Weird Band of the Week: Buttress O’Kneel

Buttress-OKneel

Doing this blog, I’m constantly amazed at how many talented musicians and producers out there release their stuff anonymously, with virtually no promotion or online presence beyond a Bandcamp account or Facebook page. Such is the case with Buttress O’Kneel, a mysterious Australian creator of what she calls “plunderphonic intellectronica” and “excruciating postcore compop.” According to the folks at the equally mysterious InterWebMegaLink, who introduced us to Ms. O’Kneel and her sample-heavy sonic experiments, she’s been cranking out this stuff since 1998 or so — but virtually no information on her exists online anywhere. No photos, no bio, no interviews. I’m totally taking InterWebMegaLink’s word for it that she is, in fact, a woman from Australia and not some aging ex-raver dude from, say, Bristol or Pittsburgh or some other hub for this sort of musical cut-and-paste geekery.

O’Kneel — or BOK, for short — has produced everything from “audio documentaries” on the history of fossil fuels and racism in Australia to compilations of damaged CDs skipping. But she seems to especially enjoy chopping, distorting, stretching and otherwise mangling popular music in clever, unexpected ways. Here, for example, is her take on Ariana Grande’s “No Tears Left to Cry,” called “Tentacles for Troy,” an anagram of the original song title. (“i get deep into anagrams as titles because it feels like a microcosmic reference to what i’m doing to the music – complete memetic rearrangement, from ostensibly recognisable shiz,” she explained in a recent Facebook post.) Bonus points to anyone who recognizes the Madonna sample in the intro.

Many of BOK’s sonic experiments will be familiar to anyone who’s explored the worlds of mashups and plunderphonics. She’s dabbled in time-stretching, for example, taking familiar songs like Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and slowing them down until they’re transformed into ominous, oceanic exercises in abstract minimalism. But what makes BOK stand out, I think, is that she always takes these more familiar techniques one step further. In the case of time-stretching, she decided to see what would happen if she instead compressed a familiar song down to just a few seconds, then stretched it back to its original length. She calls the results “pop smears” and they’re kind of amazing:

More recently, she’s been experimenting with MP3-to-MIDI converters, which she discovered introduce weird atonal harmonics into the vocal melodies and make most of the rest track’s elements sound like an old-timey player piano having a seizure. (“It’s a godawful mess of misplayed piano garbage,” reads the Bandcamp description. “Either that, or it’s brilliant conceptual sound art! You decide!”) The process makes a familiar pop song like Camila Cabello’s “Havana” sound vaguely terrifying, but when applied just to an isolated vocal track from Metallica’s James Hetfield, there’s something kind of hilarious about it. It’s like Bartok on meth.

Speaking of Bartok: Even classical music is not safe from BOK’s undying love of warping the familiar beyond recognition. Here’s part of “The Four Four Seasons,” a relatively simple (by BOK’s convoluted standards) exercise in organized chaos that takes four different versions of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and lays them on top of each other:

I’m tempted to just go on inserting Bandcamp links ad infinitum, because nearly everything Buttress O’Kneel does is interesting on some level. There’s “This Sick Beat,” which combines Taylor Swift with recordings of “pathological” heartbeats (a very plunderphonic-y response to Swift’s trademarking of the phrase “This Sick Beat”). There’s her field recording experiments with another mysterious producer named Panthera Leo, a project called The Fruiting Body that was allegedly recorded back around 2001 but was only just released earlier this year. There are albums on her Bandcamp page (so many albums) with intriguingly apt titles like Post-remix Retrostep, Shitcore and Hard Dadapop. It’s all great, and worth diving deep into if you have a day or two to kill and want to imagine a world in which Venetian Snares got on the mashup train back when that was a trendy thing.

But I’ll leave you with just two pieces of music that I think sum up, as much as it’s possible to sum up, the full spectrum of BOK’s brilliance. The first, “Merzbowie,” is exactly what it sounds like: a mashup of David Bowie and influential Japanese noise artist Merzbow, mixed live and then run through AudioMulch, an “interactive modular” software suite that is apparently one of Buttress’ favorite tools. The results are pretty much exactly what you’d expect and sort of mesmerizing, although it’s probably not coincidence that one my cats puked three times while I was playing it.

Contrast that with “Breaking Windows,” an ambient electronic track that uses nothing but default Windows sounds to build something unexpectedly beautiful. The accompanying video is pretty fun, too.

So who is Buttress O’Kneel? I still have no idea, but I hope more people discover her endlessly inventive music.

Links:

Advertisements

Mandek Penha

Mandek-Penha-larger

A few months ago, we received an email that began with the words, “Greetings Weirdest Band in the World from The Current Earthly Embodiment of Lord Mandek Penha!”

Lord Mandek — or The CEE, as he seems to prefer to be called — went on to explain that he is the leader of a North Korean-based cult called The Church of Sarrean Alignment (C.S.A.), which recently relocated to Melbourne, Australia because, you know, recruiting new members for your cult is tricky when you’re based in the most closed society on the planet. He’s also now trying to launch himself as a pop star, because I guess that’s the best way to recruit cult members nowadays, or something. Actually, I’m not entirely clear on what the music has to do with the cult and vice versa, but it doesn’t really matter when it leads to wonderfully bizarre music videos like this one:

Mandek Penha may or may not be the creation of an Australian performance artist, but rather than speculate on his identity, it’s far more fun to buy into the elaborate mythology he’s created around Mandek Penha and his church. Apparently the Church of Sarrean Alignment dates back to 1350 and exists to spread love and fight the evil influence of an ancient race of beings called The Hish’ry Cosh’ry, who spread Hidden Negative Energy through their many emissaries on Earth, the Hish-Pigs — whose ranks include Rod Stewart (saw that one coming) and, uh, Louis Armstrong. (Sorry, Lord Mandek, we here at TWBITW will forever love Satchmo. Does that make us Hish-Pigs?) I would’ve assumed Bon Jovi was definitely a Hish-Pig, but judging from this video, he’s actually a high priest in the C.S.A.

There’s way more about Mandek and his cult church on his website, but the cosmology is way too complicated to fully explain here. Suffice it to say the C.S.A. promises eternal life to all its followers in an alternate world called South Sarra — black-and-white Nikes and Kool-Aid consumption optional, one hopes. Also, The CEE is currently seeking Brides (and really, what cult leader worth his salt isn’t?) that he can impregnate to bring forth into the world the Future Earthly Embodiment. Through mechanisms that aren’t quite clear to me — possibly because I haven’t yet joined the church and achieved enlightenment, or possibly because I am unwittingly a Sarrean Interloper — it’s apparently already known that this next Current Earthly Embodiment will be female. In fact, she already has her own EP, Our Future: The Next Earthly Embodiment, which came out back in 2012. Here’s a video from it, which also provides a glimpse of Church of Sarrean Alignment educational methods.

If you want to join the Church of Sarrean Alignment, you can, of course. Here’s a list of current members, ranked according to their level of enlightenment, or something. And here’s a registration form for new church members, which asks them to list their strengths and weaknesses and “accept the total spiritual authority of The Current Earthly Embodiment, and every Embodiment of Lord Mandek Penha for the rest of our time on Earth.” The form doesn’t ask you to send money, which is just one of several clear indications that despite some superficial resemblances to Scientology and the people in that crazy Wild Wild Country Netflix documentary, this is definitely, totally not a cult. Look, Lord Mandek even got a bunch of his followers to make a video called “We Are Not Cult” to prove it.

There, don’t you feel better? I know I — wait a second, is that longtime friend of the blog Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin in there doing the “We Are Not a Cult” dance? Holy shit, it is! Petunia, for the love of pete, get the fuck out of there!! IT’S A GODDAMN CULT!!!

Oh yeah, I almost forgot the most important part, and the whole reason The CEE graced us with his email communiqué in the first place: Mandek Penha has a new album out! It’s called Our Present: The Current Earthly Embodiment and it’s available now via Bandcamp for a mere $20, which includes a poster and Lord Mandek’s undying (no, really, he’s a multidimensional immaterial being who lives forever) gratitude. I can attest that playing it on repeat does not automatically indoctrinate you into the Church of Sarrean Alignment, but it does ward off Hidden Negative Energy. And Rod Stewart. I haven’t seen him once since I started listening!

I’ll leave you with the final track from Our Present, “Must Reach IMZ,” which gives you a pretty good idea of the overall vibe of the album — alternately melodramatic and catchy synth-pop, punctuated by lots of choral vocals and the occasional sax solo. Oh, and “IMZ” are an ancient alien race and the sworn enemies of The Hish’ry Cosh’ry. Followers of Mandek Penha will eventually merge their DNA with that the IMZ, or something. Sorry, I’m not good at explaining religious stuff. My entire religious upbringing consisted of my parents giving me an illustrated children’s Bible on my 10th birthday and saying, “Let us know if you have any questions.”

Links:

Infecticide

Infecticide-2

This week’s weird band comes to us from France and was suggested by reader Tropitox. (Thanks, Trop!) We don’t know much about them because pretty much everything written about them on the web is in French and we’re American scum who never bothered to learn a foreign language. But language barriers aside, you can get a pretty good idea of what they sound like from this description on their Facebook page: “Post-industriel-Synthpunk-electrowave-neo-dada calé-découpé.” According to Google translator that last part means “wedged-cut,” which is presumably either a reference to their hairstyles or how they like their pommes frites.

Infecticide’s music is sort of a cross between ’80s synth-pop and the dirty electro of French labels like Ed Banger Records. The weirdest part of their sound is the vocals, usually delivered in French but occasionally in delightfully stilted English, Spanish or German. But it’s less in their music than in their videos that they venture into bizarro territory. We’ll start with “Les animaux sauvages,” which is like a cross between a school play staged by sad-faced French grownups and a rave at a furry convention.

Now that you kinda like them, we’ll drop “Babybelle” on you, which will haunt your dreams:

As far as we can tell, they’ve only released one album so far, called Chansons Tristes (Sad Songs), which you can obtain from the Free Music Archive. While you’re waiting for your downloads, pause to read the hilariously jumbled album description, presumably translated from the French, which helpfully explains that the album’s “fifteen pieces with neo-Dadaist lyrics will leave speechless all spirit unable to go beyond the first degree and enrapture personalities in a displacing way.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves!

We’ll leave you with one of Infecticide’s more recent videos, a clip called “Petit tricheur” (“Little Cheater”) that attempts to do for garbage bags and bowties what The Ramones did for biker jackets.

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:

Nozinja

Nozinja

We’re back! Sorry we’ve been away for so long. It’s coming up on six years since we’ve been doing this blog and I’m not gonna lie to you: There was awhile there when we were both seriously considering calling it quits. I mean, how many more weird bands can there really be out there? A shit-ton, I’m sure, but we’ve officially reached the point where 99.9% of the emails and comments we get are for shit that’s fucking awful and/or not that weird. So separating the cream from the curdle has actually gotten more difficult as our audience has grown. I know, I know…boo-fucking-hoo, right? At least our audience has grown, so we must be doing something right. Right?

Anyway, starting this week, I solemnly swear that I will post a new weird band every week again, just like the good old days. Andy will pitch in too, sometimes, but he’s got a fancy new job that pays him to go hang out at Coachella and shit, so he won’t be around as much. But your old Uncle Jake here is gonna start driving this blog like a stolen Ferrari again…at least on the weekends.

So to get us back in the swing of things, I figured some good party music was in order. So allow me to present to you Nozinja, inventor of a whole new genre of music called Shangaan electro that is like dance music for hummingbirds. Seriously, I’m winded just listening to this stuff.

Nozinja, whose real name is Richard Mthetwa, is from a part of South Africa called Limpopo, which is a long-ass way from Cape Town, home base of our other favorite South African oddballs, Die Antwoord. Limpopo is in the far northeast of South Africa, next to Botswana and Zimbabwe, and it’s mostly rural and dirt-poor. Among the many native peoples living there is a group called the Shangaans, who are known for the xibelani dance, an insanely fast dance that kind of looks like a cross between a hula dance and twerking. Shangaan electro, pioneered by Nozinja and other local musicians, basically took the rhythms of the xibelani dance, sped them up even more, and replaced traditional drums and other instruments with lo-fi synths and drum machines. And presto! A crazy new dance music genre was born.

Shangaan electro is so great, it probably would’ve gone worldwide eventually. But Nozinja sure helped jump-start that process. Using the money he’d earned from running a chain of cell phone repair shops, the budding Dr. Dre of Limpopo went all-in on a home recording studio and began cranking this stuff out. He even made a few goofy, low-budget videos that are all the more awesome because, against all the screen-saver graphics and random shots of backup singers dancing in what we assume is his front yard, Nozinja’s still sporting his cell phone repair shop owner wardrobe. He looks like he wandered in from a Ross Dress for Less ad, but he’s still got more swag that a thousand shitty gangsta rappers.

Such brilliance couldn’t remain undiscovered for long…and sure enough, Nozinja signed to Warped fuckin’ Records in 2014. Yes, that Warp Records, home to Flying Lotus and Aphex Twin. Not surprisingly, in his first video for Warp, “Tsekeleke,” he’s sporting a much more stylin’ wardrobe.

Nozinja’s debut full-length album, Nozinja Lodge, comes out on Warp on June 2nd. We cannot fucking wait. We’re gonna strap on our xibelani skirts and dance to that shit like hummingbirds.

Links:

Weird of the Day: The Normal, “Warm Leatherette”

The Normal

I’ve just started reading Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, author Simon Reynolds’ very convincing argument for considering the six years following the breakup of The Sex Pistols to be among the most wildly creative in pop music history. I’m only a few chapters in, but already it’s reacquainted me with, or introduced me to, a slew of fantastic music from that era that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

I’d put The Normal in that overlooked category. Although it’s certainly a project familiar to anyone who grew up in the U.K. in those years, or went to industrial and EBM clubs in the ’80s, most younger fans have probably never heard of Daniel Miller’s post-Kraftwerk experiment in clinically stark electronic music—in part, because Miller only put out two songs as The Normal, before he got more interested in releasing other artists through his label, the influential (and still going strong) Mute Records.

Both of The Normal’s two songs are pretty weird. “T.V.O.D.” is all about sticking TV antennas into your veins, but “Warm Leatherette,” inspired by the J.G. Ballard novel Crash, is about fucking someone who’s just been in a car crash right before they die. So just in terms of creep factor, “Warm Leatherette” wins. There’s also something about its electro-shock synths that still sounds futuristic, even after four decades (it was released in 1978).

L.A.Drones!

L.A.Drones!
Photo by Amy Darling

Another Weird Band Poll is in the books here at Weird Band HQ, and the band poppin’ bottles this time is from right here in our hometown of Los Angeles. So give an imaginary high-five to L.A.Drones! I wasn’t shouting, by the way…their name has an exclamation point at the end. Just thought I’d clear that up.

L.A.Drones! (not shouting, I swear) are a synth duo who perform wearing black bandit masks because one version of their name, “ladrones,” means “thieves” in Spanish. And because, as they told us, “we steal samples from the music we like.” I thought that was pretty much every synth band these days, but maybe L.A.Drones! are more thievish than most.

In another version of their name, it means “Los Angeles drones,” which could be a reference to the droning sound of their music, or the fact that we Angelenos increasingly live in a police surveillance state. Seriously, the cops here have drones. Which are supposedly not in use at the moment, but if there’s one thing every halfway intelligent American just learned in the wake of all that shit that went down in Ferguson, it’s that we should not trust our local police forces with all their new high-tech gadgets. You may as well give a box of fireworks to a bunch of 10-year-old boys and say, “Now you be sure to find a grown-up and get permission before you light these.”

Anyway, where was I? Oh, right. L.A.Drones! So far, the duo of Vulcanito and Tormentas Gonzalez has only released one track, an ass-shaking little jam called “Horrible Dreams,” which you can watch in the performance clip below and also buy on Bandcamp for less than a cup of gas station coffee.

When we asked if they had any other songs, Vulcanito explained that L.A.Drones! really has to be experienced live. “Horrible Dreams” is just the first part of a 45-minute “capsule” of music called “The Dreamlike World of the Midnight Walker,” which they never perform the same way twice, and any versions of it they release online will just be recorded live in the studio. They’re working on other “capsules” of music, each of which will be played at a different BPM. “Midnight Walker” is at 127 BPM, apparently.

Here’s a live clip of the second part of “The Dreamlike World of the Midnight Walker,” which is called “Give Up.” Musically, they’re not the weirdest band we’ve ever featured, maybe. But I do dig that their music is kind of freeform and dancey at the same time, and the whole concept of an electronic act that never plays anything the same way twice. Some of the “live” dance music acts Andy’s dragged me to over the years should really take a page from that playbook.

So congrats again to L.A.Drones! for winning the poll. I believe that makes them the first L.A. band ever to win a Weird Band Poll. About damn time somebody represented!

Links: