Už jsme doma

Uz-jsme-doma

Until today, we had only included one band from the Czech Republic on The Weird List, a spazzy duo called Harmony Bay, whom we described as “like a cross between Naked City, Pryapisme and Mr. Bungle.” If we weren’t so fucking lazy, we would have done a little digging into the history of Czech rock and discovered that they also owe a pretty huge debt to Už jsme doma, one of the longest-running and oddest bands to come from the land of Václav Havel and Budweiser (the good Czech kind, not the shitty American kind).

As reader Dave Rolsky pointed out when he brought Už jsme doma to our attention (thanks, Dave!), not everything in the band’s lengthy catalog necessarily qualifies as weird. At times, they can just sound like a particularly herky-jerky ska-punk band. But when The Residents enlist you as their backing band — as they did when they performed their album Freak Show in Prague in 1995 — you gotta be pretty weird.

Už jsme doma (whose name translates to literally to “We’re Home Now”) first began performing together in 1985, when Czechoslovakia was still under communist rule and rock music was banned. At the core of the band’s rotating lineup was founding member Jindra Dolanský on saxophone and Miroslav Wanek, who joined in ’86, on bass, guitar and vocals. By 1989, as communist restrictions began to loosen, they had grown into a slightly more above-ground collective with three saxophones and multiple vocalists, which you can see in action below at a concert filmed in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. This incarnation of Už jsme doma, though awesome, was sadly short-lived.

With the arrival of the Velvet Revolution in late 1989 and the fall of Eastern Bloc communism the following year, Už jsme doma could finally come out of the shadows and begin releasing proper albums and playing proper venues. Over the next decade, the band put out some of their most experimental and acclaimed work, starting with 1990’s Uprostřed slov (In the Middle of Words) and carrying through till Uši (Ears), their last album to feature Dolanský’s serpentine saxophone.

Since 2001, lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Wanek has led Už jsme doma, continuing to mash together punk, prog and jazz with an Eastern European melodic sensibility — imagine if Frank Zappa and Béla Bartók co-wrote the next Gogol Bordello album and you’re about halfway to describing more recent albums like Jeskyně (Caves), which also features a pretty great animated video for the track “Mariana” by Jakub Čermák.

Už jsme doma remain active to this day and recently celebrated their 30th anniversary. They released their latest album Tři křížky (Three Crosses), in 2015, and still regularly tour the Czech Republic and other parts of Europe, though as far as we can tell they haven’t visited the States in some time. Maybe getting all the necessary visas is too much of a hassle, or maybe we’re just not ready for a band that sounds like a Czech version of The Mothers of Invention.

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BloodHag

bloodhag-logo

Underneath all the tattoos and black clothing, a lot of metal fans are nerds. They collect manga comic books, play Final Fantasy, can rattle off the names of secondary Game of Thrones characters, and read a lot of sci-fi. Like, a lot of sci-fi. And that sci-fi permeates the lyrics and imagery of many successful metal bands, from the dystopian concept albums of Fear Factory to the intergalactic space demons of GWAR. But it’s fair to say no band ever took the intersection of metal and science fiction to a more literal extreme than BloodHag.

Formed in Seattle in 1996, BloodHag (or BlöödHag, for those of you who like your metal garnished with umlauts) played short, spastic bursts of throat-shredding death metal about sci-fi authors, from the famous ones taught in high school and college English classes (George Orwell, Aldous Huxley) to the genre heroes known only to those hardcore fans who have “Hugo Awards” in their Google alerts (Michael Swanwick, Robert Silverberg). They did this, until calling it quits around 2010, while dressed like high school math teachers, in white shirts and horn-rimmed glasses, under such learned stage names as Dr. J. M. McNulty (guitar), Professor J.B. Stratton (bass) and Ambassador Brent Carpenter (drums).

Their music, as heard on a handful of albums and EPs with names like Hooked on Demonics and Hell Bent for Letters, was classically thunderous death metal compressed down into punk-like two- and three-minute blasts of growls, double-kick rumbles and and Sabbath-y guitar licks. Combining that with gutturally delivered lyrics like “Along with Asimov, he’s on a list of the most gifted secular humanists in history” (from “Kurt Vonnegut Jr.”) is weird enough, but what really earns BloodHag a spot on the Weird List is this: In 2000, they managed to convince someone in the King County Library System that their “edu-core” tunes were enriching enough to be part of their literacy program. So they embarked on a tour of Seattle area libraries. Playing death metal. The absurd brilliance of this was captured in an eight-minute documentary called BlöödHag: The Faster You Go Deaf…The More Time You Have to Read, which is on YouTube and which you should really go watch right now because you haven’t lived until you’ve seen gleeful children and horrified library staff getting their hair blown back to songs with titles like “Marion Zimmer Bradley.”

We’ll leave you with what, according to McNulty, is BloodHag’s only music video, for their two-minute ode to gifted secular humanist Kurt Vonnegut. We hope these guys do a reunion tour soon, because clearly our increasingly semi-literate society is more in need than ever of being smacked upside the head by a few nice thick Orson Scott Card paperbacks.

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Meow the Jewels

Meow the Jewels

We’re cheating a little with this week’s “band,” weirdlings. Meow the Jewels isn’t a band per se; it’s more of a remix project, created hardcore hip-hop duo El-P and Killer Mike, aka Run the Jewels. The weird part? All of the remixes are composed primarily out of cat sounds. Why didn’t anyone think of this sooner?

After recruiting such big-name guest rappers and producers for the project as Prince Paul, Just Blaze, Dan the Automator and even Snoop Dogg (who really should’ve been billed as Snoop Catt — missed opportunity, guys), El-P headed down to the animal shelter to enlist some cats to provide sound effects. Then it was off to the studio to flip such Run the Jewels tracks as “Jeopardy” and “All Due Respect” into “Meowpurrdy” and “Paw Due Respect.” The result is perhaps the greatest hip-hop album of all time, cat-themed or otherwise.

That’s neat and all but — I hear you ask — do they have videos? Well, since the Internet is roughly 80% cat memes (the other 20% is equal parts porn and right-wing conspiracy theories), you bet your sweet ass they do. This first one was directed by Jason Goldwatch for Mass Appeal, and somehow manages to cram most of the Internet’s finest cat memes into 3 minutes and 14 seconds.

Then, as if all that weren’t awesome enough, last week Meow the Jewels released a new video for “Meowpurrdy” directed by none other than our favorite digital animation madman, Cyriak. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to drop acid in one of those Japanese cat cafés, this is probably your answer.

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Itchy-O

Itchy-O

Our readers submit a lot of marching bands as possible entrants on the Weird List. Usually, we don’t pay them much attention, because the whole concept of extreme/alternative/punk-rock marching bands is nothing especially new at this point. You got your Extra Action Marching Band, your Mucca Pazza, your Rude Mechanical Orchestra and so on. But something about this week’s band, Itchy-O, stands out from the pack of tattooed punks bashing away at quad toms.

A 30-plus-piece ensemble from Denver, the Itchy-O Marching Band (IOMB) typically begins their performance by entering the venue from the street. Drums dominate, but there are also synths, vocalists, dancers, guitar and bass, and a prominently featured Theremin. Many of the performers wear amps like backpacks, so they can move freely around the venue during the show. There’s usually a giant, dancing Chinese dragon. There are several of those massive, Japanese taiko drums, which are basically the Steinway pianos of the drum world, both in terms of sound and in terms of how much it must suck to haul them around on tour. They wear black balaclavas and often giant sombreros, which makes them look a little like a gang of anarchist mariachis. It all makes for what looks like a pretty insane, sensory overload live show (though we have yet to experience it first-hand ourselves).

With their emphasis on drums, dancers and audience interaction, Itchy-O are clearly indebted to San Diego neo-tribal performance troupe Crash Worship, although their shows are, by all accounts, relatively tame compared CW’s, which famously featured lots of fire and nudity and fluids, bodily and otherwise. To the credit of the group’s founder, Scott Banning, he acknowledges the debt, telling Denver publication Westword that, while living in the Bay Area, he became friends with Crash Worship’s Simon Cheffins, and toured with both CW and Cheffins’ later band, Extra Action Marching Band, though he’s careful to say, “I was never in Crash Worship.”

Banning, a percussionist by trade, initially started Itchy-O as a studio project; his first release under that name, in 2005, he described as “an ambient project made from the layered tracks of animal heartbeats found on vinyl from a veterinarian school.” But as he started organizing Itchy-O live shows, the project grew into a full-fledged band, evolving into its marching-band incarnation by 2010.

Following a 2011 EP, Inferno, the band released its first full-length album, Burn the Navigator, on Jello Biafra’s Alternative Tentacles in 2014. Usually, bands built so strongly around live spectacle don’t really measure up in the studio, but tracks like “Dance of the Annunaki” (which appears on both Inferno and Burn the Navigator) are a really cool mix of heavy, syncopated percussion, squelchy electronics and weird ambient noises and vocals — in this case, random bird and jungle sounds.

At other times, Itchy-O go for a sort of tribal black metal vibe, like on “The Merkabah,” which sounds like a bhangra remix of Mayhem.

Pretty cool, right? Still, it’s clearly in a live setting where Itchy-O’s particular brand of percussive mayhem is its most powerful. So we’ll leave you with a live clip from a show they did in 2014 right here in Los Angeles — which we missed, because we are bad at our jobs. Hopefully they’ll be back soon, although touring with 36 people and a hundred or so drums can’t be easy.

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Five Starcle Men

Five Starcle Men

Happy 2016, weirdos! Here’s our resolution: to get back to updating this site on a weekly basis again. Also to drink less, exercise more, and spend more time with family. Yeah, we don’t like our chances of sticking to any of it, either.

Our first weird band of 2016 was suggested to us by a few readers: Djzen John, Jake Kirby and Andrew. It’s no wonder Five Starcle Men comes up frequently when discussing weird music, because even though they’re about as obscure as it gets (their fan-created Facebook page has a mere 56 likes), and haven’t been active since the ’90s, their small catalog of recorded output is about as bizarre as it gets. The most obvious touchstone is The Residents, and there’s also a little Captain Beefheart and maybe early Ween, in their early bedroom-stoner tape experiment days. But really, most of the stuff on Gomba Reject Ward Japan, a compilation of Five Starcle Men material released for free by Lost Frog Productions via Archive.org in 2007, exists in its own universe of psychedelic tape loops, thrift-store drum machines, detuned guitars and unintelligible lyrics.

Not much information on Five Starcle Men is out, but it appears to have been mainly the work of two young men from Lancaster, California named Glen Hobbs and Luke McGowan. Lancaster is an outer suburb of Los Angeles in the high desert, near Edwards Air Force Base, a surreal yet crushingly boring corner of America full of ex-military burnouts and neatly grid-patterned streets that lead to nowhere. It makes sense that two smart, creative kids from such a cultural wasteland would do lots of drugs (particularly DXM, a cough suppressant with dissociative properties, similar to ketamine) and invent a whole mythology of “alien drug torture” and “deadly cartoon culture governments,” as it says on their Archive.org page. Unfortunately, the experiment came to an abrupt end when Glen Hobbs committed suicide in 1998.

Besides Gomba Reject Ward Japan and its cryptic accompanying bio, which also mentions that “using modern cultural, pharmacological, and other technologies, these young suburban punks constructed highly aestheticized, delusional realities for themselves and their viewers,” the other main artifact of Five Starcle Men’s existence is a video from a 1993 performance the band gave at Mondo Video here in Los Angeles. The video (embedded below) was shot and later uploaded by a friend of the band’s who goes by the name Rich Polysorbate 60. Rich was a longtime member of the L.A. Cacophony Society and has a reputation for making up mythical/historical characters and presenting them as real, so at least one person (a guy from fellow Weird List entrants Baboon Torture Division, in fact) has suggested, not unreasonably, that “it could be a fictitious band invented by Rich.”

While this is an intriguing theory, you can see in the video below that there appear to be two young men at the center of the chaos, wearing matching caps and fiddling with gear and cables. Are they Glen Hobbs and Luke McGowan? Perhaps. It’s also possible that this is Glen Hobbs’ gravesite, even though it’s in Colorado for some reason. And Luke McGowan might be the same Luke McGowan who is now a part-time Professor of Psychology at Cal State Fullerton — that doesn’t quite match the official bio’s note that McGowan “now studies science, philosophy, and history at university,” but it’s close.

In the end, though, it doesn’t really matter who was behind Five Starcle Men. Whoever they are, or were, they left behind some amazing, surreal, alien music. Take a few swigs of Robitussin and enjoy.

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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.

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.

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