Austin singer, songwriter and artist Daniel Johnston's six-album box set is due on June 22 (via Munster Records). Johnston became the musical and artistic elite's best kept secret in the early '80s; he self-distributed a series of home-recorded songs embellished with crudely drawn, bug-eyed alien creatures. These recordings focused on issues of religion, wickedness and Johnston's relentless infatuation with a female classmate at the art college he attended. They were comprised solely of his squeaky voice accompanied by a whiny organ, out-of-tune piano or a cheap acoustic guitar. He wasn't good in any commercial sense. And his songs, though simultaneously crude, and bizzare, were also witty and heartfelt. Eventual fans included Tom Waits, Kurt Cobain, Sonic Youth and Matt Groening.
A documentary entitled The Devil and Daniel Johnston was released in 2005 and chronicled the singer's rise to prominence as well as his battle with mental illness. The film demonstrated how a confluence of factors can converge during the career of the most unlikely artists to produce something unique and remarkable. People have different names for this phenomenon. Some call it outsider art, others call it novelty.
After listening to music for years, some of us become bored when even cutting-edge stuff begins to sound stale and predictable. Ultimately like degenerate sex-addicts, some are compelled to assuage this affliction and seek fullfilment in stranger and stranger places. Here is a short list of some artists who don't always adhere to the standards of the rock and roll field manual. Perhaps, they all go for an easy thrill utilizing musical stunt work. Yet they all manage to wow an audience, if not for their commercial prowess, at least as a result of the inherent "WTF" factor in their songs.
Currently on tour with Ben-Folds, this girl can wail. And wail she does-- at times like a torch songstress, and at others like an operatic virtuoso. Here she is doing her version of Britney Spears' "Toxic."
3) Ben Folds
I know misogyny is a sin, but Ben Fold's reimagining of the Dr. Dre classic "Bitches 'Aint Shit," is sonic wizardry. Dig the "guitarmy." Who wants to see this guy produce the rock opera he's supposedly been mulling over for years?
These guys are so strange, yet they've managed to cull a sizeable and dedicated following. Rumor had it that they produced the album The Pod while under the influence of the inhalant Scotchgard. While the story appears to be apocryphal, one can see how the myth is easily perpetuated by listening to the single "Push th' Little Daisies."
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5) The Boredoms
Hands down the strangest group on this list, these guys are an acquired taste. What ends up winning the uninitiated listener over however is the train-wreck effect associated with this incredibly esoteric music. It's horrific, yet somehow one finds it difficult to turn away.