Overpowered by Funk
Selections by Devin Friesen
1. Caroliner – “Rainbow Day of the Terrible Cocksuns”
The video tells more than I could ever put into words. Caroliner formed in 1985, released an interesting album called I'm Armed With Quarts of Blood in 1986, and now the group says that all of their music was originally performed by a singing disembodied bull's head that existed in the 1800s. Oh, and Gregg Turkington (Neil Hamburger) plays drums!
2. The Gerogerigegege – Yellow Trash Bazooka
Formed in 1985 in Shinjuku, Japan, the Gerogerigegege (roughly translated: “Vomit Diarrhea Ha Ha Ha”) weren't necessarily as violent as say, the Hanatarash, but they were most definitely weirder, while also being noisy enough to garner comparisons to Merzbow/Masonna/etc. A common thread that links the Gerogerigegege’s songs is that every recording begins with a “ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR” count-in, and live performances would generally include on-stage masturbation (no, not guitar solos — more like, there's a member who just fucks a vacuum cleaner for a few songs). To analyze the sheer amount of bizarre recordings the band has issued would require an entire article, so here are three selections.
1985’s This is Shaking Box Music: You Are Noisemaker beat Merzbow's Merzbox to the noise-box punch by 15 years, albeit with far different content: Shaking Box Music was just 100 cassettes in a large metal box, which the consumer was to shake. Get it? Shaking Box Music: You Are Noisemaker.
1993's Night EP is a recording of a man poopin’ into a microphone for nine minutes. If you ever come across an actual vinyl copy, be sure to play it on 33 RPM for even more delightfully sludgy sounds.
My personal favourite would be 1993’s Yellow Trash Bazooka, which contains 80 “songs” that follow a simple formula: state the name of the song, yell “ONETWOTHREEFOUR,” and then play harsh noise for anywhere between three and nine seconds. The songs all start with the letter G, and the band proceeds to go alphabetically from “Gadget” to “Gynecologist”. “Gangbang,” “Gape,” “Gaping,” “Genderfuck,” “Get It On,” “Get Into Someone's Pants”, “Go Get Fucked,” “Glory Hole,” and the tender ballad “Go Star-Gazing” are some more highlights.
3. Macho Man Randy Savage – Be A Man
Perhaps not the weirdest musical content in comparison to the other entries here, but the circumstances surrounding the album are most definitely bizarre. 1980s WWF wrestler Macho Man Randy Savage releases a rap/rock album in 2003? Compared to other wrestling albums (i.e. Hulk Hogan's 1995 effort Hulk Rules), Savage’s take is far more hard-hitting, going so far as to include an incendiary indictment of the Hulkster on the title track (one small example: “Hollywood Hulkster you're at the end of your rope / and I'ma kick ya in the butt and wash your mouth out with soap”). Savage also makes sure to boast about how he nabbed a feature role in Spider Man.
4. L. Ron Hubbard - Space Jazz: The Soundtrack of the book Battlefield Earth
Beck isn't the only scientologist musician, oh no. Straight up, the founder of scientology released an album in 1982 that was intended to be a soundtrack to Battlefield Earth. I don't know how quickly you read, but I'd have to image skimming through most of the book in order to actually read the whole thing within Space Jazz’s 44 minute running time. “Teri the Security Director” is probably the most entertaining thing on here, featuring awful space synth, screaming, lasers, stock horror movie laughter (you know, that deep, hokey type) and some damn smooth jazz.
5. Puzzle Punks – Budub
Yamatsuka Eye (Boredoms) and Shinro Ohtake craft an album using nothing but children's toys. No further explanation required.
6. V/A - RRRecords 1000 Locked Grooves
7. Judy Dunaway – “Piece for Tenor Balloon"
Billing herself as “The Mother of Balloon Music,” Judy Dunaway creates music with, well, balloons. Her improvisations include pieces for “tenor balloon,” “bass balloon,” and even “reed balloon” (read: letting the air out in that screeching, horrible tone you may have inadvertently used to annoy your parents as a child while attempting to tie a balloon).
As you'd expect, the results are appropriately grating, although the manner in which she creates her music is genuinely unique — who else has released albums with nothing but the sounds of friction on rubber, breathing, or the odd popping of a balloon? Now that I think about it, that last sentence sounds frighteningly sexual — perhaps we'll hear some on the next Prince album.
8. Jud Jud - No Tolerance for Instruments
You know when Beavis and Butthead see a Metallica video or something, and then they start playing air guitar and going “dah-nahnahnah-nahnahnah”? Well, Jud Jud do the same thing, except for straightedge hardcore. Featuring Steve Heritage on “left jud” and B. Rousse on “right jud,” this is some truly furious stuff. The lyrics sheet that comes with their record is amazing. Fittingly, Kevin Stebner (Editor’s note: Bart Records founder and Devin’s roommate) introduced me to this one.
9. Jandek – “Overpowered by Funk”
Jandek himself is quite the weirdo, although in 2010 his story should be quite well known by now (you know, unknown dude self-releases tons of stark, desolate outsider blues music, never performs live, etc). However, this video of Jandek performing in his hometown on April 5th, 2009 just cannot be described in relation to three decades of outsider blues — dancing and making out at a Jandek show? Sure, why not.
10. Crispin Glover – “Clowny Clown Clown”
In 1989, actor Crispin Glover released The Big Problem Does Not Equal the Solution. The Solution = Let it Be. You might recognize Glover as George McFly in Back to the Future, or you may have seen that juicy YouTube clip of him freaking out on Letterman (which features a request for an arm-wrestling match, huge shoes, huge hair, bizarre pants, and a moment where Glover nearly kicks Letterman in the face). If Glover's persona wasn't enough, however, The Big Problem firmly places him in the weird category. “Clowny Clown Clown” was released as a single, and considering that the other songs on the album include a rap tune about masturbation, a Charles Manson cover, excerpts of spoken-word performances and a downright mental take on “These Boots Were Made For Walking,” a demented circus clown song seems like the most viable choice for a single... I guess.
Also, the album title was meant to be a riddle. There was a phone number printed on the CD, where the first however many people to phone in the correct answer would win some sort of prize from Glover himself.
11. Raymond y Miguel – “Zabadida el Mudo del Mambo”
Again, words cannot express. See you next time, Texture!
The top 10 questions I’ve received while working at Sloth Records
1. While standing in the middle of the newly relocated store: “Hey, did you guys move?”
2. “You guys sell hoodies, right? Do you have any Korn hoodies?” To steal a line from my co-worker Kevin, who’s way funnier than I am at the whole record store clerk thing, “Man, we JUST sold out! Just can't keep those things in stock.”
3. “Hey man, do you know how we can keep going upstairs to Goodfoot?” “You can't, they went out of business.” “Oh. So where can I find them?” “...They went out of business.” I got called a “fucking cock” for this one!
4. “Are you hiring?” No, 16 year olds, I know you think your knowledge of Interpol side-projects is impressive, but it’s not. We are not hiring you. Sorry.
5. “Can I get a discount for my good taste?” No, a handful of used hip-hop singles does not constitute 'good taste,' and I'll be the one to decide who gets a discount.
6. “Whoa, records! People still buy these?” No, the store has just been able to stay open for over a decade through the charming personalities of the staff. As a follow-up response to the next question that appears 90% of the time: No, I'm not going to buy your goddamn Abba LPs.
7. “Working here must be great. It's just like High Fidelity, right?” Go to the mall. (One person actually called me Rob Gordon a few weeks ago, it was endearing).
8. “Do you guys sell old-school records?” “Old school?” “You know, Michael Jackson.” Unsurprisingly, this was the day that MJ croaked.
9. After trying on two Motorhead t-shirts, a studded wristband, and a Motorhead belt buckle, complete with hilarious muscle flexing in the mirror: “So, which Motorhead album should I buy?” This same guy also asked me if we had a changing room, to which I could only say, “No, we’re a record store.”
10. “How come I haven't heard of any of these bands? Where do you keep all the top 40 singles?” See #7. Also, go run blindly into traffic. (Thanks for buying all those terrible overpriced Killers and Coldplay 7-inches, though!)
The retirement plan
Traveling back with Travis Morrison 10 years after Emergency & I
RETIRED. No shows, no records, no band. According to his website, former Dismemberment Plan frontman Travis Morrison is just relaxing in Brooklyn, with no musical ventures on the horizon. Whether or not this is a permanent musical retirement or just a relaxation hiatus is yet to be seen, but regardless, now seems like a perfect opportunity to write about two things. First, the Dismemberment Plan's opus Emergency & I turning 10 years old this October, and second, re-writing history's underrating of Morrison's two solo records, Travistan and All Y'all.
In 1993, four guys in Springfield, VA (right near Washington, DC) formed a post-punk band with a name taken from Harold Ramis' 1993 film, Groundhog Day ("He comes to me and buys whole life, term, uniflex, fire, theft, auto, dental, health, with the optional death and dismemberment plan ..."). Over the next 10 years, they would go on to release four albums (five if you count the fan-made Peoples History remix album), an EP on a major label which promptly dropped them afterwards, several compilation tracks, a few singles, and a split with Seattle's Juno.
Their first two albums — 1995's ! and 1997's Is Terrified — may as well serve as an explanation of the Dismemberment Plan's sound. The exclamation point indicates the energy and catharsis the band worked with, while "Is Terrified" indicates how nervous and neurotic they could be. Many bands could cite the Talking Heads as an influence, but the Dismemberment Plan went beyond just the sound, channeling their own nervousness in a way that would make David Byrne proud.
The Dismemberment Plan were eventually signed onto the major label Interscope, where they released The Ice of Boston +3 EP. They were then promptly dropped. Interscope must've kicked themselves later, because on October 26th, 1999, the Dismemberment Plan released Emergency & I, an astounding album that managed to shoot its way into the embrace of fans and critics everywhere. Emergency & I even made it into the top 20 of Pitchfork Media's "best albums of the 1990s" list two months before the '90s ended.
But why? On paper, a melodic post-punk album released right before the turn of the millennium doesn't sound like anything special. Indeed, writing about what makes Emergency & I so special is a difficult task, but for me, I think it's how well it embodies post-secondary/20-something alienation and anxiety. Musically speaking, the album jumps around with ease, but there's a skilled lyrical focus courtesy of Morrison that manages to be equal parts sci-fi weirdness, dorky yet poignant introspection, and downright visionary beauty. At least half of these songs could be expanded into short stories (in the case of "Memory Machine", I'd like to see a sci-fi novel), but each one has something profound. I could go at length, posting example after example of lyrics, but I'll try to keep it to the essentials.
"The City" paints the most vivid portrait of urban loneliness and boredom I've encountered, offering up small details such as "now I notice the streetlamp's hum, the ghost of graffiti they couldn't quite erase, the blank-faced stares on the subway as people go home." "Spider in the Snow" is along the same lines: "from the age of 20 to 22 I had five friends, none of whose names I can recall." "Memory Machine" examines eternal life and computers, noting humourously at first that "eternal life ain't such a bad gig / smoke all you want and see the planets," and then "if they can make machines to save us labor, someday they'll do our hearts the very same favor," asking why suffering seems mandatory for the concept of the soul. "Back & Forth" could be published as a work of prose. However, before things get too deep, "Girl O'Clock" is about, well, wanting sex. "Tick-tock, you don't stop".
It's this balance between the personal (see "What Do You Want Me To Say?" or "Gyroscope" — "happiness is such hard work and it gets harder everyday, and it can kill you, but no one wants to be that tacky about it") and large-scale science fiction ("8 1/2 Minutes" combines Gang of Four style guitars with a tale about the end of the world due to, err, nuking the moon) that makes Emergency & I so interesting.
Not to discount the music itself, mind you! Drummer Joe Easley should be given a medal for his work — "The CIty" and "Girl O'Clock" should have made every hip "dance-punk" band from the following handful of years hang it up before even starting. Bassist/keyboardist Eric Axelson could make a dry speech sound groovy, and his understated bass grooves on "A Life of Possibilities" and "Back and Forth" are addicting. Guitarist/keyboardist Jason Caddell's work with sinewy guitar lines, thick synth textures, noise, atmosphere, and just about anything else made the Dismemberment Plan's sound rich and colourful. Travis Morrison remains at the centre of the band, however. His voice was perfect for the group — awkwardly confident, nerdy yet hip, charmingly nervous — it's all of these things and more.
I didn't hear Emergency & I when it originally came out, but when I did first hear it about five years ago, I was immediately taken. Today, it still sounds fresh, and I've probably listened to it a few hundred times. 10 years after its initial release, Emergency & I still sounds more than just great — it sounds important. Any question as to whether Pitchfork Media's huge amount of hype for the album was just a temporary media surge should be dispelled by now — the album stands out by its own merits, although the press it received at release gave it the attention it deserved. It's also worth noting that it was proof of how much power Pitchfork Media (as well as how sheep-like their readers can be, but we'll get to that) has on music — Emergency & I is an amazing album on its own, but its audience was increased vastly by the popular online magazine.
Which brings me to Travis Morrison's solo career. After building up the Dismemberment Plan in 1999, Pitchfork tore it all down in 2004 upon the release of Morrison's debut solo album, Travistan. The album received a 0.0/10, a rating that would indicate that it contained absolutely nothing worth of merit. Negative reviews are published all the time, but rarely are they as devastating as Pitchfork's destruction of Travistan. The album was actually blacklisted from certain record stores as a result, and Morrison had promoters cancel shows on him.
Travistan was not on the same level as the Plan's Emergency & I or the nearly-as-good 2001 followup Change, but it was definitely not an album which deserved universal panning because of one online powerhouse review. I will agree that the lyrical focus on Travistan is a bit blurry, and for the first time Morrison penned some lyrical nadirs, but saying the album has no worth whatsoever was beyond ridiculous. "Change" was being played live by the Dismemberment Plan in 2003, and it fits naturally as the first real song on the album. "My Two Front Teeth II & III" could probably do without the last minute or two, but until then, it's a quirky tune that manages to find charm in getting one's teeth knocked out. "Any Open Door" is a more somber tune that Morrison does quite well, and the secret track at the end, "Represent", is flat-out essential.
On the flipside, all four "Get Me Off This Coin" interludes are more embarrassing than anything, and songs like "People Die" and "The Word Cop" aren't charmingly awkward so much as they're just awkward and not really all that good. This is still a far cry from a "worthless" album as the 0.0 review would point out, mind you. Because of the poor sales and critical blacklisting, it's pretty easy to find Travistan in discount bins, and I'd say it's worth a gander. Ignore the 0.0 — it was an unfounded blow that only provided a boost to Pitchfork's reputation, at the cost of one of the most exciting songwriters of the past 10 years.
Morrison's 2007 followup All Y'all (credited to the Travis Morrison Hellfighters) was a better effort than Travistan, and again, undeserving of its low Pitchfork rating (4.5 this time). I would actually recommend All Y'all, as it's a very fun post-punk party album. Morrison's lyrics haven't gotten much better ("You Make Me Feel Like a Freak" and "Catch Up" are pretty bad, admittedly), but it's very hard to deny infectious songs like "As We Proceed" (which features a very catchy guitar line and varied percussion), "Hawkins' Rock", and "Just Didn't Turn Me On".
It's not an essential album like Emergency & I, but it's definitely an enjoyable album by a man who knows his craft. All Y'all definitely sounds more extroverted than anything else Morrison has done, which in turn makes it more accessible. It's not all party anthems, though — the quiet "East Side of the River" sounds like a sibling song to "Spider in the Snow" or "The Jitters", and that's a very good thing.
If Morrison never makes another song, at least he's left us with a masterpiece in Emergency & I, a near-masterpiece in Change, the rest of the Dismemberment Plan's excellent catalogue, and two solo albums that were unfairly judged. If he does ever return to music, it's a shame that the 0.0 Pitchfork branded on Travistan will loom over everything after it — with All Y'all as proof, Morrison knows what he's doing, but he's got one hell of a media hump to climb over. It's unfortunate and unfair, but at least Morrison has earned his relaxation time. His website even says to befriend him on Facebook — I'm still waiting for him to confirm my friend request, though. Oh well!
"So in the end, whatever, we die, we dissolve, equations unbalanced, riddles unsolved, and we were never connected or involved except for the intersections and crazy mathematics with no time and no space and no schedule and no place — and we pass right through it without a trace. And sometimes that music drifts through my car on a spring night when anything is possible and I close my eyes and I nod my head and I wonder how you been and I count to a hundred and ten because you'll always be my hero, even if I never see you again."
- "Back and Forth", closing song on Emergency & I
Self-confessed fanboy offers a map into the mind-melting world of Oneida
Oneida formed in Brooklyn, New York in 1997. Over the past 12 years, they have morphed and progressed through many different styles of rock music, including avant takes on garage rock, an ironic take on riff-heavy arena rock, mind-melting psychedelia, krautrock, noise, baroque pop, drone, and any bizarre amalgamation contained therein. On July 7th, Oneida are set to release their first triple LP, Rated O. The second album in a triptych of releases entitled "Thank Your Parents", Rated O is a remarkable achievement of experimental rock, and a rare example of a triple album that's not completely overblown and loaded with filler.
However, with Oneida's discography now hitting 10 official full length releases (plus a handful of EPs, split releases, and singles), as well as a constantly evolving sound and fascination with repetition, it can be tough to pinpoint a definitive starting point — or primer, if you will — to Oneida's sound. Rated O is an excellent album, but to the uninitiated, it may be too much to start with.
Today, Oneida's sound owes much to the forward-thinking krautrock of groups such as Can, Faust, and Amon Duul II. 2008's Preteen Weaponry, the first entry of "Thank Your Parents", was a 40-minute composition in the vein of these groups, but with a distinctive neo-psych influence that made the album sound distinctly original for 2008, as opposed to being indebted to the early '70s. Rated O builds on this, adding more dynamics and even more original sounds to their oeuvre, making Oneida one of the most exciting and unique psychedelic/experimental bands of the last decade. This is likely due to the fact that the band draws on more than just the krautrock sound. They have also taken the forward-thinking attitude of the music to heart, refusing to wallow in kraut-revival and instead use it as a push-off point for their own distinctive sound.
In the late '90s, Oneida's sound was more indebted to scrappy garage rock, but while retaining an experimental sense that had yet to be honed. Their 1997 debut LP, A Place Called El Shaddai's, is an uneven album that has a few moments that foreshadow the brilliance that would come, but was mostly unremarkable (it is worth noting, however, that El Shaddai's is the only album to feature the band member's actual names). 1999's Enemy Hogs was a better effort, and is also the first album to feature Oneida's distinctive keyboard sounds — a testament to their songwriting, as it's extremely rare for a band to have keyboards be a central instrument and not sound completely ridiculous.
One year later, however, Come On Everybody Let's Rock was released on Jagjaguwar. Their psychedelic influence was audible in a very abrasive cover of the 13th Floor Elevator's "Slip Inside This House", but true to the album title, the songs featured infectious arena-rock riffing with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour that made the album's sweaty rock music endearing and fun, as opposed to embarrassing (the lyric "I'm getting higher than the rising sun", from "Doin' Business in Japan", comes to mind).
2001's Anthem of the Moon is one of the better starting points to Oneida's discography, as it contains the most equal balance of noise-rock antisocialisms, psychedelic jams and more "normal" rock moments. It also helps that some of their more accessible (and, quite frankly, best) songs are on the album, such as the noise-pop of "All Arounder", the all-out epic noise rock jam "Double Lock Your Mind", and the original krautrock of "People of the North". It's not necessarily their most consistent album, as a few songs run a few minutes too long, but the best moments are infectious and create a window into the rest of their discography.
2002's double LP Each One Teach One is most definitely not a good place to start with Oneida, but given enough time and patience, it reveals itself to be a masterpiece. The first disc contains two songs, both extremely polarizing due to their length and fascination with repetition. "Sheets of Easter", possibly Oneida's most famous song, is a 14-minute mind-melter built upon drummer Kid Millions' endlessly pounding beat, Bobby Matador's keyboard hammering, Hanoi Jane's minimal distorted bassline and the chanting of "light" over and over.
The song hammers these elements into the ground and then continues to beat them over and over, only taking breaks every five or so minutes for a brief breakdown before resuming the original groove. It's oddly hypnotic, and if you listen closely, there is a lot more than just a two-note repetition for over 14 minutes. However, this combination of willful abrasion and ruthless repetition is almost impenetrable to anyone unfamiliar with either Oneida or their influences, and hence, it's not a good starting point. The second disc contains songs with more "regular" lengths, but they are no less abrasive. On Each One Teach One, Oneida's mixture of psychedelia, noise and consistent experimentation was at a prime. It's a difficult listen, but the rewards are remarkable.
2004's Secret Wars is possibly the other good starting point to Oneida's discography, as it also contains a healthy balance of experimentation to accessible rock music. Over eight songs, it contains stoner jams, drone, tape experiments a 14-minute psych-rocker and one of this writer's favourite songs, "$50 Tea". The shorter length of Secret Wars also lends itself quite well to new listeners, so consider it if Oneida piques your interest. Also, the Nice./Splittin' Peaches EP was released a few months before Secret Wars, and it acts as a nice addition, including another psych-jam in the 15-minute "Hakuna Matata" (no relation to The Lion King).
2004 was the last year (at least for a while) that Oneida was consistently abrasive in their music. 2005 brought us The Wedding, Oneida's first foray into baroque instrumentation. The Wedding is far from abrasive, and could also be a decent entry point into the band, although it's not very indicative of their sound as a whole. It is definitely a good album, however. The string section lends itself well to the avant-pop Oneida was writing at this time, and on tracks such as "Lavender", it sounds completely natural amongst propulsive rock energy. Previous experiences with baroque instrumentation in the rock setting have proven disastrous, but somehow, The Wedding makes it sound natural and exciting.
2006's Happy New Year is a sort of continuation from The Wedding, but it trades the string section for some electronics and the quieter moments of some '70s rock. It's not as turgid as Led Zeppelin or anything, mind you — it's just a friendly album. "Up With People" is worth noting, as its eight-minute running time flies by in what seems like half of that, due in part to Kid Millions' scrappy-yet-precise four-on-the-floor beat, and the best keyboard riff the band has ever written. Other songs explore acoustic instrumentation and unique percussion, all while retaining an accessible edge that seems sincere and not pandering.
With this all said, it may still be easy to be confused by Oneida. They use fake names, they run their own label (Brah, under Jagjaguwar), and the only bands they can really be compared to are also quite distinctive and hard to explain — for contemporary examples, think Trans Am and Liars, and you'd roughly be in the same ballpark, but still not quite there. But this much is clear: Oneida are one of the most innovative and exciting bands of the past decade. The "Thank Your Parents" triptych will still have one more album in it after the triple-LP assault of Rated O, and if the last batch of LPs they've released have been any indication, their creativity could be endless. One hopes that Rated O could be the album to bring them out of being criminally unknown, but even if Oneida remain a band for only music nerds and record store clerks to know, at least their music continues to be innovative and exciting.
*By the way — it's pronounced "oh-nye-duh.”
Oneida for beginners - a recommendations map:
- Start with: Anthem of the Moon and/or Secret Wars.
- Then go to: Come On Everybody Let's Rock and Happy New Year.
- After that: Each One Teach One and The Wedding.
- From there onwards, you'll be fine with anything — especially Rated O.