Headless Household

Primary Instrument: Band/orchestra

Active since: October 12, 1983    

Headless Household

A slippery vehicle of a band which takes liberal detours around its jazz basis, Headless Household has often ventured into rock, polka, free improv, and surf territory in search of...something to do. They released their eponymous debut album on the Household Ink label in 1987, a Christmas tape the same year, and their first CD, Inside/Outside USA in 1994. ITEMS came out in 1996, Free Associations in 1999, and their fifth album, mockhausen, in 2000. In November, 2003, they released post-Polka, a quasi-concept album in polka music is graced with echoes of funk, C&W, punk, Nino Rota, Frank Zappa, Charlie Parker, and other musical ideas along the way.....
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Headless Household press:

Santa Barbara’s Headless Household celebrates 25 years of criminal neglect with a wonderful double album, Basemento (Household Ink). Come for “This, That…,” guitarist Joe Woodard’s song-oriented SoCal strip-mall blend of jazzy bossa nova and Bakersfield country laments (i.e., “Jobim Meets Jim Beam”). But stay for “…The Other,” a disk’s worth of some of the smartest and friendliest psychedelic jazz you’ll ever snuggle up to. Guest saxophonist Dave Binney applies the hot sauce liberally to these nine smart, incisive sonic meditations encompassing everything from British progressives like Henry Cow, gnarly New York downtown jazz, Weather Report’s international feel and the heady cosmic geologies of countless Grateful Dead space excursions.

—Richard Gehr, Relix, July, 2010

Biography No, Headless Household is not an Industrial band. They sound like Miles Davis playing with the Kronos Quartet conducted by Sun Ra with occasional vocals by George Jones and backup singers from A Man and a Woman. Wonderful and wonderfully bizarre. If and when Twin Peaks gets another stab at prime time TV, Headless Household would be the perfect band to play at the lodge.

—Nick Dedina,

re: Free Associations

“...The group’s third CD release is full of angular lines, tricky meters and “difficult” music that gives way to moments of raw, irreverent stretching (“Tiddly Wink”), modal jams (“Green Swipe Pattern”) and pure improvisational cacophony (“Surf Punctuation”). This impossibly eclectic mix suggests a strange meeting of Captain Beefheart, Ernest Tubb, post-comeback Miles Davis, the Band, Ornette Coleman, Carla Bley and Edith Piaf, with touches of Sonny Sharrock, John Cage, Bill Frisell and the Art Ensemble of Chicago thrown in. Music this wildly diverse can never be properly marketed in this age of specialization, but that doesn’t make it any less extraordinary. **** (four stars)

-Bill Milkowski, Tower Pulse magazine, Oct. 1999

AMG EXPERT REVIEW: Mockhausen is everything Headless Household's previous album, Free Associations, was not. The latter was the band's most commercial release in 15 years of existence, but as the pendulum coming back only to go farther in the other direction, Mockhausen is a lot more experimental than any of their first five albums, something expressed in the title itself, a play of words on the name of Karlhein Stockhausen. Mockhausen is anything but song oriented. Mostly made of collages, this material comes from outtakes, live recordings, found sounds, and free improvisations involving all members of the band and a few selected guests (longtime friends Jeff Kaiser and Dave Binney). This is a big change from the song-oriented, almost entirely Joe Woodard-penned Free Associations, best epitomized by the guitarist's new interest in turntables. Sounds collide and song excerpts overlap in a collage frenzy. Surprise and deconstruction are the two main concepts used, but the listener still has a few moments to rest his ears, like on Dunlap's beautiful piano solo “Elvin” or the jazz ballad closing the album. This is Headless Household at their most adventurous and their best. — François Couture, All-Music Guide

Headless Household answers the unspoken (not to mention icky) question, “What if Negativland and a traditional jazz ensemble were in a terrible plane crash and the emergency room doctors decided to piece together four complete survivors from the bodies and parts found in the wreckage?”

Slapping genre tags on Headless Household has never worked, and Mockhausen is their least categorizable album to date. Though their music is supported by a framework of traditional rock/jazz instrumentation — keyboard/piano, guitar, bass and drums — you're just as likely to encounter turntable manipulation and aggressive trumpet-playing. “Opened House” sets the scene immediately, tossing the listener into a roiling melee of found audio, around which mutated, shambolic jazz and rock progressions flail and stagger. “For What Ails You” leans more heavily on its post-rock/fusion foundation, though found audio samples mingle at the feet of the melody. To their credit, Headless Household toss this stuff off effortlessly. Unlike Tortoise, whose compositions often seem to be held together by surface tension and intense concentration, the Household's work is looser, more robust and forgiving, and doesn't seem to take itself so all-fired seriously.

Individual Household members bring their own works to the table. Dick Dunlap gives us “Elvin (Palimpsest)”, an unsettling game of cat and mouse for solo piano. Drummer Tom Lackner offers “Re-Opened House,” an envigorating and rich tapestry of electro-acoustic percussion sources, filled with unique sonic “characters”. And Joe Woodard, the guitarist/turntablist behind “For What Ails You”, is also responsible for “Wintry (Invention)”, a fairly straightforward, though distantly alien exercise in noir jazz, complete with torch song scatting. But the true joy of Mockhausen is hearing the quartet interact and improvise; these guys have been working together a long time, and it shows in the cohesive mental narrative of “The Feeling of Give”.

Mockhausen works because the Headless Household never entirely lose sight of the fact that they want to entertain the listener. There are crucial vestiges of musicality — hummable hooks, compelling rhythms or amusing samples — in even the most experimental tracks. However wildly improvisational their music becomes, these guys play with their (metaphorical) eyes open, watching the audience to make certain they're enjoying the ride. This is a crucial distinction, as music in any genre misses the point when it is performed more for the players than the listeners — a pitfall that the Household dodges.

I like to believe that Splendid constantly pushes readers to expand their musical horizons and try some less predictable music. As part of that bargain, we do our best to identify strong, reliable “starting points” on sonic roads less traveled. If you've been looking for that elusive path out of Musical Blahs-ville (or its suburb, Emo-Town), grab a copy of Mockhausen, sit down with your best headphones on and imagine yourself passing a big highway sign: “You are now leaving Predictable Indie Rock.” You may never return.

Oh, and just ignore that plane crash debris in the background.

—George Zahora, Splendid

“Another scintillating release from this Santa Barbara combo, featuring a solid jazz foundation with avant-garde underpinnings. This deft combination produces a characteristically unique album that will please a wide audience with its variety and skill. At one moment, the Household sounds something like a magnificently orchestrated big band (”My Baby Left Brain”) and with one quick nod of the head, an anarchical deconstruction of all musical elements occurs (”Laconics 1”), flinging the band into the corners of Knitting Factory experimentalism. And just when you think you've nailed the band into a stylistic pigeonhole, Bill Flores whips out the heavy duty steel pedal gee-tar and the Household goes 100% country, duet-style, with “Honey, I'm Home.” ... The monstrous musicianship on this CD could squeeze your feeble brain like a zit, but instead, the group chooses not to will its awesome power upon you. Rather, they befuddle listeners with wry wit, harrowing humour and refreshing vivacity, creating a release that will certainly cure you of the overexposed rock ‘n’ roll blues.”

—Andrew Magilow, Splendid e-zine, 7-13-99



Fan Fair/Hypothyroid Dough Boy-1/3 A.M. Western (All the Whiskey in China) -3/ Expectators-4/ House Rules/ News Flash (Toronto Blues Society) 5-6/ Dance Peace / (Open Letter to) Manfred Eicher –5/ Ernesta/ In His Absence/For What Ails You (and Slight Rleturn)-4 / Pig in a Polka-2-3-5-7/ Nodding Up Front / Hefty Darlin’-2-5 69:55.

Dick Dunlap, kbds, sequences, samples; Tom Lackner, d, perc, ryl; Chris Symer, b; Joe Woodard, 9; Jeff Kaiser, peck h, tpt-1 only; Nate Sirkery, tpt-2 only; Glues Apap, vln-3 only; David Binney, asA only; Tom Buckner, ts-5 only; Jennifer Terran, vcl4 only; Ellen Turner, vcl-7 only. No location, December 1995.

“Headless Household is the core cooperative quartet of Dunlap, Lackner, Symer and Woodard. Various guests add to the eclectic musical scope of a startling project. “Fan Fair is a sample heavy, sequencer-intense mix that cross-fades into the rather flat funk of “Hypothyroid Dough Boy.” Gilles Apap's violin carries the melodic lead of Woodard1s lyrical ballad “3 A.M. Western.” The opening three performances reveal this cooperative's challenging scope ranging from fractal freescapes ('tExpectators”) to New Age ballads (”For What Ails You/Nodding Up Front); from electronic experiments (”Dance Peace/In His Absence”) to jaunty dirge fanfares (”House Rules”) or ballads like News Flash” and “(Open Letter To) Manfred Eicher” with its uncanny recreation of the coo yet ush romanticism of the classic ECM sound. Most surprising of all, perhaps, is the smooth relaxed groove of “Hefty Darlin',” a slick and loving demonstration of Headless Household's ability to play with a precision, depth, warmth and ease of feeling that can rival any other outfit in the professional mainstream. Lovely stuff.

—David Lewis, Cadence, August 1998

“From Santa Barbara, keyboardist Dick Dunlap, drummer Tom Lackner, basst Chris Symer and guitarist Joe Woodard are quite a creative group. On this, their fourth recording, they include everything from free improv to straightahead jazz with creative asides thrown in that include comedy, Country & Western, electronic fusion, blues and progressive rock... it’s quite an enjoyable mix from this group of talented and creative musicians.” —Jim Santella, L.A. Jazz Scene, April 1997

re: Inside/Outside USA

“Santa Barbara's comically-inspired jazz-cum-anything quartet... fusion, country, folk, funk, surf, and even polka all mix together with just enough bite, humor, and variety to buck convention. Prime musical chops keep the irreverence focused... this household is all over the map; in terms of creativity and energy, the group is beyond category.” —Roger Len Smith, Jazziz

“It's hard to categorize these guys, though their music's playful, quirky, sometimes downright silly, sometimes quite soothing.”—New Music Distribution Service Catalogue blurb

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