Weird Band of the Week: Diamanda Galás

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Many of the artists we write about here on TWBITW are hiding in plain sight, as it were. They’re so famous or critically acclaimed or both that it’s easy to overlook how genuinely, groundbreakingly bizarre they are. Such is the case with the brilliant, mercurial, occasionally terrifying singer/pianist Diamanda Galás, who for nearly 40 years has been doing for the human voice what artists like Whitehouse and Aphex Twin do for synthesizers, stretching it almost beyond recognition and testing the outer limits of music (and some listeners’ tolerance) in the process.

Right from the start, Galás announced herself as an avant-garde force. Her 1982 debut album, The Litanies of Satan, featured a 17-minute title track based on the writings of Charles Baudelaire that was full of electronic distortion and eerily pitch-shifted vocals, as well as an even more astonishing track called “Wild Women with Steak-Knives (The Homicidal Love Song for Solo Scream)” on which Galás shrieked and gibbered with such demonic intensity — this time without any electronic embellishments — it was hard to believe the sounds were human:

The maker of those otherworldly sounds grew up in San Diego, which seems like an improbable point of origin but has long been an unlikely hotbed of weird music (see also: The Locust, Author and Punisher). She trained not as a singer, but as a pianist, and was a prodigy on the instrument — by age 14, she was performing Beethoven with the San Diego Symphony. She also performed with her father’s band, playing Greek and Arabic music — which must have influenced her ululating singing style, although her strictly religious Greek Orthodox parents discouraged her from singing because they considered it vulgar. It wasn’t until she went away to college that she discovered her unbelievable vocal range and got some opera training, which led to her first public singing performance in France in 1979, playing the role of a torture victim in an opera called Un Jour Comme un Autre (A Day Like Any Other).

It’s tempting to say that Galás has been playing the role of torture victim ever since, but less flippant and more accurate to say that she uses her remarkable voice to express human suffering in all its bleakly variegated forms. Her work in the late ’80s and early ’90s addressed the AIDS epidemic — which claimed her brother, playwright Philip-Dimitri Galás, in 1986. She based a 2004 piece called Defixiones, Will and Testament on the works of exiled poets and dedicated it to victims of the Armenian, Assyrian and Anatolian Greek genocides that occurred under the Ottoman Empire. Throughout her career, she has frequently returned to American blues and gospel standards, like “Let My People Go,” that are rooted in the African-American experience of slavery, segregation and racism (she’s cited Nina Simone as an influence, or at least a source of inspiration). “I’m doing music for people who are conscious and who suffer deeply,” she once said.

For all her avant-garde tendencies, Galás has had more than a few brushes with mainstream fame. She had a full-on MTV moment in 1988 with “Double Barrel Prayer,” a song from You Must Be Certain of the Devil, the third part of her AIDS-themed trilogy of albums, collectively called Masque of Red Death. I’m not sure how much this video for “Double Barrel Prayer” actually got played on MTV, but I like to think its operatic banshee wails and Carrie-like bloodbath climax blew a few minds in Middle America. Unless it was banned, which come to think of it seems likelier.

In 1994, Galás teamed up with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on an album called The Sporting Life, a collaboration that makes no sense on paper but actually resulted in a fairly awesome set of Middle Eastern-tinged rock stompers with Galás wailing and declaiming like the wild-child offspring of Grace Jones and Robert Plant. It also resulted in one of my favorite early ’90s cultural artifacts — this appearance by Galás and Jones on The Jon Stewart Show, a short-lived late-night MTV talk show hosted by the babyfaced future genius of political comedy. Despite the terrible audio, you can still hear how insanely hard Galás brought it with her incantatory vocals.

After The Sporting Life, Galás continued to tour and perform and occasionally release new music via live performance, apparently preferring that to the confines of the recording studio. She’s grown especially interested in performing in total darkness because, as she put it in one interview, “the visual world is much easier to access than the sonic world” — in other words, much like electronic experimentalists Autechre, she finds her audience can better commune with her challenging music when freed from any visual distractions. Her first such performance, Shrei x, took place in 1996 and was released as a live album; more recently, she performed a new work-in-progress called Espergesia in the darkness of a mausoleum in Oslo, the first of what she hopes will be “a series of performances of the work in highly reverberant sacred spaces.”

Although Galás is about as sui generis as they come, it’s fascinating to trace her own influences, which include such varied sources as Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, flamenco music, the lamentational amanedes singing style of Greece and Western Anatolia, horror film soundtracks, Greek-Romanian avant-garde composer Iannis Xenakis, Arthur Brown, Peggy Lee and Chaka Khan. (She enumerated these and other influences once in a great list for Pitchfork.) And she in turn has influenced several generations of boundary-pushing singers, including Mike Patton (whom she despises), Björk, Anohni and Zola Jesus.

Last year, Galás released her latest album, All the Way, a hodgepodge collection of traditional songs and jazz standards, some recorded live and some in the studio, all split open by her swooping, melodramatic vocals and probing, expressionistic piano: “All the Way,” “The Thrill Is Gone,” “Round Midnight.” The whole album is amazing and almost hallucinatory in the way it twists familiar fragments of lyric and melody into alien contours, but I’ll leave you with what I think is the kill shot — an astonishing, 11-minute transmogrification of “O Death,” the folk song popularized in the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou? “O Death” is an unnerving song even in its most innocuous renderings, but Galás sings it like she’s trying to shatter the barrier between this world and the next. (In an interview with Rolling Stone, she described her “O Death” performance way better than I ever could; it’s well worth a read. “When I finished that performance, there was blood all over the keyboard,” she says at one point. “I couldn’t imagine why. What I had done is I had broken my nails, all of them, when I was playing. And I never enjoyed a performance so much in my life.”)

P.S. Many, many readers have suggested we add Diamanda to the Weird List over the years, but we have to give a special shoutout to readers Daniel and vvaspss for suggesting her almost simultaneously earlier this week. Weird minds think alike!

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Bull of Heaven

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How far can you push the boundaries of music until it becomes just noise? Plenty of our favorite experimental bands and composers, from John Cage to Stalaggh/Gulaggh have toyed with this notion — but none have taken it to more extreme lengths (literally) than Denver ambient noise/drone duo Bull of Heaven.

Over the course of more than 450 releases (and counting), Bull of Heaven have put out billions of hours an infinity’s worth of their eerie, glacial soundscapes — challenging not just listeners’ attention spans, but in some ways the very concept of music composition itself. When one of your pieces takes 3.343 quindecillion years to listen to (a “quindecillion,” by the way, is 1048, or a 1 followed by 48 zeros), are you really writing music or just a mathematical abstraction of music? Can you actually compose a piece of music in a shorter time than it takes to play that piece of music? How often, if at all, does the music change over those 3.343 quindecillion years — and at what point does it cease to matter, since there will be no humans left to listen to it, and perhaps not even a universe left to listen to it in? The mind reels — as does my syntax when attempting to describe this shit.

Bull of Heaven’s music isn’t completely uniform — there are forays into doom metal and psych-rock and sound collage and even jazz. But this five-hour excerpt from one of their most well-known experiments in interminability, a 1,453-hour release called The Chosen Priest and Apostle of Infinite Space, gives you a pretty good idea of their preferred sound, which tends to resemble the squall of noise the amps make at the end of a Sunn O))) concert, time-stretched into eternity.

If you lost interest, oh, about 24 minutes into that, don’t worry — you’re far from alone. The most exhaustive cataloger of Bull of Heaven’s music, a long-suffering fan called Hakita on RateYourMusic.com, frequently sounds less than enthused when describing the duo’s more long-winded efforts. “Could use more variety, especially since it’s one week long,” he/she writes about The Wicked Cease From Struggling, “but I didn’t hate listening to the [63-minute] excerpt.” (Helpfully, Bull of Heaven often release “excerpts” of their longest pieces, so if you’re too lazy and/or mortal to make it through the full-length, you can at least get a taste.)

The guys behind all this cosmically creeping doom are not some academic aesthetes who teach aleatoric composition at NYU or some shit. One, Neil Keener, is a hardcore guitarist who achieved a modicum of renown with an Illinois band called Planes Mistaken for Stars. The other, Clayton Counts, was a DJ turned mash-up artist whose greatest claim to fame before Bull of Heaven was Sgt. Petsound’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a 2006 Beatles/Beach Boys hybridization that earned him a cease-and-desist letter from EMI (and which included the excellent song title, “I’m Fixing It, Dayhole”). They met in Chicago and later launched Bull of Heaven together in Denver — where, sadly, Counts died of an opioid overdose in 2016, only eight years after launching the project.

For a while, it seemed like Bull of Heaven might have died with Counts. But just a couple months ago, Keener released a new BoH album called Fight Night for the Ghosts of Heaven, so it appears he plans to keep the project going as a solo venture, perhaps in tribute to his late bandmate. Fight Night is, by Bull of Heaven standards, a downright conventional affair, clocking in at a mere, relatively non-repetitive 36 minutes, broken into what sound like discrete, song-length chunks. But it’s beautiful stuff and every bit as eerie as the duo’s earlier work.

It’s worth noting that Counts was such a prankster that when he died, many of his friends assumed the whole thing was an elaborate joke. As a young man in Texas, he achieved some local notoriety for his constant prank phone calls to conspiracy theory jag-off Alex Jones, then a public-access cable wingnut in Austin. So it’s likely Counts was yanking everyone’s chain a little when he composed, say, a 50,000-hour piece called Like a Wall in Which an Insect Lives and Gnaws that consists of little more than fluctuating pulses of static and noise. It would take nearly six years to listen to Like a Wall in its entirety — six years in which Counts and Keener released many more billions of hours of music, much of which has presumably still never been heard by anyone, because who in their right mind has made it all the way to hour 49,999 of Like a Wall in Which an Insect Lives and Gnaws?

But even if you view Bull of Heaven less as a band than as some elaborate art prank, it’s a pretty great one. And hidden somewhere deep in the recesses of the prank are some very profound thoughts about the nature of music and time and life and death and eternity and all kinds of other heavy shit. It also makes you question your own limitations as a consumer of art and just as a person living in the world with deadlines and responsibilities and bodily functions and other things that interfere with your ability to absorb, in a single sitting, even a relatively brief Bull of Heaven piece like the 24-hour Even to the Edge of Doom.

By the way, since for obvious reasons YouTube can’t possibly host much of Bull of Heaven’s catalog, the band has helpfully uploaded most of it to their website. My computer can’t play some of the longer pieces — like At the Tide’s Edge, I Lie, whose running time is just notated with an infinity symbol — but your mileage may vary.

I could go on about some of Counts and Keener’s many other, even more esoteric experiments — like their releases that are listed as having negative running time, or their untitled series, in which they released thousands of short pieces identified only by 32 digits each of hexadecimal code. They’ve also released an interactive piece of music that doubles as a calculator and MP3s that can be converted to RAR files that contain other MP3 files, like musical Russian nesting dolls. But I’d rather just leave you with the most batshit Bull of Heaven release I could find in my admittedly all-too-brief search through their catalog — this one-hour excerpt from a 59-hour piece called Vicious, Cruel, Incapable of Remorse, which sounds like a hungry tape deck mangling The Residents. And this one final thought: We often say that deceased musicians achieve immortality through their music, but I would argue that Clayton Counts has come closer to attaining that immortality than anyone. We’ll be listening to his music forever — literally.

P.S. Our thanks to Mr. Gredo and the Crushing Fetish Band for suggesting we add Bull of Heaven to the Weird List. You weren’t the first to suggest them, Mr. Gredo, but we have short attention spans and you were the first to successfully explain to us why it was actually worth our while to at least attempt to listen to a 5-hour YouTube upload.

P.P.S. We’ll be taking some time off this week to celebrate that odd American tradition of eating insane amounts of turkey in honor of our colonially rapacious past. But we’ll be back with more weirdness next week. For that, we hope, you can all be thankful.

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Deadlift Lolita

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Howdy, weirdlings! It’s Election Day here in America, and I’m sure I speak for many of my fellow ‘Muricans when I say I will be spending the day distracting myself from the sorry state of our democracy by avoiding the news and de-stressing with as many non-American diversions as possible, like Scotch and whatever crazy shit they’re listening to in Japan these days. Which bring us to our weird band of the week: a kawaiicore duo called Deadlift Lolita.

If you’ve already guessed from the above photo what’s weird about Deadlift Lolita, then congratulations — you figured out that one-half of the duo is not actually Japanese. He’s an Australian who goes by the name Ladybeard. Did you also guess why he calls himself that? Man, you’re on a roll!

When I first heard about the existence of Ladybeard, I was inclined to dismiss him as a foreign carpet-bagger — probably some failed musician who jumped on the kawaii metal bandwagon after it blew up internationally thanks to genre progenitors Babymetal. Then I read a story about him on Narratively that traced his Ladybeard persona back to at least 2009, when the writer (who mistakenly credits Ladybeard with inventing kawaiicore — at best, he might have coined the term, but whatevs) spied him rocking out at a death-metal concert dressed in a full nurse’s uniform. Further research (by which I mean that I, uh, looked up his Wikipedia page) revealed that he’s apparently been cross-dressing since he was 14. So I misjudged you, Ladybeard. You are not a bandwagon-jumper but in fact a full-blown weirdo who just didn’t find your calling until you moved to Japan and became the world’s most improbable kawaii idol.

Ladybeard, whose real name is Richard Magarey, studied drama in South Australia before moving to Hong Kong and finding work as a martial arts stuntman and, later, a professional wrestler. Does he still wrestle, I hear you ask? Damn right he does, and he looks adorable doing it.

After moving from Hong Kong to Tokyo in 2013, he broke into the music biz with his first band, Ladybaby. Musically, if we’re being honest, they were pretty much a straight rip of Babymetal, except one of the three girls was replaced by a giant white dude who looked like a ‘roided-out Aphex Twin in pigtails and sang like Chris Barnes.

Not surprisingly, Ladybaby went viral everywhere the headline “Bearded Cross-Dressing Pro Wrestler Fronts J-Pop Metal Band” might get clicks, which is to say pretty much everywhere. More surprisingly, they were a hit in Japan, too, which isn’t always kind to culture-crashing foreigners but was immediately charmed by this ridiculous gaijin dancing around in polka-dot dresses and grinning like Andrew W.K.’s long-lost, gender-non-conforming cousin.

Well, mostly charmed — in that aforementioned Narratively article, Ladybeard admitted that he sometimes got static from male idol fans who were jealous that he got to traipse around with his young female bandmates. “When I was in Ladybaby, they’d give the girls a present at the signing session, then whisper something like, ‘Eat shit, you dirty foreigner,’ in my ear,” he said. “Then those same people hated me when I left the group.”

That’s right — Ladybeard eventually left Ladybaby, which makes sense when you’ve got fans telling you to eat shit, I guess. What makes less sense is that Ladybaby tried to carry on without him — first calling themselves “The Idol Formerly Known as Ladybaby,” which at least sounded like a cool nod to Prince, then going back to calling themselves just Ladybaby, which makes them the Van Hagar of kawaiicore as far as I’m concerned. Ladybeard, meanwhile, went off and started a new group called Deadlift Lolita with a fellow bodybuilder and pro wrestler named Reika Saiki, and even though their sound still owes a lot to Babymetal, their overall presentation is spectacular. Here, for example, is the video for their debut single, “Six Pack Twins,” which is like a glorious cross between J-pop, Wrestlemania and a protein shake commercial.

Since then, Deadlift Lolita’s music and videos have only gotten weirder — the outfits more outlandish, the music more hyper-caffeinated, the guitar solos more shred-tastic (courtesy of Isao Fujita, who they poached from Babymetal), Ladybeard’s vocals more cartoonish. He breaks out a bizarre falsetto on “Pump Up Japan,” whose video features what I’m assuming are some of his and Reika’s fellow pro wrestlers. Side note: I have zero interest in American wrestling but Japanese wrestling looks ah-mazing.

Sadly, much as David Lee Roth’s solo career languished while everyone rushed out to buy Van Hagar CDs, Deadlift Lolita so far has failed to catch fire the way Ladybeard’s previous group did. The video I’m about to leave you with has a mere 157,000 views a year after its release, while the new Ladybeard-less Ladybaby video has racked up five times that many clicks in just a few months. Maybe people are already over Ladybeard’s kawaii cross-dressing shtick — or maybe they’re just not prepared to accept this much cuteness and muscle definition in one package. Either way, nowhere near enough people have seen the insanity that is “Muscle Cocktail”:

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Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra

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Photo by Candice Eley

If you’re trying to start your own weird band, it’s a good move to include a robot member or two. As we’ve repeatedly established on this here blog, robots are weird. Especially ones that have glass heads with brains floating in them.

In the case of Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra, they have only one robot, but he’s a good one. SPO-20 has the aforementioned glass head and suspended brain, and he sings the band’s jaunty electro-pop ditties in a voice that’s two parts Stephen Hawking and one part retired Cylon warrior crooning pop standards in the rec room at the Cylon old folks’ home. The Dave Stewart to SPO-20’s Annie Lennox, Professor B. Miller, accompanies the robot on keyboards with more sweaty enthusiasm than Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra’s light-hearted tunes require, but he’s probably overcompensating for SPO-20’s stiffness air of enigmatic aloofness.

SPO are from San Diego, which is a weirder music town than you might expect; it’s also home to Cattle Decapitation, masked powerviolence perpetrators The Locust, and at least one other, much scarier robot band. They’ve been doing their thing since 1996 and their biggest claim to fame is they released the bestselling 4-disc debut album of all time — featuring “probably over 50 songs!” according to their website. You’re probably wondering, “Yeah, but how many 4-disc debut albums can there possibly be?” And I’m here to tell you that I have no idea, but I’m sure it’s a lot or they wouldn’t be bragging about it.

Here’s one of those 50-odd tracks, “Haunted Rental Car,” which I figured is an appropriate choice since it’s almost Halloween and all:

After a follow-up 2014 album called Experiments With Auto-Croon, SPO return next month with the first in what Prof B tell us will be a series of 20 (twenty!) EPs, each centered around a different theme. The first one is all about supermarkets, which I guess is appropriate because robots are already starting to run our supermarkets, so why not have one sing songs about it? Here’s a just-released video for that Orwellian shopping nightmare known as the “Price Check”:

After Stop by the Supermarket, SPO’s next three EPs will be about Christmas (timely!), the paranormal (less timely, but awesome!) and being lost at sea (never goes out of style). What the next 16 EPs after that will be about is anyone’s guess, but I’m sure they’ll all be trenchant parables for our dystopian times.

Side note: Satanic Puppeteer Orchestra was actually one of the three bands that played at our first (and to date, only) Weird Band Night back in 2014. How we went four years after that event without ever adding them to the Weird List I’m not sure, but it was probably down to some stupid human error and further proof that robots are better at everything. I’m sure one directed this video for another SPO tune, “Frankenstein’s Laundromat,” because it’s great. (As is their live show — if you happen to live in San Diego, they’re having a record release gig on Nov. 24th, which you should definitely check out.)

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Jandek

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Outsider musicians don’t get any more outsidery than the mysterious Texas singer-songwriter who, for years, was known to the world only as Jandek. Over the course of 40 years and 91 albums — all released through his own label, Corwood Industries — he’s done everything from minimalist, atonal folk to minimalist, Velvet Underground-ish psych-rock to minimalist piano nocturnes to — do you sense a theme here? Well, you can forget it, because sometimes he also likes to get funky. About the only thing you can expect from Jandek is that he will defy your expectations — including your expectations of what “outsider music” is supposed to sound like.

Jandek first surfaced in 1978 with Ready for the House, an album of nine ghostly dirges performed on a detuned (or, according to Jandek, alternately tuned) acoustic guitar and sung in an oddly affectless murmur, as though all the vocals were recorded at 3 a.m. while trying not to wake a sleeping infant in the next room. The tone throughout is melancholy and claustrophobic; you get the sense that whoever recorded these songs doesn’t get out much. Relief seems to come on the album’s final track, “European Jewel (Incomplete),” when Jandek breaks out a slightly more tuneful electric guitar — until he sings, “There’s bugs in my brain/I can’t feel any pain,” right before the tape abruptly cuts off (hence, one presumes, the “Incomplete” in the song title) and you realize you might be listening to the ramblings of an actual crazy person.

Even though it’s clearly the work of a lone individual, Ready for the House was originally attributed to a band called The Units — until another band of the same name sent Jandek a cease-and-desist. I’m not sure how they even learned of Ready for the House‘s existence, since Corwood Industries apparently had zero distribution at the time. In his classic book on outsider music, Songs in the Key of Z, Irwin Chusid describes writing to Jandek in 1980, two years after Ready for the House‘s initial release, and receiving a letter back noting that the album had only sold two copies. Further correspondence yielded 25 free copies of the LP; “I need to move them,” their creator explained. (For years, this was part of Jandek’s appeal; you could mail-order his records from him directly, via a P.O. box in Houston, and he’d often send more records than you requested, swamping his tiny fan base with product.)

Even though subsequent Jandek albums, including 1981’s Six and Six and 1982’s Chair Beside a Window, featured cover photos of a pale young man with a bowl cut and a piercing stare, the project remained essentially anonymous. None of the records included any liner notes, and whatever press Jandek did seemed to be almost inadvertent. He agreed to a 1985 interview with John Trubee, a writer for a then brand-new magazine called Spin, but listening to the full audio of the recording (which has been widely disseminated by Jandek fans eager for any insight into their reclusive hero), it’s not clear that he understood he was being recorded and might be quoted in Trubee’s article. “You don’t want any personal information printed?” Trubee asks at one point. “Rather not,” Jandek tersely replies. “You can quote any of the lyrics,” he adds, sounding like he’s trying to be helpful. Then, true to form, he offers to send Trubee more copies of all his records.

It’s since been revealed, through copyright information and other public records, that Jandek is the work of one Sterling R. Smith, who lives in the Houston area and is believed to now be in his late 60s or early 70s. However, out of respect for his extremely private nature, many fans still refer to him only as Jandek — or, to distinguish him from the musical project, which over the years has occasionally incorporated other musicians, as “the representative from Corwood Industries” or simply “the representative.”

For a taste of early, acoustic Jandek, here’s “The Janitor,” from his third album, Later On, Corwood Industries catalog no. 741. Oh, did I mention that he gave Ready for the House catalog no. 739, for no particular reason? Unless he’s got 738 albums’ worth of unreleased songs like this, which seems entirely possible.

Reactions to Jandek’s early music ranged, predictably, from confusion to disgust and even terror; Chusid called Ready for the House “one of the most frightening records I’ve ever heard.” I don’t find it quite that chilling, but there is something undeniably unsettling about it. There has to be something not quite right, you think as you listen to Jandek, with any man who’d churn out these atonal dirges so prolifically.

Jandek wasn’t a total tinfoil-on-the-windows loner, however. His 1982 album, Chair Beside a Window, featured a guest female vocalist named Nancy on a track helpfully titled “Nancy Sings.” And by 1985, he had even assembled a band and gone electric, though the results — still featuring the aforementioned Nancy — were less Dylan at Newport and more The Shaggs at Lou Reed’s garage sale.

Not all of Jandek’s early work was out-of-tune caterwauling. By the late ’80s, his guitar work could occasionally be bluesy and elegiac, and his deadpan murmur had been largely replaced by a breathy delivery that carried just the hint of a melody and suggested he might own a Nick Drake record or two. Either he was learning on the job, or the earlier, more atonal stuff was a deliberate move and not the mere amateurism his many detractors have long accused him of (and though he has fans like Thurston Moore, Ben Gibbard and Conor Oberst, he has many, many more detractors).

“Upon the Grandeur,” a rambling, eight-minute guitar idyll from 1991’s One Foot in the North, is especially beautiful, with inscrutable lyrics that may or may not be about religious salvation. It sounds like he’s singing, “Join hands another way/Be born again today,” but it’s hard to tell — and, as always, there are no lyric sheets or liner notes to help decipher his slurred delivery.

In the ’90s, Jandek returned to acoustic solo recordings. By this time he had acquired a sizable cult following who embraced his quirky, lo-fi approach — but even that following was not prepared for 2000’s Put My Dream on This Planet, on which he ditched the guitar and just sang shakily into what sounded like a cheap, voice-activated tape recorder. Two of the album’s three tracks stretched on for over 20 minutes, testing all but the most dedicated fans’ patience. (Don’t worry, if you don’t make it through all 28 minutes of “I Need Your Life,” we won’t report you to the Jandek police.)

Not content to stop there, Jandek released two more a cappella/spoken word albums — the third and (for now) final of which is called Worthless Recluse, a title he probably lifted from a dismissive review in some underground rock zine that could only hang with Jandek if there was a weirdly tuned guitar involved.

In 2004, Jandek got a little less mysterious when he began performing live. At first, he would only appear unannounced, on the bill at larger festivals. But by 2005 he was headlining the occasional show, first in the U.K. and later in Austin, New York and elsewhere around the U.S. and Europe. He also began releasing live albums based on these still-infrequent appearances, each named after the location and day of the week of the show: Glasgow Sunday, Newcastle Monday, Manhattan Tuesday. At these shows, a man who looked unmistakably like an older version of the pale kid on the cover of early Jandek albums took the stage, usually playing guitar but occasionally piano, bass or keyboard, with a rotating cast of backing musicians. Musicians who have played with him at these gigs report that he invariably refers to himself as “the representative from Corwood Industries.”

Playing live seems to have inspired Jandek to expand his sonic palette, dabbling in everything from noise-rock to avant-garde classical to free jazz, sometimes all in the same show. Here, for example, is “Part Three” of Manhattan Tuesday, recorded on Sept. 6, 2005 with several leading musicians from New York’s experimental rock scene and released in 2007.

This new phase of sonic experimentation has affected Jandek’s studio recordings as well. In 2013, he released The Song of Morgan, a 9-disc set featuring nine numbered “Nocturnes” for piano, each about an hour in length. There are no accompanying vocals or other instrumentation — just Jandek’s spare, simple piano chords, which somehow manage to simultaneously evoke George Winston, Erik Satie and a child noodling away after a year or two of lessons (an association seemingly made explicit by the cover photo, the youngest image he’s ever released of the “Corwood representative”). He followed that up a year later with Ghost Passing, a 6-disc set of more hour-long piano-only compositions.

At least two documentaries have been made about Jandek: 2003’s Jandek on Corwood, in which “the representative” never appears (and for which the filmmakers explicitly avoided interviewing him, preferring to tell his story through commentary from various musicians and journalists) and 2015’s I Know You Well, which follows Jandek’s forays into live performing. Though he appears onscreen in the latter film, he remains no less enigmatic. Explaining at one point why he prefers playing to seated audiences, he says, “It’s easier for them to dream. And to feel like, ‘I hate it, but I can’t leave.'”

The debate over Jandek tends to polarize into two extremes: Is he a genius or a charlatan? Personally, I think he’s neither. Like all good outsider musicians, Jandek forces his listeners to decide where they draw the line between “real” music and aimless noise, between art and doodling, meaning and nonsense. Doing that doesn’t take any particular genius, but it does take a singular, selfish vision and a willingness to completely ignore all considerations of convention and commercialism — or even the expectations of your own fans and the precedent of your own catalog. You could made a strong case that no other musician has done this longer, or more consistently, than Jandek. Like I said, when it comes to outsider musicians, he’s the outsider-iest.

I’ll leave you with more late ’80s Jandek — not because I claim it’s his best period, or his weirdest, but just because it happens to be my favorite. Liking this version of Jandek — when his aimless songwriting alit on something that was part blues shaman, part discount-bin Dylan and part Velvet Underground circa “Pale Blue Eyes” — is probably the equivalent of liking Picasso before he discovered cubism, but I don’t care. I love that something can simultaneously sound so transcendent and so like it’s in danger of falling apart at any moment. I think that’s the promise implicit in all outsider music — that coloring so far outside the lines can lead to moments that can’t be reached through conventional means.

P.S. Thanks to every reader who has patiently suggested for years that we add Jandek to the Weird List. Your patience has finally been rewarded. Hope that, like Jandek’s captive live audiences, you didn’t hate the wait too much.

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Bow Gamelan Ensemble

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A Javanese instrument made up of bells, chimes, gongs and various other percussive elements, the gamelan is one of the most elegant music-making devices ever created. The Bow Gamelan Ensemble, which existed in England from about 1983 to 1991, is considerably less elegant and doesn’t feature much you’d confuse with an actual gamelan. But the basic concept — using lots of different percussion to produce an elaborate tapestry of sound — is the same. Just with a lot more pyrotechnics.

Formed by percussionist Paul Burwell, performance artist Anne Bean (previously of tongue-in-cheek glam-rockers Moody and the Menstruators) and sculptor Richard Wilson (later famous for insane large-scale artworks like this one), Bow Gamelan specialized in creating site-specific, large-scale industrial art installations, often over water, upon which they would then perform semi-improvised musique concrète works featuring scrap metal, motors, air compressors and various other industrial noise-making devices. Their shows typically climaxed in explosions, fireworks and bursts of flame.

Bow Gamelan certainly weren’t the first or last group to use power tools and found objects as instruments, but they were among the most ambitious. Here, for example, is a 16-minute documentary about their 1987 work, Offshore Rig, which occupied a one-acre island on the Thames for several weeks as the Bow members and a team of helpers outfitted the island and several surrounding pontoons with oil drums, steam whistles, vacuum cleaners, a massive set of wind chimes made from 100 sheets of broken glass, and 3,000 pounds of pyrotechnics.

And here they along another section of the Thames, in Kent, performing a 10-hour piece on a set of concrete barges. As they banged on their bells, pipes, springs and barrels, they and their instruments gradually submerged in the rising tide.

One of the cool things that set Bow Gamelan Ensemble apart from other musique concrète ensembles was their fascination with water and its distortive effects on sound. Even performing indoors, they often found ways to incorporate water into the show, as in this piece called In C & Air that also used the stage floor itself as percussion by raising and slamming down planks of it via an elaborate pulley system.

Strictly speaking, Bow Gamelan — who took the “Bow” part of their name from the East London district where they formed — were more of a performance art project than a band. But they did release some of their “music” on cassette and LP, including this 1984 tape from the cassette magazine Audio Arts and a 1988 album called Great Noises That Fill the Air.

Some accounts of Bow Gamelan Ensemble have them breaking up in 1990, but I found several references to a cassette called Dancing With the Ghosts that appears to be a recording of a 1991 performance in Rome. I’m pretty sure this features a later version of the group that included only Burwell and a second percussionist called Z’ev. The original trio, plus Z’ev and several other performers, also reunited in 2004 for a one-off performance in a place called Margate Harbour, which judging from this video was a classic Bow Gamelan show, pyrotechnics and all.

Sadly, Burwell died in 2007 at the age of 57. But Bean and Wilson haven’t abandoned the project completely; in fact, if anything, they’ve been even more active, creating a very Bow Gamelan-like large-scale performance in Birmingham, England in late 2007 in his memory, and forming a new duo called W0B that’s carried on the Bow Gamelan tradition of exploring sound with unusual, sculptural assemblages like this one. Later this month, on Oct. 26th, they’ll premiere a new performance at the Cooper Gallery in Dundee, Scotland as part of a two-month retrospective of Bow Gamelan’s work. If any of you readers are planning to attend, please give us a report.

P.S. Our thanks to reader Thremnir for suggesting we add Bow Gamelan to the Weird List.

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Charamel

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Recently, music biz veteran Eric Alper posted a tweet that read simply, “When you’re overqualified for the job,” and included a video featuring some person in a big red Japanese anime costume playing drums at what seems to be, judging from the music, some sort of children’s concert. (It’s hard to tell because the camera never leaves the drummer, but the music sounds like something you’d hear on the Japanese version of Barney & Friends.) Then, about 45 seconds into it, things take an unexpected turn. See for yourself:

Needless to say, we had to know more. Some commenters on Alper’s Twitter post (which has been retweeted over 70,000 times, as any Japanese anime character playing drums like Dave Lombardo rightly should be) said the character was part of a band called Charamel. Futher digging, with the help of Google translator and KnowYourMeme.com revealed that the character itself is called Nyango Star, and it’s been making the rounds for about three years, releasing drum cover videos like this insane pass at Japanese kawaii metal darlings Babymetal’s “Akatsuki.”

Nyango Star even has his/her/its own website, which includes an origin story that explains the character is a hybrid cat/apple — the reincarnated spirit of a dead cat buried in an apple orchard who was told by the spirit of an apple tree that only by going to Hollywood and becoming famous could it return to its original cat form. So it decided to become a famous drummer. See? It all makes perfect sense.

Somewhere along the way, Nyango Star teamed up with three other costumed characters to form the rock group Charamel. I could find almost no information about Charamel in English beyond their character names — besides Nyango, there’s Funassyi (the lead singer, who I think is supposed to be a canary, or a pear, or maybe a canary/pear hybrid), Akkuma (the guitar-playing bear) and Kapal (the bass-playing turtle). [Update: Our readers inform me that Kapal is definitely not a turtle but a “water goblin,” and Funassyi is a “pear fairy.” They’re also all examples of Japanese “yuru-chara” mascots, which are like American sports mascots except they tend to be cuter and more surreal and can represent anything from cities to corporations to public transit systems.] I think they formed sometime in early 2017 and debuted with this music video, which is probably my favorite thing to come out of Japan since the aforementioned Babymetal. (Give it about 23 seconds; much like Nyango Star’s drumming at the children’s show, it takes an extremely abrupt turn for the awesome.)

I’m sure we’ll learn more about Charamel very soon, as nothing from Japan this amazing stays under the radar for long. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this video of Charamel in concert — the sound quality sucks, but it’s worth watching just to see a glowstick-waving Japanese crowd go apeshit for this stuff. Also, Funassyi’s got some sick moves.

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