Spookey Ruben is back with a green hand and a pair of music videos

spookey-ruben-bandcamp

We’ve been remiss in updating you, our dear readers, about the latest exploits of weirdo pop savant Spookey Ruben. Actually, we’ve been even more remiss in getting our asses out to see him, because he relocated to right here in Los Angeles a couple years back and has been doing a monthly residency at the Kibbitz Room, a semi-legendary bar attached to Canter’s, the Hollywood deli where Guns N’ Roses used to hang out. And we have yet to go! Sorry, Spookey. We are even flakier than Canter’s cheese danishes.

Because he’s clearly the nicest guy in the world, Spookey recently reached out not to chastise us for our continuing absence at the Kibbitz Room, but to share with us not one, but two new music videos he released last month. The first, “Midsummer Dropout,” is from his most recent album, 2017’s pop-tastic Modes III, which we also ignored. Jesus, Spookey, why do you even still talk to us? Also, what’s with the green hand? You might wanna get that checked out.

Next, here’s a little homemade clip for a track called “Pliny the Elder” from his next album, which is due out sometime this year. This is apparently the demo version of the song but it’s already got Spookey’s arty pop appeal, with some jazzy touches that are a cool new wrinkle in his sound.

I’m not sure when Spookey will next be back at the Kibbitz Room, but us Angelenos can catch him Feb. 27th at Highland Park Bowl. He’s also got a show coming up in Tokyo, of all places, at a place called 7th Floor on March 1st. Apparently Spookey’s big in Japan. (To keep tabs on all his upcoming shows and other happenings, I’d recommend hitting his website, which you call follow if you have a Tumblr account.)

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Happy Halloween to all you “Bats” from Bloody Death Skull

Bloody Death Skull Bats

Here’s a riddle for the ages: How is it that no one until 1978 ever thought to title a horror movie Halloween? Feature-length horror films were over 50 years old by then, so John Carpenter really caught everyone else asleep at the switch there.

Bloody Death Skull‘s “Bats” isn’t the first song to use that title, but it has surprisingly little competition — mainly in the form of Tori Amos and My Little Pony, neither of whom, in this writer’s humble opinion, really captured bats in all their creepy glory. One fell on my head once on the way back from a camping trip — it had apparently flown into our RV and taken up temporary residence in one of the overhead storage compartments — and let me tell you, those little fuckers are freaky. They’re like rats with big leathery skin flaps that get caught under your collar and you’re shrieking for your friend Dora to pull over and everyone else thinks it’s so hilarious even though now you’re gonna need a rabies shot and years of therapy. But I digress.

“Bats” represents a new direction for Bloody Death Skull, according to BDS leader Daiana Feuer, who sent us the video for the new song (which you can see below) a few days ago. She assures me that there’s still some of her trademark ukulele buried in the mix somewhere, but mostly this is an electronic song, with big, squelchy synths and drum machine beats. “As an Argentinean raised in South Florida, I grew up on club music of all kinds and I’m trying to bring some of that flavor into the mix,” she reports. The synths are courtesy of Gerard Olson, beats by Andres Renteria, and mixing by the great DJ Nobody of Low End Theory (R.I.P.) fame.

Daiana also notes that the song is actually sung from the perspective of a demon who consumes bats. The video chronicles the hungry demon’s pursuit of a particularly insouciant bat with a taste for swimming pools and disco balls. “The bat has no idea it’s so delicious,” she explains. “To the demon, it’s like a walking slice of pizza.”

So enjoy a little early Halloween merriment, courtesy of Bloody Death Skull. Best song ever titled “Bats”? With apologies to Tori Amos, I say yes.

P.S. While TWBITW was in hypersleep, Bloody Death Skull appeared on The Gong Show — and got a perfect score! You can watch their triumphant performance here.

Spookey Ruben

Spookey Ruben

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 surprising 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.

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Weird of the Day: John Callaghan, “This Is So Embarrassing”

John Callaghan

When our friend Richard There played a few shows in the U.K. two years ago, one of the performers he was on the bill with was a British singer/songwriter named John Callaghan. I guess he turned John onto our website, because yesterday John wrote to us and shared a few of his delightfully eccentric videos, including his latest one, which we’ve embedded below.

“I’ve been described as ‘weird’ quite a bit,” Callaghan says in his email. “I certainly don’t take being weird as my starting point. I’ve always simply tried to be interesting and good because ‘being good is different enough.'” He calls his stuff “eccentronica,” which is our new favorite made-up word.

Callaghan’s songs, while certainly offbeat, also have an appealing retro-pop quality to them; in different arrangements, they could be Thomas Dolby or ’80s-era Bowie. And his videos are often quite ingenious. Here’s the backstory for how he created this one:

Whenever I’m in a large, empty and private space I always think I should record a music video. And I’ve been trying to overcome my inertia by producing more material, too. So when I had an art college studio to myself for an hour (after posing for a life drawing class) I used the costumes I’d brought to pose in and my tablet to record some footage to toy with.

To learn more about John Callaghan and hear more of his music, visit his website.

Bloody Death Skull

Bloody Death Skull

Sometimes we get so excited that people in Poland or Brazil or South Africa are reading our blog that we neglect the weirdness in our own backyard. Yep, Los Angeles is a city full of freaks, contrary to the image most of y’all probably have in your heads of tanned, wannabe actors rollerblading between juice bars and Pilates classes (we have those, too, but no one here cares about them). And in their own, adorable way, Bloody Death Skull are as freaky as they come.

Musically, BDS aren’t all that weird, at least not in a hit-you-over-the-head way. Their songs are shaggy and shambling and cutened up by head Skull Daiana Feuer’s jangling ukulele and guileless, girlish vocals. Lyrically they can get pretty dark, with songs about death and prostitutes and drowning Mormons in swimming pools, but the grim subject matter is always served up with a wink. (Actually, depending on your point of view, I guess a song about drowning Mormons in swimming pools could be right up there with Pharrell’s “Happy.”) They cover lots of old murder ballads and doo wop love songs, which makes sense, and Ying Yang Twins, which doesn’t, but somehow works anyway.

Their live shows delight in the unexpected. They plays shows at strip clubs and former zoo animal enclosures. They dress up in elaborate costumes with inscrutable themes. When I saw them opening for Bob Log III, the theme was “things you might encounter in the forest,” which in Bloody Death Skull’s world includes alien princesses, soldiers in gas masks and a woman in a head-to-toe burqa representing “darkness.”

They have four core members—besides Feuer, there’s Donna Suppipat, Beth McSelf and Gerard Olson—but their live incarnation can have as many as 10 people onstage, many of them sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by xylophones and toy pianos and various things to bang on. The effect is both childlike and somehow psychedelic—by which I mean, they kinda look and sound like a bunch of people on heavy doses of psychedelics. Like, “Mind if I sit? ‘Cause my legs seem to have stopped working” doses.

(For the record: I’m pretty sure no one in the band is actually high. When they were done with their Bob Log III opening set, they all stood up and left the stage in a very orderly fashion, fastidiously picking up their giant collection of instruments as they went. But they sure do a convincing job of seeming out of their gourds during their set—except Feuer, who presides over the chaos with the wry charm and patience of a den mother for a particularly low-functioning Girl Scout troop.)

I’ve done as much as I can to explain the weirdness and adorableness of Bloody Death Skull without showing you some videos, so here they are. First up: a sweet desert murder lullaby called “Psycho,” starring a ravenous tiger/panda. I believe the technical term for such a hybrid creature is “tiganda.”

Next, here’s a little taste of their live show. They did not have the tap dancer when I saw them, but they did have a Theremin. They like to mix it up.

And finally, the video that is quite possibly their masterpiece (at least so far): “Girls Like You,” which uses stop-motion Barbies to tell a heartwarming tale about prostitutes and the non-prostitutes who love them.

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Weird of the Day: Beep!, “Alien Mating Call”

Beep

When he’s not playing bass in tUnE-yArDs, Nate Brenner is one-third of an even weirder band called Beep! They’re just about to release their latest album, Too Physical, and it’s a wonderland/wasteland (wasterland?) of keyboard squiggles, funhouse vocals and mysterious rhythms. Here’s the video for opening track, “Alien Mating Call,” which wants to know if there’s somewhere we can get down. (Answer: Why, yes, there is! At the Hammer Museum right here in L.A., which is hosting a Too Physical release party on Aug. 7th.)

You can pre-order Too Physical from Beep!’s label, Data Garden. It’s due out Aug. 5th.

Weird Live Review: tUnE-yArDs

tune-yards

It’ll probably never happen. but I really hope that someday, Leslie & The LYs open for tUnE-yArDs. Even though their music is very different, their stage shows share the same sense of childlike wonder and DIY inventiveness. And they both have great backup dancers. And look good in gold lamé.

It’s not just the music that’s different, of course. Where Leslie Hall is all tongue-in-cheek irreverence, Merrill Garbus is an earnest performer who inspires a kind of rapt attention in her fans that I haven’t seen at a show in months. There were hardly any outstretched cell phones (which is why I didn’t take many pictures—I didn’t want to be the only asshole with a camera) and often, when she was building a loop with her percussion and vocals, you could hear a pin drop in the packed Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. “You guys are so quiet,” she noted at one point. “It’s so awesome to play for such a respectful audience.”

She focused her set on material from Nikki Nack, the latest tUnE-yArDs album, which is growing on me even though I still think it’s not as good as 2011’s brilliant w h o k i l l. Nikki Nack is both noisier and sparser than its predecessor, made up almost entirely of layered vocals and percussion and Nate Brenner’s fluid basslines. Live, many of the tracks seemed clearly designed to get the crowd moving, and most of them did. But nothing in the show got a bigger cheer than Garbus’ ukulele, which she broke out for two w h o k i l l tracks (it never appears on Nikki Nack): “Bizness” and an absolutely show-stopping version of “Powa,” tUnE-yArDs’ version of a lighters-up power ballad (except this crowd was, of course, far too respectful to hold up lighters, real or virtual).

Still, I came away from this show with new-found appreciation for several Nikki Nack songs, particularly “Wait for a Minute,” which showcases Garbus’ underutilized gift for melody, and “Time of Dark,” whose soaring, Afrobeat-tinged chorus has a Peter Gabriel-like sense of grandeur and mystery. She also did a great encore version of “Rocking Chair,” bringing out Amelia Meath from opening act Sylvan Esso to provide haunting harmonies while Garbus and her backup singers stomped and shouted like a chain gang in an Alan Lomax field recording.

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My other favorite part of the show was on a more personal note: It turns out Garbus’ boyfriend father Bill has the same birthday as me. She had the crowd sing “Happy Birthday” to him so she could record the whole thing on her phone and send him the video the next day. Us June 6th babies sure do get around!