Monthly Archives: January 2011
So Deerhoof have a new album out, which kind of made us go, “Oh, crap. We still haven’t written about Deerhoof. How did that happen?” Let’s fix that right now, shall we?
Deerhoof is one of those bands that’s tough to pin down. Sometimes they don’t sound that weird at all, or maybe just weird in a cuddly, Cibo Matto sort of way. Other times they just sound like your basic, garden-variety noise-pop band, all distorted guitars and herky-jerky rhythms—more quirky than weird, and not all that different from a zillion other Pitchfork-approved bands (although it must be said, no one does herky-jerky rhythms better than Deerhoof, thanks mainly to the superhumanly awesome drumming of Greg Saunier). But then, just when you think you’ve got them figured out, they’ll smack you upside the head with something truly bizarre. And they’ve been at it for over 15 years. So they finally (belatedly) earn their place here on The Weird List.
In its earliest incarnation, Deerhoof was a bass/drums duo made up of Saunier and Rob Fisk. They arose from the dregs of an ill-fated Bay Area metal band called Nitre Pit. When both of Nitre Pit’s guitarists quit, Saunier and Fisk just carried on as a duo, making an extra cacophonous racket to compensate for the lack of lead instruments. On top of that chaotic early sound they eventually added the childlike shrieks, wails and coos of Satomi Matsuzaki, a recent Japanese immigrant with no musical training. Matsuzaki would ultimately prove to be the band’s secret sauce, learning to become a versatile, creative vocalist and a pretty solid bass player to boot. (Fisk switched to guitar, but eventually left the band in 1999.)
Starting with the Reveille album in 2002, Deerhoof added a new guitarist, John Dieterich, formerly of the math-rockers Colossamite. With Dieterich’s help, Deerhoof’s sound became richer and more melodic, although still pretty wildly experimental. Reveille and its 2003 foll0w-up, Apple O’—their first with second guitarist Chris Cohen—remain the band’s most widely acclaimed albums to date. (Next time you’re talking to a Deerhoof fan, just say the words “Panda Panda Panda” and watch them go completely apeshit.)
These days, Deerhoof’s experimentalism is based less on straight-up noise and more on oddball, art-rock juxtapositions: bubblegum pop melodies over lurching math-rock rhythms, or splashes of jazz-rock noodling interspersed with blasts of punk-rock guitar. “Super Duper Rescue Heads!“, the first single from their latest album, Deerhoof vs. Evil, could almost be mistaken for kitschy J-pop until about the 1:25 mark, when one of those weird math-rocky bridges kicks in. Credit (or blame, depending on who you ask) can probably go in part to new second guitarist Ed Rodriguez, who joined the band in 2008. Rodriguez used to play with Dieterich in Colossamite, and their jammy interplay, while still pretty out there, definitely sounds more like the work of two guys in the same band and less like the barely-held-together chaos that was the hallmark of Deerhoof’s earlier material.
We’re tempted to end with something from the earlier, weirder Deerhoof—”Rat Attack,” maybe, or this live performance of the early track “Flower,” which we think dates from around 2003. And we’re sure the label and publicity folks would much rather we post that “Super Duper Rescue Heads!” video (from their latest, Deerhoof vs. Evil—out now on Polyvinyl Records! Order your copy today!). But instead, we’re going to end with this very 8-bit video for “Buck and Judy” off the 2008 album Offend Maggie. Because, well, it’s awesome. Please enjoy.
Modern music has certainly had its fair share of cult figures with serious psychological issues. You’ve got your Daniel Johnstons, your Syd Barretts, your Roky Ericksons. Even Kanye West sometimes seems like he’s only one megalomaniacal publicity stunt away from jabbering lunacy. You don’t have to be crazy to be a rock star, but it helps.
But of all of music’s loose screws, the loosest and screwiest ever to reach a wider audience was probably Wesley Willis. A Chicago artist and street musician who suffered from schizophrenia, Willis became something of a local folk hero in the early ’90s and, very briefly, a national phenomenon, thanks to an appearance on The Howard Stern Show and a record deal with American Recordings, home to Danzig, Tom Petty and Johnny fucking Cash. He also released records on Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles label, as well as something like 50 albums recorded and released on his own and sold mostly at his shows. He died of leukemia in 2003.
Willis’ songs are nearly all about two-and-a-half minutes long and nearly all feature more or less the same instrumental track, played on a Technics KN series keyboard, using the keyboard’s built-in drum and rhythm tracks. Over this, Willis would sing-speak various rants about modern life (“Cut the Mullet” is a fan favorite), bestiality-themed strings on insults (“Suck a Camel’s Pooty Hole,” “Suck a Cheetah’s Dick,” “Suck a Caribou’s Ass”…you get the idea), cartoon boasts (“I Whipped Spiderman’s Ass,” on which he catches Spidey cheating with his girlfriend and “beat him to a pulp with a rubber hose”), and oddly sweet tributes to various celebrities (“Britney Spears,” “Kurt Cobain,” “Oprah Winfrey,” etc.). He also, for some reason, liked ending his songs with random ad slogans; “Kurt Cobain,” for example, wraps up with “Timex—takes a licking and keeps on ticking!”
And that, honestly, pretty much sums up Willis’ music. It’s tempting to dismiss it all as childish, and to be fair, most of it is. But Willis’ music, which he called “Harmony Joy Music,” was also a kind of therapy for his schizophrenia. Writing and performing his songs was Willis’ way of taking a “Joy Ride” and avoiding what he called the “Hellrides,” schizophrenic episodes in which the voices in his head (which he identified as demons, complete with distinct personalities and names like “Meansucker” and “Nervewrecker”) would take over and cause him to lash out and behave in unpredictable ways. Occasionally he would describe these episodes in sad/funny songs like “My Keyboard Got Damaged,” in which he talks about getting thrown off a plane en route to a gig because he yelled “Fuck you!” at his “mean schizophrenic demon” just before takeoff.
Willis also briefly fronted a punk rock band called the Wesley Willis Fiasco, whose big claim to fame was a cover of Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film.” It’s not Willis’ finest hour, really, but it’s interesting to hear what he sounded like fronting an actual band. He’s not really any more crazy sounding than, say, Biafra on a bad day.
Ultimately, what Willis’ fans—and he still has a lot of them—seem to connect with most isn’t just the puerile novelty value of his music (though there’s plenty of that to go around), but the earnest sincerity with which he delivers it. This is a guy who wrote and sang music like his life depended on it—because, well, it kinda did.
We’ll leave you with a live performance of “Cut the Mullet.” Words to live by, no? We miss you, Wesley!
One of the many things that sucks about American pop music is that if you’re not pretty or stylish–or preferably both–the Powers That Be won’t give you the time of day. We’ll let Kim fucking Kardashian declare herself a recording artist, but unless you’re model material, sorry–KIIS-FM will never play your single. Too bad for you, Beth Ditto.
Now, obviously, European pop stars can be stylish, too…they just aren’t so hung up on it all the time. And occasionally, they’re pretty much the opposite of stylish. Which is why the first we saw this band from Sweden called The Amplifetes, we practically crapped ourselves. These guys are making the most shamelessly catchy pop music this side of Katy Perry, and yet their lead singer looks like a cross between Jerry Garcia and our English lit professor at Wesleyan. Awesome.
We don’t know a whole lot about The Amplifetes because they haven’t really broken in America yet–and sadly, they probably never will. Most of what’s floating around online about them seems to have been written in either Swedish or French–or it’s just endless copy-paste jobs on their official English bio, which has even been reprinted verbatim on the band’s Wikipedia page. The bio says they’re a team of four “accomplished songwriters and producers,” although “accomplished” is a relative term in a country that churns out hitmaking producers like IKEA churns out dorm furniture. Henrik Jonback has the most impressive résumé, boasting a couple of credits on Britney Spears’ Blackout and Kelis’ Kelis Was Here; Henrik Korpi has worked with Geri “Ginger Spice” Halliwell and Dannii “Kylie’s less talented sister” Minogue; Tommy Spaanheden has produced a handful of breakbeat and club tracks; and Peter Ågren, the band’s fantastically frumpy lead singer, wrote a tune for Estonian pop tartlet Kerli. So these guys ain’t exactly Bloodshy & Avant.
And yet…there’s something undeniably infectious about The Amplifetes’ music, and something undeniably fabulous about the way they totally own their awkward Scandinavian swag. Especially in this video for their latest single, “Blinded by the Moonlight,” which features timorous white-boy dance moves, superfluous sci-fi interludes, gratuitous shirtlessness, and the single greatest rushing-back-up-to-the-mic-after-the-instrumental-break move since…well, okay, it’s not really the single greatest anything, but it’s at the 2:55 mark and it’s adorable.