PRINT December 2011

Music: Best of 2011

Mark Mothersbaugh

Detail of Polysics’ cover of Oh! No! It’s Heavy Polysick!!! (Sony Music Entertainment Japan, 2011).

2011 WAS A GOOD YEAR to celebrate de-evolution! Being proved correct in this context hasn’t always been a cause for joy, but here are a few of the things that brought me happiness:

1 Polysics, Oh! No! It’s Heavy Poly­sick!!! (Sony Music Entertainment Japan) I first came across this group while touring in Japan. Observing a Polysics show in Tokyo is a lot like attending a political rally/aerobics class/religious event that seeps beyond the traditional borders of entertainment.

2 The Octopus Project, Hexadecagon (Peek-A-Boo) After observing the Octopus Project for some time, I have become interested in their structured chaos onstage. They represent another way to think of organized sound as a response to our culture. Along with Polysics, they are one of my favorite examples of music as social experiment.

3 Jerusalem (Music Box Theater, New York, April 2–August 21, 2011) Wes Anderson and Randy Poster recommended this play written by Jez Butterworth and directed by Ian Rickson, and it was one of the best stage performances—and best uses of music on a stage—I have ever seen. The set looked like a malevolent painting come to life.

4 DJ Chris Holmes Watching Chris Holmes work made me finally stop dismissing DJs as a bunch of guys just standing on other people’s art and helped me understand the beauty and importance of the medium. He also has some great crackpot (or not) theories about aliens that make me want to believe.

Yip-Yip members Brian Esser and Jason Temple, 2011.

5 Yip-Yip, Bone Up (self-released) I’m a million years old, and I’ve heard a lot of music, but I’m always happy to be pleasantly surprised. Yip-Yip did that for me.

6 8 Bit Weapon, TRON Tribute EP (self-released) Tron could never have happened and we would all still be here—except for 8 Bit Weapon, maybe. Their sounds remind us that pop music is only a small part of the palette of audio surrounding us, and that there are those toiling away, recognizing this greater wealth of available chatter.

7 Circuit benders My brother Jim was the first circuit bender I ever knew, but that was in 1974 and we didn’t have a name for it yet. This practice of taking commercial electronics—oftentimes the cheapest, most moronic things out there—and subverting them into unique sound- and music-creating devices is an important cultural phenomenon. I salute the circuit benders among us, including Nick Showalter and the kids I’ve met in Toronto, Corey Busboom from Arizona, and countless others who peddle these devices on eBay or just make videos for YouTube. Their homemade repurposed instruments are slowly seeping into pop culture as we speak.

8 The guys playing phonetic English/Spanish songs in Tijuana, Mexico At a restaurant in Tijuana this year, I saw a band that could just as easily have played for Pancho Villa or in Blade Runner. The three guitarists had apparently lived and performed in Tijuana together for thirty-five years and had never been to the US, but they loved American pop music enough to reinterpret the Frank Sinatra and Led Zeppelin songs that I grew up with.

9 Phone message I discovered in a Desert Palms, California, Salvation Army This message—a song about birds and why the person was late for an appointment with the unspecified recipient—sprang to life from a 1980s answering-machine tape in a dirty, cluttered pile of castaway technology. It has probably made its way to a city dump by now, unless someone in Desert Palms collects old answering machines.

10 Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure (Matthew Bate) I’ve always liked the original audiotape on which this documentary is based—a recording made by Midwestern punk kids of their bickering next-door neighbors, which was distributed via underground tape-trading factions in the late 1980s. That its voyeuristic properties still inspire people to make art is a tribute to the ridiculous slice of devolved humanity that it represents.

Mark Mothersbaugh is an artist, a composer, and the lead singer of the New Wave band DEVO. Since the late 1980s, he has run the Los Angeles–based music-production company Mutato Muzika and composed sound tracks for film and television. Mothersbaugh currently works on Nick Jr.’s TV series Yo Gabba Gabba! and will be touring in the US with DEVO this month.