Though they douse our inbox daily with a firehose of awful, mainstream crap, music publicists aren’t all bad. Occasionally they serve up something truly bizarre, like Shmu, a cut-and-paste solo project from Austin-based musician (and occasional Flaming Lips collaborator) Sam Chown that sounds like 10 different bands playing on top of each other at the same time — because that, essentially, is what you’re hearing.
Chown, who’s originally from Toronto and studied music at Berklee, also makes delightfully spazzy electro-noise-rock as the drummer half of the duo Zorch. As Shmu, he makes music that is at once more accessible and more abstract. At their heart, Shmu songs are shoegaze-y dream-pop; Chown cites My Bloody Valentine as an influence, although only inasmuch as he, like Kevin Shields, is fascinated with the happy harmonic accidents that happen when you keep layering sound on top of sound to the point where the human ear can no longer distinguish all the individual parts.
Here’s a good example of Chown in full-blown sensory overload mode. Listening to this on repeat kind of makes you feel like you’re having the world’s happiest seizure.
To achieve his “Tomorrow Never Knows” as remixed by The Field sound, Chown records multiple versions of the same track and then edits and layers them all together. Sometimes, when he doesn’t like where one song is heading, rather than scrap it entirely, he just mashes snippets of it into whatever he decides to do next. “Many [songs] even contain performances of me playing samples live that are samples of scrapped songs or of other entire songs — I’m performing a performance of a performance,” he says in that press release we somehow rescued from our inbox last week.
He applies the same technique to recording other musicians, as well. Shmu’s latest album, SHHH!!!!, is mostly him on the all instruments, but there are some additional guitars and bass and even a string quartet buried in there somewhere. On for one of the album’s coolest tracks, “Flutes,” he had two flautists play the same piece of music into five sets of microphones on five different delay pedals, then mixed the results together.
SHHH!!!! is Chown’s second Shmu album; the first one, 2012’s Discipline/Communication, is way less mental, but still worth checking out. It’s especially interesting to hear how the track “Turpentine” off that debut gets reimagined as a swirling, shoegaze guitar freakout on SHHH!!!!
We’ll leave you with the most ambitious track on SHHH!!!!, a 12-minute jam called “Harmonic” that closes out the album with a hurricane of Brian Chippendale-like drums, glitchy electronics and the epic post-rock sensibilities of fellow Austinites Explosions in the Sky. If this doesn’t convince you that Chown is something special, stop reading this blog and go buy the new goddamn Adele album.
If there was any justice in the world, Toronto’s Spookey Ruben would’ve become a weirdo superstar in the mid-’90s, around the same time it was actually still possible for eccentric bands like Primus and Ween to sell millions of records and gain some mainstream recognition for their offbeat brilliance. Ruben came on the scene with a similarly brilliant debut album in 1995 called Modes of Transportation Vol. 1 that should’ve achieved Chocolate and Cheese-level notoriety. But the album came out on the crap-tastic TVT Records, a label that has screwed up the careers of everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Lil Jon over the years, and that was apparently no less kind to Ruben. For reasons we haven’t been able to discern, they decided to release his second album, Modes of Transportation Vol. 2, only in Japan, which had the not surprisingly effect of causing him to drop off most folks’ radar everywhere except Japan. Well-played, TVT.
Fortunately, Ruben has persisted, continuing to release new music through his own label, Hi-Hat Recordings. He even managed to get back the rights to all (or at least most) of his old TVT material, and has plans to do a 20th anniversary reissue of Modes Vol. 1 later this year, along with a new album called Modes III that he just successfully funded via Indiegogo.
Ruben got his start playing guitar in D.C. area punk and metal bands as a teenager, before moving to Toronto to go to film school. His hardcore roots occasionally surface in his solo stuff, especially when he lets rip on the occasional shred-tastic guitar solo, but mostly his music exists on a folk/pop/psych-rock axis somewhere between Ween and XTC. It’s catchy and polished, but always takes unexpected twists and turns, either with goofy lyrics, cartoon sound effects, unexpected stylistic shifts, or even just in the way Ruben’s melodies often cut against the grain of his chord progressions, making tunes that are at once bright and oddly dissonant, like Beach Boys songs heard from a passing train.
Last year, Ruben took time out from his solo work to front a power-pop band called AAA Battery. They did a song called “Jenna” that’s not really that weird, but the video is fun.
He’s also been putting that film school experience to good use with Spookey Ruben’s Dizzy Playground, a comedic short film series that has guest-starred folks like Ariel Pink and Feist. They’re all pretty hysterical, but our personal favorite is “Natural Born Grannies.”
We’ll leave you with two videos from Modes of Transportation Vol. 1. First up: his catchy, keytar-fueled ode to fast food, “Wendy McDonald.” Bet this is Zayde Buti’s favorite Spookey Ruben song. Don’t stop watching before the xylophone solo or you’ll miss out.
Next: The song and video that’s probably Ruben’s masterpiece, “These Days Are Old.” Remember, before you judge: Everybody in the mid-’90s had bad hair.
Many thanks to Sarah Dukakis at Hi-Hat for sharing Spookey with us.
Wayne Coyne, all is forgiven. We forgive you for dickishly slagging your recently fired drummer in a lengthy Rolling Stone interview. We forgive you for hanging out with Miley Cyrus. We even forgive you for At War With the Mystics. Because though we had our doubts (boy, did we ever have our doubts) about this Sgt. Pepper tribute album you and the Flaming Lips have been teasing all year, when the full list of collaborators was revealed yesterday, it was guaranteed to raise a smile. Brian Chippendale’s electro-noise project Black Pus on “With a Little Help From My Friends”? Maynard James Keenan and Puscifer on “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”? Julianna Barwick and Phantogram on “She’s Leaving Home”? Count us in!
Even the non-weird collaborators listed on With a Little Help From My Fwends (as they’re calling the whole shebang) are, for the most part, pretty solid. My Morning Jacket and Dinosaur, Jr. main man J. Mascis should give “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” a welcome heavy-psych kick in the pants. The combination of retro-rockers Dr. Dog, rapper Chuck Inglish and lo-fi psych-rocker Morgan Delt on “Getting Better” is intriguing, to say the least. Tegan and Sara are a bit shrill for my taste, but presumably they’ll turn “Lovely Rita” into a lesbian folk-pop ditty, so that’s cool. I’m even prepared to hear Moby and Miley Cyrus’s work on “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” with an open mind, so long as Miley doesn’t get too carried away with any melismatic bullshit and Moby doesn’t transpose the whole thing into a major key and try to make it sound like a sunrise yoga class at Burning Man.
The whole thing is due out Oct. 28th and will benefit the Bella Foundation, which helps struggling pet owners pay their vet bills.
The complete list of tracks and collaborators are below, right after this version of “Fixing a Hole” by Lips side projects Electric Würms. Sounds like that hole still needs some work, guys!
The Flaming Lips 2014: With a Little Help From My Fwends tracklist:
01 My Morning Jacket, J. Mascis, Fever the Ghost: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”
02 The Flaming Lips, Black Pus, the Autumn Defense : “With a Little Help From My Friends”
03 The Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus, Moby: “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”
04 Dr. Dog, Chuck Inglish, Morgan Delt: “Getting Better”
05 Electric Würms: “Fixing A Hole”
06 Phantogram, Julianna Barwick, Spaceface: “She’s Leaving Home”
07 The Flaming Lips, Maynard James Keenan, Puscifer, Sunbears!: “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”
08 The Flaming Lips, Birdflower, Morgan Delt: “Within You Without You”
09 The Flaming Lips, Def Rain, Pitchwafuzz: “When I’m Sixty-Four”
10 Tegan and Sara and Stardeath & White Dwarfs: “Lovely Rita”
11 Zorch, Grace Potter, Treasure Mammal: “Good Morning Good Morning”
12 Foxygen and MGMT’s Ben Goldwasser: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”
13 The Flaming Lips, Miley Cyrus, New Fumes: “A Day In The Life”
We rarely post entire album streams on this site, for a variety of reasons: a.) Most of the full album streams on YouTube are of questionable provenance, and we don’t wanna get sued; b.) We have very short attention spans; and c.) Most albums are, let’s face it, not compelling enough to listen to from beginning to end. But The Godz’s 1966 debut, Contact High with the Godz, is too amazing not to share in its entirety. So with apologies to the great ESP-Disk label, which reissues all sorts of great half-forgotten freakery from the ’60s (including the tribal noise pioneers Cromagnon), we present Contact High with the Godz in all its glory. Enjoy!
A bit of backstory as you listen: The Godz emerged from the same underground New York folk-rock scene as The Fugs. They went on to release three more albums before breaking up in 1973, although they did reunite a few times in recent years. As the ESP-Disk website says, “There was no precedent for what they did. The weirdest and most far-out bands around at that time were the Monks and the Mothers of Invention. The first albums of the Velvet Underground, the Stooges, and the Grateful Dead all lay in the future.” They also pre-dated Cromagnon and The Shaggs by several years. So whatever you want to call what they’re doing—freak folk, psych-folk, avant noise-rock, proto-punk—they were pretty much inventing it out of whole cloth.
A tip of the hat to reader Lowell Brams for suggesting we do a Godz post. Lowell, incidentally, runs a fantastic label called Asthmatic Kitty that many of you are probably familiar with. If you’re not familiar, please check them out. The new My Brightest Diamond video is especially stunning (not in a weird way, just in a lovely way—think of it as a palette-cleanser after 25 minutes of Godz).
No band on the Weird List makes us happier than the Polyphonic Spree. They’re basically Zoloft in band form. So today we have two pieces of happy news to relate: 1.) The Spree are doing a massive summer tour; and 2.) They’re releasing a remix album on Aug. 12th. Called Psychphonic, it’ll feature remixes of every track from the Spree’s latest album, Yes It’s True, done by a bunch of remixers we’ve never heard of but who all have awesome raver names: Miyamigo, Sunglitters, Candy Claws. Keep it PLUR, kids!
You can hear a track from Psychphonic exclusively on Paste.com, and check out the full tracklist and tour dates after this little tour teaser video.
1) Heart Talk (Miyamigo)
2) Raise Your Head (Rachel Boyd)
3) Carefully Try (Little People)
4) Battlefield (K-Conjoy)
5) You’re Golden (Candy Claws)
6) Let Them Be (sTILL cURRENT)
7) Popular By Design (Sunglitters)
8) What Would You Do (Malachai UK’s Scott Hendy)
9) Hold Yourself Up (Miaou)
10) Blurry Up The Lines (DJ Jel)
11) You Don’t Know Me (Set In Sand)
Polyphonic Spree summer 2014 tour:
Wednesday, July 9th – Houston, TX – Fitzgerald’s
Thursday, July 10th-New Orleans, LA – Southport Music Hall
Friday, July 11th-Austin, TX – Central Presbyterian Church
Saturday, July 12th-Dallas, TX – Club Dada
Tuesday, July 15th-Los Angeles, CA – Bootleg HiFi
Wednesday, July 16th-San Francisco, CA – Slim’s
Thursday, July 17th-San Luis Obispo, CA – SLO Brew
Friday, July 18th-Sacramento, CA – Ace of Spades
Saturday, July 19th-Santa Cruz, CA – The Catalyst Atrium
Sunday, July 20th-North Lake Tahoe, CA – Wanderlust Festival
Monday, July 21st-Seattle, WA – Triple Door
Wednesday, July 23rd-Portland, OR – Mississippi Studios
Friday, July 25th-Salt Lake City, UT – In The Venue
Saturday, July 26th-Denver, CO – Soiled Dove Underground
Friday, August 15th-Oklahoma City, OK – ACM Performance Lab
Saturday, August 16th-St Louis, MO – The Duck Room at Blueberry Hill
Sunday, August 17th-Milwaukee, WI – Turner Hall Ballroom
Monday, August 18th-Minneapolis, MN – The Cedar Cultural Center
Tuesday, August 19th-Evanston, IL – SPACE
Thursday, August 21st-Cincinnati, OH – Taft Theatre
Friday, August 22nd-Ferndale, MI – The Magic Bag
Saturday, August 23rd-Cleveland, OH – Music Box Supper Club
Monday, August 25th-Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall
Tuesday, August 26th-Brooklyn, NY – Brooklyn Bowl
Wednesday, August 27th-Philadelphia, PA – Prince Music Theatre
Thursday, August 28th-Washington, DC – Black Cat
Friday, August 29th-Carrboro, NC – The Arts Center
Saturday, August 30th-Atlanta, GA – The Loft at Center Stage
Watch Flaming Lips and Miley Cyrus do their “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” cover at the Billboard Music Awards
Much as we’re loathe to admit it, collaborating with Miley Cyrus was probably a pretty smart career move for Wayne Coyne and his ragtag band of psych-rockers, the Flaming Lips. On their own, the Lips have pretty much a zero percent chance of getting invited to perform on any nationally televised awards show these days—but with Miley in tow, they’re not only invited to the party, they’re given full permission to let their freak flags fly. Their appearance on last night’s Billboard Music Awards (video below) would have been the talk of the Interweb today, had the entire awards show not been upstaged by that stupid Michael Jackson hologram.
Wayne and Miley were decked out in warpaint, feathers and tinsel (including, in Coyne’s case, a tinsel codpiece) to perform their cover of “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which the Lips recently announced is but one track of a forthcoming Sgt. Pepper tribute album called With a Little Help From My Fwends. Shrewdly, they began taking pre-orders for the album last night, even though it’s not due out until October. I wonder how many hyperventilating Miley fans have already pre-ordered their copy, blissfully unaware that most of the record will be old dudes like Coyne and Moby doing weird Beatles songs they never heard of?
With a Little Help From My Fwends is due out Oct. 28th on Warner Bros. Records. A portion of the record’s profits will go towards the Bella Foundation, which helps elderly, low-income and terminally ill pet owners pay their vet bills. So every time we make fun of this project in the months ahead—and my guess is we’ll make fun of it A LOT—a portion of us will feel like assholes for doing so.
In other Lips news: Coyne recently fired the band’s longtime second drummer, Kliph Scurlock, prompting Scurlock to write a long letter to Pitchfork accusing Coyne of, among other things, “endless verbal (with threats of physical) abuse.” (You can read the entire letter here, if you’re so inclined.) While it’s hard to say how many of Scurlock’s accusations are true, it’s definitely true that Coyne chose to respond in the douchiest way possible, by giving a lengthy interview to Rolling Stone in which he repeatedly describes Scurlock—who was with the band for 12 years—as hateful, immature and uncreative. “Anybody that knows him knows what a hateful pathological liar he is,” he says, before adding, moments later, “But I don’t even want to speak about the hate, you know. I don’t have any hate for him.”
Well, we don’t have any hate for you either, Wayne. But I gotta be honest. Between the Rolling Stone interview and that moment at the Billboard Music Awards where you kissed Miley’s feet—we’re a little worried about you. Maybe take a little hiatus after this Beatles album, yeah? You seem like you could use some R&R.
I always thought wineries were for pinky-pointing pussies. But I guess I need to rethink my position, because a winery is hosting a weird-ish music festival in Upstate New York this August. It’s called the Wild Wild Fest and it was founded by our flute-playing cowpunk heroes, Well Worn Boot. Do I need to drink Chardonnay to attend? Fuck it, save me a barrel and I’ll be there with both pinkies flappin’ in the breeze.
I must admit…except for WWB, Andy and I hadn’t heard of any of these other bands on the Wild Wild Fest lineup. Well, we’d heard of Bill Ward and for a second there we got all excited…but it’s not the drummer from Black Sabbath. It’s this guy. But hey, I bet he does a mean “Paranoid” cover.
Still, we did a little research and it turns out that WWB are definitely not the only freaks on the bill. Armcannon, for example, do synth-metal covers of videogame music. (Hm, where have we heard that idea before?) Baby Gramps is a crusty old folk singer who has a song called “Scrotum Song.” And then there’s this Jack Topht guy. I don’t even know where to start on that one. Somebody pass the fuckin’ Chardonnay.
Anyhoo, Wild Wild Fest is Aug. 29-30 at Willow Creek Winery in Silver Creek, NY. Come for the Boot, stay for the wine slushies. Did I mention there will be wine slushies? Fuck yeah, there will be wine slushies. I kinda buried the lead there, didn’t I?
For more info, including ticket prices and whatnot, go here. Or watch this nifty little promotional video.
P.S. Please do not confuse Well Worn Boot’s Wild Wild Fest with this other Wild Wild Fest. That one is all shitty metal bands and zero wine slushies. Trust me, you want the one with the guy who sings the “Scrotum Song.”
We are crushing hard on Thrill Jockey Records this week. Yesterday we got turned on to the soothing gamelan sounds of TJ artist OOIOO; today, we’re feeding our inner psychonaut with the cosmic freak-fest that is New York’s Guardian Alien. Led by superhumanoid drummer Greg Fox, these guys lay down some seriously mind-expanding noise. The original version of the song in the video below is 37 minutes long (you can hear most of it in this live video, if you’ve got some time on your hands), but the six-minute version tells you pretty much everything you need to know about their head-trip vibe. It stars a Rastafarian alien (a Rastalien?), for starters.
A tip of the dreadlocks to reader Rembrandt grokking us to Guardian Alien. If you can’t get enough See the World Given to a One Love Entity, you can buy the whole one-song album direct from Thrill Jockey or via Amazon.com.