Shmu

Shmu

Though they douse our inbox daily with a firehose of awful, mainstream crap, music publicists aren’t all bad. Occasionally they serve up something truly bizarre, like Shmu, a cut-and-paste solo project from Austin-based musician (and occasional Flaming Lips collaborator) Sam Chown that sounds like 10 different bands playing on top of each other at the same time — because that, essentially, is what you’re hearing.

Chown, who’s originally from Toronto and studied music at Berklee, also makes delightfully spazzy electro-noise-rock as the drummer half of the duo Zorch. As Shmu, he makes music that is at once more accessible and more abstract. At their heart, Shmu songs are shoegaze-y dream-pop; Chown cites My Bloody Valentine as an influence, although only inasmuch as he, like Kevin Shields, is fascinated with the happy harmonic accidents that happen when you keep layering sound on top of sound to the point where the human ear can no longer distinguish all the individual parts.

Here’s a good example of Chown in full-blown sensory overload mode. Listening to this on repeat kind of makes you feel like you’re having the world’s happiest seizure.

To achieve his “Tomorrow Never Knows” as remixed by The Field sound, Chown records multiple versions of the same track and then edits and layers them all together. Sometimes, when he doesn’t like where one song is heading, rather than scrap it entirely, he just mashes snippets of it into whatever he decides to do next. “Many [songs] even contain performances of me playing samples live that are samples of scrapped songs or of other entire songs — I’m performing a performance of a performance,” he says in that press release we somehow rescued from our inbox last week.

He applies the same technique to recording other musicians, as well. Shmu’s latest album, SHHH!!!!, is mostly him on the all instruments, but there are some additional guitars and bass and even a string quartet buried in there somewhere. On for one of the album’s coolest tracks, “Flutes,” he had two flautists play the same piece of music into five sets of microphones on five different delay pedals, then mixed the results together.

SHHH!!!! is Chown’s second Shmu album; the first one, 2012’s Discipline/Communication, is way less mental, but still worth checking out. It’s especially interesting to hear how the track “Turpentine” off that debut gets reimagined as a swirling, shoegaze guitar freakout on SHHH!!!!

We’ll leave you with the most ambitious track on SHHH!!!!, a 12-minute jam called “Harmonic” that closes out the album with a hurricane of Brian Chippendale-like drums, glitchy electronics and the epic post-rock sensibilities of fellow Austinites Explosions in the Sky. If this doesn’t convince you that Chown is something special, stop reading this blog and go buy the new goddamn Adele album.

Advertisements

Dakh Daughters Band

Dakh Daughters

Sometimes one weird band leads you to an even better, weirder band. That’s what happened this week when we started looking into a Ukrainian band called DakhaBrakha, who have a show in L.A. next week (with Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu, no less). DakhaBrakha describe their music as “ethnic chaos,” which sounded pretty promising — but it turns out that, although they’re a perfectly good band with a cool NPR Tiny Desk concert to their credit, they’re not that weird. Unique? Absolutely. But our minds were not blown — until we stumbled across a another project their cellist, Nina Harenetska, is sometimes part of, called the Dakh Daughters Band. We’ve been binge-watching their videos ever since and we’re still picking pieces of our brains off the keyboard.

Dakh Daughters Band is the product of Dakh Contemporary Art Center, a theater in Kiev. It’s seven actresses who also happen to be fantastic singers and multi-instrumentalists. Each song they perform is a mini-cabaret full of sung-spoken monologues, eerie Ukrainian folk harmonies, percussion, strings, stringed instruments turned into percussion, wailing, weeping, white face paint, moaning and gnashing of teeth. It’s like The Bacchae meets The Tiger Lillies meets Dead Can Dance, except even more awesome than that. Here’s their most famous video:

I mean, holy fucking shit, right? Just when you think, “OK, that one’s clearly the star of the troupe,” another one starts singing and steals the show. And then another. And another. They’re all amazing! How many kick-ass women are in the Ukraine?

As good as the “Rozy/Donbass” video is, clips of Dakh Daughters’ live performances are even more riveting. Prepare to witness the sexiest accordion-fueled murder ballad ever performed:

The Dakh Daughters started their self-described “freak cabaret” in 2012 as a one-night project for a performance in Paris. Apart from a bio on a website called What’s On Kyiv and a short Wikipedia page, very little has been written about them in English, so we don’t know much else about them, except that another of their members, Ruslana Khazipova, is in another Ukrainian band called Perkalaba, who play a sort of Ukrainian-gypsy version of ska-punk. And they’re playing Lyon, France in 2016. And we’re really fucking jealous of Lyon.

The Daughters’ latest music video is actually a cover of a Perkalaba song called “Zozulytsya.” In it, the girls seem to be trapped in some kind of cage in which they’re forced to play their instruments using household objects like wooden spoons and giant keys and whatnot. They’re also not wearing their trademark white facepaint, which I guess makes this their equivalent to KISS’ “Lick It Up,” only way less sucky. Give this one a few minutes; it builds. Oh, how it builds.

Links:

Fadades

Fadades

A little over a year ago, we introduced our readers to Fadades, a one-man black metal project from France that is either the best genre piss-take since Vegan Black Metal Chef or the greatest misunderstood metal genius this side of Dwarr. Either way, his music videos, which generally feature lots of Egyptian iconography and UFOs and Monsieur Fadades shaking his fist in the air while he roars like a constipated Brian Johnson, are endlessly entertaining, even though his music — always presented in 5.1 surround sound! — consists of little more than inexpertly played, doom-metal guitar chords, lurching, arrhythmic blast beats and the occasional celestial choir and thunderclap.

That video, for a song called “La Colère de Ramsès” or “The Wrath of Ramses,” was discovered by the metal community in 2012, briefly turning Fadades into a viral sensation. But it was originally posted in 2010, and was actually its mysterious creator’s eighth attempt to find visuals worthy of his primitive but oddly compelling take on black metal. Tracing Fadades’ origins back before “La Colère de Ramsès” is actually a pretty interesting exercise in seeing how some weirdos are made, not born. When he was just starting out, there was little indication that Fadades would go on to become the black-metal nut job we all know and love today.

Fadades’ very first video, “DAS,” uploaded in 2008, features some sweet computer graphics and, about four seconds in, what appears to be a fleeting glimpse of Fadades himself sans makeup, looking quite normal and clean-cut, actually. Even the music itself, more of a cross between industrial and groove metal, isn’t all that mind-blowing.

For his next video, “Nucléaire,” he’s still operating in a groove-metal/industrial/EBM vein, but his vocals are beginning to develop that tell-tale Fadades death rattle. He also shows up again briefly in this one looking like a clean-cut college grad, only now he’s at least strapped on a spiked cuff and studded leather shoulder strap. With these tiny steps, the metamorphosis begins!

After a series of weird but not very good videos that cribbed most of their visuals from video games, Fadades finally took his great leap forward in early 2010 with “La Fureur d’Outre-Tombe” (“Fury From the Grave”). The Fadades character emerges here fully formed, with black rooster wig, fishnet shirt, elaborately spiked cuffs and tongue gymnastics all in place. The Egpytology stuff would come later; here, he’s just rocking out against the rather conventional black metal backdrop of an old graveyard, presumably somewhere near his hometown of Mulhouse in Alsace, near the German/Swiss border.

And he’s been rocking the one-man metal and bizarro music videos ever since. Through 2012, he churned out his ridiculous videos at a pretty steady clip, including this one, which may be our favorite, because it features Fadades crash-landing his UFO on a planet the color of Pepto-Bismol and using his raygun to do battle with killer fern fronds and a giant perfume bottle. Can’t wait to watch it now, can you?

Since 2012, Fadades’ output has been more sporadic, but he’s still out there somewhere, wandering the Egyptian desert and/or the frostbitten wastes of whatever part of Alsace black metal fans congregate in. Actually, scratch that last part — Fadades clearly doesn’t go anywhere other people congregate, even black metal fans. If ever there was a lone wolf of outsider metal, it’s Fadades.

We’ll leave you with Fadades’ latest video, “Jurassic Extinction,” which he just released last month. In it, our hero uses his awesome homemade guitar, the Hyperbolika (seriously, it’s a pretty sick-looking axe), to ignite a nuclear holocaust that triggers the extinction of the dinosaurs. At least we think that’s what’s happening. In any case, it features both Fadades and computer-animated dinosaurs, so you know it’s going to rule.

P.S. Shout-out to readers Lou and Yummi Tomato, the former for introducing us to Fadades and the latter for reminding us that for some unknown and inexcusable reason, we had yet to add him to the Weird List. About time we did, right?

Links:

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

Crazy World of Arthur Brown

In some alternate universe, British singer Arthur Brown is more famous than Alice Cooper, one of the many theatrical rockers obviously indebted to him. But like so many weirdos before and since, the man best-known for wearing a flaming pot on his head and shouting, “I am the god of hellfire!” was, in his late ’60s heyday, both misunderstood and plagued by back luck, and was ultimately unable to sustain the popularity he briefly enjoyed.

Brown spent his college-aged years kicking around Reading, London and Paris in a variety of bands, before finally forming his most famous group, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, with organist Vincent Crane in 1967. It was around this time that Brown began experimenting with wearing various flaming helmets and headdresses as part of the band’s live show. The experiments didn’t always work; at the Windsor Festival in ’67, some lighter fluid from the helmet splashed into his hair and set fire to his head. Still, Brown’s stage antics, alone with his melodramatic vocals and Crane’s furious keyboards, attracted the attention of Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, managers of The Who, who signed The Crazy World to their Track Records label that same year.

In 1968, The Crazy World of Arthur Brown released their self-titled debut album, along with the aptly titled single “Fire,” which became an unlikely international smash, rocketing to No. 1 in the U.K. and eventually reaching No. 2 in the U.S. It’s a catchy song, propelled by a horn section, Crane’s frenetic organ and Brown’s octave-leaping squeals, but Brown’s memorable appearance on Top of the Pops—in flaming headgear and black-and-white facepaint that seems to presage the corpse paint of black metal by about 20 years—no doubt boosted sales, as well.

Riding the success of “Fire,” Brown and his bandmates set out on an international tour, but the whole enterprise was snake-bit almost from the beginning. First Crazy World’s drummer, the excellently named Drachen Theaker, quit because he was afraid of flying; he was replaced for the tour by a pre-ELP Carl Palmer. Then Crane, who was bipolar, suffered a breakdown and quit, which was a real blow. As you can tell from this clip from the 1968 film The Committee, featuring a weird Crazy World of Arthur Brown cameo, Crane’s organ was just as integral to the band’s sound as Brown’s wild vocals.

Crane eventually returned, only to quit again, this time taking Palmer with him to form the band Atomic Rooster. With returned drummer Theaker and a rotating cast of supporting musicians, Brown recorded one more album as The Crazy World of Arthur Brown in 1969, called Strangelands. But the label was unhappy with the increasingly eccentric, experimental direction of Brown’s music, and shelved the album entirely. Eventually released in 1988, it’s a remarkable head-trip of a record, melding influences as disparate as The Doors, Hendrix, Sly Stone and Captain Beefheart into a churning psychedelic jam presided over by Brown’s increasingly operatic vocals, which foreshadowed the vibrato-heavy style of future heavy metal belters like Bruce Dickinson and Ronnie James Dio.

In the ’70s, Brown formed a new band, Kingdom Come, who released three increasingly outlandish albums of prog-rock between 1971 and 1973. Their final album, Journey, is noteworthy for being one of the first rock albums to use a drum machine.

After the dissolution of Kingdom Come, Brown spent the rest of the ’70s kicking around various musical projects, several of them quite high-profile. He appeared in the film version of The Who’s Tommy, playing the role of the Priest; did vocals for Alan Parsons Project’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” on 1976’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination; and collaborated with German electronic composer Klaus Schulze on a series of albums, including 1979’s Dune.

In 1975, he attempted a comeback of sorts, releasing a solo album called Dance that was a stab at a more accessible, R&B-influenced rock sound. It landed him an amazing TV appearance on a show called Supersonic, which Brown himself has since posted clips of on YouTube—but beyond that, the album seems to have made little impact.

In the ’80s, Brown relocated to, of all places, Austin, Texas, where he continued to pursue the occasional music project but also earned a master’s degree in counseling and ran a house-painting business with former Frank Zappa drummer Jimmy Carl Black. Eventually, he moved back to England, where he has continued to pursue a variety of eclectic projects, including a musical psychotherapy business called Healing Songs Therapy, some collaborations with Bruce Dickinson, and an acoustic album, 2000’s Tantric Lover, the first album in more than 30 years he recorded as The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

These days, Brown lives in a yurt in the English countryside, where he continues to make music and break out the occasional piece of flammable headgear. In 2013, he used a successful Pledge Music campaign to fund his latest album, a sci-fi concept record called Zim Zam Zim. As you can see and hear in the below music video, Brown remains just as theatrically crazy in his seventies as he was back in ’68, though his vocals these days are less Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, more Tom Jones meets Tom Waits. Long live the God of Hellfire!

P.S. Many thanks to reader Adele Acadela for sharing the above video with us and reminding us of Arthur Brown’s continued brilliance.

Links:

PPL MVR

The One and Only PPL MVR

You probably think you can tell what PPL MVR sound like just by looking at them. I mean, it’s three guys dressed up like yetis. It’s gotta be knuckle-dragging, skull-pounding sludge metal, right? Or maybe theatrical death metal a la Band of Orcs. One way or another, it’s metal. Clearly. Only metal guys are willing to sweat that much.

But think again. Although PPL MVR’s sound does in fact rock hard, and their drummer does in fact play with sticks shaped like thigh bones, they owe more to strutting, ’70s-style cock-rock than to anything on today’s headbanger circuit. In fact, once you throw in some pedal-distorted guitar and talkbox-distorted vocals, they kinda sound like ELO trying to do Sabbath covers. At least they’ve got all windmilling-in-the-wind-tunnel moves down, though. Whatever planet they’re from must have Headbangers Ball reruns.

PPL MVR—or “The One and Only PPL MVR,” as they sometimes go by—are from right here in TWBITW’s home base of Los Angeles, but like all good costumed bands, they’ve done a pretty good job so far of keeping their identities secret, going only by their yeti names of SNWBLL, K-PO and Q. They give great interviews, staying totally in character, and we’ve heard their live shows are great, too, though we haven’t yet had the pleasure.

And they must have a really good manager, because even though they’ve only been in existence for about a year, they’ve already appeared at Sundance, Tenacious D’s Festival Supreme, the Playboy offices, and something called the Spike TV Guys’ Choice Awards, because y’know, all those other awards shows don’t let guys give each other enough awards. They’ve even been signed to Elektra Records, which is pretty big time. I mean, yeah, they live in L.A. and their songs are catchy as hell, but still—bands like Extreme Turbo Smash must be looking at PPL MVR like, “Fuck. What do we have to do to get in on that action?”

Not much else is known about PPL MVR at this point, because well, they’ve only been around for a year and the only interviews they’ve given so far have consisted of grunts and snarls. So we’ll just leave you with what appears to be their latest video, for a song called “Let’s Take This Outside.” I’m no expert on yeti social customs, but my strong advice to you is: Do NOT take it outside with PPL MVR. Let the beasts eat their pancakes in peace.

Links:

Lieutenant Caramel

Lieutenant Caramel

One of the cool things about my day job is that I get to work with the great Henry Rollins, whose taste in weird and esoteric music is even more wide-ranging than mine and Jake’s. (He also knows more about music than the two of us put together. Like, a lot, lot more.) He hosts a radio show every Sunday night on KCRW-FM that I highly encourage you to check out — every week, he breaks out some new mind-bending shit you’ve probably never heard of. In the coming week’s, we’ll probably be mining Henry’s show for all sorts of new weird sounds.

Our first raid of the Rollins vaults comes in the form of a gentleman from France who goes by the nom de weird of Lieutenant Caramel. He describes himself as a “hunter of sounds” and collector of “resonant matters,” but his work transcends typical musique concrete and field recordings with a sense of wit and whimsy that makes even his most bizarre compositions as hilarious in places as a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Most of them clock in at around ten minutes or more, so they’re not for short attention spans — or then again, since they constantly warp and shape-shift, maybe they are.

Lieutenant Caramel is the alter ego of Philippe Blanchard, who lives in the ridiculously picturesque town of Annecy in the French Alps. In 1999, he founded a festival there called “Le bruit de la neige,” which translates to “The Noise of Snow.” Looks like the most recent one was just last month, so I guess Jake and I will just have to start planning now to hit the 2016 edition.

Not everything Blanchard produces as Lieutenant Caramel sounds like cartoon character stumbling through a tool shed. We’ll leave you with a track that’s more Lynch than Looney Tunes. There’s still some funny, distorted voices in there, but this time, you won’t know whether to laugh or hide under the covers.

Links:

Tartar Control

Tartar Control
This and header photo by Patty Courtland

This week’s weird band was a tough call. You see, Los Angeles is home to not one, but two punk bands that dress up like Mormon missionaries. The Mormons did it first, forming back in 1998, and they take the extra step of wearing bicycle helmets to really complete the standard Mormon missionary look. Tartar Control came along much more recently, so normally, we’d give the nod to The Mormons. But Tartar Control has a robot, and when calculating any band’s weirdness quotient, robots beat originality every time. Plus, Tartar Control’s music videos rule.

So congrats, Tartar Control! You are officially the weirdest Mormon punk band not only here in L.A., but possibly anywhere in the world. Joseph Smith would be proud.

Tartar Control’s two human members, Sean and Robert, claim to be actual Mormons from Salt Lake City, who were sent to do their church mission in South Central Los Angeles. When and how they acquired their bassist/drummer robot, Robot, remains something of a mystery, unless you know how to read binary code.

Sean and Robert started out singing in the church choir, but somewhere along the way, they developed a taste for punk rock. They first caught our attention with the video for “Diabolical,” which is a delightful 83 seconds of gore, mayhem and goat-fucking:

Then we found the video for “Jesus Is Love,” which shows the band wreaking havoc in their native habitat, Anaheim punk club the Doll Hut:

Those songs are both from Tartar Control’s first album, 2012’s Holy Crap, as is their most recent video, “Smoking Crack,” which came out last year. We assume, since they’re Mormons and all, that “Smoking Crack” is a cautionary tale. Normally, I’m sure Robert, Sean and Robot all Just Say No.

Late last year, Tartar Control released their second album, We Forgive You. So far they haven’t made any videos for it, but they did release this fun little album teaser:

We haven’t had a chance to listen to all of We Forgive You yet, but so far, our favorite track by far is “My God’s Cock.” I didn’t know Mormons were so into talking about the magical powers of the Good Lord’s schlong, but they do wear magical underwear, so I guess crotch-related magic is a theme with them.

We’ll leave you with one of Tartar Control’s many helpful public service announcement songs (along with “Cramps Don’t Mean You’re Pregnant” and “Satanists Are Fucking Dicks”): “Brush Your Teeth.” Cleanliness is next to Godliness, kids, so brushing your teeth is like putting a little Jesus in your mouth.

Links: