One of the cool things about my day job is that I get to work with the great Henry Rollins, whose taste in weird and esoteric music is even more wide-ranging than mine and Jake’s. (He also knows more about music than the two of us put together. Like, a lot, lot more.) He hosts a radio show every Sunday night on KCRW-FM that I highly encourage you to check out — every week, he breaks out some new mind-bending shit you’ve probably never heard of. In the coming week’s, we’ll probably be mining Henry’s show for all sorts of new weird sounds.
Our first raid of the Rollins vaults comes in the form of a gentleman from France who goes by the nom de weird of Lieutenant Caramel. He describes himself as a “hunter of sounds” and collector of “resonant matters,” but his work transcends typical musique concrete and field recordings with a sense of wit and whimsy that makes even his most bizarre compositions as hilarious in places as a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Most of them clock in at around ten minutes or more, so they’re not for short attention spans — or then again, since they constantly warp and shape-shift, maybe they are.
Lieutenant Caramel is the alter ego of Philippe Blanchard, who lives in the ridiculously picturesque town of Annecy in the French Alps. In 1999, he founded a festival there called “Le bruit de la neige,” which translates to “The Noise of Snow.” Looks like the most recent one was just last month, so I guess Jake and I will just have to start planning now to hit the 2016 edition.
Not everything Blanchard produces as Lieutenant Caramel sounds like cartoon character stumbling through a tool shed. We’ll leave you with a track that’s more Lynch than Looney Tunes. There’s still some funny, distorted voices in there, but this time, you won’t know whether to laugh or hide under the covers.
To our South American readers: ¡Hola! How’s it hanging? Except for Brazil, we’ve kinda ignored you guys, and for that, we are sorry. You have your fair share of weirdos, too…starting with Argentina’s Reynols.
Reynols was started in 1993 by a drummer with Down syndrome named Miguel Tomasin and his two music teachers, Alan Courtis and Roberto Conlazo. They also had a fourth member named Christian Dergarabedian early on, and at some point Roberto’s brother Patricio got involved, so most photos and videos of the band show four members. According to Courtis and Conlazo, Tomasin introduced himself to them by saying, “Hello, I’m the world’s most famous drummer.” And the rest, as they say, is history.
Inspired by Tomasin’s unique way of looking at the world, Reynols make music that most people probably wouldn’t consider music. Their first album, Hydrogenated Vegetable Fat (Gordura vegetal Hidrogenada), was a “dematerialized CD,” which is another way of saying that it was sold as an empty CD case with nothing in it. Because it doesn’t exist, Courtis and Conlazo explain, it’s everywhere. “Everybody has that record, even people who haven’t been born yet,” Courtis told one interviewer. “Napoleon has that record, Plato has the record, Jim Morrison has the record.”
They’ve also released Chickens Symphony for 10,000, a field recording done inside a chicken coop, and Blank Tapes, an album consisting entirely of tape hiss, from tapes the band claims they collected from all over the world. “The cheap tapes sound better than the expensive ones,” says Conlazo. “TTK tapes from Singapore. Maxwell tapes (not Maxell!) from Taiwan. The idea was to use all the possibilities, a lot of different frequencies.”
They’ve also made “music” based on the sound of banging things against the Eiffel Tower and gravestones of famous people. “They’re all very different. For example the Oscar Wilde statue sounds incredible. We played it with roses. We use different things to play each grave.”
When they make music in a more conventional band configuration, it’s still pretty weird, especially because Tomasin does all the vocals, wailing in a made-up language about a parallel universe called Minecxio. His bandmates accompany him with detuned guitars, effects pedals, feedback and the occasion ram’s horn. It’s trippy and noisy. But mostly noisy.
Weird though they may be, Reynols was a pretty successful cult band for about a decade, releasing a ton of records on labels from all over the world. They toured the U.S and Europe at least once, although Tomasin couldn’t travel with them to Europe for reasons that are unclear, so they brought along a big yellow poster of his face instead.
Oh, and they were also once nearly arrested for a street performance in which they played guitars plugged into pumpkins. Pumpkins don’t actually make very good amps, so the guitars didn’t make much noise, but apparently the authorities felt that the performance was “setting a bad example for the tourists.”
In 2004, Reynols announced they were breaking up. Since then, Alan Courtis has released tons more experimental music on his own, while Miguel Tomasin and Rob Conlazo have continued to work together occasionally, but seem to be much less active. Someone made a documentary about them in 2004 called Buscando a Reynols, but as far as we can tell, that was pretty much the last time anyone’s done anything to document the group or its members.
We’ll leave you with a live recording of Reynols in Chicago from 2001, which someone was kind enough to upload so posterity could hear how completely batshit these guys were. If anyone knows more about the Reynols story post-2004, let us know and we’ll update this post. Oh, and many thanks to reader MrAgalloch, who suggested we take the plunge down the Reynols rabbit hole.
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:
Our friend Kai from Toxic Chicken sent us this bonkers track by a Canadian producer working under the name Funturistic, on which very formal, almost Baroque-sounding music is performed entirely using sampled animal sounds. It’s called “Rural Kerfuffle” and it’s a 10-minute epic with movements and everything. It is, admittedly, not far removed from those stupid Christmas novelty records where cats meow “Silent Night” or whatever, but taken to a pretty crazy extreme. Enjoy.
We’re cheating a bit with this week’s “band,” which is really more of a multimedia art project. But music is an integral part of the Japanese “art unit” Maywa Denki, so we’re giving them a pass.
Maywa Denki specializes in creating what co-founder Novumichi Tosa calls “nonsense machines”: mechanical objects that may or may not serve some useful purpose, but achieve that purpose in absurd or impractical ways. Their most famous creation, which Novumichi is brandishing in the above photo, is a note-shaped musical instrument called an otamatone, a made-up Japanese word that sounds (intentionally, we presume) quite a bit like “automaton.” You play the otamatone by sliding one finger up and down the instrument’s neck to hit specific notes, while squeezing the instrument’s “mouth” to control volume, tone and pitch. They come in various sizes and, in the right hands, can be made to produce all sorts of different (but always vaguely silly) sounds:
Maywa Denki has mass-produced some smaller versions of the otamatone, which has helped spread its popularity and led to some pretty great YouTube videos by other musicians. But the otamatone is just the tip of the nonsense machine iceberg. Maywa Denki has an entire product line called Tsukuba dedicated to ridiculously elaborate (but, usually, easy to play) musical instruments, like a set of six guitars played via a pedal organ and a “rhythm-making machine” that’s basically just a series of on/off switches attached to a turntable, all of which can be worn like a keytar.
Most of Maywa Denki’s larger instruments haven’t been mass produced, for obvious reasons, but Novumichi and his brother, Masamichi, occasionally take their nonsense machines out for concerts—or, as they like to call them, “product demonstrations.” Dressed in DEVO-like matching blue jumpsuits, the Tosa brothers and their assistants put a dizzying array of different machines through their paces in the service of creating music that is, surprisingly, pretty catchy and accessible. Videos don’t quite do the whole spectacle justice, but this Slovenian clip is one of the better ones we could find:
More recently, Maywa Denki have launched their own fashion line, Meewee Dinkee. Naturally, they produced an indecipherably bizarre video to promote it:
Sadly, most of the coolest pieces in the fashion line are already sold out. But we have no doubt the brothers Tosa are already hard at work on their next art “products.”
Our thanks to reader Frederick for posting the Meewee Dinkee video on our Submit a Band page and sending us plunging down the Maywa Denki rabbit hole. We’d like to dedicate this otamatone video to you, sir!
Like a mono outbreak on prom night, democracy has struck again here Weird Band HQ, and a new Weird Band of the Week has infested our tender, nubile pages. Did that last sentence totally creep you out? Well, this band might, too. Meet Sly & The Family Drone, a British crew whose only resemblance to Sly & The Family Stone is that their leader has spent at least a few years living in a van. Possibly. Or not. What do you want from us, research?
Led by a gentleman called (duh) Sly, S&TFD started out in 2010 or thereabouts as a drums and tape effects noise ensemble, sort of a cross between Crash Worship, Wolf Eyes, Whitehouse and that sound my old Gorilla amp used to make when I would get really stoned and just drag my Mexicaster fretboard back and forth across the face of it for hours. They’ve released some studio recordings, including an EP that just came out this past month called Unnecessary Woe, which is the only kind of woe in a world that has bourbon and bands that sound like Crash Worship.
But they’re best known for their live shows, which involve a shit-ton of drums and lots of shirtless dudes crawling around manipulating effects pedals and oscillators and audience members banging on cymbals and just the kind of general, participatory mayhem that makes any good live show more than the sum of its racket. They also sometimes throw some harmonica in there, just to give it a little of that homeless-guy-busking-at-the-bus-station pizzazz. You probably have to be there to fully appreciate the whole thing, but here’s a video clip, anyway. Don’t worry, you don’t have to watch all 51 minutes to get to the weird stuff. It gets weird right out of the gate.
Best line from their official bio: “There is no place for guitars within this band.” It’s about time someone took a stand against all these fucking guitars! Goddamn things are everywhere.
Here’s a track from Unnecessary Woe called “Grey Meat,” which like their live shows was totally improvised. I’m pretty sure you can dance to this one, or at least break stuff.
So congrats on winning our Weird Band Poll, S&TFD! Hopefully this catapults you to enough fame and fortune that you can come wreck some drum kits here in America.
P.S. After we join our fellow Americans in stuffing our faces with turkey and trampling fellow shoppers in a stampede for the new iPads, we’re taking a little vacation time. But don’t worry, this break will be much shorter than our last one. We’ll be back with more weird bands in a couple weeks. Y’all try to stay out of trouble till then, OK?
Meet our latest Weird Band Poll winners: Pan! These guys just moved last year from sunny Los Angeles to cold, desperate Detroit, so you know they’re weirdos.
Pan’s music kinda sounds like post-economic-meltdown Detroit, too: Junky, spooky, broken down but not without its charms. John, one half of the duo, describes their music as “musique-concrete folk,” which sounds about right. There are lots of weird, ambient noises and out-of-tune guitars that sound like they’re being played with kitchen utensils. It’s not for nothing that when John told us about Pan’s music, he put the word “music” in quotation marks.
So far Pan have released just two records: a self-titled 2011 EP and a 2012 full-length called Pan 2. Both are available on Bandcamp here and here. For maximum weirdness, start with the EP, which makes me feel like I’m watching the Deliverance sodomy scene over and over again after one too many Vicodins.
John and his partner, Dithyramb, run a label called Homotown Records, which has a Facebook page but not much else. They haven’t shot any videos for Pan or posted any Pan tunes on YouTube, but here’s a Soundcloud for a non-album track called “Dithy” that should give you an idea of why they pretty much crushed it in this month’s poll.
(Photo swiped from BoingBoing.net)
Anticipation really seems to be building for the debut album from Zammuto, the new band/solo project from Nick Zammuto, one-half of sound collage mavericks The Books. Just today, Pitchfork gave a “Best New Track” shout-out to “F U C-3PO,” an almost proggy jam with robot vocals and distortion pedals set to stun. And last week, director Matthew Day debuted a short documentary called “A Day With Nick Zammuto” that shows the musician hard at work on his new music and chilling in his amazing self-built house with his wife and ridiculously cute children. We’ve embedded the YouTube version of the film below, or you can watch the original on Day’s website, Naked Musicians.
Zammuto will be making their live debut on Feb. 3 at Mass Moca in North Adams, Massachusetts. If anyone goes, give us a report!
Doing this blog really is a gift that keeps on giving. You’d think by our third year of operation, bands like Austria’s Vegetable Orchestra would be old hat to us. But truth be told, we only just recently discovered that these guys existed. Apparently, we’re not very good at our jobs.
The Vegetable Orchestra (also known as the First Viennese Vegetable Orchestra, or Das erste Wiener Gemüseorchester in their native tongue) was founded in 1998 by a group of college students who were interested in exploring the acoustic properties of, well, vegetables. Initially they created vegetable-based instruments that closely resembled their wood and metal counterparts: drums made of pumpkins and celery roots, flutes made of carrots, a “cucumberphone” made from a hollowed-out cucumber with a bell pepper at one end and a carrot doubling as a reed at the other. Since then, their instruments have gotten increasingly bizarre, often with the aid of electronics; how the hell the “leek violin” works, to give just one example, we have no idea.
When performing live, the VO buys fresh, organic produce that day and assembles it into instruments just hours before showtime. At the end of each performance, they use the vegetables to make soup, which they then serve to the audience. Fresh veggies in a warm broth of Austrian saliva–yummers!
The Vegetable Orchestra have released three albums over the course of their 14-year existence. Their latest, Onionoise, is a mix of techno, tribal, ambient, industrial and avant-garde sounds that would be pretty darned weird even if it wasn’t being mostly produced on produce.
Here’s a 2007 promotional video of the Orchestra in action. Apparently they had to disable comments on YouTube because some people were attacking them for wasting perfectly good vegetables in the face of world hunger. To which we say: Come to a Vegetable Orchestra show and have some soup, you darned crankypantses!
What do you get when you cross Stomp, Rockapella, and the kind of highly enthusiastic but somewhat amateurish cover bands you see at B-list state fairs in places like Iowa and Delaware? You get Vocal Trash, a band that combines a cappella, found-object percussion, tap dancing, trumpet solos and, oh, let’s just throw a little break-dancing in there, shall we? I mean, why the hell not?
Vocal Trash was started about 10 years by a guy from West Texas named Steve Linder, who judging from the amount of eyeliner he wears probably did not fit in with the other kids in the Lone Star State. The group was originally pretty much just a cross between show choir and banging on trash cans—”Glee with a kick!” as the press materials proclaim. There was something goofy and white-trash but undeniably awesome about them, especially when they unleashed their junkyard swag on the confused but obviously entranced masses on the state and county fair circuit:
More recently, the band has slicked up its stage show by adding more instruments, choreographed dance moves and a very Stomp-like stage set—all of which can seen in this somewhat depressing promotional video. Apparently they do lots of corporate events and theme parks and such these days, which explains the snazzier production values and the inclusion of the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” in their set list.
And hey, we get it—they’ve been doing this for 10 years, and at a certain point, if the quirky junkyard show band shtick isn’t landing you those major corporate gigs, you lose the fat dude with the biker mustache and bring in the break-dancers. But we still shed a tear for the demise of the rag-tag group in this no-budget video, which looks like it was shot in haste before they were chased off by the scrapyard Rottweilers: