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.
We’re back! Did you miss us? We promise to resume regularly posting Weird Bands of the Week and occasionally updating our Weird 100 chart, but other site updates will probably be more infrequent because we’ve both got demanding day jobs now. For our ever-popular Weird of the Day picks, follow us on Twitter or Facebook. And now, back to the weirdness…
This week’s “band” is a solo artist from New York named Thomas Truax (pronounced “True-Ax”) who plays guitar and a variety of homemade instruments, mostly of the beat-making variety. He started out as the bassist/vocalist for a ’90s trio called Like Wow that was part of downtown Manhattan’s “antifolk” scene (did anyone actually like the term “antifolk”? didn’t think so), then turned solo around 2000 or so. His signature instrument, seen above, is called the Hornicator. It’s a modified gramophone horn that he can both sing into and use as a twangy percussion instrument by plucking a string wrapped around its neck. It apparently also has a kazoo inside it, because really, any halfway decent homemade instrument may as well include a kazoo.
Musically, Truax tends to play his own spin on mutant, lo-fi blues, evoking shades of everything from Nick Cave to Jon Spencer to another weird artist famous for cleverly constructed analog drum machines, Mr. Quintron. He’s done an entire album of songs from David Lynch films and another of original songs to accompany a production of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. More recently, he’s teamed up with ex-Dresden Doll drummer Brian Viglione. But it’s his solo live shows, where he unleashes his Hornicator and a variety of steampunky percussion instruments with evocative names like the Sister Spinster and the Mother Superior, that really showcase Truax’s weirdness.
Truax has also made more than his fair share of memorable music videos over the years. Here’s our favorite, suggested by reader Chas (thanks, Chas!), for a typically offbeat Truax original called “Prove It to My Daughter” that doubles as both a song and a hypnosis session:
It’s been a couple of years since we last got an update from the Land of There and its prince, jester and alderman, Richard There. And in that time, we’ve missed his sparse, haunting, occasionally psychotic bedroom folk songs. He was our first-ever Weird Band Poll™ winner, so he’ll always have a special place in our hearts.
So imagine our delight when Richard emailed us an update in the wee hours this morning. “I´m releasing my new album,” he wrote. “It’s the first time I release something on vinyl and I´m very happy with it. I´m doing it as always without any label and all by myself.”
The album is called Less Is Less and you can pre-order a vinyl copy right now from Richard’s website. You can also watch the first video from the record, for a track called “Axolotl,” but only on one condition: That you turn your monitor sideways before you hit “Play.” Trust us, it’s worth it.
See? Pretty cool, right? The song itself isn’t as weird as Richard’s earlier stuff, but it’s really beautiful. We look forward to hearing the rest of it, even if we have to turn the speakers sideways first.
Sometimes we get so excited that people in Poland or Brazil or South Africa are reading our blog that we neglect the weirdness in our own backyard. Yep, Los Angeles is a city full of freaks, contrary to the image most of y’all probably have in your heads of tanned, wannabe actors rollerblading between juice bars and Pilates classes (we have those, too, but no one here cares about them). And in their own, adorable way, Bloody Death Skull are as freaky as they come.
Musically, BDS aren’t all that weird, at least not in a hit-you-over-the-head way. Their songs are shaggy and shambling and cutened up by head Skull Daiana Feuer’s jangling ukulele and guileless, girlish vocals. Lyrically they can get pretty dark, with songs about death and prostitutes and drowning Mormons in swimming pools, but the grim subject matter is always served up with a wink. (Actually, depending on your point of view, I guess a song about drowning Mormons in swimming pools could be right up there with Pharrell’s “Happy.”) They cover lots of old murder ballads and doo wop love songs, which makes sense, and Ying Yang Twins, which doesn’t, but somehow works anyway.
Their live shows delight in the unexpected. They plays shows at strip clubs and former zoo animal enclosures. They dress up in elaborate costumes with inscrutable themes. When I saw them opening for Bob Log III, the theme was “things you might encounter in the forest,” which in Bloody Death Skull’s world includes alien princesses, soldiers in gas masks and a woman in a head-to-toe burqa representing “darkness.”
They have four core members—besides Feuer, there’s Donna Suppipat, Beth McSelf and Gerard Olson—but their live incarnation can have as many as 10 people onstage, many of them sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by xylophones and toy pianos and various things to bang on. The effect is both childlike and somehow psychedelic—by which I mean, they kinda look and sound like a bunch of people on heavy doses of psychedelics. Like, “Mind if I sit? ‘Cause my legs seem to have stopped working” doses.
(For the record: I’m pretty sure no one in the band is actually high. When they were done with their Bob Log III opening set, they all stood up and left the stage in a very orderly fashion, fastidiously picking up their giant collection of instruments as they went. But they sure do a convincing job of seeming out of their gourds during their set—except Feuer, who presides over the chaos with the wry charm and patience of a den mother for a particularly low-functioning Girl Scout troop.)
I’ve done as much as I can to explain the weirdness and adorableness of Bloody Death Skull without showing you some videos, so here they are. First up: a sweet desert murder lullaby called “Psycho,” starring a ravenous tiger/panda. I believe the technical term for such a hybrid creature is “tiganda.”
Next, here’s a little taste of their live show. They did not have the tap dancer when I saw them, but they did have a Theremin. They like to mix it up.
And finally, the video that is quite possibly their masterpiece (at least so far): “Girls Like You,” which uses stop-motion Barbies to tell a heartwarming tale about prostitutes and the non-prostitutes who love them.
I know it’s the Fourth of July and we should probably be featuring Ted Nugent or something instead of some random Canadian band. But we got turned onto this track from Montreal duo AroarA earlier this week and we can’t stop playing it. Plus it’s based a book by American poet Alice Notley, and poetry is nearly as American as burgers, hot dogs and blowing shit up. So put your Independence Day festivities on hold for five minutes and crank this shit up.
Amazing, right? If I may continue stuffing way too many Fourth of July references into this post, it’s like someone grilled up some American dustbowl folk music, shoved it into a bun of Canadian indie pop and topped it with a squirt of African desert blues. Or as Leslie Feist, who sometimes jams with them, puts it, far more succinctly, they play “ghost science faux-folk.”
AroarA is the work of Andrew Whiteman, best-known for his work with Broken Social Scene, and Ariel Engle, formerly part of Montreal orchestral pop collective Land of Kush. This track is from their debut album, In the Pines, which as we mentioned earlier takes its name from the Alice Notley book of the same name. It’s already been nominated for the Polaris Prize, which is sort of Canada’s version of the Mercury Prize. It’s available in a vinyl+digital package from the duo’s website.
OK, you may resume stuffing your face with barbecue and/or watching the World Cup. Happy July 4th, y’all!
For some reason, most of the really weird shit people are sending us these days is from North Carolina. Turns out there’s more to the Tarheel State than college hoops and vinegary barbecue.
The latest weirdo from the state that also gave us Your Fuzzy Friends, Surgical Vacations and Weird Band Poll contenders Emily Brontësaurus is a redneck singer-songwriter name of Andy Fenstermaker, who goes by the nom de weird of Andy the Doorbum. Most of Andy’s earlier stuff, as far as we can tell, is more quirky than weird, in sort of a Mountain Goats meets Tom Waits way. But he went off the fucking deep end with his latest video, “Evocation: The Beast of Change,” which we understand is the first track off his coming-soon album The Fool.
P.S. Our thanks to reader Eel for sending the “Evocation” video our way. You haunt our dreams, Eel.
Yesterday we got an email from a guy from Kansas City named Burnie Booth, who makes music under the name Folkicide. Here’s how one local journalist describes Folkicide’s sound: “It’s like he’s attempting to exterminate folk music by playing it in the most offensive, bastardized way imaginable.” Booth himself gets the same concept across even more succinctly by calling his stuff “misanthro-pop.”
Booth has a new album out this week called Meaningless Glare of Broken Human Beings, which you can hear tracks from on his SoundCloud page. But our favorite intro to Folkicide comes via this Monty Python-esque, NSFW video for an older track, “Empire of the Ants,” possibly inspired by Booth’s day job in pest control. Remember: If the spider eggs behind your eyes all hatch at once, seek medical attention immediately.
For more Folkicide—including Booth’s complete, album-length cover of Queen’s A Night at the Opera—check out their Bandcamp page.
It’s not every day someone puts a band on our radar that truly sounds like nothing we’ve ever heard before, but Norway’s Sturle Dagsland is one of those bands. Made up of brothers Sturle and Sjur Dagsland, their music is both primal and ethereal, thanks mainly to the crazy vocalizations of Sturle, who seems to be part elf.
They don’t seem to have released much music yet, but you can hear a bit more via YouTube and SoundCloud. Our thanks to reader Esa for introducing us to them. Definitely a great way to cap off another epic week here at Weird Band HQ.
Hearing Albert Kuvezin apply his Tuvan throat singing technique to Joy Division’s monument to bumitude, “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” has got me wondering if maybe Ian Curtis faked his death and has spent the past 30 years hiding out on the steppes of Mongolia. OK, not really—I’ll save the rock-star conspiracy theories for the Jim Morrison fans—but if he had lived long enough to discover Albert Kuvezin and his band Yat-Kha, I bet he would have been a fan. This version manages, thanks mostly to Kuvezin’s eerie, low-frequency drones, to be even creepier and more despondent than the original.
Kuvezin is better-known for his more traditional Tuvan throat singing band, Huun-Huur-Tu. But Yat-Kha, which mixes elements of both Tuvan and western folk music, is well worth seeking out, too. This is from a 2005 album called Re-Covers that also features throat-sung versions of songs by Captain Beefheart and Motorhead among others. A tip of the mouse to Dangerous Minds for turning us on to it.
Here’s a little free advice for the Cooking Channel: Make more of your shows like Faun Fables’ song/short film, “With Words and Cake.” You’ll rope in the Game of Thrones crowd and we all know how huge that demographic is.
Faun Fables is Dawn McCarthy and her life partner, Nils Frykdahl, formerly of Bay Area avant-metal heroes Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. They make antique folk music in a vein similar to Rasputina (who they’ve toured with), although their style is a bit more medieval and less cheeky. “With Words and Cake” is from their 2008 EP, A Table Forgotten, a mini-song cycle about home life and women’s traditional domestic roles. To find out more about Faun Fables, visit their website. (Thanks to reader Ewa for introducing us to the delightful “With Words and Cake” video.)