Weird of the Day: Laktating Yak, “Tsak of the Yak”

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Happy 2019, Weirdlings! Did you enjoy your holidays? Drink lots of eggnog? Well, if you did, turns out you were doing it wrong. You should have been drinking yak milk. So say Houston avant-prog-rockers Laktating Yak on their freaky debut album, Origin of the Yak, which I’m really regretting not putting on my Christmas list.

According to the good people of Laktating Yak, the mere smell of yak milk “replenishes spiritual vitality as well as erectile disfunction,” which is either bad grammar or means that if your erection is getting a little too functional, those musky yak milk fumes will have you flaccid again in no time. But you won’t care, because once you’ve actually ingested the aforementioned yak milk, “it chemically interacts with human anatomy in a similar fashion to adrenaline.” It’s like steroids you can pour on your Corn Flakes! Which you’ll be eating alone because of your erectile dysfunction, but hey, at least you’ll be pumped.

Yak mythologies aside, Origin of the Yak, is great stuff, with lots of noodly guitar and violin and saxophone, deploying riffs that lock horn like — do yaks lock horns? If they did, I’m sure it would sound like the instrumental throwdown that is “Tsak of the Yak.”

If you like that, you can check out the rest of Origin of the Yak on Bandcamp. Oh, and I saved my favorite thing about Laktating Yak for last: They are a self-described Zeuhl band, meaning they take instrumental (and possibly cosmological) inspiration from French prog-rock pioneers and Zeuhl progenitors Magma. The world really needs more Zeuhl bands, I think. Even though if you cornered me at a prog-rock concert and asked me to explain what “Zeuhl” is, I would probably point and yell “Is that Mike Portnoy?” and then run away because I still have no idea. Prog-rock that’s more about the psychedelic vibes than the whole “watch me shred for 10 minutes” thing, maybe? Yeah, I think it’s something like that.

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Weird of the Day: Holly Herndon, Jlin and Spawn, “Godmother”

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There’s a lot of anxiety in the music business right now over artificial intelligence, which everyone seems to think is going to eventually generate all of our pop music and put a lot of producers, singers and songwriters out of work. This fear probably says more about the state of current pop music than it does about the potential of AI; if the music you’re creating can really be that easily learned and imitated by a computer, maybe the music you’re creating is, oh I don’t know, a giant steaming pile of uninspired, formulaic horseshit? (I’m looking at you, Chainsmokers. But I digress.)

Rather than fear our future AI overlords, some forward-thinking artists are happily enlisting them as collaborators. That’s what experimental electronic producer and vocal looper Holly Herndon has been doing the past couple years with an AI she and her team in Berlin have built called Spawn. They’ve been carefully feeding Spawn various bits of music, including Herndon’s vocals, to “teach” her (Spawn is a she, until she tells her creators otherwise) how to spontaneously generate music in a variety of styles. Earlier today, they released one of Spawn’s first creations, a collaboration with Herndon and Chicago IDM/footwork producer Jlin called “Godmother.” The track features an accompanying video that overlays Herndon and Jlin’s faces in various unnerving ways. Check it out:

Pretty cool, right? In explaining how the track was created, Herndon says they simply fed Spawn a bunch of Jlin’s music, then had her combine it with Herndon’s trademark looped and chopped vocals. Or as Herndon puts it, “‘Godmother’ was generated from her listening to the artworks of her godmother Jlin, and attempting to reimagine them in her mother’s voice.”

“Simply through witnessing music, Spawn is already pretty good at learning to recreate signature composition styles or vocal characters, and will only get better,” Herndon said in a statement accompanying the track’s release. “Are we to recoil from these developments, and place limitations on the ability for non-human entities like Spawn to witness things that we want to protect? Is permission-less mimicry the logical end point of a data-driven new musical ecosystem surgically tailored to give people more of what they like, with less and less emphasis on the provenance, or identity, of an idea? Or is there a more beautiful, symbiotic, path of machine/human collaboration, owing to the legacies of pioneers like George Lewis, that view these developments as an opportunity to reconsider who we are, and dream up new ways of creating and organizing accordingly.”

Separately and more prosaically, on Twitter, Herndon recently noted, “Perhaps the coolest breakthrough in Godmother was that Spawn wasn’t trained on my producing any explicitly ‘percussive’ sounds (beat boxing). She must have constructed them from percussive consonants in my speech data, but it sounds convincing and evolves. It’s almost *too convincing*, which made me nervous to release it in case people thought I might start beat boxing on stage or something.”

Spawn has already made its her debut public performance, in Berlin earlier this year, and will feature heavily on Herndon’s next album, which is slated for a 2019 release.

You can buy “Godmother” or add it to playlists on the platform of your choice here.

Weird of the Day: Tessa Makes Love, “Spente Le Stelle”

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Remember when American news show Inside Edition got a New York-based Russian musician named Tessa Lena to explain Little Big’s “Skibidi” video? Well, it turns out Tessa is a pretty great weird artist in her own right. She releases music under the name Tessa Makes Love, including a 2013 song called “Spente Le Stelle,” subtitled “Sexual Objectification Is Very Boring.” The accompanying video has racked up over a million views on YouTube — I’d like to believe because it’s a great, groovy track and Tessa’s operatic vocals are amazing, but I suspect her equally amazing body paint had something to do with it, too. “The jury is still out on how many people realized that the video was a satire making fun of sexual objectification,” Tessa admits on her website. Unfortunately, satire is usually lost on the folks who are doing the objectifying.

More recently, Tessa has released a full-length album called Tessa Fights Robots, a bizarre and brilliant mix of glitchy synth-pop and Tiger Lillies-like punk cabaret that explores the dehumanizing effects of technology on our increasingly data-driven times. She also a blog, also called Tessa Fights Robots, in which she shares her thoughts on everything from rape culture to Americans’ peculiar love of cultural stereotypes to the way political ideologies have taken on the rigidity of religious dogma. It’s heady stuff and well worth checking out — especially if you actually picked up on the fact that “Spente Le Stelle” is satire.

Weird of the Day: Palais Schaumburg, “Kinder der Tod”

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We’d like to dedicate today’s post to new reader Jörg, who pointed out (quite rightly — thanks, Jörg!) that for a site about weird music, we’re sorely lacking in Neue Deutsche Welle or New German Wave — a particularly Teutonic strain of synth-heavy post-punk that arose in West Germany in the early ’80s. It had a brief run of popularity, leading to the crossover pop success of acts like Nena of “99 Luftballons” fame and this guy. But the original, more underground NDW was way too weird even for most Germans to fully embrace it. A lot of it sounds like a cross between Einstürzende Neubauten and early video game music — the kind of video games that might give you a small electric shock every time you lose, maybe.

Jörg was nice enough to send us links to a whole mess of this stuff, but the one that really jumped out at me was Palais Schaumburg, a band from Hamberg whose stuff managed to be both robotically stiff and kinda funky at the same time, in that way only Germans seem able to pull off. Plus, the video below for their 1981 song “Kinder der Tod” (“Children of the Death”*) is the kind of amazing ’80s artifact YouTube was made for. Suspenders and bad perms abound, and there’s a menacing figure encased in black stretchy fabric and a little performance-art piece about how you’ll die if you let anyone steal your flowers, or something. It’s all deadly serious but probably meant to be funny but it’s hard to tell because another thing Germans are great at pulling off is humor so deadpan it makes you feel like there might be something wrong with you when you can’t stop laughing at it.

Bonus fun fact: Palais Schaumburg was the first musical projects of one Thomas Fehlmann, who would go on to achieve greater renown as a member of another excellent weird band, British ambient electronic pioneers The Orb. I would never have guessed there was a direct link between Neue Deutsche Welle and ’90s rave chillout rooms, but there you have one.

*After we posted this, Jörg wrote us and explained that a more accurate though grammatically confusing translation of “Kinder der Tod” is “Children the Death” — from a lyric that translates to, “Children, (the) death is not that bad at all.” Thanks for clearing that up, Jörg! Or making it more confusing, which is probably more in the spirit of Palais Schaumburg anyway.

Weird of the Day: Patricio García, “Monotone Talk”

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Listening to the news lately can be a pretty depressing experience. It’s mostly idiots and assholes, spouting vague platitudes or outright falsehoods, repeating the same nonsense over and over again until an increasingly dim, disengaged public stops questioning their bullshit.

But one person’s bullshit is another person’s raw material for making art. On his new single “Monotone Talk,” Argentinean producer Patricio García synthesizes the voices of Donald Trump, Adolf Hitler, Marie Le Pen, King George VI, ISIS leader Abu Mohammad al-Adnani and, for some reason, Emma Stone — among many others — into a techno Tower of Babel. Dancing to it feels like dancing on the grave of history, which we’ll probably have to start digging any day now.

Before he went solo, García was a member of Argentinean post-punk group Los Chicles. He’s also done film and TV soundtrack work in a variety of electronic and symphonic styles. When he sent us “Monotone Talk,” he said he’s “looking for a new pop music.” I’d say he’s found it.

“Monotone Talk” is from a forthcoming LP of García’s work called Listen in Awe. The single comes out Oct. 18 and is available for pre-order now via Bandcamp.

Weird of the Day: Flying Lotus, “Ready Err Not”

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Photo by Tim Saccenti

Today’s weirdness comes from reader MyaIsDead, who belatedly brought to our attention the so-insanely-gross-you-can’t-stop-watching video for Flying Lotus’ “Ready Err Not.” FlyLo’s work here in Los Angeles is hard to escape; he more or less single-handedly invented the experimental fusion of hip-hop and glitchy electronica called “beat music” and was the most famous product of Low End Theory, the long-running Northeast L.A. club night that just ended last month. And I knew he had made some crazy videos, as well as a 2017 feature-length film called Kuso that some have called “the grossest movie ever made.”

But somehow I missed the video for “Ready Err Not,” which came out way back in 2014 — though I’m kinda glad I did, because even just having read descriptions of Kuso without actually watching it, David Firth’s cutout animation of “Ready Err Not” now seems almost quaint by comparison. If Clive Barker had been the seventh member of Monty Python, maybe their cartoons would have featured dismembered babies and in-bred eyeball-eaters, too.

Weird of the Day: Can’t Hold Waffles, “Spare Change Chicken Incident”

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Of all the internet goldmines for weird music — and they are legion — my favorite is probably Bandcamp. Something about its simple format and tagging system seems to make it an especially inviting playground for freaks from around the globe who want to label their music “experimental,” “art sound” or, in the case of Can’t Hold Waffles, “hélicon deep video game polka.”

Can’t Hold Waffles has two EPs on Bandcamp, both released last month. Studies for Piano and Burning Kitchen Appliances is as delightful as its name implies (especially a dancefloor banger called “Healthy as a Pumpkin”) but I have to give Spare Change Chicken Incident the nod as the weirder and more intriguing of the two. The reader who brought it to our attention, Frank Bähr, describes it as “gamelan composed through algorithms and performed by preschool escapees.” I’d say it reminds me more of what fellow Bandcamp prankster Buttress O’Kneel might put together if you said, “Write a bunch of 30-second loops that sound like Four Tet having a nervous breakdown and give them titles like ‘Robotic Weather Processor Device’ and ‘It Was Getting Late and the Dental Hygienists Weren’t There Yet.'”

So who’s behind Can’t Hold Waffles? Hell if we know. Allegedly it’s one of the 5,000 people who live in the fishing village of Sheet Harbour, Nova Scotia — which, come to think of it, is probably true, because anyone making up a fake hometown for this project probably would’ve chosen one of Sheet Harbour’s more colorfully named neighboring communities, like (I swear these are real) Sober Island or Mushaboom. Their bio lists Francis Bacon and Wittgenstein as influences and explains, “Our songs explore the relationship between oral hygiene and multimedia experiences.” Does this mean Can’t Hold Waffles’ music sounds better if you listen to it while brushing your teeth? I’ll try that tonight and report back.