Monday, June 27, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #128

A bit of a highly sought-after New Wave curio to share with you this week, in the form of NYC quartet The Go.  Formed in 1979, The Go were one of the innumerable bands that traced their inspiration back to The Ramones.  Armed with three chords and attitude, they felt ready to take the world by storm.  If they fell a bit short of that mark, at least they made an impression at CBGB's, where they debuted at an open audition night and were the only band asked to return for a paying gig.

The Go broke no new ground.  Their jangly power-pop-with-spiky-hair sound was already being plied by several bands, but something about them stood out from the crowd.  They had an energy, a personality, and they had the knack (pun intended) for writing memorably catchy songs.  The best of their repertoire would become the centerpiece of their lone vinyl release, the 4-song 45 rpm Instant Reaction ep.  Fans of bands like The Shoes or 20/20 will find familiar comfort within these grooves: the title track and "Don't Take Her Away" were both punchy, energetic tracks that became underground favorites; "She Gives A Color To Me" and "Tomorrow Night" showed a moodier side and hinted that commercial success could be theirs if only they'd find that big break. 

They spent nearly four years looking for that break, playing the NY/NJ club circuit, shopping demo tapes around from label to label, making local-access cable TV appearances.  Unfortunately, it just never happened, and by 1983 the band was no more.  Instant Reaction, however, became the stuff of legend over the years.  With only 1000 copies pressed, it remains a holy grail for Punk and New Wave vinyl collectors, and usually fetches quite a price if you can find it (I've never actually seen a copy!)

That collector interest spurred the release of a compilation album in 2005, also titled Instant Reaction, put together by the Japan's Wizzard In Vinyl label, containing all four cuts from the ep and as much demo and studio outtake material as they could find.  The 22-song import was reconfigured into a 16-song abridged version released stateside through Rave-Up Records.  Both go for roughly $20 - take your pick.

This week's clip is one I never knew existed, for The Go's "Instant Reaction." Gotta love the low-budget early music video feel of this one, from the oh-so-1980 clothes to the not quite accurate lip-syncing.  Still, it's a classic.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 20, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #127

San Francisco's Los Microwaves were a quirky Synth-Punk trio who played together from roughly 1978 to 1982.  Comprised of David Javelosa (a/k/a David Microwave), Meg Brazil and Todd Rosa, the trio created four excellent singles and one pretty decent LP during their existence, and proved to be a very popular live act.

Finding their sonic home base somewhere between Wall Of Voodoo and The B-52's, Los Microwaves imbued their songs with a mixture of the mundane and the surreal.  At times they were guilty of trying too hard to be goofy - occasionally at the expense of the song - but more often than not they hit the mark.

Their best work is found on their singles.  They debuted in 1978 with "I Don't Want To Hold You," a blippy pop song that Javelosa would later rerecord under the David Microwave moniker.  The following year the issued the "Radio Heart" single.  One of their most popular songs, "Radio Heart" chirped along, irresistibly pushed forward by a nagging bassline and Meg Brazil's best Cindy Wilson/Kate Pierson impression.  Strange whizzes and boings and whatnot bubble up through the melody, but never quite overtake the song.  Excellent.

That strangeness would overtake the next single, the wonderful "Time To Get Up!" This may have been the most perfect encapsulation of Los Microwaves' sound: discordant keyboards, off-kilter sound, and Brazil's take as the reluctant sleepyhead combine to create one of the better singles of the genre.  Both "Radio Heart" and "Time To Get Up" appeared on Los Microwaves' lone album, Life After Breakfast.  While the good stuff on the album is truly fantastic (the two singles, "What's That Got To Do With Loving You?," the title track), the filler is at times difficult to get through.  Some bands are simply better as singles bands, and Los Microwaves were one of them.  A final single, "I Can't Say," was released in 1982, and that was the last of Los Microwaves.

This week's NW4NW entry includes an audio-only clip for the outstanding "Radio Heart," and the only promo video Los Microwaves made, "Life After Breakfast."  Enjoy!

Monday, June 13, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #126

The history of Punk Rock is littered with tales of tortured, misguided souls who destroyed themselves with drugs.  The most well-known cases (Sid Vicious, Darby Crash) were particularly sad because it seemed no one ever tried to stop them, and they were certainly incapable of stopping themselves.  A third case, one which gets considerably less press, at least saw his bandmates make it clear to him that there was a problem, but it was too little, too late.

Malcolm Owen formed The Ruts in 1977 with Paul Fox, Segs Jennings and Dave Ruffy.  They infused their take on UK Punk with Funk, Dub and Reggae, creating a sound that landed about midway between The Sex Pistols and The Clash.  After two years of playing the pubs and clubs circuit, they had their first single in the record shops, 1979's "In A Rut," which remains one of the best singles of the era.  In a bit of eerie foreshadowing, the b-side was a song called "H-Eyes," a warning against the dangers of heroin addiction in which Owen sings, "'s gonna screw your head, you're gonna wind up dead..."

The popularity of "In A Rut" got The Ruts signed to Virgin Records, who promptly issued two more singles, "Babylon's Burning" and "Something That I Said," both of which became decent hit records in the UK, and demand for a full album began to grow.   That album, The Crack, appeared in September of 1979, with the two Virgin singles re-recorded for the LP, as well as some new material.  One of the new tracks, "Jah War," was released as the next single; its Dub Reggae sound was an abrupt shift from the sneering Punk of the earlier singles, and helped The Ruts reach a wider audience (especially since The Clash had already begun to blaze the trail from Punk to Reggae).

The following year, The Ruts released the outstanding single "Staring At The Rude Boys," but Owen was becoming unreliable due to increasingly heavy drug use.  After a sixth single, "West One (Shine On Me)," the rest of the group fired Owen, giving as reason their inability to work with him in his addicted state.  After a short period of inactivity, the band and Owen reached an accord and reuinited.  One would assume that part of the reconciliation would have had to include Owen getting the help he needed, but it never happened.  On July 14, 1980, Malcolm Owen was found dead of a heroin overdose at his parents' home, only 26 years old at the time of his death.

Later in the year, The Ruts released a second album, Grin And Bear It, as a tribute/goodbye to Owen.  Containing the new singles as well as an assortment of demos and live material, it's a brief window into what could have been.

The rest of the band continued on for awhile under the name Ruts D.C. ("da capo," a Latin musical term meaning "from the beginning"), following the Reggae/Funk path the band had begun to explore and adding bits of Jazz to mix, but the fire was gone.  Had Owen not destroyed himself with heroin, The Ruts may well have evolved into the equal of The Pistols or The Clash; the potential was certainly there.  As it is, we are left with an album and a half's worth of material and the question, "What if?"

Our clips this week nearly bookend The Ruts' recording career. First up is the classic "In A Rut," and then the excellent "Staring At The Rude Boys."  Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

You Say You Want (Another) Revolution?

"When you don't know where to start, go back to basics..."

Good advice that opens the new release from Lancaster PA's DIY studio assemblage The French Revolution, and advice that the band's core of Daniel French and Jeremy Bentley took to heart both in the original concept for the band and in the recording of their outstanding sophomore effort, Back To Basics.

If you've studied your Lancaster music history, you know that this Revolution began in October of 2009 with the The Letdown, both a debut album and a manifesto:  To Hell with the Corporate Music Business! To Hell with endless touring and gigs in seedy dives in front of unenthusiastic drunks!  To Hell with trying to write The Next Big Hit! To Hell with charging ridiculous prices for a CD so that some label can make a profit! Let us simply make music we enjoy, and give it to the people who enjoy hearing it!

That's right - give it to them. No charge. Free.  A Revolutionary concept indeed!

The Letdown definitely was not a letdown, and neither is Back To Basics, although they are quite different from one another.  Among the guerrilla tactics being employed in this Revolution is the drafting of an ever-changing musical militia.  French and Bentley remain the heart and soul of The French Revolution, but the other musicians helping out on Basics are a completely different cast of characters than those on The Letdown, save for the return of guitarist/keyboardist Jason Sherman.  (Sherman takes a larger role this time around, providing a sizable share of the vocal duties, which were previously solely provided by French.)  The result is a decidedly different personality than the first album.  Where The Letdown was a rocking house party, Back To Basics finds itself getting lost in moments of almost sentimental introspection - the partygoer who takes a moment outside to clear his head before rejoining the fun.

It's nice to hear these layers of emotion becoming a part of The French Revolution's growing bag of tricks.  It shows a continuing growth and depth in songwriting and a willingness to follow where the music they are creating leads.  I would have been disappointed (dare I say "let down"?) to simply hear a rehash of the first album.  Still, it remains difficult to describe the sounds here.  Part of the manifesto is to play the music they want to play, which means they are not beholden to the bounds of any particular genre.  Obviously hard rock is the basic foundation, but that's an awfully wide foundation.  That they each grew up on 90s alternative rock is apparent, but it is equally apparent that they know well the 70s roots from which that grungy genre grew.  Their ability to throw a nifty hook or two into the mix belies a bit of pop influence as well.

Back To Basics is, like its predecessor, being offered as free download here beginning today, June 7.  (The Letdown continues to be available as well.)  My favorite cuts are "D.O.A." and "Incomplete," which you can listen to below, but please, do your part to help the Revolution - download the full album today, and pass the link along to a few friends.  I'm interested in hearing your reviews, so please stop back here and share your thoughts on the album!



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Monday, June 6, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #125

I discovered far too late that one of the greatest "first wave" Punk bands, Stiff Little Fingers, are not only back out on tour, but played in Baltimore this past weekend.  Well damn.  Would have loved to see them.  The good news, according their website, is that their first new album in seven years is in the works.  That bodes well for them coming back around in the relatively near future, I hope!

Stiff Little Fingers, named after a song by The Vibrators, began in Belfast, Ireland, in the mid-70s as hard rockers Highway Star before guitarist Henry Cluney discovered Punk Rock and took the band in that direction.  Jake Burns' gruff, strangled vocals fit the new sound perfectly, and with drummer Brian Faloon and new bassist Ali McMordie rounding out the band, they briefly toured as The Fast before settling on their now-famous moniker.  In early 1978 they issued their first salvo, the single "Suspect Device."  Famously influential UK DJ John Peel loved the record and played it regularly on his radio show, which in turn lead Stiff Little Fingers to a deal with Rough Trade Records.  By the end of the year, they had their first album, Inflammable Material, on record store shelves.

Inflammable Material is as vital to the history of Punk Rock as Ramones or Never Mind The Bollocks.  As one might expect from a late-70s Irish band, this is politically charged stuff delivered at machine-gun pace with barely time to breathe between reloadings, but that does not mean it's not melodic.  Where many a banner-waving slogan-spouting Punk band's songs come across as hyper-speed football chants, SLF's history in hard rock informs their sound. Sure it's basic three-chord stuff, but there is a definite sense of songwriting here as opposed to simple shouting.  With "Suspect Device," "Alternative Ulster," "Barbed Wire Love," and "Wasted Life" among its tracks, it's simply a stunning, must-have LP.

1980's follow-up, Nobody's Heroes, keeps the energy level high and snarl gruff.  Musically, SLF starts to branch out a bit here, especially into dub, ska, and reggae territories hinted at on the first album. (See their excellent cover of The Specials' "Doesn't Make It All Right.""Gotta Get Away," "At The Edge," and the title track were all released as singles, and while perhaps not as immediately memorable as the first album's classics, Nobody's Heroes is every bit as good.

Go For It, released the following year, saw the sonic attack mellowing a bit.  SLF's dabblings into varied styles underscored comparisons that had always been made to The Clash, and much like that band, not every experiment works.  Still, the songs and the sound is solid.  A year later came Now Then..., the band's most commercial effort, despite being a sales flop. The album is a fantastic piece of power-pop ear candy (the lead single, "Bits Of Kids," could have been a Cheap Trick single), and has aged remarkably well.  Problem was, the kids wanted Punk Rock, and this sure wasn't Inflammable Material.

A a result of the backlash, the band called it quits.  A decade later, a new Stiff Little Fingers album, Flags and Emblems, appeared.  Burns, Cluney and McMordie had actually reformed a few years earlier, playing live shows here and there, and decided to have another go at being a band.  Three more albums were released in the 1990's (Get A Life, Tinderbox, and Hope Street), each with different line-ups.  2004 saw the release of Guitar And Drum, with the anthemic "Can't Get Away With That" helping it to reach the same level as the first four albums.  And then, silence.  That is, until word of the current tour and a possible new record.

For today's NW4NW entry, here are Stiff Little Fingers in their early prime with the classic "Suspect Device." Enjoy!

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Sunday, June 5, 2011

At The Moment

I'm smack in the middle of one hell of a dark period.  This one rolled in over the weekend unannounced, triggered by the stupidest little thing, but then these episodes are rarely triggered by anything of substance.  (I remember one day several years back when, out with a group of friends, someone commented that I seemed like I was in a particularly good mood.  The woman I was with at the time warned, only half-facetiously, "Don't worry, his mood will change.  Suddenly, and without warning, but it WILL change.  Enjoy it while you can.")

It's funny how I can always recognize when my OCD or anxiety demons are up to their tricks, but the depression demon can be so slick as to set up shop and get to work well in advance of my internal alarm system notifying me.  It's like a smoke detector that is extremely poorly placed, so that by the time it goes off half the house is engulfed in flame already.  Still haven't figured out where to put that damn detector.

This is a particularly rough one.  I got up yesterday morning in a fairly decent frame of mind, but somewhere along about lunchtime, I realized things weren't right.  I didn't recognize what was happening yet, but something was off.  And I was suddenly damn tired - not just sleepy, but the kind of tired where moving your limbs is a chore, and where sitting up straight seems like far more effort than it's worth. I napped. Most of the afternoon and evening. Ate some dinner, but more because I knew I should eat something than because I was hungry.  "Dinner" was really a bologna and cheese sandwich.  Rarely left the couch. At no point during the day did I open the blinds, much less leave the house.  Just sat there, lumplike, alternately sleeping and staring at the TV.  Today has been more of the same.  Honestly, I couldn't tell you where today went.  I was "up" around 7:00-ish, but again the day has been spent napping on and off.  No appetite. No motivation.

My head is uncomfortable. It's not a headache in the traditional sense - it's not pain.  I feel as though I cannot unfurrow my brow, and my own voice is screaming in my brain as if it were trying desperately to jump out of my head, flinging itself like a tantrum-throwing child against the inside of my skull in vain efforts to crash through that wall of bone to freedom.  I want to cry, but there are no tears to cry.  Resultantly, my eyes burn and feel heavy in their sockets.  My teeth are gritted and my neck is tense.  Hell, every muscle in my body is tensed as if I were preparing to have to physically defend myself from something.  My stomach feels strange - not nauseous, not nervous, but somewhere in between, similar to the way it feels when experiencing a surge of adrenalin, but not exactly the same.  The adrenalin surge fades with time; this has  been a day and a half now.

Does any of that make sense?  I know these sensations very well.  They are not symptoms of illness - well, at least not of physical illness like a flu bug or having eaten something that might have been a few days past its use-by date.  The thoughts that accompany them, fueled undoubtedly by my ever-present Internal Greek Chorus of OCD and SA, are both sad and angry, usually.  This time, they are more angry than sad.  It's a loud, visceral anger, overpowering at times yet unfocused.  I couldn't tell you who or what I am angry with, I am just angry.  Feel like I could lash out like a cornered animal at anyone who came too close.

And therein lies another great conundrum:  I wish I had someone I could tell all this to, someone who would listen and understand and tell me its OK and help me get through this.  At the same time, I don't want anyone around me when I'm like this, because I know I will be nasty towards them - a cutting, sarcastic, verbal nastiness.  It is, I think, a large part of the reason I remain single: it takes a very strong, thick-skinned woman to be with me during these times.  Believe me, I have scared off more than a few over the years when things got "too intense," to use the phrase I have heard more than a few times.

And before you suggest, yes, I do have a therapist - have had for years.  But that's a very different type of interaction.  An important one, one I value immensely, and one that I recommend highly to anyone who fights demons similar to mine.  I would never have come as far as I have without my therapist's help.  As I say, though, that's a different interaction.

I'm going to stop here.  I may not be making a whole hell of a lot of sense, but blogging these things helps me to sort out the jumble of thoughts that clog my beautifully broken brain.  I don't write these types of posts looking for sympathy or to cry "oh woe is me," nor do I write them really for anyone's benefit but my own.  Maybe there are some of you out there reading who get it, maybe there aren't.  Hell, maybe no one reads this.  But it helps me, and that what matters.  At the moment, anyway.

Six Word Sunday

Time to change a few things.