As I mentioned in my last missive, the times are getting weird and folks are strapping on their aluminum foil hats, donning their chicken suits and arming themselves for the fight. I wish I could explain the recent rise in weirdness on the Democrats, but I fear they don't really have the fight in them. (I accidentally typed in the word "emocrats" - which led me to think about how 10 years down the line we will be resurrecting grainy YouTube videos of our candidates' awkwardly named bands playing to tens of people in the heartland. If only they still kick a molecule of eyeliner when their shaky hand is on the Bible at the inauguration. Will they have lasered off all those regrettable retro tattoos by then? Something to ponder) Any way, being one that is always willing to roll with the times when the times are rolling in the right direction, here are a couple footsoldiers in the battle of weirdness.
(Kill Rock Stars)
It appears that the odd bunch that is Deerhoof is truly taking advantage of the friend opportunities afforded them, for they are the buzz at the moment of this writing, being heralded as the finest band operating in the known universe at this moment. I say this is a bit strong since the Black keys still walk the earth, but Deerhoof is a lot of kooky fun. Unfortunately, the rather homgenous racial make-up of the indie rock pushes a band with an Asian singer into novelty territory, but consistently Deerhoof has alternately tightened and then loosened its game to rise above it. Here the garage-prog of their last wild outing is roped in a little, and it appears the songs have taken some time to ferment.
They charge out the gate like they are mid-chase scene with "The Perfect Me" jump-cutting among hyperkinetic bongo fury, synthetic glory chorus and the closest Stereolab would ever come to penning a roller skating jam. What I love about Deerhoof is that they manage to have 1000 things going on at any one time, but don't fall into the infinite scramble trap in which Mike Patton and John Zorn circle each other, holding their cartoon penises as lightsabres. Take even a pleasant number like "The Galaxist" which starts with twinkling pastoral guitars, devolving into a grungy workout until succumbing to an Autobahn-read krautrock jam at the end, all in two and a half minutes. My favorite example is "cast Off crown" whose opening sounds like one of those brilliant rock moments wedged inside a King Crimson or Yes song, a snippet where the architects of high art rock glance away from the orchestra sheet to the garage. It moves into a disjointed future beat with plaintive vocals intoning over it.
All folks with their eye on the wriggling worm of Weird Enlightenment circling the top of the pyramid, however, need room to move to really make the magic happen, and the band makes the most of the 11 minutes of "Look Away" changing among an array of low-key settings and spacey noise chambers. The track is like there are hundres of clocks connected to each other through faulty triggers, going off at the wrong time but somehow making their own sense. Gyorgy Ligeti, who fantasized about the poetry of broken machines in his Poeme Symphonique for 100 Metronomes, would've burned off some pounds on the treadmill with this on his iPod. Many artists are good for the scatter, but Deerhoof is one of the only groups around willing to connect the dots emerging from the mess, depicting something beautiful.
There is no 666 in Outer Space
But then, fuck beauty. I've known plenty of beautiful people and seen plenty of beautiful things that are not worth a damn. The wild mutants that proudly bristle their dorsal fins, raise their arms to expose their superfluous nipples - now that is interesting. Sacramento's Hella is such an evolutionary monstrosity. Each of the songs here rise out of chaotic racket, whistles and moans issuing from deep inside impenetrable haystacks of drums and virtuoso-gone-horribly-awry guitar runs. A friend of mine once, while enduring some horrible Throbbing gristle tape I felt it necessary to expose him to declare "This music sounds like much more fun to make than to listen to" and that might apply to Hella if you have a requirement for order and development.
Adding to the scramble is singer Aaron Hill's arena croon that falls between Freddy Mercury and Axl Rose propping up the songs, giving them some linearity. On my first listen, this was a deal-breaker. I am of the mind that I can think Mike Patton's bizzarro period is cool while still hating his faith No More work, and I thought a marriage of the two was what was happening here. On a second go around, listening to the anthemic "let the Heavies Out" I get it. This is operatic rock run through the prism of postmodernism, where everything comes into play but is safely channeled into its own thread. What Hella does is take those threads and weaves them into intricate tapestries of rock mayhem. Take "Hand That Rocks the Cradle" - you almost think that the old Danny Elfman, the one peoepl were scared of, returned for a moment to wreak some havoc for old time sake. (Oingo Boingo - there is a band I'd like to see give the reunion treatment a run for its money)
Most of the songs on There is no 666 in Outer Space sound similar, fitting the description above, serving as manic ambience from which the truly weird ones may emerge. "Anarchists Just want to Have Fun" is the kind of twisted bar band bluster that the Butthole Surfers made a career, sped up for modernity. The title track closing out this rat salad with magic mushroom dressing comes off like 4 or 5 commercials for 80s power ballads playing at the same time during a tremendous hailstorm. Or something like that. I don't know how to accurately describe the experience of Hella. Maybe distribute the Frank zappa catalog to a bank of stock cars with blown-out crappy stereos and tryto piece the songs back together as they fly past on the track. And include a moment where the entire racket stops and they kick out a 2112 era Rush jam for a second. Maybe. Maybe this hyperactive mess is what mosquitoes would make if guitars were available in their size. All know is I kinda like it a lot. Put this CD on and wait until most of the room clears, then draft the ones that remain for your Apocalypse team.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com