Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Wave for the New Week #98

[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.]

Let's ActiveCover of Let's ActiveOver on the Facebook Fanpage, my friend Tom Grochowski, who I've known since the 8th grade and who is a great person to discuss music, film, politics, and Morton's Pot Pies with, wrote, "I was initially hesitant to request, given your remarkable thorough-ness. I'm pleased to find at least a few omissions to keep [New Wave for the New Week] going!"  Thank you for the compliment, Tom, but thorough-ness? Far from it!  One of the things that has amazed me about the suggestions that have come in for this NW4NW All Request Month is that you folks have stocked me with enough suggestions to fill Mondays almost all the way up to All Request Month 2011!  Tom's "hesitant" request is a great one:

When North Carolina's Let's Active released the five-song Afoot EP in 1983, they sent music critics everywhere rushing to their thesauruses to find synonyms for "jangly" and "cheerful." Led by wunderkind producer, songwriter and musician Mitch Easter, the trio made tasty little nuggets of bubblegummy ear candy that melted into gooey goodness in your brain, giving you that sugar rush that demanded more! But all was not exactly as it seemed on the surface: once you broke the spell of the giddy pop sloshing over your eardrums and started to pay attention to the lyrics, well, maybe "cheerful" wasn't the best description.  The big "hit" from the record is one of the most spot-on break-up songs ever written, "Every Word Means No." Beneath its ringing guitars and shimmering cuteness is a very sad narrator who wishes he could have back what is now forever lost.

And so it was with Let's Active: always that juxtaposition of joyful noise and mournful message.  Easter formed the group in 1981 with drummer Sara Romweber and bassist Faye Hunter, but it wasn't until Easter made his name producing early R.E.M. records that people started to take notice.  The band's unusual name, by the way, was taken from one of those Japanese T-shirt slogans that was written by someone who knew just enough English to get it wrong.  After Afoot was met with critical accolades, the trio went about creating a full-length album.  Cypress built on the foundation that Afoot put in place, beginning to explore more psychedelic sounds and complex themes, but still cloaking it all in shiny Southern new-pop charm.  The lead single, "Waters Part," became a college radio hit; their cover of an obscure single by unknowns The Outskirts, "Blue Line," is among their best efforts ever. (Afoot and Cypress were later reissued as single CD.)

The success and acclaim of his continuing production and session work for other bands made Easter a highly sought after commodity.  As a result, Let's Active came to be viewed more or less as "The Mitch Easter Show," and Hunter and Romweber soon departed.  The third Let's Active album, Big Plans For Everybody, turned out to actually be "The Mitch Easter Show."  Writing and singing all of the songs and playing damn near every instrument on the album (with a few friends helping out here and there), Easter single-handedly kept the band name alive with the hopes of finding a new permanent line-up in the near future.  The record has its rough patches, but the majestic "Fell" is worth the price of admission alone.  1988's Every Dog Has His Day was again largely Easter himself, although Angie Carlson (who would spend a brief period as Mrs. Mitch Easter) took some of the instrumental load this time around.  Together they found a couple more folks to round out a fairly stable touring line-up, but Let's Active never went back into the recording studio.

Easter focused his efforts more on the production side of things throughout the 1990s, but in the past decade has played with the bands Shalini and The Fiendish Minstrels, as well as recording a solo album.  

In order to fill Tom's request for Let's Active, please enjoy both "Every Word Means No" and "Blue Line." Thank you for your request, Tom!

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