Monday, November 22, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #101

[All throughout the month of November, all NW4NW entries are based on requests made by you, dear readers. Because of the amount of requests received, there will often be more than one entry per week during this month - I recommend signing up for email alerts on the left-hand side of the screen so that you don't miss any of the fun! I cannot take anymore requests for this month, but please always feel free to suggest bands you might like to see featured in future NW4NW posts. You may do so either in the comments section of this post, on Twitter, or on the Facebook Fanpage.]

My good friend Dave Demmin is one of a handful of repeat requesters from last year, I'm pleased to say.  Dave knows good music, with tastes definitely leaning toward "surf punk." Since I'd already done a NW4NW entry on one of his favorite bands, The Surf Punks (surprise surprise!), he suggested another band that traded in that same beach-y twangy sound.

Mike Palm, Scott Miller and Steve Soto formed Agent Orange in Fullerton, CA, as the 1970's faded into the sunset.  Drawing as much from The Ventures and Dick Dale as they did from The Ramones and The Sex Pistols, Agent Orange set themselves apart from the emerging hardcore scene by mitigating the hyperspeed roar with pop sensibility and a laid-back California surfer attitude.  Their earliest record, the 7-inch EP Bloodstains, caught the ear of LA disc jockey/scenester Rodney Bingenheimer, who spun the title track regularly on his radio program on the influential KROQ as well as including Agent Orange cuts on each of the first two Rodney On The ROQ compilation albums before the band even had their own first album out.

That local exposure created an expectant buzz around Agent Orange's 1981 debut LP, and Living In Darkness delivered the goods: a slightly more polished recording of "Bloodstains" highlighted a pack of now-classics including "Everything Turns Grey," "Too Young To Die," and "A Cry For Help In A World Gone Mad." Their surf-rock tendencies were brought to the forefront with covers of genre standards "Pipeline" and "Miserlou." One of the best records of that year, and simply a must-own.  The following year's Bitchin' Summer EP kept the momentum going with similar material. (The later CD reissue sports different cover art and appends both EPs.) 

After a two-year wait, Agent Orange was back in the record racks with When You Least Expect It. Originally released as a 4-song EP, it was later reissued with two more tracks added.  Kicking off with the insanely catchy "It's Up To Me And You" and sporting a cranked-up cover of Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody To Love," the record saw the band begin to solidify a fan base of surfers of a different kind - those who surfed the sidewalks instead of the waves.  Their next full album, 1986's This Is The Voice, capitalized on the skate-punk scene.  Sporting some great tunes ("It's In Your Head," "Fire In The Rain") and crisper production than previous efforts, its poppier sound makes it a somewhat different record from Living In Darkness, though no less enjoyable.

After that record, Agent Orange dropped off the map for awhile, reappearing in 1991 with a live album, Real Live Sound.  With an ever-revolving group of sidemen, Palm was keeping the band alive on the road; this album, while not essential, documents the band's setlist of the era: a mix of back-catalog classics and well-chosen covers, played in front of an appreciative crowd.  New Agent Orange material would not arrive until five years later with the release of Virtually Indestructible.  No new ground was broken here - fans of This Is The Voice and When You Least Expect It will love Virtually Indestructible, too.

Two attempts at "Greatest Hits" type collections are worth noting if only for the buyer-beware factor: Greatest And Latest from 2000 sports some new material and some classic titles, but these are 2000-vintage re-recordings of old material, not the original recordings.  Sonic Snake Sessions is a two-disc set released in 2003 which basically combines When You Least Expect It, This Is The Voice, and Real Live Sound under one title.  Neither is altogether bad, but be sure you know what you're getting.

Palm and company continue to tour - in fact, I recently had to kick myself for missing them live in Harrisburg, PA, about 45 minutes from me, about a month or so back - and given the historically long stretches between Agent Orange releases, we can hold out hope that there is more good music to come.  In the meantime, enjoy a couple of classics: here is a live performance circa 1983 of "Everything Turns Grey," and an audio-only of the classic "Bloodstains." Thanks go out to Dave Demmin for a great request!