Weird Band of the Week: Eartheater

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Photo by Samantha West

Alexandra Drewchin is based in New York City, but she grew up on a horse farm in rural Pennsylvania. It feels important to mention this up front in describing the music she makes under the name Eartheater, and not just because horses figure prominently in the project’s iconography, including the striking cover of her latest album, IRISIRI. Even though much of what she does is programmed and electronic, there’s something very equine and pastoral about it. The rhythms canter and gallop; the sounds flex and ripple with muscular grace; her vocals, though sometimes harsh and processed, more often float over the mix like they’re echoing from a great distance, panning and Dopplering as if sung by someone in constant motion.

There’s also an alien quality to Drewchin’s Eartheater work — ironically, it sounds more not-of-this-world than her other project, a psych/noise-rock band she does with drummer Greg Fox that’s actually called Guardian Alien. As Eartheater, she shares with artists like Matmos and Amon Tobin a gift for blurring the lines between organic and electronic. Synthesizers breathe and sigh like animals; acoustic instruments and field recordings contort into jagged, mechanical shapes. A track title from her first album, Metalepsis, is telling: “The Internet Is Handmade.” You might think it’s a piss-take on all the bespoke this and artisanal that infesting the hipster communities of Brooklyn and Queens, where she’s based. But actually, it’s her way of pointing out that technology, which we always think of as somehow removed from humanity, is actually just another expression of it. “I’m all about seeing the nature in the motherboard — honoring the metals that make [our] computers run,” she once told an interviewer.

Here’s her latest video, “Peripheral,” in which she takes a blowtorch to an ice sculpture and performs acupuncture on a massage chair.

Her live performances are already the stuff on New York art nerd legend. At one, described by a Vice writer, she wore angel wings and wielded a chainsaw. At another, she danced in a trenchcoat and performed contortionist backbends illuminated only by a pair of flashlights. “I find the ouroboric-like shape of a deep back bend to be uniquely altering,” she said in another interview. “I prescribe this shape to myself and find it’s really helpful to unlock deep emotions while performing.” (For someone who has just shy of 4,300 Facebook likes as I write this, Eartheater has done a lot of interviews — which I think says more about the ouroboric nature of the New York music press than it does about her.)

Speaking of contortions, here’s another Eartheater video that features lots of them, courtesy of Drewchin and fellow dancer Gina Chiappetta. Contortionism is another good visual metaphor for Eartheater’s music; she twists her vocals and instruments as dramatically as she twists her limbs. There’s something both powerful and vulnerable about it — she looks strong and fierce, but also at certain moments like her neck’s about to break.

We started with horses and that’s where we’ll finish, with the video for “Inclined,” another track off IRISIRI, Eartheater’s third album, which was just released in June on PAN Records. The video itself is, by Drewchin’s standards, pretty straightforward: She rides a horse around a bay at low tide, dressed like a steampunk bride in leather and a white veil, and — well, that’s it, really. (Oh, and all the lyrics are subtitled in Russian — a nod to her father, perhaps, who is Russian.) But the track itself is supremely weird in a way that I love. It’s like someone badly described hip-hop to a fan of The Slits and Philip Glass — “it’s aggro vocals that are kinda chanted over loops and shit” — who then attempted their version of a hip-hop track. “I like to customize my style/You can’t buy this — suck my bile,” is my favorite lyric of 2018 so far.

P.S. Thanks again to our anonymous friend at Interweb Megalink, who introduced us to Buttress O’Kneel and also succeeded where the New York press failed in turning us on to Eartheater. Thanks for helping us customize our style, Mr. and/or Ms. Megalink.

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DDAA (Déficit des Années Antérieures)

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Psychofon Records, the current label for this week’s weird band, compares them to The Residents, Nurse With Wound and Can. Which sounds like they’re casting way too wide of a net — until you listen to the surreal, percussive soundscapes of Déficit Des Années Antérieures (DDAA) and realize that yeah, that’s actually pretty spot-on.

Formed in 1977 by three students from the School of Beaux Arts in Caen, France, DDAA’s music encompasses everything from eerie tape loop experiments to tribal percussion to minimalist post-punk anthems that make Suicide sound like Wham! by comparison. Until 1992, they were wildly prolific, releasing somewhere around 15 albums and various EPs and singles, many of which were available only on cassette. They resurfaced with another pair of albums around 2000, took another hiatus, and then have been pretty active since 2011, picking up right where they left off with releases like Ne regarde pas par la fenêtre (Do not look out the window), a four-song EP of dadaist hymns set to industrial throbs and foreboding electronic music.

Amazingly, despite their prodigious output, Jean-Luc André, Sylvie Martineau-Fée and Jean-Philippe Fée — the three musicians who have formed the core of DDAA for the band’s entire existence — appear to remain virtually unknown outside of France. (And maybe Germany, too — shout-out to German reader Sebastian, who turned us onto them.) There is very little information about them available in English so I don’t know their full backstory, or what other projects, if any, they’ve been associated with. It does appear that “Fée” is a stage name, since the Psychofon website translates it and identifies them as Sylvie Martineau-Fairy and Jean-Philippe Fairy. Or maybe they just have a particularly apt surname for their otherworldly music and they didn’t want all us non-Francophone folks to miss out on properly appreciating it.

Did France have MTV in the early ’80s? Maybe that explains the existence of several DDAA music videos from around that era, which are just as delightfully bizarre as their music. Here’s “25 pièces sont vides” from their 1984 album La Familie des Saltimbanques. The sound quality is kinda crappy, so you might want to turn it up.

Amazing, right? Both totally avant-garde and totally ’80s. Most of their tracks, especially from this era, have very assertive, atmospheric bass lines, which appear to be courtesy of Jean-Philippe Fée. Here’s another music video from the same year but a different album (told you they were prolific): Les Ambulants‘ “The Riddle’s Standard.” I especially love the vocals on this one, which somehow manage to sound both strangled and incantatory, like a priest delivering a sermon while chugging sacramental wine out of a paper bag.

Nearly 40 years later, they’re still at it, performing live shows that are basically slow-moving storm fronts of aural unease, and releasing new music that continues to defy categorization. I’ll leave you with a track from their 2015 album Hazy World called “Pirouette” that sounds like a symphony for idling lawnmowers, or maybe the world’s largest moth swarm flapping their wings against the windows of a screened-in porch. France’s answer to The Residents? Sort of — but it’s probably more accurate to say that DDAA don’t sound like anyone else.

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Okilly Dokilly

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Both Okilly Dokilly photos by Casey Peters

Our regular readers know there’s nothing we love here at TWBITW more than an incredibly specific high-concept band (see: Mac Sabbath, The Metal Shakespeare Company, etc.). So it’s about damned time we gave a little love to Okilly Dokilly, Arizona’s leading Ned Flanders-themed metal — or “nedal,” as they prefer to call it — five-piece.

Formed in 2015, Okilly Dokilly’s premise is simple: Take dialogue from Ned Flanders, the God-fearing, improbably buff next door neighborino from The Simpsons, and turn it into lyrics for epic heavy metal anthems, performed by five dudes in matching Flanderian green sweaters, round glasses and bushy mustaches. Since Flanders’ Christian kindness and relentless good cheer has always seemed like a front for a seething cauldron of repressed rage, it works surprisingly well. Here, take a gander.

To quote Ned: “What a rush! That got my blood pumping in a way I thought only quiet reflection could.”

I’m not really sure what else to tell you about Okilly Dokilly, except to note that their members are called Head Ned, Red Ned, Stead Ned, Thread Ned and Bled Ned, and they have an album out called Howdilly Doodilly, which is available now via Bandcamp or at your favorite neighborhood Leftorium. Oh, and they have one music video, for the song “White Wine Spritzer” — based on an obscure Ned quote from season 10. (To Okilly Dokilly’s credit, most of their Ned quotes are not the most obvious choices — though I do wish they’d turn my favorite outrageous Nedism from The Simpsons Movie into a Satanic dirge: “And I wish you didn’t have the devil’s curly hair!”)

P.S. Thanks to readers Dexter Storer and J (yeah, just J), among others, for turning us on to Okilly Dokilly’s heavy “nedal” thunder.

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Buttress O’Kneel

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Doing this blog, I’m constantly amazed at how many talented musicians and producers out there release their stuff anonymously, with virtually no promotion or online presence beyond a Bandcamp account or Facebook page. Such is the case with Buttress O’Kneel, a mysterious Australian creator of what she calls “plunderphonic intellectronica” and “excruciating postcore compop.” According to the folks at the equally mysterious InterWebMegaLink, who introduced us to Ms. O’Kneel and her sample-heavy sonic experiments, she’s been cranking out this stuff since 1998 or so — but virtually no information on her exists online anywhere. No photos, no bio, no interviews. I’m totally taking InterWebMegaLink’s word for it that she is, in fact, a woman from Australia and not some aging ex-raver dude from, say, Bristol or Pittsburgh or some other hub for this sort of musical cut-and-paste geekery.

O’Kneel — or BOK, for short — has produced everything from “audio documentaries” on the history of fossil fuels and racism in Australia to compilations of damaged CDs skipping. But she seems to especially enjoy chopping, distorting, stretching and otherwise mangling popular music in clever, unexpected ways. Here, for example, is her take on Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry,” called “Tentacles for Troy,” an anagram of the original song title. (“i get deep into anagrams as titles because it feels like a microcosmic reference to what i’m doing to the music – complete memetic rearrangement, from ostensibly recognisable shiz,” she explained in a recent Facebook post.) Bonus points to anyone who recognizes the Madonna sample in the intro.

Many of BOK’s sonic experiments will be familiar to anyone who’s explored the worlds of mashups and plunderphonics. She’s dabbled in time-stretching, for example, taking familiar songs like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and slowing them down until they’re transformed into ominous, oceanic exercises in abstract minimalism. But what makes BOK stand out, I think, is that she always takes these more familiar techniques one step further. In the case of time-stretching, she decided to see what would happen if she instead compressed a familiar song down to just a few seconds, then stretched it back to its original length. She calls the results “pop smears” and they’re kind of amazing:

More recently, she’s been experimenting with MP3-to-MIDI converters, which she discovered introduce weird atonal harmonics into the vocal melodies and make most of the rest track’s elements sound like an old-timey player piano having a seizure. (“It’s a godawful mess of misplayed piano garbage,” reads the Bandcamp description. “Either that, or it’s brilliant conceptual sound art! You decide!”) The process makes a familiar pop song like Camila Cabello’s “Havana” sound vaguely terrifying, but when applied just to an isolated vocal track from Metallica’s James Hetfield, there’s something kind of hilarious about it. It’s like Bartok on meth.

Speaking of Bartok: Even classical music is not safe from BOK’s undying love of warping the familiar beyond recognition. Here’s part of “The Four Four Seasons,” a relatively simple (by BOK’s convoluted standards) exercise in organized chaos that takes four different versions of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and lays them on top of each other:

I’m tempted to just go on inserting Bandcamp links ad infinitum, because nearly everything Buttress O’Kneel does is interesting on some level. There’s “This Sick Beat,” which combines Taylor Swift with recordings of “pathological” heartbeats (a very plunderphonic-y response to Swift’s trademarking of the phrase “This Sick Beat”). There’s her field recording experiments with another mysterious producer named Panthera Leo, a project called The Fruiting Body that was allegedly recorded back around 2001 but was only just released earlier this year. There are albums on her Bandcamp page (so many albums) with intriguingly apt titles like Post-remix Retrostep, Shitcore and Hard Dadapop. It’s all great, and worth diving deep into if you have a day or two to kill and want to imagine a world in which Venetian Snares got on the mashup train back when that was a trendy thing.

But I’ll leave you with just two pieces of music that I think sum up, as much as it’s possible to sum up, the full spectrum of BOK’s brilliance. The first, “Merzbowie,” is exactly what it sounds like: a mashup of David Bowie and influential Japanese noise artist Merzbow, mixed live and then run through AudioMulch, an “interactive modular” software suite that is apparently one of Buttress’ favorite tools. The results are pretty much exactly what you’d expect and sort of mesmerizing, although it’s probably not coincidence that one my cats puked three times while I was playing it.

Contrast that with “Breaking Windows,” an ambient electronic track that uses nothing but default Windows sounds to build something unexpectedly beautiful. The accompanying video is pretty fun, too.

So who is Buttress O’Kneel? I still have no idea, but I hope more people discover her endlessly inventive music.

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Vladimir Cauchemar

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I think we can all agree that when it comes to cool instruments, the recorder is pretty low on the list. Not to say the little flute-like rascals aren’t delightful, especially when played by small children or wandering minstrels. But no one ever piped out an old folk tune on a recorder and thought to themselves, “This is totally gonna get me laid.”

Maybe that’s why, when French electronic music label Ed Banger Records released a video last December from a mysterious artist named Vladimir Cauchemar that featured a middle-aged man in a red turtleneck rocking a recorder to a sneakily infectious house beat, it got shared more widely than a Netflix password. As of this writing, the video for “Aulos” is closing in on 4 million views, which might be 3.9 million more times than anyone has watched anyone do anything with a recorder — unless “recorder porn” is a thing and no, we are definitely not Googling the words “recorder porn” to find out.

No one really knew anything about the identity of the artist behind “Aulos” when it first came out, and seven months later, that’s still pretty much true. The bio on his Ed Banger page simply reads, “Vladimir Cauchemar is an enigma to all of us.” The images on his Facebook page show a man DJing and posing in various industrial spaces wearing a skull mask. The only interview he’s given so far is in Japanese. Thanks to Google translator, we were able to decipher some of that interview, which appears to reveal that the man in the “Aulos” video is Vladimir’s music teacher (a guy named Eric) and that he himself is a self-described producer of “medieval house music” (the medieval part, presumably, is the recorder) based in France. And that’s about as much as we were able to glean. If he wishes to remain an enigma, he’s definitely succeeding.

Since the release of “Aulos,” Vladimir has put out a couple remixes, both featuring more of his trademark recorder. We’ll leave you with “Basik Yellow,” his rework of Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow.” Actually, you know what? I was wrong about the recorder. After this track came out, I bet Vladimir Cauchemar got laid a lot.

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Ghost

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A lot of readers have been suggesting for years that we add the Swedish group Ghost (or Ghost B.C., as they were briefly called here in the States) to the Weird List. But we never did, because frankly, once you look past their costumed, pseudo-Satanic theatrics, their music is about as mainstream as it gets. Yeah, the guitars shred and churn in a vaguely metallic way, but they still make My Chemical Romance sound like Slayer by comparison. One of the tracks on their latest album, Prequelle, even features a saxophone solo — and not a screeching John Zorn saxophone solo. More like a Supertramp saxophone solo. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — it’s just not even within shouting distance of weird.

But you know what? A band fronted by a Satanic anti-Pope called Papa Emeritus and made up of anonymous, masked minions called Nameless Ghouls playing what amounts to latter-day hair metal (minus the hair) is, we gotta admit, pretty goddamned weird. Especially at this point in the band’s history, when they’ve been at this for over a decade and managed to achieve something dangerously close to mainstream success while still seeming like an elaborate piss-take of metal’s fascination with Satanism.

The genius and/or huckster (depending on how you feel about Ghost’s shtick) behind all this is a guy named Tobias Forge, whose biggest claim to fame pre-Ghost was fronting a moderately successful Swedish death metal band called Repugnant. For years, Forge managed to keep his own identity in Ghost a secret, only speaking to press in the role of a Nameless Ghoul, even though he played Papa Emeritus onstage from the group’s inception. As word that he was Papa Emeritus began to leak out, he even tried to throw fans and press off by repeatedly firing and replacing Ghost’s evil lead singer with new Papa Emerituses (Emeriti?) — Papa Emeritus II, Papa Emeritus III and short-lived fan favorite Papa Emeritus Zero, who teetered onstage with a cane and an oxygen tank. All were played, of course, by Forge, and most Ghost fans seemed to be in on the joke — but it still added to the band’s air of mystery.

Early Ghost albums mixed galloping metal guitars, pop hooks and Forge’s oddly lightweight vocals (he sounds, not unpleasantly, kind of like a Swedish cross between Billie Joe Armstrong and Placebo’s Brian Molko) with the occasional church organ or medieval-sounding choir, making explicit the idea that they were literally worshiping Satan through their music. Think of it as anti-Christian contemporary rock.

Here’s a taste of their live show. We always suspected Satan was really into Carmina Burana and apparently Ghost think so, too.

In early 2017, Forge’s identity was officially revealed when four former Nameless Ghouls sued him, claiming they were all owed back pay, in some cases stretching all the way back to 2010, and that they were denied treatment as equal bandmates in the project. (Forge hasn’t responded to the suit’s financial claims, but has asserted that Ghost is essentially a solo project, as he writes all the music and is the group’s sole constant member.) The suit, as far as we know, is still pending — but that hasn’t stopped Forge from releasing a new Ghost album, Prequelle, and unveiling yet another lead singer character: Cardinal Copia, who in the video for lead single “Rats” seems less like a demonic clergyman and more like a gothed-out version of Jim Carrey’s character from The Mask, complete with some very Michael Jackson dance moves.

Not surprisingly, a lot of metalheads detest Ghost, which kinda makes us like them even more. Even though this line from a recent article by an angry metalhead for Vice is 100% accurate: “Their entire publicity strategy is like a teenager arriving at Christmas dinner with a face tattoo and then screaming, ‘GOD, LEAVE ME ALONE!’ every time someone points it out.”

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