They say there is no such thing as second acts in American lives, but American lives haven’t fully contended with outsider music, the crushing boredom of suburban Florida, and the permeable temporal membrane of album reissues. God, no.
With that firmly in mind, let me tell you a story. Many years ago, a young girl in Florida became corrupted by a band. It infected her thoughts, her words, her actions, her appearance, everything. Big deal right? You can throw a rock and hit a teenager who’s just gotten done loitering in Hot Topic or is one Slayer album away from going on a cat massacre. But it wasn’t any of that nonsense. This girl was corrupted by something far darker and more mysterious: The Residents. She bought everything she could. She started wearing a top hat around. As a mere teenager, she got closer than anyone ever has to figuring out the Residents’ identity, interrogating a hapless Penn Jillette, sending dead fish through the mail, and even palling around with Renaldo and the Loaf.
Mere fandom didn’t suffice. Iit wasn’t enough to be close to her idols, she had to BECOME them. Hell, surpass them. Besides the Residents, her life was an ultraviolet collage of pop culture weirdness: Jem & The Holograms, David Bowie in Labyrinth, Gary Numan… and her writings and drawings from the time became hopelessly infected by those reference points. And so was born Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin. Using only the primitive musical tools available to her at that point — Casio keyboard, toy drum machine, tape recorder — and a truly unhinged sense of ambition, a strange set of songs were crafted, some attempts at recording began, and then…
Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin disappeared.
The songs, the ideas, the weirdness lay dormant for many, many years. Until the tapes were unearthed, and in what was clearly a cult ritual, the ghost of Petunia-Liebling MacPumpkin was channeled, was summoned. And all she wanted to do was finish her record.
Fish Drive Edsels does, in many ways sound like transmissions from an outer realm. Vocals are stretched and distorted into otherworldly shapes, the keyboard lines drift along in a dreamy, hallucinogenic ether, the song structures are strangely timeless, flirting with baroque signifiers before swooping into mutant new (or no-) wave shapes, Morse code/ fingers-on-a-window percussion. There are moments of just sublime strangeness, like “Frozen Fish,” a hallucinogenic paean to, well, a frozen fish, with harpsichord, a creepy vocal, and laser-bright synth lines attempting to restore order. I’m also partial to “Vegetable Medley,” a heady mix of horror movie keyboards, chopped’n’screwed vocals approximating a litany of different characters, and a sense of creeping dread. And people think that Paul McCartney chomping celery on a Beach Boys outtake is the height of “out there”!
Maybe you can file it next to Residents, Renaldo and the Loaf, and Barnes and Barnes, and I’m hearing similarities to the likes of Irene Moon and Russian Tsarlag, but other than that, this music is all alone.
Too, too many years ago, maybe 20 now, a mismatched gaggle of not-so-merry pranksters coalesced together over a love of drugs, found noise, and outsider art as the collective Mercury Rev, thoroughly blowing the minds of the then-nascent “alternative” nation with lysergic playground shoegaze that was hellbent against being boring. Now to stand out in an ensemble that include a flute-playing burnount named Grasshopper, you really have to let your freak flag fly, and no one did that more in Mercury Rev than frontman David Baker. A mess of frizzy hair and Dadaist rhymes, he was the (Beef) heart of Mercury Rev; when he left amid a storm of recrimination and mystery, the band morphed into the Bad Seeds, but…whatever happened to the real crazy in Mercury Rev?
Years of this and that, and now Baker returns with a deliriously fucked up synth project called Variety Lights. And as much fun as it is to imagine Baker giving us his take on Minimal Wave, Variety Lights is a very different beast. Angular, unpredictable, and nonlinear, Variety Lights is perhaps closest to Eno’s nonlinear strategies on Another Green World or White Noise or a Casio remake of maybe Photek, but without sounding anything like either of them. Instead, this is pure audio hallucination from start to finish. Buoyant, disorienting, mantric, and ingenious.
Music from the Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Castle/Black Foliage: Animation Music Volume One
Collector’s Item. Vinyl reissue in limited edition. Nearly impossible to find. Big Bux on eBay. Hot lead to hip Coolster Record Collectorites, or unlistenable mess of sound effects? Damned if I can sort this out, but let’s hold hands and explore together on this four-CD journey. If we stick close, don’t panic, and keep a live Internet connection, we might just get out of this cabin in the woods alive.
There are two “name” CDs here, and then two discs of bonus material. I’ll start with Black Foliage and its soundscape that ranges from Beach Boys style harmonizing on “Hideaway” to snips of sampled synthesizer and found sounds. When writing and singing songs, there’s a feeling of 1960s experimentalism: “Sleepy Company” might be an outtake from The White Album, “Grass Cannon” might work in an Arthur Lyman faux-Polynesian dinner dancing set. Yet the 11-minute “The Ark and Below It” is experimental music at its most self indulgent — odd notes from randomly selected symphonic instruments mimic but do not excite, as does a pre-concert tuning up phase. Sound bites tuck in between the more conventional pop tunes, and I’m hoping these were somehow related to a modernist animation that only played once at the Tribeca Film Fest but was lost when the projector caught fire. One can always hope.
Next on the Winamp soundslip we encounter Unrealized Film Script: Dusk at Cubist Castle. The opening “The Opera House” mixes electric weirdness with solid guitar playing and you’re soon rocking out like you’ve found a new love affair with the band. Abruptly we slide from rock ‘n’ roll to a one-minute session in the Tiki Lounge for a “Frosted Ambassador,” and then back to the pop-flavored Todd Rundgren sound-alike “Jumping Fences.” When these guys set out to make a sound style they master it instantly, but what’s missing when you sit down to listen is a thematic thread. Put your music box on random play: first The Beatles, then Little Feat, a splash of early Neil Young, and a chaser of late Iron Butterfly. While most of these songs will stand alone, I’m apprehensive when tracks switch and constantly shift musical gears. If there’s an overarching style, it’s not apparent after three or four listens… Or is it? Damn, they’ve grafted pop-rock onto cool jazz. And they used a kazoo!
There’s bonus material, over three hours of it, and none of it for the faint of heart. The Dusk collection begins with nine tracks (about an hour) of ambient soundscapes — subtle musical instruments, rain storms, odd bleating sounds. I won’t say it’s a set you’d focus on, but while I’m typing along, it’s strangely soothing and good at blocking out the ambient noise of a slightly busy office. The following two tracks “Black Swan Network” come off as more aggressive, more clanky, and more robot dance-centric. This is less soothing, and there’s a temptation to fast forward to the next track, and I soon succumb. However, the remainder of this side is about the same, and we don’t get a human voice until the penultimate cut “Do You Like Worms?” Answer: I like them conceptually as recyclers in God’s garden, but I prefer them to not be in my food or skin. And thank you for asking.
A cup of tea laced with Red Bull and I’m ready to tackle the last of these collections — the Foliage bonus disc. This is a more mixed bag, more than half the tracks fall in the “God, how can they stand to record such annoying garbage?” category, but some are respectable if eccentric pop tunes. “The Sky Is a Harpsichord,” “Can You Come Down,” and “California Demise” have the most promise, but much of the remaining material sounds like Residents outtakes. Perhaps I’m being harsh, but this is a frustrating disc — as a soundtrack, it lacks the visuals to explain the sounds, and as a pseudo-pop record, it teases terribly, it offers a refreshing cocktail, and then runs outside to slash your tires and pour sugar in the gas tank. If you’re in love with this band, you probably already have this on the old iPhone, and if you’re not the type who says “Hey, hon, let’s get a sitter and check out the experimental music fest in the abandoned warehouse district,” I’d be a little more reluctant to purchase.
Stellar goth-psych collective Pocahaunted may have lost many of their key members, but goddamnit, with offspring like Best Coast, Sun Araw, and LA Vampires rising from the ashes, one does have to be somewhat of a crank to wail all that loudly. Added to that brood is the solo debut from Poca bassist Diva. With The Glitter End, Diva recasts herself as the alien baroness of electro-weirdo-groove-noise. Despite the ghettofabulous title and the back cover collage of Diva modeling a plethora of different glammy looks (not to mentation the Man Who Fell to Earth-tastic front cover), The Glitter End is in no way a grab for the zeitgesty brass ring in the same way that Crazy For You was. Nah, this is wigged out freaktronica of the most ramshackle stripe. The disc slips out of an inner sleeve that echoes Fripp and Eno’s mock-scientific schematics on the No Pussyfooting album. And once you drop the metaphorical needle on the album you’re bombarded by ramshackle mutant disco and lo-fi electronic doodles.
There are a handful of absolute fucking gems on the record. “Glow Worm” is a deliciously elephantine groove, plodding back and forth, while a multitracked Diva ululates like Kate Bush, and high-pitched electric guitar buzzes around like clouds of mosquitos. The alien chorale of the title track is ace. Then the dubby-Suicide-with-a-wah-pedal smokiness (with appropriately breathy vocals) of “Crocodile Crawl” is a keeper too.
In some ways, Germany still reacts to the over-decorated exuberance of the late 19th century, yet it’s still the home to minimalist architecture, mechanical music, and sans serif type fonts. The pair of Jaki Liebezeit (best known perhaps as the drummer for German experimental rock band, Can) and Burnt Friedman continue this tradition by writing songs that are assigned numbers complete with hyphenation. Lyrics are not essential, and a bare but multi-layered drumming underlies looped noises and synthesized chants as an old shortwave tunes in the background. Well, that’s what Track 01, otherwise called “204-07” sounds like to my over-stressed Western ear. The drumming picks up energy in Track 02 (cleverly titled “128-05”) even as a power saw zips past. Polyrhythmic in approach and single-minded in execution, this cut has melody but won’t let it out for fear of skin cancer under the intense light of a tropical day. Another digit down the track list is my favorite “182-11.” Here the wind howls and you’re almost in the second side of the Residents Eskimo album, until a tinny electronic keyboard plucks out a melody and the blowing snow melts under the metallic glare of modernism.
Guest musicians appear, including Joseph Suchy and Tim Motze on the “E-Fuzz guitar” and Hayden Chisholm playing a more traditional flute and saxophone. I have no idea what an E-Fuzz guitar is, but if you’re in constant search of compelling new rhythm, you could do worse. Friedman & Liebezeit search the world for sounds with strong Fourier transforms, and even if some of them sound like pans falling out of my kitchen cabinet, these guys find them, polish them, and make them interesting. Now I need to go hit something repeatedly; they’ve inspired me.
When you just can’t decide what style of music you want to listen to this evening, why not try all the styles at once? Joakim might be the solution. He takes more styles than I can count and mixes them together — it’s a combination of composing, arranging, sampling, and remixing. The opening cut, “Back to Wilderness,” might put you off a bit, it’s industrial metal-banging, forklift-racing factory noise. Skip over it to get to the more musical part of the album, or put it on repeat and drive the neighbors nuts.
Once through the blacksmithing portion of the disc, Joakim supplies a much more intriguing listen. “Glossy Papers” features a slow, downtempo beat with electronically modulated vocals and a jazzy sax punctuating the guitar lines. “Medusa” nearly sounds 1982 MTV New Wave with its urgent drums and vocals and simple synth lines. “Spider” opens with a tom-tom beat that might have been ripped off a 1965 Hamm’s Beer ad, but tapers down to a spacey electronic dance number that demands a smoke machine. I can go on, but the point is this — while Joakim Bouaziz draws from the entire iTunes catalog, he creates something new and exciting. Kids these days, why, they’re not really going to hell in a hand truck. There IS a future for music!
Well, you missed it. Whatever your excuses were, this-that-and-the-other, they were flimsy and pointless at best, because if you weren’t at Jackrabbits that November evening, (just a few days shy of Thanksgiving), then you missed the best musical revue show to hit Jacksonville in 2008.
Omebi and the Telepathik Friends Orchestra
Three strange creatures appear from out of nowhere, seemingly clad in rags, jewels, fur, and bright, bright primary colors, looking like they stepped out of a particularly jarring scene (aren’t they all) from the Dark Crystal. They assume places amidst Kirbyesque assemblages constructed at the foot of the stage. Mysterious pillars, cardboard/wooden instruments, and a small dais wrapped in Xmas lights, upon which perched a small four track recorder. Two musicians took places behind a fake organ and a fake guitar, soon to be miming, jerking and spasming like the Residents in super slow-motion or aliens reenacting the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. This is, of course, Omebi and the Telepathik Friends Orchestra. Telepathik Friend is a longrunning Jacksonville-based performance/art/music project, responsible for much of Jacksonville’s currently raucous noise and improv scene. Tonight former member Omebi is stepping out on her own, with all new music and the “orchestra’s” name as the only clue to her past. Omebi walked up to the dais and with a microphone in one hand and the other hand on the controls of a four-track recorder, began conjuring forth a whole alternate world of mysterious, fractured, ancient music.
On this particular night (I saw Omebi again the next night and it sounded like a completely different set), she performed a set of new subliminal soundforms. Omebi’s songs are more about the spaces between sounds than verse/chorus/verse zzzzzz-dom. It’s Karen Dalton gulping for air in between words, it’s Robert Johnson’s fingers reaching for the next chord, it’s the very walls of a church absorbing and buzzing with the sounds of Sacred harp singers, it’s Sonic Boom’s amps singing sweetly to one another long after all of the humans have left. This reviewer was somewhat reminded of Charalambides, Loren Mazzacane Connors, Fursaxa, the long forgotten Zeek Sheek and the Slits, but then again, it was nothing like any of them.
Separate songpieces merged into one painterly sticky whole. A hidden mouth beautifully sang words that might not even be words, a hand glides over controls and faders — the rush of twilit, prismatic sound rises and falls. The audience stared in rapt, open-mouthed attention, afraid to break the spell. The last song ended, the creatures disappeared into thin air. I hear tell that Miss Pussycat jumped up and yelled for an encore after they stopped playing.
So Quintron. I’m on record over and over again as a Quintron partisan; but all that aside, you won’t get a better live value for your dollar than those you fork over to Mr. Quintron. Things have been a little quiet of late on the Quintron front, it’s been a period of rebuilding and re-evaluating since Katrina destroyed Quintron’s Spellcaster Lodge, but now it’s time again for stylin’ and profilin’, and really is there any higher calling? Miss Pussycat’s puppet show is bursting with more gonzo goodness than ever. A witch takes over an art museum, Santa Claus saves the day with a machinegun, there are psychedelic freakout sequences, the goddamn puppet stage even becomes a puppet. This is the stuff of serious craft.
Cue billowing crowds of dry ice and ominous flashes of primary color stage lights, total arena rock spectacle, right? Finally, Quintron’s stage setup is fully visible and it’s something to behold. The Drum Buddy oscillates like William Burrough’s Dream Machine, partially hidden behind an organ and some drums. Mounted on the front of the organ, making it look like a klassic kustom car, is the grille, headlights, vanity plate and chassis of some roadster. The headlights pulse strobelike as Quintron takes his place behind the organs and Pussycat walks over to stage left, stepping behind a single microphone, maracas in hand.
Look at ’em! Quintron is decked out in a blue jumpsuit with some kinda predatory animal stitched out in rhinestones on the back, with an unruly moptop haircut that quickly becomes drenched in sweat and some kerrrazy eyes. Pussycat has a bow in her blond hair and a prim’n’proper dress that looks like a bobbysoxer/gleeclubber…. well, on acid. Quintron launches into some heavy gospel/noise workout and from there it’s a sweaty couple of hours of the Cramps crossed with Dr. John and a lounge combo from a Holiday Inn circa 1962. It goes like this, polymath Quintron plays the organ, his homemade/self-devised Drum Buddy drum machine, and a snare/hi-hat combo with his spare hand, while singing too. Pussycat handles backing vocals and shakes the maracas – with aplomb, it must be said.
Tonight they play with a delirious, nervous intensity that I haven’t seen before — reveling in the sound bouncing back at them from the walls of the club. Shit, at one point Quintron lets the louche mask drop, exclaiming earnestly, “I love the sound in this place. I’m having more fun tonight than I’ve had at a show ever.” And then pointing gleefully at the kids at the front dancing like the Charlie Brown gang during the Christmas special. Quintron leaves the stage several times, wading into the crowd to sing, stare people down, shout and dance.
This one time, and I’m tellin’ you the truth, he sets the Drum Buddy on repeat and wades into the crowd, shaking maracas, Pussycat close on his heels — they do this sorta two-person conga line, all mad-eyed stares and shimmies through the crowd, taking a small group of Pied-Piper-hypnotized kids on a merry chase until they end up at the bar — and next thing I know, they’re making like Pee Wee Herman at the biker bar in that one movie and they’re dancin’ and high-steppin’ and drinkin’ and it’s… just… glorious.
They’re called back on for several encores, everyone’s having the time of their fucking lives, I’m surrounded by a bunch of partygoers dancing their asses off and I’ve got a huge smile on my face. They end the site with a James Brown false-finish vamp – sweatier and funkier and noisier than ever. The night belongs to all of us.
If you like your music experimental, this may be your cup of tea. As a young man, Nat Baldwin loved the double bass as well as the basketball court. I can’t speak for his shooting percentage, but he’s an acceptable bass player. While most orchestras and rockabilly bands have a double bass or two, you rarely hear a double bass solo. Here’s your chance. The bass rarely heads up a show; its place is down in back, reinforcing melody and setting mood with gut-rumbling low notes. Nate transcends that and makes the bass the center of attention with other strings and drums worshiping him in a subservient supporting role. He’s not about to take over the charts, and it’s not until track nine, “The Mask I Wear,” that he really grabs my attention when his voice finally synchs up with the music and something magic happens. If you liked any of the Ralph Records stable of artists, give this a listen.
There was a fevered anticipation as we motored toward Orlando. Little did the masses of humanity milling about Universal’s Citywalk area know, tonight the greatest rock band that doesn’t give a shit, was holding court right under their sunburned noses. As a long-time apostle of all things Boognish, I felt a revival was about to take place. You see, the fellas haven’t been round these parts in a couple years and I was readied for a much needed cleansing at the altar of Ween. The beauty of a Ween show, among many beautiful things, is the audience is not limited to material from the current release with a few “classics” thrown in for encores. Sure, they are touring in support of their latest release, La Cucaracha, but this set and most others span their twenty-plus year catalog.
When the curtain drops there is no rock-star fanfare–just a giant Boognish backdrop, smoke machine, and instruments awaiting five musical deities. Aaron (Gene) casually grabs the wireless mic and precedes to jump off stage, cruising through the crowd, getting “close to the people” as “Nan”, an obscure cut from God, Ween, Satan, plays. Nice touch. I have never seen him leave stage at any other show.
Next, enter an all-time classic, “Freedom of ’76”. Now Gene, after a couple decades of mayhem, may show some physical wear and tear, but his voice still hits those high notes spot-on. The “revival” was already nearing snake-handling proportions! As mentioned, the set-list was varied and far-reaching. Most of tonight’s songs were pulled from Chocolate & Cheese, including “Roses Are Free”, “Spinal Meningitis”, “HIV Song”, and “Baby Bitch”. Other highlights were the rarely played “Reggaejunkiejew” from Pure Guava and “Powder Blue”, off the brilliant 12 Golden Country Greats. Other country faves,”You Were the Fool” and “Piss Up a Rope” had the comfortably spaced crowd dancing away. Three from La Cucaracha made the cut. “Learnin to Love”, “Fiesta”, and what may be an instant classic, “Your Party,” had a hypnotic stranglehold on us.
Although the band had been plagued with a bout of flu during this short Southeast stint, they still gave us the experience we clamored for. Mickey (Dean) was tonight’s affected member, who referenced his head feeling like he was “tripping on acid”. Perhaps this is why some of the usual banter & wackiness was not present and the set moved rather paced. No less enjoyable, mind you, with thanks to Nyquil, Gatorade, and Budweiser.
Holy geez, it’s hard to comprehend all this rock rolled into one glorious night! Can you believe we still got a heapin’ helpin’ of “Dr Rock”, “Puerto Rican Power”, “Ocean Man”, “Bananas & Blow”, and “Buckingham Green”? Unfortunately, the epic cover songs Ween could catapult at any given time were absent this outing. Yet, they gave us 26 songs, so no one seemed to be complaining. This “mini-tour” ends with Gene’s website synopsis of “over the top rock shows that whooped a hyena’s dirty asshole”. The boys are now off to spread the gospel to the people “Down-Under”. All you Aussies & New Zealanders soak in every song, every note… This is America’s gift to you.
This record is almost cool enough to put up with the business of covering the digital tracks with Sharpie so you can play it on a computer. Ecce Hobo takes its influences from every genre I can imagine, from country to electronica to big band, and swirls it around to produce a sound that lies somewhere between the two obscure poles of Robert Crumb and The Residents. The disc comes with a video for “The Moon,” an urgent and mysterious song that could creep you out in the right circumstance. It also makes the disc very hard to play on a computer. Unlike some mixed discs, this one doesn’t even come with a proprietary player. It’s black magic marker or an analog car stereo if you get this for Christmas.
Ecce Hobo is a collaboration of Seattle’s John Feodorov and Paul Amiel. The press release shows them as a set of serious musicians, willing to travel around the world to study and use instruments you’ve never heard of like the Gu Qin and the Ney Flute. No word if there’s a Gass involved, but I’d expect nothing less from this pair. Where The Devil Dances is a pleasant experience involving serious musicianship, interesting lyrics, and a crisp, well-thought-out mix resulting in an intriguing and accessible disc. It’s not pop silliness or longhaired intellectualism, but like stumbling onto a really cool indie movie before anyone in the press catches on. Behold; a great record!