Shamalamamonkey

shamamembers 2

Lately we’ve been getting a ton of bands sent to the site whose origin and identities are shrouded in mystery. From Aussie MIDI mashup artist Buttress O’Kneel to portable toilet terrorists Clown Core, more and more weird bands these days seem to prefer to remain anonymous.

Is this a reaction against the private-sector surveillance state of Facebook, Google and Twitter? A rejection of the music press’ increasing obsession with celebrity-style artist “profiles” that tell you their shoe size but not what kind of music they play? A sign of the impending collapse of the music PR machine, as fewer bands can afford fancy publicists to help them craft their “story”? Are they all secretly famous actors and pop musicians who don’t want us to blow up their experimental side project? Is Mandek Penha really Hugh Jackman? Is Vladimir Cauchemar actually one of the guys from Daft Punk? Probably not, but the fact that we’re even having this conversation (feel free to chime in anytime) is evidence that, in our information-overloaded times, being enigmatic is actually a pretty great marketing strategy.

Our latest enigmatic Weird Band of the Week comes to us from … uh, actually, we’re not sure where they’re from. They apparently played a show in Indianapolis last year, but it’s not clear whether that’s their hometown — or even whether or not the show actually took place, since their website describes is thusly: “They played 3 songs dressed as the scheduled headliner band before anyone noticed that they were not the actual band. They managed to get through 3 more songs before being removed from the stage by security.”

We’re also not sure who’s in the band or how many members they have. The guy who contacted us about them, Josh Spurling, sent us a brief bio saying the band has “between 1 and 13 [members] of European, Asian, and/or Arabic descent.” It further noted: “They are said to possess an arsenal of instruments ranging from electric guitars to an old kitchen sink. Their impromptu performances range from 30 seconds to 13 hours and are performed with various disguises and under alternate band names. These shows are rarely announced, often in remote areas, and occasionally even without an audience. No one knows why.” (Spurling described his role with the band as “facilitator,” which is one of those fancy-sounding words like “utilize” that sounds specific but means almost nothing. I utilize various techniques to facilitate feeding my cats, but does that mean I’m usually the one scooping food into their bowls? Nah, I’m just on the couch going, “Honey, have you fed the cats yet?”)

I’m not even sure how to describe Shamalamamonkey’s music, despite the fact that I’ve been listening to it for a good hour or so now. They’ve only released two songs, “Gussle the Golfer” and “Gussle Tied to Trouble.” Who or what is Gussle and why is he/she/it a recurring subject of every Shamalamamonkey song? No one knows. Each song is about 11 minutes long and cycles through a bewildering array of sounds and styles, from cow-punk to jazz to punk-funk to avant-garde noise to bluegrass. I’d say they sound like Primus and The Residents squaring off at a battle of the bands in a semi-abandoned jazz club in an early Jim Jarmusch movie, but that’s only the first two minutes of “Gussle Tied to Trouble.”

Oh I almost forgot to mention: They also, for some reason, set both their songs to clips from old silent movies. I’m not sure the movies actually have anything to do with the music, but they do give the whole thing an appealingly slapsticky feel.

So who are Shamalamamonkey? We may never know for sure. Although I do suspect they have something to do with an earlier group called The One Band, because that’s the only other group with a track posted to Josh Spurling’s YouTube channel. That One Band has an old website, on which Spurling, aka That One Guy (not to be confused with that other That 1 Guy), is described as the group’s founder, leader and main instrumentalist. Is he also the brains behind Shamalamamonkey? Who cares? Whoever’s making these tunes, they’re a demented genius — and if that genius prefers to remain anonymous, well, to steal a phrase back from Bobby Brown (possibly the only person I can say with some certainty is not part of Shamalamamonkey): That’s their prerogative.

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Clown Core

clown-core-toilet-album-cover

Last week, a video surfaced on YouTube of a band called Clown Core performing a song called “Hell” inside a porta-potty. It went viral in a matter of days, getting reposted by Adult Swim and written up on various metal sites, because it is awesome. Here, judge for yourself:

Did you catch all that? The horror movie synths, the industrial beats, the death metal vocals, the Kenny G interlude? Can you grasp the sheer, unadulterated genius of it all? Maybe you better watch it again just to make sure you didn’t miss anything. We’ll wait.

Although prior to last week, hardly anyone (including us) was aware that Clown Core existed, the duo has actually been around since at least 2010. That’s when they released their self-titled debut album, which features 13 similarly unhinged ditties with titles like “Diarrhea Inferno Welfare Burrito” and “I Ate a Luna Bar and My Dick Fell Off.” It’s available on Spotify and iTunes, where it’s listed under “Children’s Music.” What’s remarkable is how fully formed the whole Clown Core concept seems to have been, even back then. Mostly using just sax, keyboards and drums, the duo mix punk-rock, death metal, jazz and plenty of comic relief (the Benny Hill theme shows up at one point, and there’s also a death metal cover of “Deck the Halls”) to create a sort of cartoon version of Mike Patton-era Mr. Bungle by way of Moon Hooch. They’re clearly not taking any of it seriously, but they’re also clearly very good musicians — which just makes it all that much funnier.

“Hell” is from Clown Core’s just-released new album, which is called Toilet, presumably because these guys were smart enough to realize that Porta-Potty is a terrible album title. It’s an even nuttier, more tightly wound hodgepodge of abrasive sounds than their debut, with more dubstep-like synths and death metal vocals and song titles like “Google Your Own Death” and “The Area 51 Snack Bar Sucks.”

So far there are no clues as to who’s behind the clown masks. Aside from their two albums, their online presence is limited to a YouTube channel and a Twitter account that’s less than a month old (and already three times more followers than us — thanks a lot, Internet). [Update: They also have a Facebook page.] We’re not even sure where they’re from, although the fact that the Porta-potty in the “Hell” video has a SoCal Industries logo suggests that they’re based right here in Southern California. Maybe they’re a spinoff of our favorite local masked electro-punks, Fartbarf? Although last we checked, no one in Fartbarf plays sax. Maybe it’s a couple of the guys from Kneebody — the jazziest track on Toilet, “Truth and Life” (also, at 2:44, the longest), actually sounds kinda like Kneebody in places.

Ultimately, though, who cares who’s behind Clown Core? Let’s just enjoy the fact that while I was writing this post, they released a second video, this time for Toilet‘s skittering title track. It also takes place inside a SoCal Industries porta-potty — but this time, the porta-potty has moved! What does it mean??? (Also, trigger warning for anyone who was molested by a clown as a child.)

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The Flying Luttenbachers

Flying Luttenbachers

Normally, to write about a band as batshit at The Flying Luttenbachers, I’d be drunk by now. Instead, I’m sitting here sipping Glenlivet single malt like a total boss. Why? Because today marks not one, but two major milestones in the history of our stupid little blog.

First: Today’s our five year anniversary! What’d you get us? Nothing? That’s OK. Technically, you all got us something, because today’s other major milestone is this: We just racked up our one millionth page view. How fucking cool is that? OK, if you divide one million by five years, it’s maybe less cool, but still. Considering our booze habits, obscure subject matter and complete lack of self-promotional skills, we’ve done all right.

OK, now that we’re done patting ourselves on the back: The Flying Luttenbachers. We’ve been saving these guys for a special occasion like today, because they are truly one of the strangest, noisiest, craziest bands ever to turn their amps up to 11.

The brainchild of drummer/ringleader Weasel Walter, for 17 years they terrorized audiences with a mix of free jazz, skronk, punk, metal, noise-rock, no wave and whatever else whoever was in the studio or onstage with Walter that day cared to unleash. They were like a more aggro Naked City, a jazzier Locust, and a faster Captain Beefheart, all marinated in fuck-you Chicago attitude and imbued with the shredding super-powers of your favorite technical death metal band. Weasel Walter called it “brutal prog.”

Oh, and there’s also an apocalyptic storyline about a cosmic battle between a void, a behemoth, and a giant robot buried beneath the earth who can only emerge after the human race has been eradicated. All told via the liner notes and song titles like “Rise of the Iridescent Behemoth,” because all the music is instrumental.

Here, suck on some right now:

That was from the 1995 album Destroy All Music, featuring the band’s confusingly named original saxophonist Chad Organ, along with Weasel on drums, Dylan Posa on guitar, Jeb Bishop on bass and trombone, and Ken Vandermark on sax and clarinet. And I’m not sure I bothered to tell you all that, because that’s one of about 20 different lineups the band went through and it’s not like I’m going to name them all. I suppose some might call Destroy All Music the Luttenbachers’ most mind-blowing work, but I dunno. A few years later, they released this:

That’s from the 1998 album Gods of Chaos, which featured a power trio version of the Luttenbachers with Chuck Falzone on guitar and Bill Pisarri on bass. Then there’s this:

What you’re hearing there is Weasel Walter jamming good with two bassists: Jonathan Hischke on the high parts, or “air” bass, and Alex Perkolup holding down the low end with his “earth” bass. Who needs those extra strings, anyway?

Towards the end of the Luttenbachers’ 17-year run, Weasel Walter seems like he was getting frustrated with his band’s revolving-door lineup. In the liner notes for the final Luttenbachers album, 2007’s Incarceration by Abstraction, he actually specifically says that he intended to record the album with guitarists Ed Rodriguez and Mick Barr…but they weren’t available, so he did the whole thing by himself.

At the same time he released Incarceration by Abstraction, Walter Weasel announced that the Luttenbachers had “ceased operation.” He’s since moved to New York and now holds down gigs in two bands, Cellular Chaos and Behold…The Arctopus. Both of which are pretty crazy, intense bands…but we still hold out hope that Weasel will reconvene some version of the Luttenbachers one of these days, because their live shows look like they were absolutely insane.

We’ll leave you with our favorite Flying Luttenbachers, which has nothing to do with the rest of the band’s output but is just too damn much fun not to include. This is from an appearance sometime in early ’00s on the Chicago cable access show Chic-a-Go-Go. The song is “De Futura” from that two-bassists 2002 album, Infection and Decline. And, by the way, it’s a cover of the French prog-rock/Zeuhl band Magma. Thanks to reader John for pointing that to us. We never would’ve figured that shit out on our own.

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Weird of the Day: ZU, “Carbon”

ZU

ZU is an Italian jazz/metal band on Mike Patton’s Ipecac label who make music that sounds like a cross between Morphine, Naked City and one of those extreme metal bands that uses crazy time signatures like Meshuggah. Using only sax, bass, drums and electronics, their sound is so heavy they can probably wipe the stage with most guitar-based heavy bands.

The video below was passed along to us by reader DFox; it’s a track from their most recent album, Carboniferous. Mike Patton appears in the video, which is from a live performance in Chile, but I’m not sure if he’s actually anywhere on the track, which seems to be the studio version. (To definitely hear Patton with ZU, check out “Soulympics.”) But with Patton or without, “Carbon” is a pretty gobsmacking track.

To hear more or pick up a copy of Carboniferous, go to Amazon.com.

Naked City

Naked City

I can’t believe I’m writing this, but today marks the addition of our 200th band to The Weird List. I don’t think anybody, including us, thought we could keep at it this long…and honestly, without you amazing readers out there in Interweb Land, we wouldn’t have. So thank you. And now that we’ve gotten all that mushy shit out of the way…

We couldn’t make just any band our 200th. We had to go with a classic. And few weird bands are weirder or more classic than John Zorn’s Naked City, the whiplash jazz/punk/surf/lounge/thrash/ambient/noise quintet that blew into the world in the late ’80s and blew out again just five years later, leaving a trail of ringing ears, confused jazzbos and grotesque album covers in their wake.

Naked City grew out of an eclectic downtown Manhattan music scene in the late ’80s that coalesced around the original Knitting Factory. Punks went to see jazz combos; jazz musicians joined punk bands. You could see free jazz pioneer Cecil Taylor one night and Sonic Youth the next. Mike Doughty, the future lead singer of Soul Coughing, worked the door. If I had a time machine, right after I killed Hitler, I would go to the Knitting Factory circa 1990.

The ringleader of Naked City was an angry 36-year-old saxophonist named John Zorn, who had been active as an experimental composer and musician for over a decade. A fan of both avant-classical experimenter John Cage and cartoon soundtrack composer Carl Stalling, Zorn spent much of his early career devising what he called “game pieces”: essentially, highly structured improvisations featuring a mix of jazz, rock, classical and unconventional instrumentation. For some reason, most of Zorn’s game pieces had sports-themed names; here’s one, for example, called “Archery,” and another called “Lacrosse.”

To give you the best idea of how weird Zorn’s game pieces could get, here are two different versions of his most famous game, “Cobra”: first, from a 1992 documentary called On the Edge: Improvisation in Music; next, from a 2008 Zorn concert in Tel Aviv featuring Naked City drummer Joey Baron, jazz guitar god Marc Ribot and members of Mr. Bungle. In both clips, you can see Zorn “conducting” the game with yellow cue cards, which he mostly seems to use to whip his musicians into ever greater frenzies of atonal chaos.

In addition to his game pieces, Zorn also dabbled in experimental rock music (with Golden Palominos, among others), duck calls as musical instruments (most notably on The Classic Guide to Strategy), traditional Japanese music, and Ennio Morricone. But he was also listening to a lot of punk, speed metal and early grindcore—influences that really began to exert themselves on his music in the late ’80s, first with Naked City and then with even more overtly hardcore-influenced projects like Spy vs. Spy, his album-length tribute to free jazz legend Ornette Coleman, and Painkiller, his jazz/dub/grindcore trio with Napalm Death drummer Mick Harris and bassist Bill Laswell.

But enough about John Zorn’s lengthy CV. Let’s get to Naked City already, shall we?

Zorn founded Naked City in 1988 with fellow NYC jazz players Bill Frisell on guitar, Fred Frith on bass, Wayne Horvitz on keyboards and Joey Baron on drums. Borrowing the Naked City name from Weegee’s notorious book of gritty tabloid photography and the 1946 film noir inspired by it, Zorn seems to have originally envisioned the project as a chance to playfully riff on gangster movie soundtracks; the group’s self-titled debut album (which featured a graphic Weegee photo on its cover) included punked-up versions of the James Bond theme, complete with gunshots, and Jerry Goldsmith’s music from Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. But it also featured several hyper-condensed blasts of sheer noise, with titles like “Igneous Ejaculation” and “Demon Sanctuary,” often featuring the banshee-getting-a-prostate-exam vocals of Yamatsuka Eye of the Boredoms.

The band’s second album, Torture Garden, ditched the gangster-soundtrack angle entirely and just crammed 42 “hardcore miniatures” onto a single disc (including a few repurposed pieces from their debut). The shortest, “Hammerhead,” was just eight seconds long. The one that sounded the most like some kind of mission statement was called “Jazz Snob Eat Shit.”

Over the next four years, Naked City would release five more albums, each more bizarre than the last. By the 1992 album Radio, they were skipping with abandon from thrash metal to prog-rock to country to free jazz to Looney Tunes soundtracks, sometimes all in the same song. Their live shows became breakneck tours the last 50 years of popular music, often accompanied by the otherworldly shrieks of Eye or their other favorite live guest vocalist, Mr. Bungle’s Mike Patton.

Alas, it was all too weird to last. After 1993’s moodier, more ambient Absinthe, Naked City broke up and John Zorn went on to other, only slightly less nutty projects like his klezmer-inspired group Masada and the Moonchild Trio, his long-running collaboration with Joey Baron, Mike Patton and Mr. Bungle bassist Trevor Dunn.

But for awhile there, Naked City was truly, in the eyes of many, the Weirdest Band in the World. Naked City fans are a diehard breed, even among fans of weird music. This, from a 2005 review of the band’s complete recordings, is only slightly more extreme than usual: “Every time I move into a new place—even before I cart in the boxes—I set up a stereo and blast that [debut] LP in the living room: It cleans out the evil spirits and even clears out bad smells.” I’m gonna go out on a limb and say the guy who wrote that probably moves a lot.

We generally cater to short attention spans around here, and Naked City’s oeuvre offers plenty of material for the ADD crowd. So here’s 55 seconds of Zorn and co., with Eye on vocals:

But believe me when I tell you: To fully appreciate how truly, awesomely insane Naked City was, you need to watch all 93 minutes of this 1990 performance from a jazz festival in Switzerland. Or at least watch until about the 7:05 mark, when it takes Zorn longer to introduce the song “Igneous Ejaculation” than it does for the band to play it.

So to all you Naked City fans who read this blog: Sorry it took us 200 bands to get to them. And now, on to the next 200…

(P.S. Many, many readers have asked us to add Naked City to The Weird List over the years, but we have to give a special shout-out to reader Salvatore Intravaia for answering our call for 200th band suggestions on Facebook. Well-played, Salvatore! As soon as we get around to printing more T-shirts, you’ll get one.)

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