The man behind Twink the Toy Piano Band has a new project inspired by “Eraserhead”

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Cat Temper, bringing his keytar magic to underground cinema since 2019 

One of my all-time favorite weird bands we’ve ever written about is Twink, a Boston-based project humbly subtitled “the Toy Piano Band.” And while it’s true that, yes, many of Twink’s sounds come from toy pianos and other toy instruments, what Twink mastermind Mike Langlie does with those sounds goes way beyond the sort of plinky-plinky novelty shit you probably associate them with. Twink’s music incorporates elements of everything from trip-hop to techno to chamber pop, in a surprisingly lush, occasionally funky style he calls “toytronica.” If you’ve got an hour or three to kill, I highly recommend heading over to Twink’s Bandcamp page and bopping along to tracks with titles like “Chocolate Chipmunk” and “Pipper Snitch.” You won’t be sorry.

But hey, if toy pianos aren’t really your thing, Mike’s got a new project that might be more your speed. It’s called Cat Temper and his first release under that name is an alternative soundtrack to David Lynch’s cult classic Eraserhead called Henry. You can creep out to the 90-minute album on its own, or you can sync it up to Eraserhead‘s opening credits like your stoner older brother used to sync up Dark Side of the Moon to The Wizard of Oz, and let Langlie’s eerily beautiful soundscapes give Lynch’s stark black-and-white images a whole new vibe.

I haven’t had a chance to listen to Henry all the way through yet, or experiment with syncing it to Eraserhead — I think I probably need to re-up my weed stash before I embark on that particular venture. But I’m about seven tracks into it and it’s great so far — much creepier and analog synth-y than Twink, and also a welcome departure from the film’s original, claustrophobic soundtrack.

You can preview a sample of Henry below, and buy the whole thing on Bandcamp for a mere $5 — a steal for 90 minutes of music this quirky and clever. Nice work, Mike! I bet Lynch would approve. Maybe if he ever revives Twin Peaks again, Twink and Cat Temper can have a toy piano and keytar duel at the Roadhouse.

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Owls Are Not

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This week’s weirdness comes to us from Warsaw, Poland, where a guy who goes by Piotr Dang has spent the past several years creating wildly experimental music with various collaborators under the name Owls Are Not. And if those three words are enough for you to pick up the Twin Peaks reference, congratulations — you officially have bragging rights at our next David Lynch Fan Club meet-up.

The first Owls Are Not release in 2012 was an EP of noisy math-rock instrumentals whose title quoted the full Twin Peaks line: Owls Are Not What They Seem. Since then, their music has continued to get more adventurous and less recognizably rock-based, incorporating elements of electronic genres like breakbeat and footwork as well as sound collages cribbed from TV news, obscure Afrobeat samples and other sources. In 2016, with Piotr taking over most of the band’s sounds except for the drums, they released a wonderfully jittery collection called isnot that sounds like the evening news being delivered from the dance floor of a really grimy Polish goth/industrial club, probably one taking place in an old Soviet-era bomb shelter covered with dirty needles and anarchist graffiti.

But what really earns Owls Are Not a place on the Weird List is their latest release: last year’s Radio Tree, a collaboration between Piotr Dang and an international group of artists including Japanese drummer/vocalist Masaya Hijikata, Polish guitarist Michał Pawłowski and a trio of African vocalists: Martin Kaphukusi, Certifyd and Peter Kaunda of the Malawian group Tonga Boys. The whole album is a trip, but the African collaborations, recorded in Malawi and Tanzania, are especially fascinating, as Piotr Dang’s interest in electronic music styles like dub and footwork collides with modern and traditional styles indigenous to East Africa, like malipenga, vimbuza and singeli, for a combination they call “minimal Afro-funk” or “free singeli punk.” Here, for example, is “Lovefood,” which features Kaunda and is apparently inspired by singeli, a contemporary style of African dance music that can reach 300 beats per minute:

It’s worth noting here that Piotr runs a record label with Vietnamese-Polish artist (and Radio Tree cover designer) Thuy Duong called 1000Hz that released both Radio Tree and Tonga Boys’ latest album, Vindodo. Vindodo is also great, especially if you like music that takes traditional African sounds and juices them with electronic embellishments and other modern touches. For my money, Radio Tree is definitely the weirder of the two projects, if only because its music is so beautifully unmoored from any one culture. Its sounds could come from Tanzania, or Warsaw, or Bristol circa 1996, or a goddamned spaceship. It’s unique.

I’ll leave you with Radio Tree‘s title track, which is probably my favorite. I’m not sure how music can be both funky and slightly seizure-inducing, but this manages it.

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Les Amis au Pakistan

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Recently, a reader named Jérémie (ça va, Jérémie?) wrote to us with a list of weird bands to check out from his hometown, Montreal. And as we were going through them, we came to a startling realization: The Weird List has zero Montreal bands on it! Clearly this is not acceptable state of affairs, so we’re remedying it tout suite with our favorite of Jérémie’s suggestions: a freaky electro-pop collective called Les Amis au Pakistan.

Les Amis au Pakistan (Friends in Pakistan) have been around since at least 2007, when they released a candy-colored romp of a debut album called Espace Libidinal. Its trippy tracks bring to mind the sampledelic electronica of Avalanches and the avant-pop chansons of Lætitia Sadier and Stereolab, but there’s a surrealist quality to the music and vocals — sung by a quartet of female vocalists — that makes the whole thing delightful and fresh.

Their music videos are, if anything, even more far out than the music, despite being shot on what appears to be a zero-dollar budget. Here’s the clip for “Un p’tit tour de minoune.” I’m not sure which of the singers this is — there are now five of them, named Solange Lavergne, Jacinthe Fradette, Caroline Fournier, Evelyne Mireault and Katia Cioce — but she’s my favorite, for reasons I don’t think I need to explain.

In 2009, Les Amis returned with a sophomore album called Cosmetic Cosmic that was sleeker but no less trippy. Here’s the video for “Nobodée,” which to me sounds like hitting the goth club on ‘shrooms but to Les Amis apparently sounds like a bacchanalian afternoon of yard work and light bondage.

This is where I should mention Les Amis au Pakistan’s two male members: Simon R. Tremblay, who writes and produces most of the music, and Joël Chevalier, who does most of the lyrics and directs the videos. I wish I knew more about them and the group’s beguilingly weird singers, but hardly anything has been written about them in English and not a whole lot more in French. This review of Espace Libidinal from Canadian music site Exclaim is one of the few things I had to go, and about all I could really crib from it was the Stereolab comparison — which, frankly, is a stretch, especially once you get to the much more beat-driven productions on Cosmetic Cosmic.

After Cosmetic Cosmic, it looks like Les Amis au Pakistan went on hiatus. Tremblay released a solo album under the name Native Cell that might be even weirder than Les Amis. But they returned in 2015 with their third album, High Apothéose, which I think is my favorite LAAP album yet. Musically, it’s all over the map — the title track is bhangra meets breakbeat, “Muffin Top” is sad disco playing through blown speakers, “Jésus, Mon Ami” mixes Jersey club with Empire of the Sun-like synth-pop grandeur. But the craziest moment probably comes on “Black Circles,” a full-blown disco punk freakout made even freakier by its video, which is probably what the orgy scene in Eyes Wide Shut would have looked like if Fadades had shown up.

So thanks for introducing us to Les Amis au Pakistan, Jérémie! I’m sure they’ll be the first of many Montreal bands we’ll write about — but for now, I think they represent your city quite well.

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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.

Autechre

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In electronic music these days, there’s an arms race to see who can produce the most elaborate visual spectacle possible — usually to distract from the fact without said spectacle, all the audience would be looking at is one or two people hunched over laptops. And hey, I love a good gee-whiz show as much as the next aging raver — especially when it marries futuristic glitch to museum-quality stage design, like Amon Tobin’s 3D-projection mapped ISAM tour did in 2012. But you know what I love even more? The fact that British duo Autechre have done a complete 180 and now perform most of their shows in total darkness — or as close to total darkness as pesky things like fire codes will allow for (darn those vibe-killing yet potentially life-saving “Exit” signs).

I was lucky enough to see Sean Booth and Rob Brown perform in this format here in L.A. in 2015, and it was, in its own way, more mind-blowing than any EDM laser light show. Autechre’s music, which the Mancunian duo records and performs on a customized aggregation of software, patches and virtual synths called “the system,” is so dense and alien-sounding that, over the course of 90 minutes, it begins to fill a darkened room with something close to a physical presence. Sounds seem to leap and dart around you in three dimensions; you become aware of how certain bass frequencies register not just as sound but as a physical sensation, rumbling somewhere just behind your collarbone.

Hearing live music in the dark has other, more pragmatic advantages, as well. The shadowy, still-faintly-visible head of that one six-foot-four dude who of course planted himself right in front of you just as the music was starting? After a few minutes, you forget all about stretch and his fat noggin. Also, you spend way less money on beer when it’s too dark to see where the bar is. Thanks, Autechre!

Even with the lights on, Autechre’s music is out-there enough to merit a spot on the Weird List. They’re second only to Aphex Twin among pioneers of the ’90s style of stuttering, off-kilter, glitchy electronic music lumped under the unfortunate but convenient heading of IDM, or intelligent dance music (hey, it was either that or “what the fuck is this shit?”). Over the years, as they’ve added to and perfected “the system,” their sound has evolved beyond its early influences — which included everything from ’80s hip-hop to electro-industrial experimenters Coil and Meat Beat Manifesto to avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen — to become a genre unto itself, a manifestation of its own closed-loop schemata, with the machines acting as a third band member, chasing algorithms to increasingly bent, bloopy, intricately polyrhythmic ends.

Autechre didn’t start out weird. Aside from a jokey spoken-word intro in which a dentist tells his patient to “lean back and relax” before we hear a drill and the patient’s agonized, gargling moans, their first single “Cavity Job” was a pretty standard piece of early ’90s British acid house, with the kind of pulsating synths and looped breakbeats already popularized by acts like Orbital and A Guy Called Gerald. Their second album, Amber, on the influential Warp label (also home to Aphex Twin), was a largely ambient affair — trippy, but not a radical departure from what many other chill-room electronic acts were doing at the time.

Then, in 1994 — less than a year after Amber — they released a three-song EP called Anti that was both bold sonic experiment and political statement. The EP’s final track, “Flutter,” was a jittery, shapeshifting beast composed in response to a British law that outlawed raves. Since the law defined raves as parties that featured music played as a “succession of repetitive beats,” Brown and Booth programmed “Flutter” to contain beats that never exactly repeated themselves — a fact they called out on the album’s packaging, though they slyly cautioned DJs against playing it in public without “a lawyer and musicologist present at all times to confirm the non-repetitive nature of the music in the event of police harassment.” It’s arguably the first example of instrumental electronic music explicitly used as a form of political protest. It’s also probably the earliest Autechre track that fully embraces the glitchy, non-linear style for which they’re now best-known.

As the ’90s wore on and “electronica” had its first big commercial boom, thanks to acts like The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim, Autechre’s music continued down a much different path, getting weirder, harsher and more abstract with each passing release. Their music videos reflected this — especially the 1996 clip for “Second Bad Vilbel,” which marked the directorial debut of Chris Cunningham, who would go on to make groundbreaking videos for Björk and Aphex Twin among others. (Cunningham wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the original, so he released a re-edit of it in 2002; this is that later version.)

As Autechre’s music got more abstract, so did their album and song titles: Chiastic Slide, Envane, “Goz Quarter,” “Calbruc,” “VI Scose Poise.” Most of the words are random nonsense, but some recurring ones have specific meanings to Brown and Booth that they have a hard time articulating. When a Pitchfork interviewer asked them about the word “casual” in several song titles, for example, Brown explained that they label “catalog shelf stuff” with similar traits. “It’s fucking real difficult to explain exactly what we mean by them,” Booth added. “We know. If Rob says, ‘I’ve got some more casuals here, do you want them,’ I’ll know exactly what he means. But I can’t put into words what it is.” (Side note: The duo has also said that there is no official, correct way to pronounce their name. They say “aw-TEK-er” in a Mancunian accent, but I’ve also heard “AH-tek-ur” and even “aw-TEK-cruh” like they’re French or something. But hey, go nuts and say it however you want.)

By the early 2000s, Autechre were both elder statesmen of IDM and among its most forward-thinking practitioners. On tracks like 2002’s “Gantz Graf” — given an excellently psychedelic yet cyborg-like video by British graphic artist Alex Rutterford — they chop, splice and stutter programmed beats and synthesizers until it sounds like machines howling in agony, or ecstasy, or possible both.

These days, in addition to their lights-out shows, Brown, Booth and their “system” continue to churn out new music at an astonishing rate. Their 2016 album elseq 1-5 contained over four hours of music, and this year they followed that up with another eight hours of music, originally presented over four two-hour segments on NTS Radio back in April and released last month both digitally and as either an 8-CD or 12-LP box set under the title NTS Sessions 1-4. (Although Booth has said of past Autechre releases that the “actual” product is the lossless FLAC files — the implication being that anything else is a derivative version that may not be a 100% accurate representation of the duo’s original work.) I couldn’t find any excerpts of the NTS Sessions on YouTube except a few that were uploaded at half-speed and double-speed (Autechre fans are kooky, y’all) but you can listen to the whole thing on Autechre’s official site or on Spotify. Next time you have eight hours to kill, I highly recommend it. Listening to the whole thing is like meditating inside a broken CD player. That’s falling down a really long flight of stairs. Made of mercury. And acid. There’s definitely something having to do with acid in there somewhere.

Before I play out this post with an amazing unofficial video for a track from my favorite Autechre album, 2008’s Quaristice, I want to leave you with a couple of quotes from Sean Booth. The first comes from the aforementioned Pitchfork interview and is especially relevant to this blog, because in it, Booth makes a case — which I completely agree with — that today’s audiences are more primed than ever for weird music, even though much of what they’re getting is cookie-cutter and derivative:

“One of the things about the internet is that everybody can be very quickly educated on music, but that’s a double-edged sword, because you’ve got a bunch of artists who are desperate to fit in. Everyone’s in a rush to sound the same. At the same time you’ve got this audience who have got access to fucking everything that was ever made, so the audience is actually extremely sophisticated. It’s a weird paradox. You hear a lot of stuff with the same kind of synth lead and the same sucky compression and the same kick drums, the same long chords. It’s incredibly conservative. Then you’ve got this audience who know about Xenakis and Stockhausen and they’re fucking 16-year-olds. I see that as a great opportunity to make things that are genuinely a bit weird.”

The second quote comes from a long Q&A on the electronic fan forum site watmm.com from 2013 (and which I’m cribbing from Pitchfork’s review of NTS Sessions 1-4 — I’m not usually all up in Pitchfork’s business like this but when it comes to Autechre, they know their stuff) in which someone asked Booth what an Autechre dance track might sound like today and he replied, “but we are making dance music.” Damn straight they are. Trust me, if you listen to this shit long enough, you can totally dance to it. To others it might look like more you’re having a stroke, but that’s just part of the fun.

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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.