Albert Kuvezin and Yat-Kha

Albert Kuvezin and Yat-Kha

To Western ears, there are few sounds eerier than the low-frequency groans and drones of traditional Tuvan throat singing. A technique also known as overtone singing, its mechanics have been widely discussed elsewhere and we won’t get into all the specifics styles and variations here. We’ll just say, when practiced by masters of the form like Albert Kuvezin, it’s basically the vocal equivalent of a really cool sleight-of-hand trick. He’s singing in two different frequencies! And one of them is, like, super-super-low! How the hell does he do that?

However he does it, Kuvezin has helped popularize the Tuvan style of throat singing through two groups: the more traditional Huun-Huur-Tu (which he quit shortly after helping to form the band in the early ’90s), and Yat-Kha, which mixes traditional Tuvan and Mongolian folk instruments with guitars and electronics. His original partner in Yat-Kha was Ivan Sokolovsky, a Russian avant-garde musician and composer who found lots of creative new settings for Kuvezin’s highly distinctive take on throat singing (which he calls “kanzat kargyraa”). Here, for example, is the title track from their 1995 album Yenisei Punk, a dizzying mix of flamenco rhythms, rock guitar and Kuvezin’s hypnotic chants:

Actually, Sokolovsky had quit Yat-Kha by the time of Yenisei Punk; the project is now primarily Kuvezin’s, along with a rotating cast of supporting drummers, bassists, guitarists and players of more traditional instruments like the morin khuur. But Sokolovsky’s influence over the band looms large.

Yat-Kha’s most famous release is probably 2005’s Re-Covers, an eclectic collection of Tuvanized versions of popular rock songs, from “Ramblin’ Man” to Bob Marley’s “Exodus.” When we shared their amazing version of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart” last month, several readers noted that the Yat-Kha version of Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” is even more powerful—and you’re not wrong, people, but that track is unfortunately only available on subscription sites like Spotify. So you’ll have to settle for their version of Iron Butterfly’s ridiculous proto-prog-rock epic, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” which is not as awesome as “Levee” but definitely gets bonus points for being one of the weirdest uses of throat singing ever, especially when they give the song a little bit of a Johnny Cash-style boom-chicka-boom cowboy rhythm.

Yat-Kha hasn’t released any new music since their a 2011 live album, Live at the Stray Dog. But they still tour pretty actively, at least in Russia and Eastern Europe, and will hopefully get back into the studio again one of these days. Until then, we’ll leave you with this live video from a 2013 performance in Poland. Is it just us, or does Albert sound a bit like Rammstein‘s Till Lindemann when he’s singing in rock mode? Now there’s a collaboration we’d like to hear.

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Weird of the Day: Albert Kuvezin and Yat-Kha, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

Yat-Kha

Hearing Albert Kuvezin apply his Tuvan throat singing technique to Joy Division’s monument to bumitude, “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” has got me wondering if maybe Ian Curtis faked his death and has spent the past 30 years hiding out on the steppes of Mongolia. OK, not really—I’ll save the rock-star conspiracy theories for the Jim Morrison fans—but if he had lived long enough to discover Albert Kuvezin and his band Yat-Kha, I bet he would have been a fan. This version manages, thanks mostly to Kuvezin’s eerie, low-frequency drones, to be even creepier and more despondent than the original.

Kuvezin is better-known for his more traditional Tuvan throat singing band, Huun-Huur-Tu. But Yat-Kha, which mixes elements of both Tuvan and western folk music, is well worth seeking out, too. This is from a 2005 album called Re-Covers that also features throat-sung versions of songs by Captain Beefheart and Motorhead among others. A tip of the mouse to Dangerous Minds for turning us on to it.

Arrington de Dionyso Malaikat dan Singa

Hi, kids! How was your summer? Ours was pretty darn rad, I gotta say. We found lots of weird music, made some new friends (hi, Emotron!), launched our online store, and spent just enough of it drunk to take the edge off this whole recession thing. Also, Weirdest Band in the World celebrated its one-year anniversary…did you get us anything? No? That’s okay…your presence is our present. (Don’t you hate when people say that?)

Anyway, Jake and I are tan, rested, and ready to bring you another year of really weird bands. First up: a new project from a lunatic named Arrington de Dionyso. Arrington’s main gig is serving as lead singer of Pacific Northwest noise-punks Old Time Relijun. We’ve known about OTR for awhile, and although they’re kinda weird, we never really considered them TWBITW-worthy. They throw in the occasional touches of free-jazz skronk, but still—our minds weren’t blown.

But this Malaikat dan Singa project is pretty off-the-charts, for a number of reasons. First, de Dionyso sings all the band’s songs in Indonesian. Why? Well, according to one official bio, “the Indonesian language allows de Dionyso to communicate on levels more deeply subliminal than those accessible in his native English.”  Not sure we buy that, but yes, it does give the songs an added layer of weirdness.

Second, de Dionyso occasionally incorporates Tuvan throat singing into his vocals, which gives the songs an added element of Far Eastern mystical juju and—because he puts his own punk-rock spin on throat singing’s eerie, inhuman tones—a vibe that could probably best be described as acid-rock for zombies. Seriously, it’s ugly, creepy, but occasionally trance-inducing stuff. In fact, de Dionyso apparently calls it “trance-punk.” Which is as good a description as any.

Oh, and some of the lyrics are apparently Indonesian translations of William Blake poems. Hey, why not?

Malaikat dan Singa’s self-titled debut is out now on K Records, and you can stream the whole thing on their website. [Update: You can no longer stream the whole thing on their website. You snooze, you lose!] Check it out and tell us de Dionyso isn’t the loopiest rock vocalist this side of Mike Patton. (He also seems to share Patton’s restless spirit—besides Old Time Relijun and Malaikat dan Singa, he also fronts a free-jazz group called The Naked Future and paints a lot.)

Malaikat’s live shows don’t seem to translate real well to video—de Dionyso is always a compelling figure, but the rest of the band is pretty much just up there chopping wood and giving him a steady groove to freak out on top of. But this animated video, done by a guy named Ben Wolfinsohn for his My Odd Days project, captures the band’s unhinged spirit pretty well. We especially like that he chose to make de Dionyso look like a guy who just wandered in from an office Christmas party.

UPDATE: Shortly after we posted this, we were contacted by Arrington himself (we’re not worthy!) who pointed us to a cool feature on him on this art ‘n culture site called The Black Harbor. We especially recommend checking out the second of the three videos on that page, where he demonstrates how he uses an antique record lathe and plastic picnic plates to make homemade records that he then sometimes incorporates into his shows. Very nifty stuff.

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