Už jsme doma

Uz-jsme-doma

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: Doris Norton, “Psychic Research”

Doris Norton

We first learned about the pioneering synthesizer work of Doris Norton when we did a post last month about the Italian esoteric prog-rock band Jacula, for whom she played keyboards in the early ’70s. Turns out she went on to create even weirder and more cutting-edge music as a solo artist, always testing the limits of the available technology to create never-before-heard sounds. She even got sponsored by Apple in the early ’80s to create some of the first music produced using personal computers.

Over the course of the ’80s, her music evolved into what we recognize today as synth-pop and early techno. But her first three solo albums, Underground (1980), Parapsycho (1981) and Raptus (1981), featured some of the craziest synth experiments of her time (or any time, for that matter). Among other things, she tinkered with translating biorhythms, brainwaves and “psychic energy” into synthesizer music—hence the title of the track below, “Psychic Research,” from Parapsycho. (It’s not the full track, but since Parapsycho was reissued last year, all unauthorized tracks from that album seem to have been pulled from YouTube.)

You can learn more about Doris Norton and her music on her website, FutureStyle.org. And if you want to check out the rest of the reissued Parapsycho, it’s available on Amazon.com.

Tera Melos

Tera Melos

This week’s band is usually described as “math rock,” a style Jake and I have bagged on in the past, partially out of sheer ignorance (back in 2010, we tagged Little Women as a math rock band…um, no), partially because, let’s face it, there are a lot of crappy math rock bands out there. Start-stop tempos and unconventional time signatures, in and of themselves, don’t make guitar-based music interesting, or even all that weird—but our inbox overflows with such dreck on an almost daily basis. So to all you struggling young math rock bands out there, we say: Study the catalog of Tera Melos, and then get back to us. If you can make music half as challenging and (here’s the important part) fucking fun as these guys, we and all the other jaded hipster music blogs might actually start paying attention to you.

Guitarist Nick Reinhart and bassist Nathan Latona started Tera Melos in Sacramento, California in 2004. Initially they were an instrumental quartet, with guitarist Jeff Worms and drummer Vince Rogers, although Worms quit pretty soon after the band started. Their debut album was an untitled collection of eight untitled songs, just labeled “Melody 1,” “Melody 2” and so on—which was a bit ironic, given that most of the tracks were not so much melodies as kaleidoscopic explosions of processed guitar churning over insanely intricate drum patterns and basslines.

The band’s second full-length album, 2010’s Patagonian Rats, marked a major leap forward. Reinhart had occasionally contributed vocals in the past, but now he was a full-fledged lead singer, and new drummer John Clardy was every bit as technically precise as Vince Rogers but could lay down the occasional in-the-pocket groove. Now Tera Melos sounded like something new: a flashy, complex math-rock band with a fondness for melody and atmosphere, sort of halfway between two of their tourmates, Dillinger Escape Plan and Minus the Bear.

It was also around this time that Reinhart emerged as a bona fide math rock guitar god, with a unique way of using pedal boards to extract maximum sonic impact from his instrument. If you can stomach the host of this video and his relentless ass-kissing, some of the tricks Reinhart demonstrates are pretty impressive. This live in-studio performance gives an even better idea of his guitar/pedal wizardry:

But at the end of the day, it’s not Tera Melos’ math rock chops (or even their refreshing sense of humor about the genre, as seen in the banner art at the top of our site this week) that earn them Weird Band of the Week honors. What really puts them over the top are their music videos, which are nearly always amazing. Here’s “The Skin Surf” from Patagonian Rats, in which they engage in a bit of crustacean osculation while dressed up like the world’s lamest Weezer cover band:

And here’s “Weird Circles” from their latest album, last year’s X’ed Out. Who’s hungry for some Yum cereal?

But their crowning video achievement to date has to be “Bite,” also from X’ed Out, in which music and visuals merge into some kind of overlapping Battles/Primus/Kyary Pamyu Pamyu hallucination. By the way: It’s worth noting that all of these videos were directed by the same guy, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker named Behn Fannin who is clearly some kind of dark, twisted genius.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t once again thank the reader who turned us on to Tera Melos, matp662. I bet matp1 thru matp661 put together are still less cool than you, sir!

Update: Right when we make Tera Melos our Weird Band of the Week, they drop yet another crazy video! Please to enjoy their fresh-pressed latest, “Sunburn”:

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Weird of the Day: Tera Melos, “Bite”

Tera Melos

We don’t post much math rock on this blog, for the very simple reason that most of it isn’t actually that weird. Technically impressive, sure, but weird? Not so much. Go to any large band practice space in any big college town and you will hear the cacophony of a dozen math rock bands all trying to shred around a diminished seventh chord in alternating 3/2 and 7/8 tempos and I actually nodded off three times while trying to finish this sentence. The sound of music geeks geeking out can go to some pretty weird places—but as with most genres of music, the vast majority of it is pretty by-the-book.

This is why I find Tera Melos so refreshing. Yes, they’re clearly big-time music geeks, but they a.) don’t take themselves too seriously and b.) make songs that, while still full jerky start-stop rhythms and odd, slightly dissonant chord progressions, also have melody and—dare I say it?—a sense of groove. They remind me a lot of Pinback and Minus the Bear, two bands I really like that sometimes get labeled as math rock even though I’m sure the hardcore math rockers think their time signatures are too basic.

But what really puts them over the top into weirdo territory are their music videos, which are nearly always amazing. Here’s a recent one for the track “Bite” that is pretty much exactly how I always imagined it would look if Primus made a J-pop video. And yes, I imagine that sort of thing a lot.

“Bite” is from Tera Melos’ latest album, X’ed Out, which you can buy from Amazon.com or their label, Sargent House.

P.S. Thanks to reader matp662 for submitting Tera Melos. Matp662 suggested another video, “The Skin Surf,” and that one’s pretty weird, too.

Weird of the Day: Jacula, “Absolution”

Jacula

Let’s wrap up the week with a little vintage Italian mystic/esoteric prog/psych/horror soundtrack rock. Jacula was a band active in the late ’60s and early ’70s, made up of rock guitarist Antonio Bartoccetti (of the band Antonius Rex), church organist Charles Tiring and experimental keyboardist/sound engineer Doris Norton. They’ve been described as “the most authoritative band of the deeper parabiblical mystic sound.” They recently reunited and released their first album in nearly 40 years, Pre Viam, in 2011, with a promise of more new material coming soon.

This track is from their second album, 1972’s Tardo Pede in Magiam Versus. Kinda sounds like a rock opera version of The Exorcist, no?

Our thanks to reader Giannina for sharing this stuff with us. I didn’t think Italian prog-rock could get any creepier than Goblin, but I think these guys have achieved that.

You can check out more of Jacula’s catalog on Amazon and learn more about the project on their website.

Weird of the Day: “Wayfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles” collects Dungeons & Dragons-inspired rock from the ’70s

Darkscorch

Some music scenes never quite produced any one band talented enough or weird enough to make it onto our Weird List—but taken collectively, they deserve a shout-out nonetheless. Such a scene was the weird world of ’70s fantasy psych-rock. You wouldn’t think that many bands would’ve been inspired to write heavy rock jams based on their favorite Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons characters. But apparently back around 1975 or so, a lot of kids were rolling 20-sided dice in their basements to the strains of King Crimson and Black Sabbath. So many, in fact, that ace reissue label the Numero Group has managed to put together a compilation featuring 16 such bands.

Numero Group’s collection of D&D stoner rock is called Wayfaring Strangers: Darkscorch Canticles and features such forgotten heroes of the underground as Triton Warrior, Gorgon Medusa and Stonehenge (yes, there is actually a band on this comp called Stonehenge—Spinal Tap, eat your heart out). Individually, none of the tracks is all that, but taken collectively, it’s a pretty incredible snapshot of a very specific moment in suburban rec room culture. Never again before or since have some many American teenagers simultaneously owned copies of The Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Jethro Tull’s Minstrel in the Gallery. (Actually, many of the compilation’s tracks pre-date the advent of Dungeons & Dragons and Jethro Tull’s heyday by several years—so many it’s more accurate to say that Darkscorch Canticles reveals that the roots of ’70s rec room culture and British prog-rock in the music of hippie bands who were reading J.R.R. Tolkien on acid.)

To hear clips and order up a copy of Darkscorch Canticles, visit the Numero Group website. And if you really get obsessed with this stuff, there’s even an accompanying board game. Now here’s some Stonehenge.