Monthly Archives: July 2011
(Photo by Austin Young)
Today’s band was suggested by a reader called Hola-Ebola…and no, they have nothing to do with the Jackass-like British TV series Dirty Sanchez, although those guys are pretty great. This Dirty Sanchez is an electroclash band from Los Angeles. What is electroclash, you ask? Well, I’m no expert, but as far as I can tell, it seems to be an intentionally cheesy/campy style of dance music with lots of songs about cocaine and gay sex and Hollywood. I think Lady Gaga probably ripped off half her act from the electroclash scene.
Anyways, there are loads of weird electroclash acts out there, like Fischerspooner, Peaches, Chicks on Speed and Princess Superstar. But Dirty Sanchez stand out for a couple reasons. First, many of their songs are just flat-out, hilariously bizarre, as you can tell from just the song titles alone: “Fucking on the Dancefloor,” “Really Rich Italian Satanists,” “Tranny Sex,” “We Hate Youth and Beauty.” Second, they seem to be one of the few (only?) electroclash bands to feature a full-on tranvestite as one of their lead singers. His/her name is Jackie Beat and even though I feel kinda gay for saying this, she rules. In their early videos, she’s like a cross between Dee Snider and Cher. Now she looks more like a cross between Eddie Izzard and that fat chick from The Gossip, but she’s still pretty fabulous. (Did I just use the word “fabulous” to describe a drag queen? Wow, now I really feel gay.)
Dirty Sanchez seem to have been inactive since 2008–that’s the last time their website news was updated (back then, they said they were working on a new album, their second one, but it doesn’t seem like it’s ever come out) and also the year they released a new single, “Give Head and Be Beautiful.” Here’s the video for it, which for our money is the most awesomely weird thing they’ve ever done. Next time I go out dancing, I’m totally gonna picture everyone with their heads off.
(Update: It seems like Jackie Beat is now based in New York and might be more focused on her cabaret act and her solo career–although it also seems like she forgot to pay her domain name bill, so it’s hard for us to confirm this. Still, this parody video posted in late 2009 does feature fellow Dirty Sanchezian Mario Diaz, so there’s still hope we may hear more from Dirty Sanchez yet.)
Who says our democracy is broken? Once again, our readers have spoken! And by spoken, I mean clicked little buttons on our Submit and Vote page. And what they have told us is this: Dolchnakov Brigade are a really weird fucking band.
How weird, you ask? Well, they didn’t receive a single “Not weird” vote, which in the entire history of TWBITW has never…oh wait, sorry it’s actually happened before four other times. Still, not too shabby.
Beyond that, what can we tell you about these guys? Honestly, not much. The “About Us” page of their website is just a random list of shit like “crawling creatures” and “Bruce Lee” and “Rush Limbaugh in a coma.” Which is kind of an awesome way to describe your band, but not very helpful to us bloggers. We want easy answers, Dolchnakov Brigade! Why do you deny us the simple pleasures our short attention spans demand?
But with a little digging, here’s what else we’ve found out: They seem Russian but they’re actually from Brooklyn. (Okay, we didn’t actually have to dig for that one…they emailed and told us.) Their music is basically lo-fi, campy synth-pop. We’re pretty sure the main guy is named Clark Silkmer, but he might also be a dude named Shlomi Lavie who, randomly, is also the drummer for Marcy Playground. (Yes, they’re still around; we were surprised, too.) The other band members seem to consist of two backup dancer/singers, a keyboard player, and a rubber rat named RAT! who produces their beats on an MPC pad. They have a Tumblr. The organizing principal behind the band is summed up by the word “Palevish” which we thought was Russian but we think now might just be made up. The band’s official website describes it like this:
“Palevish! (pronounced Pal-Eh-Veesh) is the concept of taking a seemingly random and meaningless idea and repetitively executing it with full conviction like it was a matter of life and death. Then, at some point, it becomes a matter of life and death.”
I can get behind that. Kinda sounds like the organizing principal behind this whole blog, actually.
And who knows? Maybe that’s all you really need to know about Dolchnakov Brigade. Or maybe they’ll reveal more about themselves when they feel the world is ready.
Their live show still seems to be a bit of a work in progress, but they have made a few low-budg videos that are pretty creepy/hilarious. Here’s the one for their catchiest tune, “Onion Is the Underdog.” Respect!
Good news in our inbox this week: The Polyphonic Spree are back! It’s been four years since we last heard from the world’s largest, most cult-like symphonic indie rock band and frankly, we’ve missed them. Well, I have. Jake thinks they sound like a bad combination of the Flaming Lips and Hair—to which I say, how could any combination of those two things possibly be bad?
By now the Spree’s backstory is familiar to most: Started in Dallas in 2000 by lead singer Tim DeLaughter and his wife, Julie Doyle (who never gets any credit, but should—she manages the band, sings in the choir and co-writes much of their material with DeLaughter), the Polyphonic Spree rose from the ashes of DeLaughter’s previous band, Tripping Daisy, which broke up following the drug-related death of their guitarist, Wes Berggren. DeLaughter fell into a deep depression following his friend’s death, but worked his way out of that dark period in part by crafting the Spree’s euphoric, celebratory sound. He and Doyle also wanted to make something more epic and orchestral than a typical indie rock act—and to get the sound they wanted, the band’s membership eventually swelled to over 20 people. Then, as a final touch, DeLaughter decided to have everyone don white robes like some kind of hippie church choir.
These days, lots of bands do the whole cram-lotsa-people-onstage and have them run around playing cellos and glockenspiels and other instruments you don’t normally associate with a rock act. But the Spree stand out for a couple reasons. For one, they were really the first band in the modern era to do this sort of thing. Arcade Fire, Beirut, Edward Sharpe—none of them existed back in 2002 when the Polyphonic Spree released their first album, The Beginning Stages of…. Secondly, it’s hard to name another band, symphonic or otherwise, with an ouevre as specific as the Spree’s. Pretty much every track on their first two albums sounded like a cross between “Let the Sun Shine In” and the last three minutes of “Hey Jude.”
The Spree did go a bit darker for their third album, The Fragile Army—and they donned matching black, military-style uniforms for the promo photos and tour—but even that one ended with a feel-good rave-up called “The Championship.” Well, technically it was called “Section 32 (The Championship),” because all of their songs are “sections” of a complete, larger work.
(By the way, since we’re talking about the Spree in terms of their weirdness, I should also mention that one of their songs, “Section 10 (A Long Day),” is just 36 minutes of looped, processed vocal tones, like Philip Glass after one too many shroom caps. So there’s that.)
We’re still not sure what DeLaughter and company have in store for their next album, but they just released the album’s first single. Sort of. The song, “Bullseye,” is only available as part of an iPad app, which also features an interactive, animated video. You can see/hear a preview of the app and the song on the Polyphonic Spree website. Jake and I aren’t cool enough to own iPads yet, so if anyone downloads the app, please give us a report. It’ll set you back a mere $1.99.
Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with my all-time favorite Polyphonic Spree moment. Needless to say, this is one of those bands that really has to be seen live to be fully appreciated—the sheer, overwhelming sonic assault of all those voices and instruments bashing away at DeLaughter’s happy-happy anthems is like a tent revival for hipsters. But as great as some of those anthems are, none of them tops the Spree’s insanely awesome cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium.” Kurt Cobain would have approved—yes, even the bit with the harp.
Sometimes, being weird can be a lonely business. Take Gary Milholland, aka Mission Man, veteran creator of “hip-hop without ego.” For 15 years, Gary’s been toiling away in his home studio somewhere in the boonies of Ohio, cranking out album after album of his bizarre version of hip-hop, doing everything from producing and playing all the instruments to, as he proudly notes in his video bio, “booking, promotion, choreography, music video production and direction, web design, and anything else that goes into living the life of an independent musician.” Yep, when your music is as out there as Mission Man’s, you pretty much have to be a one-man operation.
The message behind Mission Man’s music—his mission, if you will—could best be summed up with the title of one of his songs: “Do What You Love.” Mission Man loves making music and he’s going to keep on making it, even if no one really “gets him.” And believe us, the subtext of the video to “Do What You Love” is clearly “nobody gets me”—it’s pretty much just an endless series of shots of Mission Man performing at various near-empty bars, probably mostly at open mics, which he travels to all over the Eastern U.S., chronicling his journeys in heartbreaking detail on his website. “I received almost no response whatsoever, though I could see one person making fun of me,” reads a typical entry. After the open mic, “I found a Wal-Mart parking lot to sleep in, instead of a rest area. It’s nice to mix things up a bit.”
Back home, Milholland supports his Mission Man habit by delivering pizzas for Papa John’s. He even wrote a song about it, called “Chillin’ at the Papa,” which is actually among his catchier numbers. If the folks at Papa John’s had any sense, they’d license the song and make Mission Man their new spokesperson. I mean, look what Jared did for Subway—and that guy can’t even rap.
Some would argue that Mission Man can’t really rap either, and it’s fair to say that his flow is, well, unconventional. His verses do actually rhyme, for the most part, but rhythmically, they’re all over the place, and Milholland delivers them in a droning, Lou Reed-like monotone. He backs this up with instrumentation—guitar, bass, keyboards and electronic drums—that’s even more unconventional than his vocal delivery. “I have never learned music theory, nor have I ever learned how to play any other musician’s music,” Milholland defiantly declares on his blog. “I just make music from my heart.”
Earlier this year, Mission Man released his latest album, liberty island. (The album and song titles are all in lowercase to “reflect the lack of ego in Mission Man’s music,” according to his press release.) Milholland says the new songs represent his growth as an instrumentalist: “I’ve been really listening to Prince and other artists I have always loved, and most of all I am more free when I’m playing.” He’s also promised to make a video for each of liberty island‘s 11 tracks. If they’re all as wackadoodle as this computer-generated clip he created for the song “wonder,” we can’t wait to see the rest of them.
If you’re at all interested in weird music (and if you aren’t, you’re really on the wrong website), we highly recommend that you track down a copy of a book called Songs in the Key of Z by Irwin Chusid. Jake and I are still really dilettantes when it comes to this stuff, but Chusid’s the real deal, a leading expert on the topic of outsider music (in fact, he’s sometimes credited with coining the term) who’s written for the New York Times and hosted an influential radio show on WFMU since 1975. We pretty much want to be him when we grow up.
Anyway, today’s weird band is lifted straight from the pages of Songs in the Key of Z. They’re a trio of sisters called The Shaggs who were active in the late ’60s and early ’70s and they are, in Chusid’s words, “the legendary—and unwitting—godmothers of outsider music.” They’re also quite possibly the all-time greatest example of a band that was so abjectly terrible that they were actually kind of amazing.
The Wiggin sisters—Dot, Betty and Helen—hailed from a small town called Fremont, New Hampshire, which back in the ’60s meant that they grew up culturally isolated in a way that these days is virtually impossible, unless you live in the Amazon basin or maybe one of those separatist militia compounds in Idaho. They could hear a few hits on AM Top 40 radio but that was about it. Their father, Austin, was nonetheless determined that his daughters would become stars. He bought them their instruments and had them home-schooled so they’d have more time to practice.
When Austin felt his girls were ready, he drove them down to a recording studio in Revere, Mass., where they cut an album called Philosophy of the World. According to legend, only 100 copies of the record were ever circulated; another 900 were, depending on whom you believe, stolen by one of the session’s engineers, hoarded by the paranoid Austin for fear that other bands would try to copy The Shaggs’ original sound, or simply thrown out because neither Austin nor the band’s label, Third World Recordings, could give them away.
At first listen, Philosophy of the World seems like an absolute mess; the drums are arrhythmic and out of sync with the other instruments; the guitars are often out of tune; the sisters’ harmonies are childlike and spookily dissonant. The lyrics make Rebecca Black’s “Friday” sound like Emily Dickinson; songs are about such profound topics as Dot’s pet cat (“My Pal Foot Foot”) and how awesome the Wiggin parents are (“Who Are Parents”), although they do also try to get deep on the title track: “The skinny people want what the fat people’s got/And the fat people want what the skinny people’s got/You can’t please anybody in this world.”
But, as many musicians and critics have pointed out, there’s an internal consistency to The Shaggs’ music that suggests they knew exactly what they were doing. During the recording sessions (at which the engineers would have to keep Austin out of the control room so he couldn’t hear them howling with laughter), Austin would often stop the girls midway through a take because “they made a mistake”—which would seem to suggest that the final takes that made it onto the record were pretty close to what he and the band intended.
Austin Wiggin died in 1975, so we’ll never know what he actually thought of Philosophy of the World—though it’s doubtful he ever would have admitted The Shaggs sucked, even if he knew deep down that they did. It’s pretty clear that Austin was more emotionally invested in The Shaggs than his own daughters were; they disbanded the same year he died, perhaps relieved that they would never again have to be cajoled back into a recording studio or a gig at the Fremont Town Hall.
The Shaggs were virtually forgotten until 1980, when Philosophy of the World was reissued on Rounder Records thanks to the intervention of the band NRBQ, who are among the band’s many well-known admirers (other Shaggs praisers: Frank Zappa, Jonathan Richman, Bonnie Raitt and legendary rock critic Lester Bangs). Since then, Philosophy of the World has become an unlikely critics’ darling, hailed by the likes of Rolling Stone as one of the “100 Most Influential Alternative Releases of All Time.” The Shaggs themselves are now routinely praised as ahead of their time, creators of “a new rock ‘n’ roll language, using the sophistication of Appalachian folk music and Dot Wiggin’s brand of teen angst as ground zero.” (Okay, that last quote, courtesy of Byron Coley in New York Rocker, represents the pretentious extreme of critical praise heaped on the band, but still.) They’ve even been the subject of an off-Broadway musical.
Three of the Wiggin sisters (including Rachel, the youngest, who sometimes played bass with the group live) are still alive and living in various parts of New England. Helen, the band’s drummer, died in 2006. They rarely speak to the press about The Shaggs, and according to Chusid, they’ve only played one show since Austin’s death, a 1999 gig at New York’s Bowery Ballroom with NRBQ,
But Chusid did manage to get Dot Wiggin on the phone sometime around 1999 or 2000, when he was working on Songs in the Key of Z, and got her to reflect on the band’s unusual legacy as both cult icons and, in some circles, the William Hung of rock bands.
“We weren’t the greatest,” Dot admitted to Chusid. “We could have done a lot more practicing and getting it together before we recorded.”
But who knows? Maybe more practice would’ve killed The Shaggs’ mojo. Instead, we’re left with the sound of a band that, to quote the original Philosophy of the World liner notes (likely written by Austin Wiggin), “will not change their music or style to meet the whims of a frustrated world.”