Theophanes is a New-England-based blogger, traveler, writer, photographer, sculptor, and lover of cats.
So my brother is not the most technologically savvy person but he likes music, new music, music that no one else really bothers to listen to. His problem is that he has no idea how to use the internet or anything else to find new bands so I figured for Christmas this year I’d give him a sampler. It’s rather old fashioned I know… but I think it could be fun. Even more fun is writing this article where I will be linking all the music I am mentioning for others to explore.
Now just as a warning there’s no real pattern to the music myself and my boyfriend listen to. If anything it’s a psychotic mix of well-known and completely unheard of harmonies and complete dissonance. Sarcasm also has a very happy home within our collection as we both seem to seek it out fairly frequently. I have decided to write down my journeys through the deranged, the cute, the detestable, the offensive, and the completely baffling. So here we go!
Now I admit when I first met my boyfriend I wasn’t really listening to anything that wasn’t produced in the 1960’s or by someone who didn’t have their start then. I loved the passionate 60’s rock that mirrored the turbulence of the era and the complete and utter fluff that just makes you turn to a puddle of mush. It didn’t matter. I start here because this is what my brother, in part, also listened to growing up. He loved Pink Floyd, The Who, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Queen, and Ozzie Osborn. He taught me how to sing Another Brick in the Wall when I was five. That wasn’t creepy. Not at all.
So I would have to reach into some of my stranger lesser known classics for this adventure. I turned to one of my all-time favorite bands – the Kinks. Sure everyone knows the grungy sound of You Really Got Me and the weird offbeat eccentricity of Lola, but there were so many other great songs no one ever bothers to mention! I added a few of my favorites. How, for instance, could I not share the biting lyrics of Alcohol?
“And his selfish wife's fanatical ambition,
It turned him to the booze,
And he got mixed up with a floozy
And she led him to a life of indecision.”
You might argue that’s somewhat sexist but I believe I’ve met some of the women this song is based on and I beg to differ. Either way I love anything that’s socially eviscerating. And then of course I had to add Ducks on the Wall – because it’s so completely random just the title alone often sends me into a fit of childish giggles.
For the sake of not boring my audience I’ll skip the other well-known oldies for now and showcase some of the newer and possibly more psychotic music my boyfriend introduced me to. Recently he’d bought a CD titled A Dark Cabaret 2 and it had an adorable song on there about a haunted phonograph, sung in typical swinging 20’s style, relating how man was haunted and then eventually sucked into the horrible machine and turned into a record. It was quirky, and cute, and in its own way lovable so The Haunted Phonograph, sung by Thou Shalt Not made it to my list.
Similarly I knew my brother liked Hell by the Squirrel Nut Zippers but he had no idea what it was. I added that as well as The Ghost of Stephen Foster, which is strange and rambling, and Good Enough for Granddad, which in all descriptions can only be considered adorable. And since we were on this Swing thing I also decided to add a very talented Dutch singer (singing in English) who has yet to hit the American markets, Caro Emerald. Her That Man and Dr Wanna Do seemed perfect for the job.
I think the only other Dutch music I incorporated was actually from a South African band, Die Antwoord (The Truth.) The band currently is being criticized for being intensely racist dressing in a tar-faced monkey suit for one of their music videos. My only answer to that is, “You expect a completely tweaked out band from some South African ghetto not to be racist??” Wow. I can’t say I am fond of any of their music… being as it’s a weird mix of Ebonics-like English and really bad ghetto Dutch slang. It’s enough to make anyone’s head implode. Plus if you can understand them most of their songs sound like this, “something something BOOB! Something something COCK! Something something TITTIES!!” Really the only amusement I get out of it is watching the videos with other people watchers and trying to guess which cocktail of drugs they’re on. Still, if you want to hear some rather different rap-like shit check it out. I Fink U Freeky. (And if you’re the sort of twisted freak that wants to see the tar-faced monkey suit that would be in Fatty Boom Boom, a song whose title is also in no way completely racist.)
But enough of the Dutch influences. We should check out some more local music that we’ve found. We were really startled by Humanwine when we saw them first as a warm-up act for another band. Their lead vocalist has a range in her voice that is stunning and a passion that practically made the whole room feel like it was ready to explode. That day I was super tired and sitting on a ratty sofa in an overstuffed room in the middle of summer. The heat was lulling me to sleep when I woke up to, ironically enough, Wake Up. Whoa! I was awake after that! I added two more favorites, Rivolta Silenziosa, and the weird pirate chantey Dim Allentown Cove.
Of course the singer we had actually gone to see that night was another underground artist, Jason Webley. He’s an interesting fellow… The line I remember hearing first was, “If my cat looks scared it’s because it knows it won’t be going to heaven…” That was from Eleven Saints, the cutest Kafkaesque song you’ll ever hear. But here too I couldn’t ignore Icarus, or While the Sky Crashes Down. The first time I went to see this guy sing I 1) Had no idea who he was 2) Was wondering why we were loitering in a big house that I was fairly certain was some sort of hippie commune. It was all in good fun.
So was the next date. We went to Amanda Palmer’s production of Cabaret. Imagine how tickled pink I was to know my boyfriend had nooo idea what he was bringing me to. It was amazing, you got to give it that, and since then I have become rather fond of Amanda Palmer’s psychotic style. She’s most known for Coin Operated Boy but I am far more thrown off by the intensity of Runs in the Family and Leeds United. I sort of had to stop here in her early years because since then she’s released a bunch of other amazing and constantly evolving music both solo and with the help of other crazy personalities, most of which are phenomenal.
Another band I recently took a liking to was A Perfect Circle. Their album eMotive gently introduced me to their music by letting me listen to covers of protest songs, some of which were from the 60’s that I was already very familiar with like Imagine, What’s Going On, and Fiddle and Drum. After I had totally fallen for those the others were just as amazing, from the creepy and quiet Annihilation, to the haunting People are People, to the passionate, chaotic, and loud Counting Bodies like Sheep. I have always loved protest songs and these were not the only ones to make my list. The disturbingly cheerful sounding Outside a Small Circle of Friends and Draft Dodger Rag by Phil Ochs made it as well. So did Eddie Vedder’s version of the old Bob Dylan classic Masters of War. On a different note I couldn’t resist adding Jackson Brown’s updated version of Crow on the Cradle which at first sounds like a lullaby until you hear the lyrics and start sobbing like a baby. They’re all beautiful in their own ways.
Crazy angry music (whose lyrics are actually still able to be hear plain and clear) is hard to find in the states today. So it’s sometimes easier to take a look across the pond. The New Model Army caught my attention with energetic songs like The Charge but if you really want goose bumps try some of their quieter music by listening to Someone Like Jesus. There’s nothing quite like raging whispers to make the hairs on your neck stand up. My boyfriend said he’d gone to see the band perform when he still lived in Europe. I asked what they looked like, “Like the embodiment of Manchester United.” Of course my response to that was typical of any American, “Who is Manchester United?” “You know! The soccer thing?” A blank stare. “Ugh. He looks like a soccer fiend.” “Ooooh. What does a soccer fiend look like?” Such trivial conversations often end in many sighs.
Another UK favorite is Franz Ferdinand. I like to call them my shit-cleaning music because whenever I have a job I just don’t want to do I put on one of their vinyls and then start ricocheting off the walls in a music-induced frenzy. I can’t get enough of Ulysses, The Dark of the Matinee, Van Tango, or Katherine Hit Me. Of course with a band seemingly dressed as Teddy Boys (think A Clockwork Orange) it’s not much of a surprise there are weird fleeting references to sensual hurting flecked throughout. This could be disturbing or just perversely funny. Depends who you are I guess. And if you’re still in the mood to bounce until you drop from exhaustion you can’t go wrong with How Much is the Fish? Yes, it’s German techno music. I dare you not to bounce. I DARE YOU. I don’t even like techno music and I’m bouncing!
And speaking of sarcasm, I do love the stuff. I have some older sarcasm in the form of Tom Lehrer classics like My Home Town, Smut, When You are Old and Gray, and We Will All Go Together. He was spot on, political and feisty, and depressingly enough, still has valid points. SIGH. Alongside this academic sarcasm there is also sillier sarcasm. For instance who wouldn’t love to hear the bizarre Wizard of Oz inspired rambling of Existential Blues or the weird thickly accented Scottish version of Rawhide? The Scotsman Kilt is equally amusing in its story telling. However I will always have a soft spot in my heart for the long intro to Chuck Berry’s beloved My Ding-a-ling. Of course if you’re a more twisted sort of individual you might die laughing to A Christmas Duel by Cyndi Lauper and the Hives. It’s one of those weird, “Holy crap, so this is why I forgot the 80’s” sort of songs. I also added Oogie Boogie’s Song from A Nightmare Before Christmas because it is seriously the most sarcastic tone of voice I have ever heard anyone sing. While we’re at it I will add Kidnap the Sandy Claws because it’s also funny.
Henry by The New Riders of the Purple Sage is an old but fun one – particularly amusing to stoners. Fruitcakes by Jimmy Buffet is more exasperation over crazy people but I can’t help but love it. And then for real shits and giggles I added A Freak Like Me Needs Company from the Spiderman musical… it is so preposterously corny that I think it found a new height of kitsch. And then a little Rammstein, Amerika, because angry Germans expressing dissent over Americans is just… well also depressingly funny. And no, I cannot understand a word they are saying and nope, that doesn’t matter at all. While we’re on the angry possible sarcasm I can’t help but think everyone should listen to Primus sing Here Comes the Bastards. It’s a good way to reduce stress.
I think I’ll leave off this article with some more odd lesser known music. One is more of a composer than a band – Ayreon. It’s one guy who brings together many singers, musicians, and wonderfully amazing lyrics to tell a story through the collections of songs. Connect the Dots will remain my favorite here, my boyfriend is more fond of Loser. Both of us are really enjoying a new local find, Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys. With weird references to fairy tales he sings songs like Baba Yaga, Rabbits in the Death Bed, No Room, and Off with her Head, he’s interesting to say the least. I am also torn by the passion of Cataclysm and the general strangeness of Sam Hall.
I think I will stop my music sampling for today. I have hit my boyfriend’s collection of whiney lesbian break up music and I cannot bear to listen to any of it to see if it’s worthwhile. Don’t get me wrong, by the way, I have nothing against lesbians and I know some of them can make damn good singers, but for some strange reason when you add a break up to the mix all that comes out is a 20 minute long solo about how cheated said whiney singer feels. It’s dreadful. Like a root canal for the ears. I just can’t take it. I don’t know where he finds this “music,” sometimes I accuse him of googling, “Overly emotional lesbian singer” to get these little gems but I digress. I hope you've enjoyed joining me on my little rummage. See you all the next time I feel like writing a long babbling article abut nothing. Cheers!
Theophanes Avery (author) from New England on December 19, 2012:
Well, good luck with them! Let me know if anything catches your ear. :)
Kathi Mirto from Fennville on December 18, 2012:
Darn, you got me wanting to hear some of the tunes, I really like the kinks and pink floyd, can't get into some of the creepy new stuff.