The Marvelkind

Watch this video and tell me it’s not everything modern music is missing. This is the band Marvelkind back in the late 90’s, from their Ep Mini, and maybe it’s not quite true to say there’s nothing like this in modern music, because they are, to a great extent, still around. The Illinois natives are popular enough to be highly regarded in their home city of Chicago, but history seems to have unfairly, insanely, overlooked them. Little is written about them (this post alone will greatly increase their web presence), but I’ve become an ardent fan since being blown away by ‘Jackass and Pussycat’, and I’m intrigued by what I can glean of their story. I love hearing about when bands shack up together, Brian Jonestown Massacre style -what musician wouldn’t love an environment like that-  and for 6 years the Marvelkind did just that. The band shared a house on Logan Boulevard with David Baker of Mercury Rev, which was set up with multiple studios. The house was a creative hub for local artists and musicians, and guests included Nash Kato of Urge Overkill. Out of this set-up came the band’s first full-length album, Conquering the universe-chorus-verse.

Their stuff has genius all over it, with rampant hedonism à la Jane’s Addiction, giving way to experimental electronica, heavily-processed sounds, bursts of Black Lips style brat rock, or Yo La Tengo’s melliflously slack psychedelia. If anything can help explain why such a talented bunch of visionaries never made it big, apart from the fact that they clearly aren’t sell-outs, it may be that their type of music exists in its own space. It’s rock n’ roll, but not really as you know it.

Their 2nd album, State of the Artificial, came out in 2007, long after the bands fans thought they’d wrapped it up (singer Benjamin Hughes moved out to LA to pursue acting). State is, if anything, even better than the first album, and has a rabid bite that no amount of post-Emo teen bands could hope to acheive.

Marvelkind has begat several side projects, among them the brilliant Assassins, who seem to be doing pretty well, and the intriguing, and nicely-named I, Rowboat. The fact that Marvelkind’s own dormant Myspace has a paltry 800 friends seems like a crime. Listen to Swiss Valley, U.S. Erf, Plug in the Drug Machine, Slackadelic, Raperville… there’s more energy and drama in one song than most bands achieve on five albums.

I have absolutely no idea why the band’s bio appears on a site dedicated to real estate in Prague, but you can find more about them there.

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“The universe is not something separate from yourself
I know you feel alone, but that’s why I’m here to help”

-Eyedea, Here For You

Michael Larsen, AKA Eyedea, AKA Oliver Hart (as on the song referenced above), was something of a hip hop prodigy. The story goes that at age 17 in 1999, he won a prestigious ‘battle mc’ contest in Ohio, which propelled him, ultimately, to the national finals, which he duly won. Instead of going the fame route, Larsen was a quiet person, happier moving in underground circles. He had abundant talent, but lacked the ego that so permeated the music industry, and especially the rap movement. He chose instead to make music with long time friend Max Keltgen, AKA DJ Abilities.


The music Larsen and Keltgen made was philosophical and quizzical, existential, dense and difficult… yet uplifting, forward-thinking, warm and positive. Larsen’s poetry was far-sighted, his wordplay owing as much to Dylan as to any of his contemporaries. Always restless, literally as well as creatively – he struggled with manic insomnia, and, according to his mother, probably never slept eight hours in his life – he was wary of the rhetoric of hip hop, and changed his working name as he tried on different styles and ensembles. One name was Oliver Hart, the name of a character he had created in a story while still in high school. “I’ve always had this habit of making sure I screw myself, as far as career’s concerned.” he jokingly said of the Hart moniker.

The experimentalism didn’t endear Larsen to the hip hop puritans. A side project with punk band Carbon Carousel and the jazz-leaning ‘Face Candy’ album were received poorly by some of his more traditionalist fans. He would receive abuse, even death threats, which, for a sensitive man with a long history of depression, was terribly damaging.

“[The backlash] really hurt my feelings. I thought I was going to be able to deal with it but it was just too hard,” Larsen said. “I mean, it really, really, really depressed me for a real long time.” Depression helps to explain his scruffy style towards the end of his life, with unkempt hair and beard growth. He opposed the hip hop image, and his itinerant-beat-poet look told of a man who was restless, self-critical, unsuperficial, and reliant on his wits.

“There’s this kind of mould of hip hop, and this kind of personality and attitude that you’re supposed to uphold… I think I played into that a little too much when it wasn’t like… me, and I did it for the sake of  trying to pull people into my world… that IS me… I was young, and just like, had this weird shit with my musical identity, my artistic identity. So I wish I was a little more upfront about things, you know?”

Michael Larsen died in his sleep on October 16, 2010. The verdict was accidental death, from an overdose of prescription drugs, which he had taken regularly for years to help him sleep.


This post references
The Underground Poet of St. Paul: A Tragedy in Seven Acts, from The Minnesota Daily, a detailed and highly recommended look at Eyedea’s life, and this interview from
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Brainiac’s Tim Taylor

“Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead, he’s fucking dead, the guy from Brainiac is fucking dead. I want this to mean something to every fucking one of you.”

-Jeff Buckley, 26th June 1997

Buckley’s words were from his own final performance before he, too, died in a tragic accident, less than a week later.  The band he was referring to never made it big in their time. Still proclaimed by many to be the Most Underrated Band Ever, their prescience, nearly 15 years later, is striking.  The man euloguzed by Buckley was Tim Taylor, and Brainiac died when, at 28, he lost control of his Mercedes, crashing the car, which then exploded.

Tim and bassist Juan Monstaterio had played strings together in their school orchestra in Dayton, Ohio, where the band formed. Brainiac became known for their frenzied live playing, their often disturbing imagery, and their sheer exuberance in the post-Grunge 90’s. Taylor was the frontman, but he also played keyboards – at a time when that wasn’t cool  – and he fronted the band with intensity. Their live shows became legendary for their unchecked energy and experimentalism, and for Taylor’s OTT showmanship, playing on guitar or Moog synthesizer, screaming and freaking out. They toured variously with Beck, The Breeders and The Jesus Lizard – can you imagine how great that show would have been? Brainiac’s fans include The Mars Volta and Trent Reznor. They were way ahead of their time.

“I am a cracked machine,” screamed Timmy Taylor, and believe you me, you believed him. “I am a cracked machine/I am a god-wine hussy/I am your favorite DJ/a blip on the screen/I am a cracked machine/I am a hot-shot robot/chart my position, I guarantee/you cannot get to me.”

-St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 1997

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