This edition of BHYH features an array of artists from the realms of experimental dream pop, velvety vintage seductresses, and jangly, dirty guitar-based rock and roll. Check out what The Grumps are listening to lately—new release or otherwise!
Thanks to recent legislation banning electronic music events in several cities across Argentina, the EDM scene there has proven to be intensely popular and occasionally out of control, at once hugely mainstream and decidedly underground. Sometimes old-guard music fans and journalists like to throw out a “definitive” opinion that electronic music is “dying” due to that mainstream corporatization, but of course it’s at the more underground level where electronic music gets its edge. Complacently ignoring an entire crop of strange, under-known, and highly creative talent to prove some lame point just won’t do, so I offer you Argentinian artist O.L.I.V.I.A., who is flourishing right there at the DIY club level.
O.L.I.V.I.A.’s background in computer science proves this isn’t your typical dance music; her sound exists in a dreamlike future world that combines serene, slightly melancholy energy with experimental, invasive tech sounds (imagine indie pop radio in a Ghost In The Shell-type universe). With richly immersive vocals and mellow-moving beats juxtaposed with jarring industrial bursts, “OK” is the type of song that puts listeners through the emotional wringer — and we all come out better for it. Reminiscent of Enya by way of the late ’80s New Beat movement, think of this song as a deep tissue massage: painful, tenderizing, refreshing.
O.L.I.V.I.A.’s cassette 4K is currently available via Deathbomb Arc — elbee
KID CONGO AND THE MONKEY BIRDS, DRACULA BOOTS
Over ten years on, I keep returning to Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds’ Dracula Boots LP. Originally released on In the Red Records in 2009, this sophomore outing from the project featuring former Gun Club and Cramps guitarist Kid Congo Powers is almost something I count as their debut. While the band had recorded an album entitled Philosophy and Underwear for Trans Solar in 2005, it was with Dracula Boots that the psychedelic garage act really kicked off.
The dozen songs on this record immediately set the template for what would follow on the next three EPs and innumerable singles. As soon as Ron Miller rocks a funky drum fill, Powers’ guitar kicks in with a cyclical riff and Kik Solis’ bass begins throbbing. As soon as you hear it, the musical imperative to grind your hips seizes your body. As if in a trance, you begin to move and groove, replicating every nasty dance move you’ve ever seen in a grimy ’60s movie.
Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds play the music that I hear in my head whenever I’ve had a few too many and I’m weaving through my house in the dead of night. The whole house is dark and I’m trying not to step on a cat or trip over my own feet, so I’m slowly shuffling and sliding, afraid to lift my feet too high. As I shimmy along, I wish I could throw on a record and have a dance party in my living room before I crash out.
The dirty guitar riffs and electric organ accents which come to mind at these times always sound like Dracula Boots. The music isn’t dreamy or nightmarish, but it’s certainly woozy. Powers’ vocals are laden with reverb and thrown way back in the mix, acting as much as another instrument as a means to convey words.
It helps that the album’s as much a batch of lysergic boogaloo instrumentals as anything else. Even tracks with lyrics are minimal, and of the dozen songs on Dracula Boots, only two – “I Found A Peanut” and “Late Night Scurry” – really have any lyrics to speak of, and “Peanut” is a cover of a song by Los Angelinos, Thee Midnighters.
Sonically, “I Found A Peanut” is kind of out of step with the other songs, given that it’s far lighter and musically clean than the rest of the tracks Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds purvey on this LP. There’s minimal fuzz, distortion, or mind-warping audio trickery, but the pure nonsense of the lyrics, and the sheer ’60s hubris at writing a song so absurd and releasing it as a single makes it fit right in. The jaunty funk of it all fits right in with the later cover of Bo Diddley’s Black Gladiator cut, “Funky Fly,”and the dreamy weirdness of “Rare As the Yeti” and its stream-of-consciousness wordplay.
Appropriately enough for all these tracks, which seem like throwbacks, but also somewhat timeless, the album was recorded at the Harveyville Project. Located in Harveyville, Kansas, about an hour south of Topeka, the place consists of two former schools – Harveyville High School, built in 1939, and the grade school, built in 1954 – which were rescued and rehabbed by the Monkey Birds’ drummer Miller, along with his partner, Nikol Lohr, and turned into an artists’ retreat. It was in the gymnasium of the nearly 60 year old high school that Dracula Boots was recorded, giving it the massive reverb and decay which makes it feel so unique.
The band’s later albums – 2011’s Gorilla Rose, 2013’s Haunted Head, and 2016’s La Araña es La Vida – would go on to be quite different than Dracula Boots, with Haunted Head and La Araña leaning further into garage rock ‘n’ roll proper, and Gorilla Rose being the only album to really balance the earlier psychedelic dances and faster, punkier songs, There are a few glimpses of what once was on these later records, however, with Gorilla Rose‘s “Goldin Browne” maybe the apex of the swirling, spinning work began on Dracula Boots, and the title track to Haunted Head managing to perfectly mix creepy, rhythmic spontaneity with equally-deft lyrical stylings.
Half the reason I love this album is because, as insanely boogie-worthy as these dozen songs are, I’m reminded of every time I’ve seen the band live and watched them take “LSDC” or “Black Santa” and stretch them out from three to four minutes into six and seven minute jams that just melt brains. Those instrumentals are slithery and sinuous, but stretched out, you begin to doubt the nature of reality, wondering if you’re going to be dancing and sweating for all eternity, but ultimately quite all right with it.
You can purchase Kid Congo & the Pink Monkey Birds’ Dracula Boots directly from In the Red Records. — Nick Spacek
julie london, JULIE IS HER NAME
Ever since stumbling on Julie London through Spotify’s Late Night Jazz playlist years ago, she’s become the singer I revisit the most. In movies her atmospheric sound has been used to great effect. First there was the “Cry Me A River” number in The Girl Can’t Help It where she appears as an apparition in Tom Ewell’s house, disappearing and reappearing with a new costume change. More recently there was Greta where her track “Where Are You” served as the unofficial theme.
Julie Is Her Name effectively captures London’s midnight noir sound. Because the album barely clocks in past thirty minutes, you only get the best of a specific mood. That mood is easily summed up when compared to another album also released in 1955, Frank Sinatra’s In The Wee Small Hours. Both albums capture where your thoughts travel when you’re alone at three in the morning. They both sound like they were curated to be played at night in a dark room that smells like cigarettes and whiskey, preferably a cheap motel or a private detective’s office with a window that overlooks an alleyway.
Julie Is Her Name is the perfect album to score the haunting environment that begins to build after midnight. Some people embrace that atmosphere and others can’t stand being alone with their thoughts. This is a recommendation for introverts who are recharged by the shadows. — Emilio Amaro
Shilpa Ray and her Happy Hookers, TEENAGE AND TORTURE
I bet you’ve never thought about doing jazz hands to a punk song before, but here we are. Shilpa Ray’s record Teenage and Torture is filled with filthy ditties and shimmery odes to bad people and bad situations. It starts with a staticky rumble which leads way to a lithe guitar riff and an Indian American Woman from Brooklyn crooning about internet porn site camgirls, and it only gets weirder and faster and louder from there.
Shilpa sings these songs with seriousness and salaciousness, not afraid to be a little uncouth and a little ferocious. It’s hard to tell if she’s channeling Sinatra or Danzig at any given moment. Regardless, it only adds to the record’s unpredictability. Songs shift from shimmery, open chords and summery vocals, directly into driving basslines with distorted guitars and screamed vocals and then right back again. It’s disorienting and exhilarating.
You’ve got songs like “Genie’s Drugs,” a waltz about a terrible romance, and songs like “Stick It To The Women,” an uptempo groove about terrible rich women, and songs like “Requiem In A Key I Don’t Know,” a jazzy country song about a terrible regretful youth. I feel like you get the idea of what kinds of stories this album is about. Every song has a new feeling, a new groove, a new energy. And it’s all in service of telling stories about lives that never quite amounted to anything.
The album’s highlight, though, is the show-stopping “Erotolepsy”: it starts with an uptempo drumbeat backed by an accordion, and it crescendos throughout into total chaos at the end, taking scenic detours into cabaret-style verses and ripping punk choruses. If you ever thought to yourself “What would the Cramps sound like if they could really SWING?,” well, you have your answer now.
It’s hard to really get a bead on what Shilpa Ray is doing here. Is it swing? Is it punk? Is it jazz? Is it rock and roll? Is it the ’60’s beat? Yes. Yes it is. It’s also awesome, and unfortunately it’s also the final album by the Happy Hookers. Shilpa has released several records since this one in 2011, and while the weirdness and earnestness is retained, none of them have the raw, crusty, dirty energetic appeal of this record. It’s like Nellie McKay singing for the Stooges…which is something I never knew I needed, but I’m so glad it exists. — Tom Nix