David Liebe Hart joins forces with members of Half Japanese and the results are amazing

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We’ve made no secret before in these virtual pages of our love for outsider musician, puppeteer and alien abductee David Liebe Hart. But we’ve neglected to sing the praises of Half Japanese, the long-running lo-fi rock act fronted by brothers Jad and David Fair. Since the late ’70s, they’ve churned out a massive catalog of tunes that manage to be deliriously catchy even when the guitars are out of tune (which they usually are). Kurt Cobain was a fan, as is Daniel Johnston. They’re great, and definitely weird enough to eventually earn a spot on our ever-expanding list.

So what do you get when you cross David Liebe Hart with Jad Fair and another frequent Half Japanese member, Baltimore multi-instrumentalist and all-around weirdness connoisseur Jason Willett? Possibly the best album DLH has ever recorded: For Everyone, which sets Hart’s rants and digressions to music as endearingly off-kilter as his half-sung, half-guy-on-the-bus-talking-to-no-one-in-particular vocals. There are paeans to Valerie Harper and Beatrice Arthur, an ode to a dead pet fish, an electro-funk screed against fake dating profiles (“Robot Girls”), and controversial diatribes on everything from Disney characters (“I Like Donald Duck Better Than Mickey Mouse”) to classic sitcoms (“I Like Vivian Vance Better Than Lucille Ball”).

The album’s Hartiest moment, for my money, is “Lentil Beans,” on which the singer professes his romantic (and occasionally carnal) love for the titular legume. “If you were a lady, I’d marry you,” DLH declares. “You’re better than black-eyed peas.” Personally, lentils give me gas, but I admire the man’s passion for his food. Here, have a listen:

For Everyone is out today via Joyful Noise Recordings and available for stream or purchase (on limited edition orange vinyl — only 100 copies left as of this writing) from Bandcamp. With respect to Jonah Mociun — whose loopy electro-pop has provided DLH with excellent musical accompaniment for the past several years — Jad Fair and Jason Willett have provided the perfect soundtrack for David Liebe Hart’s peculiar brand of endearingly eccentric songwriting. It’s occasionally hilarious, occasionally creepy — poppy, atonal, avant-garde and accessible all at once. It reminds me a little of what might happen if Wesley Willis, Tom Waits and Fun Boy Three (remember them?) joined forces, but really, it’s one of the most original things you’ll hear all year.

I have an uncontrollable urge to leave you with another track, so here’s “Haunted by Frankenstein.” Bump this at your Halloween party and give extra candy to the folks willing to dance to it.

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Shamalamamonkey

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Lately we’ve been getting a ton of bands sent to the site whose origin and identities are shrouded in mystery. From Aussie MIDI mashup artist Buttress O’Kneel to portable toilet terrorists Clown Core, more and more weird bands these days seem to prefer to remain anonymous.

Is this a reaction against the private-sector surveillance state of Facebook, Google and Twitter? A rejection of the music press’ increasing obsession with celebrity-style artist “profiles” that tell you their shoe size but not what kind of music they play? A sign of the impending collapse of the music PR machine, as fewer bands can afford fancy publicists to help them craft their “story”? Are they all secretly famous actors and pop musicians who don’t want us to blow up their experimental side project? Is Mandek Penha really Hugh Jackman? Is Vladimir Cauchemar actually one of the guys from Daft Punk? Probably not, but the fact that we’re even having this conversation (feel free to chime in anytime) is evidence that, in our information-overloaded times, being enigmatic is actually a pretty great marketing strategy.

Our latest enigmatic Weird Band of the Week comes to us from … uh, actually, we’re not sure where they’re from. They apparently played a show in Indianapolis last year, but it’s not clear whether that’s their hometown — or even whether or not the show actually took place, since their website describes is thusly: “They played 3 songs dressed as the scheduled headliner band before anyone noticed that they were not the actual band. They managed to get through 3 more songs before being removed from the stage by security.”

We’re also not sure who’s in the band or how many members they have. The guy who contacted us about them, Josh Spurling, sent us a brief bio saying the band has “between 1 and 13 [members] of European, Asian, and/or Arabic descent.” It further noted: “They are said to possess an arsenal of instruments ranging from electric guitars to an old kitchen sink. Their impromptu performances range from 30 seconds to 13 hours and are performed with various disguises and under alternate band names. These shows are rarely announced, often in remote areas, and occasionally even without an audience. No one knows why.” (Spurling described his role with the band as “facilitator,” which is one of those fancy-sounding words like “utilize” that sounds specific but means almost nothing. I utilize various techniques to facilitate feeding my cats, but does that mean I’m usually the one scooping food into their bowls? Nah, I’m just on the couch going, “Honey, have you fed the cats yet?”)

I’m not even sure how to describe Shamalamamonkey’s music, despite the fact that I’ve been listening to it for a good hour or so now. They’ve only released two songs, “Gussle the Golfer” and “Gussle Tied to Trouble.” Who or what is Gussle and why is he/she/it a recurring subject of every Shamalamamonkey song? No one knows. Each song is about 11 minutes long and cycles through a bewildering array of sounds and styles, from cow-punk to jazz to punk-funk to avant-garde noise to bluegrass. I’d say they sound like Primus and The Residents squaring off at a battle of the bands in a semi-abandoned jazz club in an early Jim Jarmusch movie, but that’s only the first two minutes of “Gussle Tied to Trouble.”

Oh I almost forgot to mention: They also, for some reason, set both their songs to clips from old silent movies. I’m not sure the movies actually have anything to do with the music, but they do give the whole thing an appealingly slapsticky feel.

So who are Shamalamamonkey? We may never know for sure. Although I do suspect they have something to do with an earlier group called The One Band, because that’s the only other group with a track posted to Josh Spurling’s YouTube channel. That One Band has an old website, on which Spurling, aka That One Guy (not to be confused with that other That 1 Guy), is described as the group’s founder, leader and main instrumentalist. Is he also the brains behind Shamalamamonkey? Who cares? Whoever’s making these tunes, they’re a demented genius — and if that genius prefers to remain anonymous, well, to steal a phrase back from Bobby Brown (possibly the only person I can say with some certainty is not part of Shamalamamonkey): That’s their prerogative.

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DDAA (Déficit des Années Antérieures)

DDAA

Psychofon Records, the current label for this week’s weird band, compares them to The Residents, Nurse With Wound and Can. Which sounds like they’re casting way too wide of a net — until you listen to the surreal, percussive soundscapes of Déficit Des Années Antérieures (DDAA) and realize that yeah, that’s actually pretty spot-on.

Formed in 1977 by three students from the School of Beaux Arts in Caen, France, DDAA’s music encompasses everything from eerie tape loop experiments to tribal percussion to minimalist post-punk anthems that make Suicide sound like Wham! by comparison. Until 1992, they were wildly prolific, releasing somewhere around 15 albums and various EPs and singles, many of which were available only on cassette. They resurfaced with another pair of albums around 2000, took another hiatus, and then have been pretty active since 2011, picking up right where they left off with releases like Ne regarde pas par la fenêtre (Do not look out the window), a four-song EP of dadaist hymns set to industrial throbs and foreboding electronic music.

Amazingly, despite their prodigious output, Jean-Luc André, Sylvie Martineau-Fée and Jean-Philippe Fée — the three musicians who have formed the core of DDAA for the band’s entire existence — appear to remain virtually unknown outside of France. (And maybe Germany, too — shout-out to German reader Sebastian, who turned us onto them.) There is very little information about them available in English so I don’t know their full backstory, or what other projects, if any, they’ve been associated with. It does appear that “Fée” is a stage name, since the Psychofon website translates it and identifies them as Sylvie Martineau-Fairy and Jean-Philippe Fairy. Or maybe they just have a particularly apt surname for their otherworldly music and they didn’t want all us non-Francophone folks to miss out on properly appreciating it.

Did France have MTV in the early ’80s? Maybe that explains the existence of several DDAA music videos from around that era, which are just as delightfully bizarre as their music. Here’s “25 pièces sont vides” from their 1984 album La Familie des Saltimbanques. The sound quality is kinda crappy, so you might want to turn it up.

Amazing, right? Both totally avant-garde and totally ’80s. Most of their tracks, especially from this era, have very assertive, atmospheric bass lines, which appear to be courtesy of Jean-Philippe Fée. Here’s another music video from the same year but a different album (told you they were prolific): Les Ambulants‘ “The Riddle’s Standard.” I especially love the vocals on this one, which somehow manage to sound both strangled and incantatory, like a priest delivering a sermon while chugging sacramental wine out of a paper bag.

Nearly 40 years later, they’re still at it, performing live shows that are basically slow-moving storm fronts of aural unease, and releasing new music that continues to defy categorization. I’ll leave you with a track from their 2015 album Hazy World called “Pirouette” that sounds like a symphony for idling lawnmowers, or maybe the world’s largest moth swarm flapping their wings against the windows of a screened-in porch. France’s answer to The Residents? Sort of — but it’s probably more accurate to say that DDAA don’t sound like anyone else.

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Už jsme doma

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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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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.

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Weird of the Day: Darth Vegas, “Nano Nano”

Darth Vegas

Today’s weirdness comes to us all the way from Australia (and a suggestion by reader Roman). Darth Vegas might best be described as vaudeville metal. Their music ping-pongs between bone-crushing drop-D chords, sing-song circus-tent music, finger-poppin’ jazz, frenetic ska and sunny surf-rock, usually every three seconds or so. They get compared to Mr. Bungle a lot—like, pretty much in every YouTube comment—and they definitely wear their Mike Patton Fan Club badges on their sleeves. But they bring enough of their own cleverless and technical chops to the party that their stuff stands on its own.

Here’s the first track off their self-titled 2003 album. If you don’t like it, wait a few seconds.

For more Darth Vegas, visit their website, or check out their catalog on Amazon.