained musicians have been trying to prove that their cellos and oboes are more than just museum pieces, good for wheezing out dusty old “Concertos in B Flat Minor” and not much else. So they trot out string quartet versions of Radiohead, or even Lady Gaga medleys for bassoon, and…well, okay, the Lady Gaga bassoon ensemble, the Breaking Winds, is actually kinda cool. But they’re the exception. Most of this stuff just sounds like a slightly classed-up version of Muzak.
So when a friend and reader named Josh (sup, Josh?) suggested that we check out his buddy’s “heavy chamber music” quartet, we have to admit, we were skeptical. Classical musicians doing heavy metal covers? Apocalyptica covered that territory 15 years ago. Moving on.
Then we actually heard Edmund Welles—which is a band, not a person (the name is a Monty Python reference…I mean, not that I would know that without having to look it up…okay, maybe I would)—and, well, let’s just put it this way: The bass clarinet is an inherently weird instrument. Put four of them together in one group, and it sounds like a chorus of demon cats in heat fighting over a chicken bone. A demon chorus whose eerie caterwaulings just happen to occasionally assemble themselves into passages from Pixies and Nirvana songs.
Edmund Welles is the brainchild of one Cornelius Boots (his given name? if so, his parents rule), who first conceived of the idea of an all-bass clarinet ensemble back in 1996, the same year Apocalyptica was giving Metallica the all-cello treatment. Boots liked heavy metal, too, but he also liked alternative rock, jazz, traditional American folk music, and even good old fashioned baroque classical music, the stuff the bass clarinet was invented to play in the first place. And he was determined to combine all his affections into a single, pulsating mass of bass clarinet awesomeness. This was such a uniquely weird concept that Boots worked on his Edmund Welles project in solitude for several years before finally assembling enough fellow bass clarinetists to begin staging public performances.
In 2004, the group released its first album, Agrippa’s 3 Books, which Boots himself has described as “Muzak for conspiracy theorists,” “inspired by occult philosophy and heavy metal music.” In addition to an original multi-part movement with titles like “Asmodeus: The Destroyer, King of the Demons,” the album also featured covers of songs by Black Sabbath, Sepultura and (no, really) Spinal Tap. They’ve since released a second album of original material called Tooth & Claw, which has cover art that would’ve made the late great Ronnie James Dio smile. Is the bass clarinet the Woodwind of the Beast? Well, now that you mention it, that’s kinda what it sounds like.
Inevitably, Edmund Welles have gotten the most attention for their covers, especially a very solemn reading of Radiohead’s “Creep.” Their original stuff is weirder and ultimately much more interesting, but we’ll give you their version of “Creep” here in the hopes that it serves as a gateway to some of the harder stuff. Sort of the way your local Philharmonic does “The Nutcracker” every Christmas in the hopes that you’ll buy season tickets and come back for some Bartok and Stravinsky.
P.S. Did we mention that Cornelius Boots has also released an album of “sound, not music” called Sabbaticus Rex, featuring “spontaneous, sustained sound structuring” with Japanese flutes, gongs and Tuvan throat singing? Well, he has. Just thought we’d throw that in there.
Hi, kids! How was your summer? Ours was pretty darn rad, I gotta say. We found lots of weird music, made some new friends (hi, Emotron!),
launched our online store, and spent just enough of it drunk to take the edge off this whole recession thing. Also, Weirdest Band in the World celebrated its one-year anniversary…did you get us anything? No? That’s okay…your presence is our present. (Don’t you hate when people say that?)
Anyway, Jake and I are tan, rested, and ready to bring you another year of really weird bands. First up: a new project from a lunatic named Arrington de Dionyso. Arrington’s main gig is serving as lead singer of Pacific Northwest noise-punks Old Time Relijun. We’ve known about OTR for awhile, and although they’re kinda weird, we never really considered them TWBITW-worthy. They throw in the occasional touches of free-jazz skronk, but still—our minds weren’t blown.
But this Malaikat dan Singa project is pretty off-the-charts, for a number of reasons. First, de Dionyso sings all the band’s songs in Indonesian. Why? Well, according to one official bio, “the Indonesian language allows de Dionyso to communicate on levels more deeply subliminal than those accessible in his native English.” Not sure we buy that, but yes, it does give the songs an added layer of weirdness.
Second, de Dionyso occasionally incorporates Tuvan throat singing into his vocals, which gives the songs an added element of Far Eastern mystical juju and—because he puts his own punk-rock spin on throat singing’s eerie, inhuman tones—a vibe that could probably best be described as acid-rock for zombies. Seriously, it’s ugly, creepy, but occasionally trance-inducing stuff. In fact, de Dionyso apparently calls it “trance-punk.” Which is as good a description as any.
Oh, and some of the lyrics are apparently Indonesian translations of William Blake poems. Hey, why not?
Malaikat dan Singa’s self-titled debut is out now on K Records, and you can stream the whole thing on their website. [Update: You can no longer stream the whole thing on their website. You snooze, you lose!] Check it out and tell us de Dionyso isn’t the loopiest rock vocalist this side of Mike Patton. (He also seems to share Patton’s restless spirit—besides Old Time Relijun and Malaikat dan Singa, he also fronts a free-jazz group called The Naked Future and paints a lot.)
Malaikat’s live shows don’t seem to translate real well to video—de Dionyso is always a compelling figure, but the rest of the band is pretty much just up there chopping wood and giving him a steady groove to freak out on top of. But this animated video, done by a guy named Ben Wolfinsohn for his My Odd Days project, captures the band’s unhinged spirit pretty well. We especially like that he chose to make de Dionyso look like a guy who just wandered in from an office Christmas party.
UPDATE: Shortly after we posted this, we were contacted by Arrington himself (we’re not worthy!) who pointed us to a cool feature on him on this art ‘n culture site called The Black Harbor. We especially recommend checking out the second of the three videos on that page, where he demonstrates how he uses an antique record lathe and plastic picnic plates to make homemade records that he then sometimes incorporates into his shows. Very nifty stuff.
I gotta be honest: I’m not sure how I feel about starting our second year of Weirdest Band in the World with this guy. But you, our cracked-out readers, have spoken, and the votes are in: after a ridiculously long tenure on our “Submit and Vote” page (we kept hoping the “no” votes would pile up, but no such luck), this Gonken character has been declared weird. And yeah, I guess he is. At least he gets points for trying.
Here’s the deal: No single thing Johnny Gonken has ever attempted in his now fairly long career is either especially weird or especially good. But when you add it all up, there’s a sort of dogged determination to it all that’s kind of amazing. I mean, you name it, this Gonken dude has done it. Nerdcore-inspired electro-punk-rap opuses with titles like Robot vs. Zombie? Check. Catchy synth-punk, complete with low-budget video featuring random hot chick? Got it covered. Fake Lost-style government training videos? All over it. A Halloween record? Fuck yeah. Acoustic, Flight of the Conchords-style novelty tunes? Hey, how hard can it be? A commercial jingle for the Shake Weight? Sure, why fucking not?
Through it all, Gonken has endured obscurity, negative reviews and judging from the clip below, awkwardly small crowds for most of his shows. But he perseveres, writing songs with titles like “The Butterfly Reject” and “Hate Is For People With Hearts” and clearly, on some level, reveling in his outsider, misunderstood-artist status. Success would probably ruin this guy.
So you know what? We just convinced ourselves. Gonken, you are one weird fucking dude. Keep doing what you’re doing, and fuck the haters. Including us. (And we hope that guy in the robot costume is well-paid. Or at least gets lots of free trips to Taco Bell.)