Weird of the Day: Laktating Yak, “Tsak of the Yak”

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Happy 2019, Weirdlings! Did you enjoy your holidays? Drink lots of eggnog? Well, if you did, turns out you were doing it wrong. You should have been drinking yak milk. So say Houston avant-prog-rockers Laktating Yak on their freaky debut album, Origin of the Yak, which I’m really regretting not putting on my Christmas list.

According to the good people of Laktating Yak, the mere smell of yak milk “replenishes spiritual vitality as well as erectile disfunction,” which is either bad grammar or means that if your erection is getting a little too functional, those musky yak milk fumes will have you flaccid again in no time. But you won’t care, because once you’ve actually ingested the aforementioned yak milk, “it chemically interacts with human anatomy in a similar fashion to adrenaline.” It’s like steroids you can pour on your Corn Flakes! Which you’ll be eating alone because of your erectile dysfunction, but hey, at least you’ll be pumped.

Yak mythologies aside, Origin of the Yak, is great stuff, with lots of noodly guitar and violin and saxophone, deploying riffs that lock horn like — do yaks lock horns? If they did, I’m sure it would sound like the instrumental throwdown that is “Tsak of the Yak.”

If you like that, you can check out the rest of Origin of the Yak on Bandcamp. Oh, and I saved my favorite thing about Laktating Yak for last: They are a self-described Zeuhl band, meaning they take instrumental (and possibly cosmological) inspiration from French prog-rock pioneers and Zeuhl progenitors Magma. The world really needs more Zeuhl bands, I think. Even though if you cornered me at a prog-rock concert and asked me to explain what “Zeuhl” is, I would probably point and yell “Is that Mike Portnoy?” and then run away because I still have no idea. Prog-rock that’s more about the psychedelic vibes than the whole “watch me shred for 10 minutes” thing, maybe? Yeah, I think it’s something like that.

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Drunken Forest

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I guess we have a lot of readers in Brazil, because for the second time, a band from the land of Carnaval and Christ the Redeemer is the winner of our monthly Weird Band Poll. And unlike previous Brazilian winners Skull and Bones, he’s actually pretty good. Meet Biaggio Vessio, aka Drunken Forest, and prepare to be wowed by some serious guitar chops.

Vessio, a São Paulo native, started Drunken Forest as a band project in 2009, but went solo in 2012. So far, he’s really only released four tracks, on a self-titled EP that covers a lot of stylistic ground in 11 scant minutes. The music of Drunken Forest isn’t hit-you-over-the-head weird, but it’s definitely unique, mostly thanks to Vessio’s guitar style, which cuts on a dime from melodic finger tapping to metalesque shredding and back again—as if Kaki King were trading licks with Kirk Hammett. Even in this early, lo-fi video, you can tell the man knows his way around a six-string.

You can download the Drunken Forest EP for free from Bandcamp. For a little taste, here is the album’s most frenetic track, a smash-cut tour through progressive metal, post-rock, bossa nova and jazz, all set to Zappa-esque mutating time signatures. Vessio plays everything except the saxophone. So yeah, he’s got some serious percussion chops, too.

So congrats on winning our poll, Biaggio! We hope to hear more Drunken music from you soon.

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Todd Tamanend Clark

Todd Tamanend Clark

A few weeks ago, we got an email that began: “Please allow me to introduce myself! My name is TODD TAMANEND CLARK, and I am notorious for having made the weirdest album of all time.” Jaded fuckers that we are, we proceeded to ignore this email for the next two weeks, because when people write to us claiming to have recorded the “weirdest album of all time,” they usually sound more like this.

But eventually, we did get around to checking out Mr. Clark and his allegedly weird oeuvre, including Nova Psychedelia, the collection of tracks from the first decade of his career (1975-1985) that stands as (allegedly) the weirdest set of music ever assembled in one package. And while we’re not gonna crown him Weirdest Artist of All Time just yet, we gotta admit: Todd Tamanend Clark, you are one weird dude.

Here’s Todd’s story as best as we’ve been able to piece it together from various sources, including the man himself, a brief Facebook bio, and a rapturous (but, according to Clark, somewhat inaccurate) review of some of his early work by none other than Julian Cope. He was born in 1952 in Greensboro, Pennsylvania, a small town near the West Virginia border, where he continues to live to this day. A poet, singer and musician, he released his first album under the name The Stars in 1975, then joined a Pennsylvania band called The Eyes and put out an excellently titled release called New Gods: Aardvark thru Zymurgy (sometimes mistakenly credited to a non-existent band called New Gods, though for reasons obvious to those few who’ve ever been lucky to get their hands on an original copy).

During the Stars/Eyes period, Clark’s music was still heavily influenced by the ’60s psychedelic rock of Hendrix, the Doors, the Electric Prunes (who he covered) and especially the United States of America, one of the first bands to use early synthesizers in a psych-rock context. But he was also clearly attuned to the newer, harsher sounds of early punk, and would go on to collaborate with people like The Dead Boys’ Stiv Bators and Cheetah Chrome. Later, in the early ’80s, he dove more deeply into full-blown experimental rock, taking equal inspiration from bands like Pere Ubu (another occasional collaborator) and the works of sci-fi and stream-of-consciousness writers like Harlan Ellison and William S. Burroughs. And yeah, he also collaborated with Burroughs, too. For a smalltown boy from western Pennsylvania, the guy got around.

For awhile there, Clark appeared to be well on his way to, if not fame, at least a sizable cult following. But something seems to have happened between the late ’80s and now that caused Clark to drop even further off the radar than he already was. Maybe his combined interests in his Native American roots (he added the Indian “Tamanend” to his name sometime in the ’80s) and vintage synthesizers (he’s an endorsed Moog Music artist) was too much for most listeners to handle. Or maybe he just didn’t release much music; there seems to be a gap in his catalog between 1984’s Into the Vision (the album that features the aforementioned Burroughs collab, as well as appearances by some of the Pere Ubu and Dead Boys guys) and 2000’s Owls in Obsidian, the first in a trilogy of instrumental tribal-prog-synth-rock explorations that also includes Staff, Mask, Rattle (2002) and Monongahela Riverrun (2004). Todd offered to proofread this article for us for “factual errors,” so hopefully he can enlighten us.

[Update: Todd did enlighten us. Here’s what he wrote: “What I did during the recording gap… After Into The Vision, there was a vinyl single in 1985 (‘Flame Over Philadelphia’ b/w ‘Oceans Of She’) which along with my 1980 single (‘Secret Sinema’ b/w ‘Nightlife Of The New Gods’) were my college radio hits, the most commercial I ever got. I released no new recordings during the years 1986-1999, although I continued to compose music and play occasional concerts. During that time, I went to graduate school and was a devoted father to my (at that time) five children. (I’ve since had another son who is now thirteen.) I also immersed myself more deeply into Haudenosaunee and Lenape culture, as well as networked with indigenous activists from other native nations.” So there you have it.]

More recently, Clark’s been hard at work on his first vocal album in years, a magnum opus called Dancing Through the Side Worlds. Based on this one interview we found, it was originally slated to come out in 2008 as a four-CD set, but based on our latest email transmission from T.T. Clark himself, it’s now due to arrive in November of this year, just in time for Native American Heritage Month. “If you can imagine Iggy Pop backed by Skinny Puppy and Adrian Belew doing a cyberpunk re-make of Forever Changes with new lyrics by William Burroughs and production by Trent Reznor, you will be somewhere in the aesthetic ballpark of this album,” Todd tells us. OK, then!

Clark’s body of work encompasses so many styles and genres that it’s impossible to cover all of it here, but we’ll skim the surface as best we can. Let’s start with some of his ’70s basement psych-rock stuff, from Aardvark thru Zymurgy:

Then fast-forward to 1984 and Into the Vision, on which he sounds vaguely like Jim Morrison fronting The Residents:

And finally, here’s an extended taste of the Native American-influenced prog-synth freakery he was getting up to circa 2001, with one of his kids, X Tecumseh Clark, playing some of the synths. (Yes, he has a kid named X Tecumseh. And another named Shaman Manitou.) (Bonus fun fact: X Tecumseh is the cover boy for Crystal Castles’ 2010 album.)

So here’s hoping we can do our small part in broadening the audience of this truly original oddball. And here’s hoping he really does release his next album in November as promised, because we cannot wait to break out the thesaurus and the review the hell out of it.

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Buckethead

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For a long time now, a lot of you have been clamoring for us to add Buckethead to The Weird List. “He wears a KFC bucket and a mask!” you said. “He’s made albums in nearly every genre of music!” you cried. “He robot dances with nunchucks!” you declared. “He grew up in a chicken coop!” you insisted. We’re pretty sure that last part isn’t true, but that wasn’t what deterred us from adding him until now. No, it was more that most of his music, from what we could tell, wasn’t actually all that weird. I mean, yes, there’s a hell of a lot of it, and his guitar playing throughout is masterful and occasionally mind-blowing. But most of it seems to sound like this. Or this. Or sometimes this. It can be trippy in a Floyd/Zappa sorta way, but it’s not like, “Oh my God, that’s the craziest shit I ever heard!”

But OK, fine, Ian Frost, Bassbait and the eight gajillion other readers who keep writing us like, “No, but wait, you’ve got to hear this one track…” For all your sakes, we finally went on a Buckethead bender and managed to unearth some truly weird shit from his truly gargantuan catalog. (Seriously, dude needs an editor.)

Let’s start with a live video that showcases his mad skills on the six string, not to mention some of the craziest guitar effects we’ve heard in awhile. It starts off as a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” but Buckethead goes off on his own wild tangents pretty quickly:

Next up: a creepy/silly video he made with System of a Down’s Serj Tankian, featuring reanimated taxidermy experiments gone horribly awry. (Side note: Taxidermy is supposedly an actual hobby of Buckethead’s. Of course it is. Also: None of you, in trying to convince us of Buckethead’s weirdness, ever thought to send us this video? Really?)

And finally, because it’s the Fourth of July, we leave you with the craziest Buckethead project of all: a collaboration with the actor Viggo Mortensen called “Pandemoniumfromamerica,” in which Mortensen intones excerpts from William Blake’s epic poem, “America a Prophecy,” which includes lines like, “His plagues obedient to his voice flew forth out of their clouds/Falling upon America, as a storm to cut them off/As a blight cuts the tender corn when it begins to appear.” Happy birthday, America!

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