Our friend Kai from Toxic Chicken sent us this bonkers track by a Canadian producer working under the name Funturistic, on which very formal, almost Baroque-sounding music is performed entirely using sampled animal sounds. It’s called “Rural Kerfuffle” and it’s a 10-minute epic with movements and everything. It is, admittedly, not far removed from those stupid Christmas novelty records where cats meow “Silent Night” or whatever, but taken to a pretty crazy extreme. Enjoy.
So as usual, we got something wrong when we first wrote about this week’s weird artiste, the inimitable Mr. Vast. We said he’s from Germany. But that’s not quite right. He is apparently based, at the moment, in Germany. But he’s British. His accent should have tipped us off, but we were probably day-drinking again. Anyway, our apologies to the entire nation of Great Britain for not properly crediting you with bestowing Mr. Vast upon the world.
Mr. Vast is the alter ego of one Henry Sargeant, an actor, musician and performance artist whose previous musical project was (or maybe still is—they’re still releasing music and Sargeant might still be involved) a jokey crew called Wevie Stonder. He relocated to Germany in 2005 and took a break from Art to become a Dad. (Not that those two occupations are mutually exclusive, but the hours are pretty brutal in both.) He returned to music in 2012 as a solo artist called Mr. Vast, making what I shall tentatively describe as tongue-in-cheek New Wave electro-glam-pop until somebody comes up with something catchier to describe his bizarre but surprisingly infectious tunes.
At his best, Mr. Vast reminds us a little of our current favorite Australian weirdo, Kirin J Callinan. Like Callinan, there’s something highly theatrical and fully formed about Mr. Vast, like he’s already a rock star and the world just hasn’t discovered him yet. Also like Callinan, he’s capable of being both unabashedly pop and slightly avant-garde, often in the same song, and doing both in a way that feels both fully committed and slightly tongue-in-cheek. Take, for example, “Teflon Country,” which might be a country-fried psych-rock parody, or it might be actual country-fried psych-rock, albeit one with a junkyard dog impersonation in the middle of it:
That’s from Mr. Vast’s one and only album, by the way, a brilliant, 14-track opus called Grievous Bodily Charm that we pretty much can’t stop listening to. [Update: He now has a second album, called Touch & Go, which you can hear on SoundCloud.] It’s got sci-fi Afro-pop workouts (“Process of Illumination”), fuzz-toned heavy rock freakouts (“Henry the 8th”), Groove Armada-style downtempo makeout music (“Elemental,” which contains the high-five-worthy lyric, “The sangria made me angrier”). You can listen to the whole thing on SoundCloud and decide for yourselves if it’s a masterpiece. We’re leaning towards yes, but it might be the sangria talking.
We’ll leave you with a few videos, because that’s how we do it. First up: An extended experiment in toast physics called “Buttercide.” For the record, this is one of Mr. Vast’s weirder tracks, so if you can’t hang with it, don’t give up on him yet.
Next: The far funkier “Ease & Speed,” which we maintain is best described as Gary Numan meets Professor Elemental (I think last time we said Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer, but hey, po-tay-to, po-tah-to).
And finally, here’s a glimpse of Mr. Vast live and in concert. Well, it’s not so much a glimpse as a bit fat fucking eyeful. Not since David Byrne has oversized costumery looked so sexy. [Update: Sadly, this video has since been taken down. We’ll try to find another live clip of His Vastness soon.]
The universe really did not want me to see Kirin J Callinan at the Echoplex last night. First, I wasn’t on the guest list as promised by his label. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I’m about to be unemployed so I’m trying to avoid frivolous expenditures like weird band concerts. I was about to spring for the $20 when a woman who had arrived just behind me said, “Want to be my plus-one?” So maybe the universe was on my side last night after all.
But then, just as Callinan was about to go on, I got sucked into a bizarre debate about the biological and ethical imperatives of veganism with my new friend at the bar, which in the Echoplex is at the very back of the venue, approximately one million feet from the stage. “Humans didn’t evolve to be carnivores,” my guest list savior was explaining to me and two other women she had just met at the bar. “We don’t have carnivore teeth. Our stomach acids can’t break down animal protein. I’m going to send you a YouTube video of a lecture on this. It’s all been proven scientifically.” Meanwhile, Callinan was setting up his guitar pedals, dressed in a white silk kimono, as though he had just wandered in from a spa. Even under the kimono, he looked paradoxically both gaunt and muscular. I wondered if he was vegan.
I escaped the veganism debate just in time to score a spot right up against the stage right drum riser, where the thunder of the drummer’s kick drum made my non-carnivore teeth rattle. It was so loud next to the drums that I couldn’t even tell you what the first song was, but it was rivetingly intense and aggressive. Live, Callinan has the tightly coiled stage presence (and impressively large, imperious schnoz) of a young Pete Townshend. I feared for the safety of a heckler who kept yelling, “Take it off!” “You want it?” Callinan shot back, fingering the collar of his kimono. It was unclear whether the “it” was the kimono or Callinan’s nakedness. “You can start by buying me a drink, don’t you think? I’m serious.” (The heckler did not buy him a drink.)
Callinan’s three-piece backing band—drums, bass, keyboards—had clearly been instructed to remain entirely expressionless. The drummer, a sinewy German whose name was either Hunter or Gunter, had an impressive knack for staring out into the audience and not moving his head at all, even when the rest of him was wailing away on a particularly frenzied passage. Even when Callinan introduced the band—the keyboard player, it turned out, was his younger brother—not one of them cracked so much as a smirk.
The brute force of “Come On USA” certainly knocked the audience back on its heels a bit—”Very Marilyn Manson!” one person exclaimed—but for me, it was the gentler songs that best showcased Callinan’s talents, both as a crafter of melody and as an emotive, room-silencing performer. “Victoria M.” is every bit the New Wave anthem live that it is on record, and “Landslide” is a broken-hearted hymn worthy of Leonard Cohen. When Callinan starts to howl, “The stars are all dirt, and God is in the water, and Hell is right here on Earth,” you catch a glimpse of what a superstar this guy might become.
Did he eventually take off that kimono, and also his shirt? Of course he did. Every Kirin J Callinan performance, as near as I can tell, has a bit of a striptease quality to it. Before he even played a note, he began the show by taking off a pair of white gloves.
Callinan ended the show, as I’d hoped he would, with “The Toddler,” his hilarious a cappella number sung from the point of view of a swaggering two-year-old who brags, “All the pre-school cougars wanna get with me, they’re nearly twice my age!” The crowd helped him keep the beat by clapping along, but we couldn’t quite figure out how to help him sing the chorus, though he kept asking us to. Kirin J Callinan isn’t really the type of performer one sings along with.
I have to end this review by thanking my new concert buddy, Karrie from Minneapolis. We may never agree on veganism, Karrie, but next time you’re in L.A., I owe you a plus-one!
For some performers, the weird is not something they rinse off after the show. Their weirdness runs soul-deep. Such a performer is this week’s artiste, Australia’s Kirin J. Callinan. We first discovered Callinan through the Beggars Group, probably the closest thing us weirdos have to a major label. Among the Beggars Group’s many imprints is a newish label called Terrible Records, which also recently became home to rap provocateur and Weird List inductee Le1f. Who’da thunk our new favorite label would be co-founded by one of the guys from Grizzly Bear?
Anyway, Beggars sent out a press release a couple months back announcing Callinan as the opening act for fellow antipodean eccentric Connan Mockasin on an upcoming U.S. tour. So right away, we were intrigued. Then we read this, about a video he just shot in New York for YoursTru.ly: “Never one to bore, the video features Kirin getting interviewed whilst being massaged (a non-negotiable requirement of his interview policy).” So now we were really intrigued. Non-negotiable massages? Who is this guy?
Sure enough, in the YoursTru.ly video, there’s Callinan, getting worked over on a massage table as he talks about his childhood (“My parents would offer me two dollars for any report that didn’t say ‘easily distracted’; I don’t think they ever gave me any money”). Then he goes into an awkward yet oddly compelling solo piano performance of a song called “Victoria M.” Before you watch the YoursTru.ly video, I recommend starting with the original:
That’s the campiest of Callinan’s videos, but it’s far from the weirdest. That honor probably goes to “Way to War,” a flickering, mostly black-and-white video in which a series of disturbing tableaux appear to be seen through a broken View-Master. It won something called the J Award in Australia for Best Music Video in 2012.
As you can probably tell from those two tracks, Callinan’s style is pretty eclectic. But they really only hint at the range of his 2013 debut album, Embracism. Over the course of 10 tracks, he tackles everything from minimalist electronic noise to stately, Leonard Cohen-esque hymns to turgid, quasi-industrial freakouts like the amazing “Come On USA,” which somehow manages to name-check Springsteen while still sounding like Ministry. Vocally, his rubbery baritone owes a lot to avant-garde singer-songwriter Scott Walker; in an interview with V Magazine, he admitted that it wasn’t until he heard Walker that became confident in his own singing abilities. “It’s over the top and ridiculous,” he says of his own singing. But hearing Walker, he told V, “validated, in a sense, that vision I had of my own voice. I wasn’t ready for anyone to hear it before.”
Callinan’s music is so compelling he almost doesn’t need a backstory, but we’ll give you a brief one anyway: He got his start as the guitarist in a surprisingly conventional post-punk band called Mercy Arms, but quit over creative differences with the band’s singer. He briefly did improvisational tribal/ambient rock with a loose collective of musicians called Fashion Launches Rocket Launches, but apparently the collective was too loose to stay together long. In the same interview with V Magazine, he says his solo career started after the end of a long relationship, which might explain the raw-nerve quality of his music.
Most descriptions of Callinan’s live shows seem to focus on how he likes to get naked, or at least strip down to his skivvies. But based on the few good clips we’ve been able to find online, these descriptions seem to overstate Callinan’s nudist tendencies. Yes, there’s something overtly sexual about Callinan’s music and stage presence, but there’s also a lot of humor, goofy charm and a genuinely innocent quality, too. He might just be taking his clothes off because it gets hot up there. Or he wants to feel free. Anyone who finds his bare skin either confrontational or vulnerable might be projecting a bit.
We’ll leave you with Callinan’s most recent video, for one of Embracism‘s loveliest songs, “Landslide.” It’s actually an incredibly simple setup, but the effect, combined with Kirin’s aching baritone, is pretty disconcerting, no?