by Angela Sawyer
Weirdo was a record shop that I started in my bedroom in 2006. It moved into a storefront for a while in Cambridge Mass., and closed after I got tired of never ever sleeping. While it was around, I wrote reviews of every new title that I sold, and by the end there were more than eighteen thousand reviews. There's only so many times you can call a guitar tone 'crunchy’ or say something disparaging about a singer's hair. So I repeated things, a lot. When compiling this best of, I looked for records that stuck with me, and also for reviews where I thought the writing stood out.
Alberich Nato Uniformen 2lp (Hospital)
Kris Lapke finds the meeting point between techno and the army song 'Sound Off' (it's also called the jody or the duckworth chant). Sometimes gloomy & pulsing, at which point Lapke is actually pretty good at pulling you into his undertow, and sometimes trying to be harsh & marching, which comes off a little... well, let's just say that marching is not very scary, especially now that it is after 1945 and armies just blow stuff up without a whole lot of marching beforehand. Band is named after a German medieval dwarf. Originally a cassette box on Hospital.
Alessandro Alessandroni I Cantori Moderni lp + cd (Penny)
Any spate of cantankerous grumbing about the state of music or the universe (down to around 4x a day myself) can always be halted in milliseconds flat by the sumptuous choral swishing of Alessandroni. A childhood friend of Morricone who did early woodshedding in the Alessandroni family barbershop, he started a jazz vocal quartet modeled on the peerless Four Freshmen & ended up adding 4 more guys & 8 girls to the mix (one of whom included Edda Dell'Orso). The choir was well known for its flexibility, able to turn instantly from the light waves of bossa to severe avant classical to the groovy sheen of sixties lounge to the startling freaky effects like the burping in 'Giu La Testa'. Nino Rota himself discovered Alessandroni's whistling abilities one day, and instantly called everyone he could into the studio to hear it. There's just no 'oooh' in the world of Italian soundtracks without these oohs & ahhs, and here's your chance to give 'em center stage. This library record has tracks with burbly fuzz guitar & lots of starlit vocal work that you haven't heard elsewhere.
Alvarius B Baroque Primitiva cd (Abduction)
If you haven't been waiting for the next message from Al. B- & waiting like you're crouched behind a tomb and the shuffling noises won't go away- then I warn you little one, you've been wasting your gun and your one good eye. Here is a small gift to make the time go sweeter. Severed, splintered outtakes from the last 4 years are gathered & prepared to poke you like bloody fingers. A stranger taps his knife handle on coffin wood and guitar strings start rattling inside. Swooping overdubbed vocals are layered (and layered, and layered) onto a hissy, old 4-track. And of course, there are molti genuflessioni prima che Il Maestro. Where is the Kickstarter page to buy this guy a fuckin' bass harmonica already? Eyvind Kang saws fiddle like a hillbilly. Organs moan. Somebody gets the idea to fake a Moog with an octave pedal. Tempos range from spitball-fast to those that're chaste & patient as the ghee-soaked wives of Pandu. So go ahead, rompipalle. Wet your whistle. And text me anytime you wanna swap number 11 conspiracy theories.
Anal Cunt Picnic of Love lp (Limited Appeal)
One of the more infamous projects perpetrated on the world by this long running & long diseased Boston hardcore band. Take everything that AC normally does, do the dumbest possible opposite, and ka-blooey. You get a perfect parody of sensitive folk songs a la John Denver. Achingly tuneless falsetto, slightly sloppy picked acoustic, and delicate lyrics that are sure to double you over: 'If I were a pirate/You'd be my hook/About our tender lovemaking babe/I could write a book.' Even if it's by virtue of sheer blunt force Putnam always turns out to be smarter than a busload of youthful hipsters. And there ain't no app for that, baby.
Vicki Anderson Mother Popcorn cd (Soul Brother)
Vicki Anderson was married to Bobby Byrd, the founder of the Famous Flames who met James Brown in jail during a prison yard baseball game. She was with the band from 1965-68 & then a second time from 1969-72, at which point Lyn Collins took over. There's a reason Mr. Please Please Please was willing to take her back into the band after she left, and it's because she can attach notes to the ceiling like her neck is a nail gun. Brown's backup band is in tip top funky form, and you know he'd fine them if they weren't. Innumerable samples, barefoot dance parties, & potential speeding tickets located inside.
Android Sisters Best of the Android Sisters cd (EM)
Fried and retarded synth wank and vocoder female vocals, overly simplistic Casio beats, uncomfortable pauses, and a lot of wack foolishness about obscure-at-the-time sci-fi/metaphysics fiction author Phillip K. Dick. Lots of extremely goofy conceptual jokes too. This takes the schtick of the Flying Lizards twenty times further, and it'll stop you in your tracks with your jaw agape while you wonder what arch idiocy is coming down the pipe next. Fans of children's records and Bruce Haack should get on board fast.
Anima Sound Strumischer Himmel cd (Spalax)
Paul & Limpe Fuchs were just a nice German dirty hippie couple with some toddlers running around, except that instead of joining the PTA or starting a garden, they decided to drive a tractor around Europe one summer, pulling a gypsy wagon & stopping every now & again to plonk on tympani drums, blow a homemade flugelhorn, & yowl like skinned cats. Limpe now says tellingly, 'the tour showed us that we were more exotic that we ever thought.'
Apple An Apple A Day lp (Guerssen)
Doctor Rock is indeed a rockin' Doc! Totally loveable little record that looks forward to power pop more than around at its peers in the contemporary pop-psych scene. Catchy as shit melodies married to lyrics about really stupid stuff... like taking a boat from England to Germany, a DJ who is a medical professional for his day job, etc. Comes with repro of an insert that has recipes for mayonnaise & pear salad, plus something called 'Bramley Cake.' Appeared on Page One (the Kinks & Troggs' label), but to this day the whereabouts of the band members are unknown. Guaranteed to make you try & whistle along.
Ginny Arnell Meet Ginny Arnell cd (Poker)
The most perfectly squaretastic girl group song of all time is the twisted, soulless & chirpy 'Dumbhead'. How many hours have I spent staring in happy awe at Ginny's frozen fake smile while she stridently, eagerly wonders why she has a peanut for a brain, or whether pink is her best color? Ginny started out as a teenage talent show winner (she really was still quite young at the time of this recording, even if the cover shot makes her look like a 98 year old hag) & recorded lots of toothpasty jingles before becoming a pop performer. She was ushered into the business under the wing of the whitey-white Neil Sedaka. And was then plucked from relative obscurity (if only to slightly less obscure obscurity) by A&R man Danny Davis, who'd done the same for Ginny's heroine Connie Francis. MGM gave lots of support even though her highest chart placing was about 50. They coughed up the dough for this album, recorded in Nashville with the Jordainaires & Chet Atkins backing her up.
Avengers Avengers lp (4 Men With Beards)
Joan Jett is awesome and everything, no argument, but fuck her. When Penelope Houston opens up her mouth, you can still hear the jumble of disdain, disgust, sarcasm, and underneath: wide-eyed excitement from knowing that your shitty little band was actually making the world less shitty. And the guitars are loud as they get. As the album itself says, 'laugh in the ruins of tomorrow, today.' Repro of their famed pink album.
Beauregarde s/t lp (Jackpot)
Master of psychedelic boogie nightmares Larry Pitchford, a Portland, OR wrestler during the mid & late '60’s. Beauregarde trained in the Philippines, & once toured Australia with Killer Kowalski. During his reign, he dressed up as Napoleon, a pirate, a cowboy, Cleopatra (!), a blonde Elvis, a pilgrim, Julius Caesar, or just in fur & mutton chops, and made all of his costumes himself. Apparently though, Beau's real love (apart from greasing up & sticking his thumb in the throats of large men) was music. So when he heard a teenage Greg Sage (Wipers) playing guitar at a practice space, Beau instantly bulldozed the kid into playing hot Hendrix knockoffs & funk wacka-wackas on this album. Legit swagger & sharp production only serve to highlight the charm of Beau's tuneless but captivating voice. Timeless & endearing lyrics include exhortations to ball daily, or meditations on Janis, Jimi & Jim's mortality. Best line: 'But life became such a drag He finally shot up on his last bag.'
Black Seeds The Sound Trek lp (Now Again)
Winners of United States Army sponsored soul band battles that took place in Mannheim, Germany near the end of the Vietnam war. Military bands played for soldiers stationed overseas, but also at home for high school kids as part of recruiting efforts. Bands that won the contest were offered a recording contract & a tour of Europe (of the musical rather than the fighting variety- so winning got you out of combat service). The Army pressed up records of the two or three most popular bands each year & sold them at the barracks & recruiting centers. Spooky harmonies that are really dripping with incredibly heavy vibes (after all, everybody in the audience was playing the lottery with their lives), but also super tight funk meant to make everybody forget their troubles. Lots of amazing covers. Was previously available as part of the expanded 'East of Underground' set last year, and as these were more interesting musically, I'm glad to see them out on their own.
Black Task s/t lp (Radio Raheem)
Magnificent mid-80s tinny thrash/death metal from Philly, clearly recorded on a boombox, with a frequency response about two & a half hertz wide. Razor slashes up & down the strings, seemingly played by a troupe of tiny, meth-addled mice, plus loud, frustrated adolescent growling. Best lyric: 'You say we're not on the level... because we play for the Devil!' Comes with a poster (all the better to see the singer's fake eyepatch with), insert that reprints earnest reviews, plus notes that thank McDonalds & Slayer.
Blood Stereo The Larval Tuning Fork and Other Visions lp (Twisted Knister)
Remember when you were a kid and you got your first big hunk of bubblegum? Course after the first fifteen seconds the stuff always tastes like rubber tires. But what kid could care? Nah, you were hoping to get a huge-ass bubble going- something with a real sense of distention- that would plaster itself pink all over your hair and your clothes when it finally blew out. Dylan & Karen use tapes & toys & their mouths to bring you creaking doors, aviaries, doddering old ladies, a troupe of Muppets grunting & puking their guts out, some old drunk sailor squeezing a harmonium, etc. But what's important here is the overall bulge & slump as their record breathes, now bigger... now smaller... now bigger... and a little bigger still. Lately, they've been taking advantage of improved sound quality, but it seems to be in the interest of making things more slippery rather than less so (and if you listen to a lot of records, you know what a fucking blue moon that is). So go ahead & let them get a little bit of their saliva on you. It's the only way to find out whether they pop one off this time.
Borbetomagus/Voice Crack Fish That Sparkling Bubble cd (Agaric)
What happens when you drop a hummingbird into the Grand Canyon? Borbeto's colossal & roaring horror vacui meets the miniature cartoon sproingings of Moslang & Guhl. And by stupendous miracle, they make a gloriously happy couple. Squirting electronics bounce & zip around opaque blocks of overtone tussling, and you could drill into it every day for the rest of your life & never hit bottom. Adam Nodelman is on bass, but mainly unhearable. However, a short version of 'happy birthday' comes through relatively intact. Notes by John Corbett are also distinctly non-annoying.
Derek Bailey Incus Taps lp (Cortical)
Crinkly & tinny electric guitar spelunks that wig off like July sparklers, but also slow down for whippoorwill hoots of feedback. Could be anything from a thumb piano garroting a koto, to a mantis dancing on power lines, but most of the noises just come from one very grouchy guy's fingertips. A powerhouse of spiky, crimped prickles that leaves about 50 years of jazz tradition in the dust. Originally released as 4 different boxes of reel to reel tape & then collected onto a cd in the 1990’s, now on vinyl with locked bands at the end of each section.
Joseph Beuys/Nam June Paik Klavierduett cdr (Being Weird Isnt Enough)
Memorial concert for Fluxus' manifesto writer & de facto leader George Maciunas. Beuys and Paik put two pianos facing one another along with a couple of mics & an alarm clock. And until the bell rings, they're in freefall. Paik grew up with classical piano lessons, so he moves through some tone clusters, cracks minor chords open like eggs, & quotes WC Handy & Gershwin (which causes Beuys to lean into the microphone & hum 'Summertime' in an endearing, tuneless baritone). Beuys bangs happily on whatever's handy, blows on the mic, & eventually leans over with it to hit the piano strings directly. Paik & Beuys met in the early '60’s when Paik's family moved to Germany & he attended college there. Beuys was already a professor, being a generation older & famously having fought in WWII (although the oft told story about Beuys' rescue from a plane crash by Tartars who wrapped him in felt & fat is likely made up). Maciunas funded the first Fluxus concerts with a job as a designer for the US Air Force, stationed in Germany, so the two performers were some of his first cohorts. I suppose the concert is neither as perversely contrarian nor as anonymous as Maciunas himself would have had it, but it is rather melancholy & gentle, which befits both a memorial & Maciunas' decree that art interact with 'non art reality.'
Lo Borges s/t lp (Four Men With Beards)
The singer from Milton Nascimento's Clube da Esquina lp was 19 years old when he made both that album & this one. I think of this as the South American answer to Marvin Gaye's What's Going On: loose but still delicate, with a funky bottom end, sweet drizzles of angelic vocals. Lots of bossa/Tropicalia twists & turns too of course. Fascinating use of echoed-out harpsichord that doesn't use the typical Bach-like rhythm, but treats it like a giant harp or zither. Gorgeous.
Peter Brotzmann/Han Bennink Schwarzwaldfahrt 2cd (Atavistic)
Brotzmann & Bennink, both big German strongmen of estimable robust beardiness, take off for the middle of the woods & then proceed to throw tree branches at each other, head to opposite sides of a lake & blat clarinets, dip their horns in the water & play the lake, toot bird calls alongside the birds, and just generally have as much fun as any couple of drunk campers oughta. Beautiful as the sky. Comes with an entire disc's worth of bonuses.
Robbie Basho Seal of the Blue Lotus lp (Four Men with Beards)
Basho sets forth the twin poles of his musical personality right away on this 1st indelible record. He insists on talking as windily as possible, mentioning in the notes that 'The guitar is tuned in the color blue.' or 'The theme is poured out with Hindu flesh paints.' And those entirely overblown sentiments are instantly put to shame by the certainty of his fingers. Ideas that he stole from Ravi Shankar records sit easily against country blues bends. And though his rhythm isn't as metronomic as Fahey's, he's good enough that you can hear when he's thinking hard or when he's just having a blast. Can't think of a single contemporary acoustic guitar record that has the variety, glee, & drama of this classic 6 & 12-string slayer. Nice of the label to make the cover a paste-on, and they smartly didn't try to fix the freaky pitch change in the middle of 'Bardo Blues' either.
Billy Childish/Sexton Ming Dung Beetle Rolls Again lp (Damaged Goods)
Grump, anti-art artist & puerile surrealist Sexton Ming joins his cohort Childish in banging on boxes, injuring ukuleles/chord organs, & humming no-chord singalongs into cassette recorders. Their ability to poke blackhearted fun at defenseless animals, inanimate objects & elderly persons makes them the best duo to be birthed by the UK since Derek & Clive. A fine surprise, as it's their 1st new album in ten years, and it even includes a Doors & a Beatles cover. Time has only made Ming's voice wetter & uglier, & it couldn't be more gorgeous.
Bob Chance It's Broken lp (Trunk)
As disarming as it is disturbing, this is truly a perfect white guy come-hither record. If you're freaky enough. Gloriously inappropriate songwriting verve that recalls both the Beach Boys' Love You & Gary Wilson's You Think You Really Know Me. Irrepressibly sincere & vapid backing arrangements that range from innocent doo wop to roller rink disco, with organ & tiny little trebly drums. Bob has very, very hairy knuckles, but he nonetheless croons tenderly about rainbows, brown skin (he likes it... on his ladies... a lot), & gigolos who kidnap girls with pedo-vans.
C.O.B. Moyshe McStiff and the Tartan Lancers of the Sacred Heart lp+cd (Sunbeam)
Peerless & enduringly graceful, this is very likely the best folk record that was ever recorded & is so good that it spoiled me on the entire genre for a few years because everything else sounded like rotting garbage in comparison. Clive Palmer (COB stands for Clive's Original Band) founded the Incredible String Band with Williamson & Heron in '65, but went on an extended trip to India after the recording of their first album. When he got back, he decided not to rejoin them, but started a short string of his own bands instead. He finally hit the artistic brass ring with this 2nd COB lp, after which he didn't make another recording for 6 years. Crystalline songwriting that instills a hope so pure they ought to give out copies at Sunday school. A kaleidoscope of harmonies & dovetailing arrangements on organ, clarinet, dulcitar, whistle, violin, tabla, balalaika, bongos, banjo. John Bidwell & Mick Bennett, plus production duties from boring old fogey Ralph McTell.
Chico Magnetic Band s/t lp (No Smoke)
French band with a demented Tunisian guy fronting them & doing a pretty over the top fake Hendrix impression on vocals. Searing wah, phased EVERYTHING, a teensy bit of Beefheart (probably gained by way of Arthur Brown, for whom the band opened a couple of times), & odd drum solos thrown in. Produced by Jean Pierre Massiera. Chico was an outta control performer who played with a helmet full of exploding fireworks, threw chickens at the audience, took a bath on stage, & seems to have ingested piles of pills at some point or other. Great label, and they've got 6 bonus tracks & perfectly mangled English in the notes here as usual.
Circuit Rider s/t lp (Numero)
All the way from Norwalk Connecticut into your lacerated veins, comes Circuit Rider, and he is no more and no less than the traveling preacher you need. Most especially if you happen to be a meth-cooking, biker-mama-slapping, beer-shotgunning Jim Morrison fan who hasn't had a wink of sleep since Friday. Hard psych that's more WTF songwriting. Really glad to see this reished. Freetard rock ain't had it so good since the invention of the cigarette lighter.
Clothilde s/t lp (Born Bad)
Fizzy, dizzy French '60’s pop. Clothilde only released 3 singles, but they've got inventive, campy arrangements with unusual instrumentation. And if your French is good enough, you'll also notice some black-hearted, self-conscious lyrics. Behind the scenes, 19 year old Clothilde was merely pouting because her actress mother & TV journalist father pushed her into signing to Vogue. Worse, her 19 year old producer Germinal Tenas picked out all her songs, clothes & makeup. She wanted to be classy & authentic, with an acoustic guitar and bare feet a la Francoise Hardy. Luckily, her natural stubbornness helped her deliver the songs she was handed with even more vitriol. For a brief window before she got mad enough to quit, she was an accidentally perfect anti-ye ye girl.
Cromagnon Cave Rock lp (Jackpot)
Classic sick ESP title that sounds more like Chrome or Simply Saucer than anything that was happening in New York at the time. No wonder these freaks were holed up in Connecticut. Distortion, yammering, bag pipes, idiotic thump, and a big shitload of wacko. Story always goes that the two guys held day jobs as hack songwriters for some pop subsidiary (much like Lou Reed working for Pickwick), but nobody knows who. Rumors I have personally heard repeated about this record include: 1) it was the Residents, 2) it was the Red Krayola, 3) the back up band was a blues bar covers act that were friends with one of the two leaders & had no idea they were about to play avant garde music, 4) it was the Fugs, 5) the band went to San Francisco right after the sessions and died on the way when they did too many drugs while driving down the highway in their van. All that's known for sure is that they were from the 'burbs, saw an ad for ESP, called Stollman, and showed up on the day of the session. The earliest CD version of this had some very marked speed problems, but the version available here sounds peachy.
CS Crew Funky Pack lp (Cultures of Soul)
Cultures of Soul significantly steps up their game with this reissue of a mighty bizarre late 70s Nigerian funk bomb. As goofy as anything ever waxed by Parliament or the Village People. Amazing funk bass that's way up top in the mix & tight & uptempo horn sequences. Awful '80’s keyboards, but also a Moog borrowed from Jimmy Cliff. But the real WTF undoubtedly comes from the caricature voices of the Crew, with one guy as nasal as Lil Wayne, and another inhabiting some sort of awful Muppet hybrid (shades of both Cookie Monster & Animal). Notes written by the guy from Comb & Razor, who'll need all his literary prowess to bring you back to earth after you listen.
John Carpenter Assault on Precinct 13 lp (Death Waltz)
John Carpenter's best movie and simply one of the best soundtracks ever made in America. Carpenter's Western is set in an L.A. ghetto as burned out and emotionless as any desert. And the music matches its visuals in being unflinching. Utterly simple synths on the surface, which build with stark elements to an incredibly elegant relentlessness. Carpenter, on a tiny budget and also the film's writer & director, used older synthesizers that could only do a few things at a time. He & his art director got access to the equipment through his former university, and they were able to evince about 3 sounds over the course of 3 days. A metronome, a short, fuzzed out bass line, and a thin high drone. Carpenter mentions in the notes here that the handful of bass notes were meant to be in the same key as the high note, but an accident caused the topnote to be a single semitone too low. The harmonic tension which ensues is lobe tingling, and as the movie's plot cranks ever tighter, the elements of the soundtrack slowly converge into a single song.
Lula Cortes & Ze Ramalho Paebiru 2lp (Mr Bongo)
Throbbing jungle organ riffs, sudden barbaric fuzz nightmares, misty meandering non-songs with falsetto yowling, one or two cutesy classical guitar show-offs, and a smattering of kitchen sink flute, sax & hand drums. Track #5 is a flatout dead ringer for the Sun City Girls (hasn't anyone else noticed this?), and it's not even the best track on the album (that'd be #8, no contest). Most copies were burned in a warehouse fire right after the release, making this one of the rarest Brazilian psych records. Also one of the major reissues of the last 5 years (this version isn't any worse or better than the Shadoks one, by the way), in a world that's clogged with 'em.
See Angela's other entries of Weirdo assortments, covering letters D to F and letters G to I and letters J to L and letters M to O and letters P to R and the letter S and letters T to V and letter W to Z and compilations part 1
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