Xylouris White

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This photo and artwork: Anna White. Banner photo above: Manolis Mathioudakis.

You might think a drum kit and a lute are insufficient tools when it comes to creating completely original, holy-crap-what-is-this music. And in the hands of most humans that would probably be true. But Georgios Xylouris and Jim White are not most humans.

The unlikely duo first connected in Melbourne, Australia in the ’90s, where White had an instrumental rock trio called Dirty Three and Xylouris fronted a group called Xylouris Ensemble that showcased his unique approach to the music of his native Crete — mixing it with Irish folk music, as well as more modern elements — and his chosen instrument, the laouto, a long-necked, eight-stringed lute. In traditional Greek and Cretan music, it’s typically a supporting instrument, used mainly for rhythm and texture — but Xylouris can shred on that thing like a cross between Andrés Segovia and Chris Thile.

Jim White, in some ways, also plays the drums like a lead instrument — or at least explores their melodic and timbral possibilities more thoroughly than most rock drummers. His incredibly expressive playing has backed everyone from Nick Cave to Cat Power to PJ Harvey. But he didn’t begin working with Xylouris until 2014, when the duo released their first album as Xylouris White, Goats — an apt title, because there’s something voracious about the way they explore every little cranny and crevice in the space where their two styles of music overlap. The sound of the laouto keeps them rooted in Greek and Cretan folk music, but from there they go flying off into atmospheric post-rock, Indian ragas, drone, psychedelia, jazz, and the vaguely medieval sounds of neoclassical folk and darkwave. It’s not music that immediately strikes you as “weird” per se, but the longer you listen, the harder it is to describe — which is as good an overarching description as any of the kind of music this blog is dedicated to exploring.

Xylouris White just released their third album, Mother, and I think it’s their best work yet, with more of Xylouris’ powerful vocals and a sort of moody, post-punk, gypsy trance vibe that contains echoes of everything from Ravi Shankar and Gábor Szabó to Dead Can Dance and Robby Krieger’s guitar parts on “The End.” It’s eerie and beautiful and incantatory and doesn’t sound like it could possibly be the work of just two musicians — but after seeing them live this week (they’re playing Zebulon here in L.A. every Monday this month — for free! — and on tour through May), I’m pretty sure that Mother contains very few overdubs. Between White’s graceful yet octopus-like command of his kit and the crazy overtones and drones Xylouris can get from his lute, the two of them can generate quite a racket.

Though they have an undeniably fascinating sound, I honestly didn’t consider adding Xylouris White to the Weird List until I saw this video for “Only Love,” one of the most rockin’ songs on Mother. Between the Primus-like opening riff and the goofy animation (my favorite part: when something like a goat mosh pit breaks out) courtesy of director Lucy Dyson, it’s definitely one of the most eye-catchingly absurd clips I’ve seen in recent memory.

I’ll leave you with Xylouris White’s other recent music video, for the Mother track “Daphne.” This one’s only weird if you think it’s weird for old ladies to dance alone in fields, which you shouldn’t. With any luck, we’ll all be able to bust moves like this well into our twilight years. (Also, those old ladies are Jim White and George Xylouris’ mothers. So show a little goddamned respect.)

Side note: Back in his native Crete, Giorgos Xylouris is folk music royalty. His father is Antonis “Psarantonis” Xylouris, a renowned lyra player (a smaller, three-stringed cousin of the laouto), and his late uncle was Nikos “Psaronikos” Xylouris, a singer and lyra player whose music became a soundtrack and inspiration for the youth protest movement that eventually brought down the military junta that ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974. Giorgos (or George, to his English-speaking pals) is known in Greece as Psarogiorgos. We’re not sure what the “psaro” prefix means but presumably it’s some kind of honorific bestowed upon members of the Xylouris family who have achieved a certain level of awesomeness. (Giorgos’ children, who perform with him in Xylouris Ensemble, don’t appear to have earned it yet. But give them time.)

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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”

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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.

Here’s a new gamelan-inspired track from Yoshimi P-we of Boredoms and her band, OOIOO

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When she’ s not drumming up a storm in Japanese noise-rock pioneers Boredoms or inspiring Wayne Coyne (Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots is named after her), Yoshimi P-we fronts her own percussion-heavy band, OOIOO. Past OOIOO releases have run the gamut from neo-tribal rave-ups to psychedelic post-punk, one album never quite sounding like the next. It looks like they’ll continue to surprise on their first album in four years, Gamel, which takes its inspiration and much of its sonic palette from the classical Javanese instrument called the gamelan.

A massive set of bells, chimes, gongs and tuned percussion, a gamelan requires multiple players and is capable of producing a dense tapestry of sound. (I was lucky enough to attend one of the few colleges in America that had a full gamelan, and hearing the full thing in action, even in the hands of inexperienced players, was pretty amazing.) Instead of faithfully recreating that sound, OOIOO have incorporated elements of the gamelan into a mix of other electronic and acoustic instruments to come up with something that, judging from lead track “Atatawa,” sounds completely new.

Gamel is due out July 1st on Thrill Jockey. It’s available for pre-order here.

Weird Live Review: Tinariwen

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I’ve been a huge fan of the Tuareg nomad group Tinariwen ever since somebody put a copy of the album Aman Iman: Water Is Life in my hands about seven years ago. Their fusion of American-style psych-rock guitar with the loping grooves of West African folk music was mesmerizing; the layered guitars seemed to swirl around each other like dust devils, evoking the vastness of the Saharan Desert and the heartache of life in a war-torn part of the world.

Tinariwen tours often enough now that I’ve had many opportunities to see them, but somehow I never quite got around to it. I think part of me was afraid their live show couldn’t possibly live up to my mental image of the band, way out there in deserts of northern Mali, jamming far into the night around a campfire on a stolen generator.

Well, there was no desert sky or campfire at the Belasco Theater, a new/old venue in downtown Los Angeles that recently reopened after a major renovation. But the stately old Gothic/Spanish theater, a former burlesque house opened in 1926, was a surprisingly fitting place to experience Tinariwen’s music, which has its own kind of grandeur and sense of history to it.

Tinariwen has been around long enough that their de facto leader, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, is too old to tour. But the rest of the band’s core remains intact, and their newest member, a handsome young dude named Sadam Iyar Imarhan, ably fills in Ag Alhabib’s guitar parts and many of his vocals. At the Belasco, he shared guitar and vocal duties with veteran members Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni and Alhassane Ag Touhami, while younger Tinariweners Elaga Ag Hamid, Eyadou Ag Leche and Said Ag Ayad backed them up on rhythm guitar, bass and percussion, respectively.

I had expected to hear layers upon layers of interlocking guitars, but to my surprise, the “frontmen” mainly took turns, each singing lead vocals and playing lead guitar for a song or two while the others stood to the side and sang backup vocals (or, in the case of the charismatic Ag Touhami, danced his ass off). At first, this disappointed me a little—I wanted a guitar army! A Phil Spector of the Sahara wall of sound! But I quickly realized that each player’s leads were so intricate that they would have been lost in more complex arrangements. All of them play beautifully, but I was especially entranced by new member Imarhan, who adds a little rock ‘n’ roll to the band’s mesmerizing sound. There were a few times where he and bassist Ag Leche (who plays a Fender bass upside down and left-handed, like a badass) locked grooves and I thought the mostly mellow crowd was going to start freaking out like they were at a My Morning Jacket concert.

The Belasco has great sightlines, so I was able to wander around and get some decent photos from nearly every angle. Obviously, in their traditional robes and turbans, Tinariwen are a visually arresting band, but watching them live, you forget about their appearance pretty quickly. What you’re left with is the music, which is some of the most hypnotic you’ll hear from any part of the world.

Tinariwen recorded their latest album, Emmaar, not far from L.A. in Joshua Tree. They’re actually back there tonight at a little desert nightclub called Pappy and Harriet’s. Now that must be an amazing place to see them. Maybe next time.

The rest of Tinariwen’s 2014 tour dates are listed after the photos. Whether or not you’re a fan of so-called “world music,” I highly recommend checking them out. I know we say this a lot of this blog, but there is truly no one else like them.

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Tinariwen 2014 world tour:

21 APRIL 2014 – PHOENIX (AZ), US : MIM MUSIC THEATER
22 APRIL 2014 – EL PRADO (NM), US : TAOS MESA BREWING
24 APRIL 2014 – NEW ORLEANS (LA), US : HOUSE OF BLUES
25 APRIL 2014 – LAFAYETTE (LA), US : FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL DE LOUISIANE
26 APRIL 2014 – LAFAYETTE (LA), US : FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL DE LOUISIANE
29 APRIL 2014 – CRETEIL, FRANCE : MAISON DES ARTS DE CRETEIL
30 APRIL 2014 – LUXEMBOURG, LUXEMBOURG : ROCKHAL

03 MAY 2014 – CHELTENHAM, UK : CHELTENHAM JAZZ FESTIVAL
04 MAY 2014 – BELFAST, UK : MARQUEE FEST, CUSTOM HOUSE SQUARE
05 MAY 2014 – BRISTOL, UK : ST GEORGE’S
06 MAY 2014 – LEEDS, UK : OPERA NORTH
10 MAY 2014 – UMEA, SWEDEN : MADE FESTIVAL

27 JUNE 2014 – GLASTONBURY, UK : GLASTONBURY FESTIVAL
28 JUNE 2014 – CORK, IRELAND : CORK OPERA HOUSE
29 JUNE 2014 – WESTPORT, IRELAND : WESTPORT FESTIVAL

01 JULY 2014 – DUBLIN, IRELAND : NATIONAL CONCERT HALL
03 JULY 2014 – SAINT ETIENNE, FRANCE : FESTIVAL DES 7 COLLINES
04 JULY 2014 – AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS : PITCH FESTIVAL
11 JULY 2014 – BARCELONA, SPAIN : CRUÏLLA BARCELONA
12 JULY 2014 – AIX-LES-BAINS, FRANCE : MUSILAC
18 JULY 2014 – CARHAIX, FRANCE : LES VIEILLES CHARRUES
19 JULY 2014 – SOUTHWOLD, UK : LATITUDE FESTIVAL
23 JULY 2014 – BRECON, UK : THEATR BRYCHEINIOG
24 JULY 2014 – CARDIFF, UK : SAINT DAVID’S HALL
29 JULY 2014 – WESPORT, UK : WESTPORT FESTIVAL

01 AUGUST 2014 – SAINT-NAZAIRE, FRANCE : LES ESCALES
07 AUGUST 2014 – GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN : WAY OUT FESTIVAL
08 AUGUST 2014 – HELSINKI, FINLAND : FLOW FESTIVAL
09 AUGUST 2014 – NR. WINCHESTER, UK : BOOMTOWN FESTIVAL
13 AUGUST 2014 – FRAISANS, FRANCE : NO LOGO FESTIVAL
15 AUGUST 2014 – ESCOT PARK DEVON, UK : BEAUTIFUL DAYS FESTIVAL
16 AUGUST 2014 – TRUYES, FRANCE : FESTIVAL COSMOPOLITE
23 AUGUST 2014 – CHARLEVILLE-MÉZIÈRES, FRANCE : CABARET VERT
24 AUGUST 2014 – SAINT-CLOUD, FRANCE : ROCK EN SEINE
30 AUGUST 2014 – NAMUR, BELGIUM : LA FÊTE DES SOLIDARITÉS
31 AUGUST 2014 – NR. SALISBURY, UK : END OF THE ROAD FESTIVAL

Blasted Mechanism

Blasted Mechanism live
All photos by Hugo Lima | http://www.hugolima.com

This week’s weird band was suggested to us by a Facebook fan named João Nox, who we assume is from Portugal, because his name is João and this band Blasted Mechanism seems to be virtually unknown outside of Portugal. Which is a shame, because these guys fly a freak flag that should really be traveling in international waters. I’m not even sure what that means, but I haven’t had much sleep.

Blasted Mechanism have been around since 1996 and have played a lot of major European festivals alongside more famous band they charmingly misspell on their Facebook page: Pearl Jem, Linking Park. They’re a six-piece sorta electro-jam band with lots of dub/reggae and world music influences; one of the dudes plays djembe and didgeridoo, another plays a double-neck combination guitar/cavaquinho, which is a Portuguese cross between a ukulele and a mandolin. Except I think maybe they call it a Bambuleco or a Kalachakra or who fucking knows—a lot of their instruments are custom made so they can call them whatever they feel like.

Although their music sounds like a lot of fun live, what’s really more interesting about Blasted Mechanism are their costumes, which they’ve changed up many times over the years in an apparent attempt to discover the perfect combination of B-movie space alien, Aztec warrior, Mighty Morphin Power Ranger and Burning Man refugee. Here they are having fun with electroluminescent wire:

And here they are in perhaps their crowning achievement, an insane mix of gypsy-punk and peyote-fueled tribal freakout called “Battle of Tribes.”

Good shit, no? So thanks for introducing us to the weirdness of Portugal, João. Now what’s it gonna take for us to convince these guys to do a U.S. tour?

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Free track from Delhi 2 Dublin: “Turn Up the Stereo”

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Delhi 2 Dublin, our favorite Canadian Celtic dub bhangra band, is back with a new album, Turn Up the Stereo. It won’t get its official U.S. release until next February, but in the meantime, you can download the title track for free. Cuz Canadians are nice like that.

On “Turn Up the Stereo,” as usual, the Vancouver-based quintet sounds like a giant jam session between Michael Franti, Fatboy Slim, Asian Dub Foundation and the cast of Riverdance. We likee. Especially when their awesome and  now-blonde violinist Kytami new violinist Sara Fitzpatrick lets fly with the fiddlin’ about two and a half minutes in. It’s like the Devil took a wrong turn and went down to Goa instead of Georgia.

If you live in Canada, you can already score yourself a copy of Turn Up the Stereo on iTunes. If you don’t live in Canada, you’re hosed until Feb. 19, 2013.