Monday, September 01, 2008

Brace Yourself for Stupid (no economics in this post)

From the Fall of 1993 to the Spring of 1995, my roommate at college was James Redd. James and I selected each other as roommates because we were both into music; he played guitar and I played keyboards. He had a four-track cassette recorder and a microphone.

Over those four semesters we recorded a lot of music. I mean, a lot of music. Most of it was crap. Some of it was intentionally crap. Sometimes we would write something intended not to be crap, but it would turn out to be crap anyway. Sometimes we would write songs trying to crappily imitate the style of a particular musician (I remember we tried to imitate, or ended up imitating, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Eddie Van Halen, and even Adam Sandler).

Sometimes, however, we would write something so gloriously weird that it was actually cool, in a crappy way. Or maybe it was crap in a cool way. Anway, it was.

For years this stuff languished on four-track tapes. Occasionally James and I would get together and rerecord something. We still plan on doing this occasionally (I would really like to rerecord "I'm Slowly Losing My Body Parts"). Recently, however, I dug out the old tapes, recorded them track by track onto the computer, digitally removed as much of the noise as I could, and remixed some of the songs.

The stuff I'm linking below is the interesting crappy stuff. I have not mixed the experimental stuff that didn't work out, or the songs trying to imitate real musicians (not yet, anyway). No, these are just the random, weird songs that we liked and that other people liked. Below you'll find a link to each song, along with a few words about them. They're all intended to be silly, surreal, and stupid. Many of the lyrics were assembled by literally stringing together random words. Do not look for any more meaning than is provided with each song.

Also, the sound quality is poor. There is only so much one can do to fix music recorded on a 4-track that was sloppily recorded as a joke to begin with. There are two songs in here that were digitally recorded more recently, so if the quality of the others bothers you, listen to those. Also, I mixed these using headphones, and subsequently found that they sound very different with speakers. I also forgot to check the level for consistency across tracks, so be ready to adjust your volume. These are only 128-kbps MP3s, so that may also affect quality.

In general, James is playing guitar, bass, and singing. I’m usually doing the drums (using a drum machine or keyboard) and playing keyboards, but some songs were entirely James.

A final warning. This is some F.U.S. (definition 4, also, warning: profanity).

I mean it. You've been warned. The music is not obscene, and no drug or alcohol use was involved in writing these songs. We're just weird people.

Dear Redd
The lyrics to this song were written by me and a classmate, Rebecca Jane Salter (who is now married and probably changed her last name, but I don't know what it is now). For some reason we wrote a letter to James, but we took turns writing each word. So I would write "Rutabagas" and she would write "gallavant", and so on. When I gave James the letter, he used the lyrics to make this song. The last line is supposed to say "Sincerely, Klinging Potatoes", but it somehow got cut off accidentally. You may hear some Primus influence here. This is one of many songs in which we tried to make the music as weird as possible--painful, even.

Also, this song is not from a 4-track tape. It's from a stereo mix, and I couldn't do much cleanup. Therefore this song may have the worst quality of all the ones in this batch.

Big Dog
This is yet another almost-painful song with random lyrics. You can hear James start to laugh at one point during the song (at the part about the lake on the side of the house). There is also a mistake during the song, when I screwed up the drums, and James was unsure what to do on the guitar, yet it comes out sounding like we did it on purpose (at the part about meeting the bear once in the past).

The heavy-metalish bit that appears twice in the song was part of our frequent mockery of heavy metal, with its fast half-step chords and overuse of double-bass.

Key Lime Pie
This song is actually interesting. There are augmented fourths everywhere, but it works somehow. The counterpoint between guitar and keyboard at the beginning, along with the offbeat bass, has always sounded really cool to me. Then there’s the bizarre guitar and bass during the main body of the song. My drum machine playing was sloppy here, but I still think it’s interesting.

There’s a lot of static on the vocal track, but I couldn’t get rid of it without affecting the reverb sound of the vocals. I like to think that this song is about someone who has gone insane thinking about his favorite dessert.

Some day we’ll rerecord this, and replace the “I like grunge” section at the end with something less dated. Maybe “I like salsa” or “I like hip-hop”.

At the very end of the song James makes a horrible scratching/squawking noise with his guitar. We actually ended most of our songs with this noise. I don’t really know why. For some reason, it’s not present in many of the songs linked here.

Birdy in a Tree
Remember how I said there are a lot of crappy experiments that didn’t work? I mixed one just so you could see what I mean. If anyone can think of a better word to describe this song than “stupid” let me know. Let me restate that no drugs were involved in the making of these songs.

The Polka
Having tried a variety of musical styles, we gave polka a spin. I think I have a better version of this somewhere. Our senior year we actually played in the coffeehouse on campus, and we used a computer to play many of our backup instruments (with Shelly Howerton helping out on Guitar on a few songs). Therefore we had to create MIDI files to manage a lot of the songs. I thought I had recordings with the MIDI versions of some of the songs, but maybe not. They’re higher quality and the instruments are in better sync, thanks to a click track. Oh well.

Wheels of Cheddar
This was one of my favorites. It’s fun to play, and to sing, and almost catchy. The lyrics crack me up, too, particularly the “’cuz you know what I’m sayin’” part, since no one has any idea what he’s saying.

At some point we decided that the song wasn’t weird enough, so we made up four words to say during the chorus: Zorlaf, Kipsrack, Elbleneed, Wollaf. We tried to make them sound like plausible words. Apparently that still wasn’t weird enough, because I put them in an audio editor, chopped them up, and played them at half and double speed at various points in the song.

You can also hear one of our recurring themes, “I”. For some reason many of our songs featured James saying “I”. Many of our songs also included the words “I’ve got”.

The mix suffers because some of the tracks were doubled up in order to make room for more tracks. I can’t do much with those combined tracks. Listen for the ZZ Top quote at the end.

I’ve Got
This is the song that features the most use of “I’ve got”. In fact, it’s all about things that we have, including a whale named Jerry and a field of liver. This is the second version of the song. The original was a slow-paced folk song. I think I like the original better, although I haven’t yet found the master tape containing it.

Toward the end of the song there seems to be some confusion about what exactly it is that we have. For example, we say “I’ve got a field of liver, and it has music in its dog (navel)”. This was in fact the result of an error in the original song, in which we got confused about the lyrics. The confusion resulted in two audio tracks with different lyrics. Rather than fix it, we decided it was funnier with the mistake. The same goes for the frog/house confusion.

Funky James
I think the volume is a bit high on this one, so turn it down. . James wanted to write a funk song, but we had a hard time coming up with lyrics. It’s hard to make a song out of things that rhyme with “funky”. There was a track of this song that had James rapping about how funky he was, but it is very improvised and not as funny as having him just say “funky James” over and over again, so that’s what I went with.

Orchestra in a Box, Part 2
I had an E-mu Proteus 1+xr Orchestral sound sample unit. It had tons of orchestral samples, and I wrote a stupid “classical” piece, which I can’t find at the moment. I don’t remember this at all, but apparently James rerecorded it as a rock piece. I must have participated, because I’m pretty sure that’s me playing keyboards. Or maybe I have the order backwards, and this came first, and the classical version came second. It’s embarrassing that I don’t remember this.

The sound quality is absolutely terrible. I suggest you skip it.

Satan is My Plaything
James and I recorded this a couple years ago using his professional equipment. Well, he did almost everything, really. I did help with the original version, so I guess that counts for something, right? Anyway, it’s a song that sort of trivializes Satan. He likes to play lawn darts (on your forehead), he has a secretary, and sometimes he’s out of the office.

The “fon please dle my buttock fon” thing needs some explaining. There is a Monty Python skit called The Dirty Hungarian’s Phrasebook. In it, John Cleese, playing a Hungarian with a flawed English phrasebook, tries to buy some tobacco, but instead ends up saying things like “My hovercraft is full of eels”. In another bit later in the show, another Hungarian says to a person on the street, “Please fondle my buttocks” and he is then given directions by a friendly Englishmen. James found this phrase hilarious, but it’s not weird enough. I put it in the audio editor and chopped it up randomly, and it became “fon please dle my buttock fon”. So the chorus to this song is really just an extremely obscure inside joke.

There’s More to Life than Beavis and Butthead
This was really just a stupid experiment to see if we could make a crowd by adding lots of vocal tracks, combining them, and then adding more tracks. It’s mostly Beavis and Butthead quotes, although I think it also has James and me reading from a textbook.

Flying Bears (original) and Flying Bears (updated)
I’ve saved the best for last. This song, for some bizarre reason, was really popular with my friends. I don’t know if it’s the idea of a flying bear, or the infantile voice James used, but they all loved it. My favorite part is the instrumental interlude.

The flying bear actually comes from Beavis and Butthead. James actually had a Beavis and Butthead book. In it Beavis says that his favorite animal is a flying bear. We thought this was hilarious, but what makes it even better is that in one episode, Beavis sees a bunch of dogs in a music video and refers to them as bears. So, in fact, Beavis’s favorite animal might be a flying dog.

There are two versions here. The original version is from the Spring of 1995, I think. I don’t think I actually did anything at all on this version. James even played the piano part. There is actually a third verse that is a bit off-color and not really very funny. Just as when we mixed it years ago, I cut out everything but the words “Flying bear”, but it’s hard to do this without it sounding cut off. That’s why it sounds strange toward the end.

The newer version was recorded on James’s fancy setup, and portrays some poor lounge singer who is apparently asked to play this song, and who does so using some kind of musical teleprompter, so that he is surprised by the stupid lyrics after he’s sung them. This version is, oh, about two years old.

That’s all for now. I may have more songs in the future.