I haven’t posted anything in a while, mostly because I didn’t have a whole lot to review, so to get back on the wagon, here’s a non-review. Because that makes sense. If you just want the list, jump ahead a few paragraphs.
In recent years, I have found myself listening to increasingly unusual music, and have often wondered the following things:
A- How did this happen?
B- What does it sound like to others?
C- Do I appear pretentious?
I could probably answer point B immediately, based on my friends reactions when I force them to listen to some of these artists in the early hours after a heavy drinking session. Some are quite receptive, or maybe they are just trying not to be rude, but it’s not uncommon for at least two or three people in the room to respond with a facial expression that can only be summed up as “…Ok…”. I don’t really know how people put up with it sometimes. To people who don’t know me, it probably does sound pretentious if I name drop these bands, but I don’t do it to confuse people or freak people out.
Anyway, here’s a short list of some bands and artists I’ve discovered over recent years. I have found most of them through various websites; notably Weirdest band in the world, which actually inspired me to make this list. If you are reading this, you don’t have to listen to any of the artists I’ve mentioned, but if you do, keep an open mind, and let me know what you think.
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum
Imagine if you took Arcade Fire, committed them to a mental asylum, then sent them to hell and back, by way of a circus. The end result would sound and look a little bit like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum. The band derive from King Crimson to a fair extent, but even that link is quite tentative, as the waters become quite muddied when mixed in with the influences from folk, contemporary classical, industrial, and experimental rock, among many others. During the bands performances, they can use at up to seventeen instruments at one time, many of which are handmade by Band member, Dan Rathbun.
Notice at the end of the previous paragraph, I used the phrase, ‘band member’, as opposed to ‘bassist’. This is because each member plays instruments such as the autoharp, glockenspiel, violin, euphonium, cornet, tuba, and saxophone, along with the handmade instruments that go by names such as ‘Vatican’, ‘Pedal action wiggler’, ‘Pancreas’, and simply, ‘Thing’. Based on this literal truckload of musical gear, I’ll now refer to each band members’ role based on their predominant instrument, but you can check out their wiki page if you want a full run down on everything they play.
The stew of genres can make for some difficult listening, especially as the band screech, honk, roar and snore (yes) over syncopated and complex rhythms, which are provided by the explosive duo of drummer, Matthias Bossi, and percussionist, Michael Mellender.
Unfortunately, The museum closed its doors (I’m paraphrasing the official announcement- not my words) in 2011, however, the members are still musically active with other acts. The various projects include Rabbit Rabbit Radio, Free Salamander Exhibit, and Two Foot Yard, and there are plenty of other connections that the band have made, which could probably be found with a little digging around on youtube.
Recommended listening: The Donkey headed Adversary of Humanity Opens The Discussion, Gunday’s Child, Formicary, Phthisis.
Death Grips are an American experimental hip-hop trio that have built up quite a following, thanks to various music forums, and “The internet’s busiest music nerd”, Anthony Fantano. When I first listened to Death Grips, I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it, but I knew that I didn’t like it, so I just left it and decided it wasn’t really my thing. For a while I thought that people enjoyed them just for the sake of liking something different, and now that I have warmed up to them, I would say that this isn’t far from the truth. This sounds like a negative thing, but part of the appeal of Death Grips is that you are never too sure what to expect from their music, aside from getting hit with a sonic punch to the face.
I guess my appreciation for the band was kind of like seeing a 3D image in a magic eye; at first, it seemed like an incoherent mess, but eventually all the elements fell into place, and I eventually found myself instinctively nodding along to the syncopated, tribal beats and found myself trying (and failing miserably) to rap along with frontman, MC Ride.*
I think the vocals that initially put me off are something that have really grown on me. At times, Ride (Stefan Burnett) sounds like he’s having a nervous breakdown- spouting and screaming almost incomprehensibly, seemingly paying no attention to the beat, but shows he is on the ball by switching his vocal style almost instantly, to something more like a menacing, tranquil fury. A prime example of this can be heard on one of their latest tracks, “Hot Head”, which is, in parts, one of their most unhinged and intense tunes to date.
The beats are incredibly well constructed, with earlier albums being a little more glitchy and electronically driven, while more recent releases feature both sampled and raw, live sounding guitars. Death Grips aren’t for everyone, and maybe I was in a particularly aggressive mood when it all clicked for me, but if you listen to them after reading this and like what you hear, let me know- I need some buddies to go to one of their shows when they do eventually play in the UK. Preferably people who will make sure I don’t get my head kicked in.
Recommended listening: Culture Shock, The Fever (Aye Aye), Takyon, Bitch Please.
This is the most recent artist I’ve discovered on this list (After a friend said something to the effect of “You’ve gotta check this guy out, he’s got a song about pelicans”, it was like a moth to a flame), and possibly the most light-hearted and ‘normal’ act as well.
Sheldrake is a 25-year-old British multi-instrumentalist, who uses “banjo, loop station, keyboards, double bass, drums, penny whistle, sousaphone, accordion and many more”, according to his website, although they left out the fact that he uses samples of a cat purring to create a beat. Need I say more?
When I first listened to ‘Pelicans We’ (The aforementioned avian themed track, which shares a title with his debut EP), I was instantly hooked. The call-and-response instruments, seemingly playing hopscotch with each other, kept me intrigued, and the off-the-wall lyrics kept me amused. After no time at all, I found myself absent-mindedly humming his tunes, tapping out rhythms on the kitchen counter when I was making a cup of tea (much to the annoyance of anyone around me), and listening to his music on repeat.
I haven’t said as much about Cosmo Sheldrake as Sleepytime Gorilla Museum or Death grips, and that’s because, as I said earlier, his music is a lot more accessible, and is bound to put a smile on most people’s faces, so I’ll just let that speak for itself. Make no mistake though- ‘Accessible’ isn’t synonymous with ‘simple’; His songs are well constructed, clever, and quite unique.
Recommended Listening: Just listen to the whole ep. It’s only four songs.
*This analogy might be a little bit flawed, as-
A) I have never been able to do magic eye puzzles, and I’m convinced that they are a trick made to wind me up, and-
B) I have never found myself nodding my head, or trying to rap along to a magic eye puzzle.