Thursday, November 19, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Adam & The Ants - "Kings Of The Wild Frontier" (1980)

It's a fairly straightforward recipe:  mix a handful of twangy spaghetti-western guitar riffs with a pair of rumbling Burundi Beat drummers, toss in assorted yips, yelps and yodels, and wrap it all up in gooey wad of time-tested bubblegum hooks.  Now, tilt the whole works just off-center, and voila - you've got Antmusic.

A strange concoction in many ways when you think about it. It's a light, airy kind of ear candy that threatens to evaporate into the ether upon first listen.  Yet, it demands repeated listenings, and seems to get better, grow stronger, with every revolution of of the turntable. The dual rhythms both compete with and complement one another, and the whole sound sinks into your brain and makes a home there.

For a few years, Adam & The Ants' Kings Of The Wild Frontier was my favorite album (eventually losing that crown to the Violent Femmes' debut LP); 35 years later, it's still a Top Ten pick.  Adam would eventually go on to a solo career that could be described as spotty at best, with the occasional shining gem glistening among some pretty dire dreck.  The early Adam & The Ants stuff from the late 1970s showed a lot of promise, but had not yet found the right balance of ingredients.  By the time the band invited us to "try another flavor" on Kings, the recipe was just right.

The album opens with a stunning one-two punch: "Dog Eat Dog" and "Antmusic" are simply classics of the New Wave era and probably the strongest tracks on the album, but to let them overshadow the rest is to miss out on some truly outstanding songs.  "Press Darlings," "Feed Me To The Lions" and "Los Rancheros" each are catchy, hook-filled confections that could have been hit singles themselves. But all is not just bouncy fun here in Antland:  "Ants Invasion" strikes an eerie sci-fi pose, "Killer In The Home" ups the creepy factor, and "Physical (You're So)" is much darker here than even Trent Reznor could make it when he covered it years later.

It was with the first single after Kings Of The Wild Frontier that Adam & The Ants hit their absolute pinnacle, but "Stand And Deliver" would have to wait until Prince Charming to appear on an album, and by then The Ants were starting to lose steam.

Kings Of The Wild Frontier belongs on anyone's short list of defining New Wave albums and still sees fairly regular airplay around these parts.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Richard Hell & The Voidoids - "Blank Generation" (1977)

With its defiant opening lyric,"I was saying 'Let me outta here!' before I was even born," "Blank Generation" (the song) immediately defines the ground rules under which Richard Hell is playing: "It's fascinating to observe what the mirror does, but when I dine it's for the wall that I set a place." Similar themes of undefined alienation, social misalignment, and Life as constant irritant run through the entirety of Blank Generation (the album), Hell's stunning and startling debut album with his own band, The Voidoids (Ivan Julian, Bob Quine and Mark Bell, who would soon thereafter become Marky Ramone).

Richard Hell had been in the young NYC Punk scene for some time already, having been a founding member of Television and doing a stint as one of Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers.  Hell was a musician, a poet, an artist and a confrontationalist.  Hell skulked around CBGBs in a t-shirt festooned with a bullseye and the words "Please Kill Me," and is often pointed to as the originator of the razor cut spiked hair and safety-pinned clothes look that the Brit Punks quickly appropriated.

While the title and lyrics of "Blank Generation" may seem on the surface to be the perfect representation of the expected "no future" mindset of many of  his contemporaries, Hell saw it as hopeful.  As he explained in a 1978 interview with Lester Bangs, "To me, blank was a line where you can fill in anything ... It's the idea that you have the option of making yourself anything you want, filling in the blank. And that’s something that provides a uniquely powerful sense to this generation. It's saying 'I entirely reject your standards for judging my behavior.'"

That anthem is the clear centerpiece of the album, but the rest of Blank Generation is much more than simply an undercard to the main event.  Quine's sharply angular guitar carries Hell's painfully honest lyrics into the dark underbelly of after hours rock and jazz clubs, careening through dark passageways and pushing past sweaty, overpacked crowds of faceless onlookers.  The vocals howl and shriek and plead and cajole; the overall sound is insistent if inconsistent; the lyrics are brilliant.

The opening track, "Love Comes In Spurts," might just have a been a snickering double-entendre in anyone else's hands.  It turns out to actually be a painful realization that relationships are not always what the appear to be: "Love comes in spurts/In dangerous flirts/And it murders your heart/They didn't tell you that part."  That painful realization is expanded upon later on the track "Betrayal Takes Two," leads him to question its purpose on "Who Says?" ("Who says it's good, good, good to be alive?/It ain't no good, it's a perpetual jive."), and finally brings him to the album's closer, "Another World," in which he decides, "I could live with you in another world...but not this one."  Elsewhere, Hell calls out the fakers ("Liars Beware"), indulges in "New Pleasure," interprets Credence Clearwater Revival's "Walking On The Water" and invites us all to meet up "Down At The Rock And Roll Club."

Start to finish, Blank Generation is as solid an album as you could possibly want, filled with surprise turns and unexpected moments.  Simply put, it's a must-have. However, avoid the 1990 CD reissue, which inexplicably opts for completely different recordings of some tracks and chooses to replace the original artwork.

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Hell In My Head

The dull pain behind my eyes has been nearly constant for almost six hours now.  Tears want to roll down my cheeks but I cannot seem to summon them, even though I am crying on the inside.  The back of my neck is tight, and  my stomach feels as though it has clutched into a tight little ball .  I feel trapped within myself, and utterly, utterly alone.

I am directionless, floating propelled by a current I am unable to fight, and am too tired to fight if I could.  I'm tired of always fighting.  I'm tired of always fighting.

I am drenched in paranoia. I feel unable to trust anyone; eventually everyone will turn against me if they haven't already.  They talk about me behind closed doors; they snicker at me behind cupped hands; they are setting me up for a fall.  They laugh at me.  They're setting me up.

Family and friends with the best intentions tell me it's OK, try to give me positive affirmations, try to help me see the bright side.  I know they are trying, but they are doing it wrong.  The more they tell me how good I am, the more I know I am not.  I can never be what they see.  I am a fraud.

I'm not looking for "oh it's going to be OK," or "I am here for you," or "let's talk about it." They are well-meaning, but they don't fill the gaping empty hole.  I am trapped inside my my own head, locked in, screaming.  Can't they hear me screaming? Can't you hear me screaming?

The inevitable question I cannot answer: "What's wrong?"  The cruelest question you could ask me. The question itself taunts me; it is asked knowing I cannot answer.  What's wrong? If I knew I could fix it, change it or leave it.

I can never stop fighting, yet I am too tired to fight anymore.  I don't want to feel like this anymore.  I don't want to have to fight this anymore.  Yet, I must.

Somewhere, echoing inside my hurting head, a sliver of a sane voice tells me to hang on; this storm will pass, like all the others have passed. But why must I suffer the storms, again and again?

I am tired of always fighting. I will cry myself to sleep tonight.  The demons have won this battle; the war rages on.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols (1977)

You may need to sit down for this one: This week, Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols is 38 years old.

How can that be?  It can't possibly have been that long ago, can it?  Oh, it can, and it is, my fellow grumpy old punks. The album that signaled the end of civility and the utter collapse of the social order is getting to be downright middle-aged, like the bloody lot of us.

Remember the furor? The filth and the fury, so to speak?  The Sex Pistols were introduced to much of middle America by stories on the evening news touting them as foul-mouthed, rude invaders from the UK who were surely harbingers of the end at least of rock and roll if not the very fabric of society. They were unkempt, unclean; they couldn't play their instruments; they spit on their audiences and begged their audiences to spit on them!  They wore ripped clothes held together with safety pins, with more safety pins stuck through their lips and cheeks!  They hacked their hair into spiky mohawks and disheveled messes, and they hacked themselves bloody with razor blades, and they sang about anarchy and death to the Queen!  And they were getting ready to come here, and YOUR KIDS were going to start listening to their music!

(Never mind that most of those assertions were, at best, a bit of public relations hyperbole and, at worst, flat out wrong.)

I do remember the excitement of hearing the record for the first time; at a friend's house, hearing Johnny Rotten sneer "Fuck this and fuck that, fuck it all and fuck a fucking brat..." and being amazed that they let anyone record lyrics like that!  And wasn't there something vaguely dirty about the way he emphasized the final syllable of "Pretty Vacant?"  What strikes me listening to the album now, all these years later, is how remarkably tame it sounds in comparison to what came after it; hell, in comparison to what you can hear nowadays on the radio!

Without the hyperbole, without the shadow of Sid's (and Nancy's) drug-addled demise, without the fears that the Pistols were taking us all to hell in the same handbasket that neither Elvis nor The Beatles quite got our parents there in either, the album holds up surprisingly well.  Sure, there's nostalgia attached to it (still recall my friend Tom and I mimicking Johnny's over-pronunciation of the last word of "No Feelings:" "...see his picture hangin' on yer walllllllllll-uh!"), and some of the political posturing is a bit dated, but there really isn't a bad song to be found here:  "Anarchy In The UK" and "God Save The Queen" are, of course, the classics, but "Sub-Mission," "Problems," "New York," and "Holidays In The Sun" are all right up there, too.  And how can  you not smile and sing along with their snub at former label "EMI?"

Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The Sex Pistols was officially released on October 27th of 1977. 38 years on, the album neither destroyed music nor society, but it remains both an important touchstone in pop culture history and a damn good record.  If you don't have a copy, what the hell is wrong with you?

Monday, October 26, 2015

Now Hear This! (Podcast Edition)

Since I don’t drive, my commutes to and from work each day rely on public transportation.  That means some walking time, some waiting time, some riding time and generally an overall longer time spent in transit than most folks.  To pass the time, I load up the ol’ iPhone with podcasts, put on the earbuds, and listen to the modern-day equivalent of AM Talk Radio.

These days it seems everyone has a podcast (mine will be coming along soon, no doubt), and you can find the truly terrible, the overly self-indulgent, and the so slickly produced as to erase all personality among the thousands and thousands out there to choose from.  How can you find the true gems amid all that crap?  No worries, Friends!  Once again, your ol’ pal Bryan is here for you, this time with a handful of podcasts you really should be listening to.  Subscribe to these five and you’ll have something to listen to every day of your work week.  You’re welcome.

The Truth and Iliza
In addition to being one of the funniest comedians of the current generation, Iliza Shlesinger is very bright, very sarcastic and very opinionated.  Is it any wonder I am a huge fan?  All of these factor into her being perfectly cast in the role of host of her own podcast, The Truth and Iliza.  Rather than the umpteen-millionth podcast where the host gushes over how wonderful that episode’s guest is and providing yet another generic platform for the guest to perform their shtick and plug the hell out of a current project,  Iliza has created an environment where the guest is not necessarily the focus – the everyday things that piss them off is the jumping off point for a conversation that is usually very funny, searingly sardonic, and always authentic.  Whether she’s coaxing Adam Carolla into a rage about moronic gatekeepers, sharing a story about an astoundingly boorish family she had to deal with on a recent flight, or fan-girling out while convincing Taylor Dayne to sing a chorus of "Tell It To My Heart" with her, the reason Iliza makes this podcast work so well is that she isn’t doing an interview – she’s just hanging out with whomever is there with her and letting us listen in.  The conversation goes wherever it goes, peppered with occasional non sequitur cartoon-voice asides to her dog Blanche.  Join me and about 17 overnight truckers in listening to The Truth and Iliza regularly – this one is a must-listen.  Oh, and bonus points for having the coolest damn theme song in the history of podcasts.

Do you like improv comedy? Of course you do; it’s hilarious! Paul F. Tompkins seems to enjoy it as well.  He and a rotating cast of improv pals put on a little skit each week, riffing off of themes, comments and offhanded remarks made during Tompkins’ welcoming monologue or the interview section of the program.  Yep, you not only get an improv show, you get an interview – Spontaneanation is like two podcasts in one!  Each week’s guest is presented with a question left by the previous week’s guest, and the interview flows from there.  Then comes the main event: a complete narrative story, told from beginning to end yet often jumping around in time thanks to a series of sound effects, and set in a location chosen by that week’s interview guest.  Did you follow all that?  Well, go back and read it for yourself, then; I’ve explained it as clearly as I can.  Like all improv situations, not everything works.  It can be rather amusing, though, when you can tell the cast senses  they are tanking and begin scrambling to find their way back on track.  But, when they are on point (which they very often are), they can be laugh out loud funny.  Which is unfortunate when I’m on a crowded bus at 6:15 in the morning listening on my headphones and suddenly doubling over in gales of laughter.

How Did This Get Made?
I have been a fan and regular listener of How Did This Get Made? for quite awhile now. You don’t believe me? Well just follow this link right here and be reminded that I suggested you start listening to this one years ago!  Don’t feel so smug now, do you?  The longevity of the show (podcast years and dog years can, I believe, be calculated in roughly the same manner)  is proof that it is quality programming.  A recent trend towards live  episodes has injected renewed energy into a show that wasn’t flagging to begin with.  Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael and Jason Mantzoukas have honed their film-skewering skills to a fine point over the life of the podcast, but when they have a live audience to play off of they are even better.  Mini-episodes between regular podcasts give you a head’s up to what movie is being given the HDTGM  treatment – helpful because the show works best when you have also watched the movie in preparation, but even if you don’t do your homework you’ll enjoy the fun.

Should I Worry About This?
I’ve shared many posts here over the years dealing with my anxieties, so you know I know worry. Hell, during those few instances when I am not worrying about something, I am worried that there ought to be something I should be worrying about!  If only there were some sort of guide to help sort the stuff that’s worth worrying about from the stiff that isn’t.  Cat Oddy and Eden Robins have come to the rescue with their wonderfully entertaining and informative podcast, Should I Worry About This? Every Monday they present a topic that one or both of them have found themselves worrying about, usually with some background story to go along with it, and they trade off doing the research to dig up the facts and determine whether it’s worth worrying about or not.   Worrying about everything from waking up during surgery to regretting tattoos, and from catching rabies to having Donald Trump as President, they cover a lot of ground.  They keep the mood up, and more often than not reach the conclusion that we’re all probably worried about a lot more than we need to be, although I’ve now I find myself worrying about whether they’re going to end the podcast anytime soon…

Radiolab is an extremely popular podcast, with good reason. Part journalistic endeavor, part Mondo-style documentary, part history lesson and part sound-collage pastiche, with some good-natured humor and the occasional dose of acute skepticism tossed in for good measure, Radiolab uses its unique editing style to weave stories about amazing things you might never have known have happened or are happening in this world.  Hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich  make fine stand-ins for the listener, asking the questions that you or I would ask about things like Darkode hacking, the Mau Mau Rebellion, how time moves and how we move throughout it, and more.  The interwoven sounds of interviews, audio verite, music and narration combine to pull you into the midst of the story at hand, and at the end if you haven’t learned something new (and if so, you weren’t really paying attention), at least you’ll have been on one helluva ride.

I'm always on the lookout for good podcasts to add to my listening rotation - if you have some favorites, share with us in the comments below, or visit That's What I Was Going To Say on Facebook.  And hey, while you're there, consider "liking" the page.  I'd be much obliged!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

NEW MUSIC: One-Eyed Doll - "Witches"

A concept album is not the easiest trick to pull off.  The risk of sounding either pompously pretentious or awkwardly forced when attempting to tie an album's worth of material into a coherent narrative is extremely high, as nearly every prog-rock album of the mid-seventies demonstrated.   When the new One-Eyed Doll album, Witches, was announced some time back, I was thrilled - it had been way too long since the last album from my favorite current band (2012's Dirty); when word got out that it was to be a concept album telling the tale of the Salem witch trials, I admit to feeling an uneasy shudder. Kimberly and Jason are certainly adept storytellers in the single-song format, but could they create a story arc that both spanned an entire album and maintained the level of energy, creativity and cleverness that has been their hallmark?

The short answer, I'm pleased to report, is "Hell yes!"

Witches is in all ways wonderful.  The album swoops in with the frenetic attack of the opener, "Ember," then effortlessly downshifts to the hauntingly beautiful "Prayer" before revving up again for the concert-ready chant-along "Black in the Rye." That juxtaposition of crazed high-energy assault and low-key melancholy continues throughout the album, keeping you constantly spellbound through the finale, "The Ghosts of Gallows Hill."

It would have been easy to simply cast Kimberly as either an actual witch or one of the wrongly accused and make the album's narrative into a character-driven tale; smartly, they did not go that route.  Rather, she inhabits different roles in each song, reporting events from a number of points of view and never judging one against another.  Here she is being sent to her death, condemned as a witch, there she is leading the angry mob's demands for "More Weight" to be applied to the accused to determine guilt; now she is accusing another as the one who has "Afflicted" her, now she's presenting theories that bacterial infection from spoiled bread caused the hysteria that afflicted Salem. In the end, the listener must draw his or her own conclusions.

Musically, this is the most gothic One-Eyed Doll record yet - which is saying something for a band that sings about vampires and serial killers, and who has recorded in a church.  There is both soaring majesty and almost unbearable tension in each tune, and there is something about that banjo that is woven into the sonic tapestry that gilds it all with the perfect haunting edge.  As is often the case with One-Eyed Doll, it can be easy to forget that it's only two people making all this deeply layered and nuanced music.  Certainly the recording process allows for overdubs and production tricks, but those of us who have seen them live know they can blow the roof off any venue as well as much larger groups.

I am eager to hear how these new tracks will fit into One-Eyed Doll's live sets.  In fact, I will get my first chance tonight - they are playing in the Baltimore, MD area (technically Halethorpe, but close enough) at Fish Head Cantina with Cryptic Matter and Kamikaze Kupcakes.  If you're in the area, I hope to see you there!

Please enjoy a couple of my favorites from the album: the opener, "Ember," and a live performance of "Black in the Rye."  You can purchase Witches directly from the band or through

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The 10 Most Under-Appreciated Punk Rock Albums Ever

If you surf around the Internets long enough, you're bound to stumble on this or that person's list of the top 10 or 15 or 25 Punk Rock Albums of All Time.  You'll also quickly notice that the same titles seem to crop up on these lists over and over again: Never Mind The Bollocks, Damned Damned Damned, the first Ramones record, Black Flag's Damaged, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables, London Calling, etc. Of course, those titles keep coming up because they are undeniably great records.  But you'd start to think they're the only ones worth keeping on your shelves if you're old enough to remember those days, or the only ones to look for if you're a young'n looking to build a punk collection.

Well, I'm here to wave the banner for those that remain unheralded!  There's a ton of great vintage punk rock vinyl out there just waiting to be rediscovered by the newest generation of leather jacket clad crate-diggers.  Allow me to draw a handful of them to your attention.  Herewith I offer, in no particular order, ten of the most under-appreciated punk rock albums out there.  If you see any of these on one of your vinyl-buying journeys, grab them; you will not be disappointed!

Henry Rollins - Hot Animal Machine (1987)
Rollins' first solo effort brought original Black Flag intensity back to a post-Black Flag world.  This is Henry at his alienated-from-society best: power chords and paranoia churn at peak volume on tracks like "Lost And Found" and "There's A Man Outside;" the creepiness factor is upped on covers of Suicide's "Ghost Rider" and The Velvet Underground's "Move Right In;" a truly harrowing report of a domestic violence incident, "A Man And A Woman," closes the album with the kind of jam Rollins Band would become known for.  Stunning.

Kraut - An Adjustment To Society (1983)
The debut album from one of the first and best bands to emerge in the early-'80s New York hardcore scene is solid start to finish.  They were young (drummer Johnny Feedback was 15 at the time) and determined and had a couple of aces up their sleeves: ex-Pistol Steve Jones befriended the band and plays on a few tracks; they made a video for the lead (and best) track, "All Twisted," that actually saw minor rotation on MTV (!); they made their debut as a band opening for The Clash.  Make sure you look for the original 1983 pressing of the LP - it was reissued in 1988 with a slightly different cover, extra tracks and a subpar mix.

MDC - Millions Of Dead Cops (1982) 
This was the album that introduced me to hardcore.  Politics, social commentary, shock for shock value's sake and a wicked sense of humor drive hyper-speed classics "John Wayne Was A Nazi," "Violent Rednecks," "Corporate Deathburger" and "I Hate Work," among others.  "Born To Die" and "I Remember" also stand out amidst the racing buzzsaw guitars and over-revved rhythms as classics of the genre.  A must-have.

Channel 3 - I've Got A Gun (1982)
This import-only compilation of singles, orphaned tracks and the best cuts from the first two proper Channel 3 albums ends up being the album they should have made in the first place.  Part of the Southern California Posh Boy Records scene, their brand of pop-punk has always been a winner to my ears. The title track, "Wetspots," "You Lie" and "Strength In Numbers" all boast strong hooks and sing-along choruses that will catch in your head for days.  Don't miss the shoulda-been-a-hit "You Make Me Feel Cheap."

Tenpole Tudor - Eddie, Old Bob, Dick And Gary (1981)
Eddie Tenpole (a/k/a Eddie Tudor-Pole) was at one time, so urban legend goes, tabbed as the replacement for Johnny Rotten in The Sex Pistols.  Indeed, you can find him stumbling his way through "Rock Around The Clock" in his own inimitable singing style in The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.  While that odd, loopy voice would never have worked in the Pistols' setting, with his own band it makes perfect sense.  "Wunderbar" is the standout cut here, but "Three Bells In a Row," "Judy Annual," "I Can't Sleep" and "Go Wilder" do not fall far short in the running.  Proof that punk rock could be every bit as much fun as it could be nasty,

The Diodes - The Diodes (1977)
Among the earliest Canadian punk bands, The Diodes' sound edged closer to what would become skinny-tie power pop than to the harsher sounds of the genre.  Nonetheless, their debut album is stellar from open to close, and clearly influenced many who came after them.  Intelligent and catchy originals like "Death In The Suburbs," "Time Damage" and "Child Star" are coupled with knowing covers of The Cyrkle's "Red Rubber Ball" and Max Frost & The Troopers' "Shape Of Things To Come."  One of my personal favorite albums in my collection.

The Lemonheads - Hate Your Friends (1987)
I can hear some of  you getting ready to argue already: "The Lemonheads fer crissakes?!?"  Yep. Before Evan Dando became the darling of the college radio indie-rock set and MTV's face of alternative music, he and his band issued a debut album that just sizzles with punk attitude and energy, and does it well.  The single "Second Chance" is simply awesome; the title track, "Rat Velvet," "Sneakyville" and "Fed Up" are all great; the closer, "Fucked Up," coulda been an Adrenalin O.D. track.  Pick this one up - you'll be pleasantly surprised.

The Anti-Nowhere League - We Are...The League (1982)
Those who loudly decried punk rock as sick, evil, vulgar and very bad for society would point to bands like The Anti-Nowhere League as proof.  Those people also had no sense of humor whatsoever. The League spouted hateful, foul-mouthed diatribes at everyone and everything and were hysterically funny doing it.  Declaring "I Hate...People" ("...and they hate me!"), insisting they "Can't Stand Rock 'n' Roll" and urging everyone on with "Let's Break The Law," they played up every stereotype the haters threw at punk rock and amped it up beyond belief.  The title track throws a knowing wink into the mix: "Don't you criticize the things we do/No one fucking pays to go see you."

Toxic Reasons - Bullets For You (1986)
Based in Dayton, Ohio, but sounding for all the world like they must have been from the UK, Toxic Reasons issued this sizzling slab of melodic hardcore that has somehow remained fairly overlooked. The songs are anthemic shout-alongs reminiscent of British bands like Abrasive Wheels or Chron Gen, but with decidedly catchy hooks and just a glint of a metal edge.  "Killing The Future," "Never Give In" and "Do What You Can" are all strong enough to stand alongside the classic cuts of the genre; the soul-searching "You Gotta Believe" is simply stunning.  Look for this one.

The Freeze - Rabid Reaction (1985)
The band that offered, in my opinion, the strongest cuts on the seminal This Is Boston Not L.A. comp deliver the goods on this, their second proper album.  A re-recorded version of that compilation's "Trouble If You Hide" leads a pack of snarly, snarky cuts wrapped in attitude and a wicked Boston accent.  "Misguided Memories," "No One's Coming Home," "Before I Hit That Rubber Room" - there's not a clinker in the bunch here.  IMO, the best example of Boston hardcore you can find.

So there you go, my pick for ten albums that generally get forgotten about when those "best of" lists get made.  I know these lists are often argument starters, so have at it either in the comments below or over on the That's What I Was Going To Say Facebook page.  While you're there, if you haven't already, consider giving the page a "like" - I'd love to see that total get to 500!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

NEW MUSIC: The Prefab Messiahs "Keep Your Stupid Dreams Alive"

Those who believe time is linear are only fooling themselves. Time loops back on itself, runs forward and backward, and occasionally stands still. Take the case of The Prefab Messiahs, whose new album, Keep Your Stupid Dreams Alive, showcases a band that exists simultaneously in 1968, 1981 and 2015, and whose watches have clearly stopped at exactly 25 o'clock.

Swathed in sitar/guitar reverb, neon paisley light and garage-band energy, Keep Your Stupid Dreams Alive picks up exactly where their 30-year old recordings collected a few years back on the wonderful Devolver left off, yet it sounds every bit as modern as it does of a time when they could have been opening for The Standells (or The Standells opening for them).  By names they were and are Xerox Feinberg, Trip Thompson, Doc Michaud and Ned Egg; by sound they are groovy, psychedelic, lo-fi, wild and outtasite.

The new record takes you on a trip through Wormtown (Worcester, MA, for the unhip) with the Messiahs.  They help you avoid the "Weirdoz Everywhere" as you speed through twisting streets in "Bobb's Psychedelic Car" (that's Bobb Trimble, again for the unhip), blaring "College Radio" through tinny speakers while "Booshwa Sally" throws her arms around you.  It's akin to Siddhartha's journey of self-discovery (or should that be "Ssydarthurr?"); a stupid dream worth keeping alive, at least until you reach the "Orange Room."

What I'm trying to say is: this is good.  This is damn good.  Equal parts tribute and parody with more than a little bit of social commentary in the mix.  It's Naz Nomad meets The Dukes Of Stratosphear, only The Prefab Messiahs were doing it long before and are still doing it now, long after.

So get yerself over to The Prefab Messiah's Bandcamp site and grab the music. Keep Your Stupid Dreams Alive, as well as previous releases, are there as name-your-price offers - do give the band some support.  If you prefer a proper vinyl copy, the 10-inch disc can be had through KYLAM (Kids Like You And Me)/Burger Records for just a ten spot.

In the meantime, here are two clips from the record: "Weirdoz Everywhere" and "Bobb's Psychedelic Car."  Enjoy!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

NEW MUSIC: Plurals - "Your Situation"

Confession time: a big, goofy smile lit up my face the moment I first plunked the needle down on the beautifully marbled yellow vinyl album that arrived in the Ruttville mailbox a couple of weeks ago. Your Situation, the debut album from Plurals, immediately takes me back to a very happy musical place. From the first jackhammer guitar chords through the final washes against the side two inner groove, Plurals bring back everything that made New Wave (back in the days when it was a wave) so exciting and, yes, fun.  Their thoroughly modern takes on that nostalgic noise have made them a favorite of mine since catching them opening for Shonen Knife a while back, and later supporting Peelander-Z. I raved here about their first recorded output, the digital EP Laced With Boniva, and it should be no big surprise that I'm about to rave again.

Your Situation reprises the four tracks from the EP, adding five more shots of their insanely clever and insidiously catchy sound.  Over the course of nine tracks, the band (Michael Bowen on guitar and vocals, Elena Fox on bass, keyboardist Rachel Anne Warren, guitarist Jim Glass and Sean Pumphrey on drums) covers a whole lot of ground.  The opener, "Sicker/Better," starts off sounding like someone sped up Devo's "Uncontrollable Urge" until Fox and Warren bubble up through the mix with a series of tra-la-las that would make The Banana Splits proud.  As a counterpoint to Bowen's angular lead vocals, they evoke expected comparison to The B-52's.  The girls play the distant, alienated, emotionless New Wave backup singers role to even better effect on the phenomenal "Rose Garden," a bubblegummy romp that may be my favorite thing I've heard them do.

Sandwiched between those cuts is the hysterical "Look At the Nerds," a nearly operatic celebration of geekdom that serves as a showcase for Warren to channel both Nina Hagen and Klaus Nomi simultaneously (and yes, I used that line when describing the song as they played it live, but it is one of my favorite comparisons I've ever made and, if you listen, pretty damn accurate.)  Also worthy of note among the new cuts is "World Star," a knowing a jab at the infamous online site that collects cellphone videos of street violence and presents them as entertainment. The punchline, no pun intended, is perfect: "The hits keep coming..."

As mentioned before, if you missed out on Laced With Boniva, all four cuts from that digital EP are here as well: the funky herky-jerky "Manic Depressor," the almost Pixie-ish "I Am The Lions," the slightly retitled "On The Telephone (Clap Clap)," and the simply excellent "Mental Illness (Sooner Or Later)," wherein The English Beat is paraphrased to wonderful effect.

Yeah, the record put a grin on my face, because the fun these five folks have making this music comes through viscerally, both in their live performance and in their recorded work.  This is a band to keep an eye on, kids.  I get the feeling we've only scratched the surface of what they are capable of. You can pick up Your Situation on vinyl or as a digital download at the band's website, You can stream the whole record there, too, if that's your thing.  Me, I'm old school: colored vinyl and lots of inserts can't be beat!

I shared "Mental Illness (Sooner Or Later)" with you back on this Now Hear This round up; here are two standouts from the newer stuff, "Sicker/Better" and  "Rose Garden."  Enjoy, and then go pick up the whole album and help support the band!


Rose Garden

Friday, February 13, 2015

NEW MUSIC: The Dying Elk Herd - "For Real This Time"

The Dying Elk Herd’s debut album, For Real This Time, has been basically on constant repeat in the Ruttville CD player for the past week.  The much-anticipated disc most definitely delivers on the promise of their first two singles, the anthemic “Another Restless Night” and the insanely catchy “Don’t Let The Riverbeast Get You.”
For Real This Time may be The Dying Elk Herd’s debut album, but the band members themselves have been playing, both apart and together, for some time now.  Dave Benner, Greg Cathey and Curt Laudenberger are all veterans of the Lancaster punk scene.  Dave started out in Nobody’s Fools back in the mid-80s while Greg and Curt cut their teeth in The Dilemmas; all three eventually wound up members of Kirk & The Jerks and, later, Mystery City.  That pedigree is audible in the Herd’s material. There is much reverence for the past in the music (fans of Generation X, Stiff Little Fingers and early Clash are urged to move to the front of the line), but nothing here sounds dated or anachronistic.

The Herd come charging out of the gate in the opener, ”Progress Has A Price.”   The chiming guitars, driving beat and earnest lyrics set the tone for the rest of the ride.  “Restless Night” and “Riverbeast” are here, of course, amid hook-filled, sing (or shout) along concoctions like “Times Of Peril,” “Tired, Weary, Worn Out And Broke” and “The Fight To Be Free.” 

The song that caught me most by surprise, though, is the closer, “Every Avenue.”  No new ground is being broken here: punk kid has grown up and waxes nostalgic for the good old days while realizing the person he’s grown to be could only exist by living that life.  It’s a deft tightrope walk – a lyric like “…so I stumbled through my teens and through the Overlook Dance/And then on to Stan’s Records down Prince Street…” runs a high risk of overshooting the feeling of wistful nostalgia and landing somewhere between maudlin tripe and pretentious name-checking just to get a cheap pop from their fellow Lancastrians.  Here, they walk that line successfully, coming across with a gritty realness that hits home for anyone.  The fact that I, too, stumbled through my share of dances at the Overlook Skating Rink and spent most of my high school job’s earnings at Stan’s Record Bar, only means I know the precise places mentioned. Substitute your town’s local dance, indie record shop, neighborhood subdivisions and other landmarks, and you’ve lived it, too.

You can pick up For Real This Time through The Dying Elk Herd’s own website, or download through iTunes, and you really should.  I’ve shared “Another Restless Night” and “Don’t Let The Riverbeast Get You” in earlier posts, so this time around, with the kind permission of Dave Benner, I’m sharing the excellent opening track, “Progress Has A Price,” and the stunning closer, “Every Avenue.”  Enjoy!

Progress Has A Price

Every Avenue