Friday, December 30, 2011

Since Everyone Else is Doing It: My Favorite Records of 2011

This is not a countdown.

I feel it's important to state that right off the bat. Yes, I know that in these waning days of the year it's the thing bloggers do: countdowns of the best or worst songs, albums, movies, varieties of soup, what have you. And I hate those kinds of posts, because they always lead to the same arguments among the commenters: "How could you rank X higher than Y? Are you insane?"

2011 was a pretty damn good year for music. Lots of fantastic stuff out there if you're willing to dig for it. So, despite my reticence to join in with the year-end-list crowd, I'm doing it anyway - but I'm not ranking these in any order. Think of this more as a "buying guide" provided to you by your old pal Bryan. You're welcome.

Another note before we dive in: yes, I know one or two titles here might technically have been 2010 releases, but I'm including them because they got a lot of airplay around here this year, and thus they are 2011 releases in spirit. And it's my list. So suck it. Here we go:

Freezepop - Imaginary Friends/Secret Companion
Originally released in the fall of 2010, Freezepop's fourth album, Imaginary Friends, was reissued this year as part of a limited edition two-disc package with nearly another album's worth of bonus material, Secret Companion.  Founding members Liz Enthusiasm and The Other Sean T. Drinkwater, along with relative newcomers Robert John "Bananas" Foster and Christmas Disco-Marie Sagan (it took two people to replace the departed Duke of Pannekoeken!) continue the band's remarkable ability to recreate a spot-on circa-1983 synthpop sound updated for the 21st century.  It's a fuller, lusher sound these days, but that's not a bad thing.  Their insanely clever lyrics and constant ironic wink will leave you wondering at times where the line between tribute and parody lies, but you'll be dancing the whole time, so does it really matter?  "Doppelganger" is the single, and it is simply outstanding:

Shilpa Ray & her Happy Hookers - Teenage and Torture
Pounding out blues-based punk-tinged rawk-n-roll on her harmonium and spewing forth raging vocals that will pin you to the wall if you're not careful, Shilpa Ray has drawn favorable comparisons to just about every emotion-fueled female musical icon you can name from Ella Fitzgerald to Chrissy Hynde and beyond, yet she stands quite uniquely on her own with no comparison being quite accurate.  "Heaven In Stereo," the first single from Ray's band's second LP, is representative of the driving, insistent sound you'll find throughout.  Rough-edged but stunning. Don't miss this one!

Crisis of Conformity - "Fist Fight!"/"Kick it Down and Kick it Around" (single)
Saturday Night Live's greatest musical export since The Blues Brothers turns out to be this nostalgia-fueled celebration of mid-80s hardcore.  The brainchild of Fred Armisen, Crisis of Conformity found life in a single skit last season (a newlywed's father gets his old band together at his daughter's wedding reception, and the four graying middle-aged friends launch into "Fist Fight!" while wrecking the place). All of the by-the-book moves are here, from the mid-song tempo change to the nonsequitor name-checking of Ronald Reagan and Alexander Haig.  Armisen should know those moves - his pedigree is real, having played drums for Chicago's Trenchmouth in his youth.  Drag City Records released the single this year; the clip includes both songs.

Van Buren Boys - Up All Night
Fans of The Exploding Hearts, Paul Collins' Beat, or other hard-edged power pop should line up for this one, the second full-length LP from The Van Buren Boys.  Their first effort, 2009's Six String Love, was a helluva debut whose only drawback was that every song sounded very samey (that they all sounded like The Clash's "Gates Of The West" helped mitigate that, of course).  With Up All Night, The Van Buren Boys (Seinfeld fans should get the reference) find the confidence to stretch a bit beyond that safe zone. The result is a twangy, guitar-ringing sound that should put a big ol' smile on the faces of those other bands' fans.

They Might Be Giants - Join Us
What could I possibly say about They Might Be Giants that would add anything new or insightful to the many, many songs of their praise over the past 25 years or so?  You know everything you need to: John Flansburgh and John Linell are freakin' geniuses when it comes to writing insidiously catchy songs with lyrics far wittier than you or I could ever come up with, and the well from which their creativity springs seems to be bottomless.  This year's album is no exception.  Just get it.

Shonen Knife - Osaka Ramones
It is truly amazing to consider how far The Ramones' influence has reached over the years.  What would music sound like today had they not existed?  Scary prospect, isn't it?  Many, many artists have attempted to repay their debt by either covering Ramones songs (or occasionally, full albums!) or penning tributes.  Few have done so with the unbridled enthusiasm of the wonderful Shonen Knife.  Joey Ramone himself gave the girls the nickname "The Osaka Ramones" after hearing them play; they have always said they learned to play rock and roll by listening to The Ramones and The Beatles.  Well, if you're gonna do it, you couldn't ask for better teachers!  On Osaka Ramones, Shonen Knife reverentially honor the classics: "Blitzkrieg Bop," "Rock 'n' Roll High School," "Beat On the Brat" - they're all here.  My personal fave, though, is their take on "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker." Enjoy!

Poly Styrene - Generation Indigo
Former X-Ray Spex frontwoman Poly Styrene's comeback album also, sadly, turned out to be her swansong.  Released shortly before losing her battle with cancer, Generation Indigo presented Poly in prime form.  In 1977 she was singing about a world of dayglo and genetic engineering and disposable society; in 2011 she was still going on about such modernisms being foisted on us in place of real human interaction ("Virtual Boyfriend").  Her vocal style, once described as shrieking out songs "with all the delicacy of a cat in heat," had grown into a confident, strong, unique voice that served her well whether the sound was hard, soft, reggae, dance, whatever.  Enjoy "Thrash City," one of the best tracks on an excellent album:

Madam Adam - Madam Adam
From the hard rock side of my record collection I offer South Carolina's Madam Adam.  Discovered this band opening up for Halestorm here in Lancaster, PA, about this time last year, and was very impressed.  Granted, they're not breaking any new ground here: it's just no-frills, by-the-book rock-n-roll with tinges of Aerosmith and Cheap Trick. It's a sound that will always sell because it's just good.  It's party music; it's music for speeding down the highway in a car filled with too many friends; it's music for blasting on your stereo and violently air-guitaring until the neighbors pound on the door and demand you turn it down.  Crank up the single "Sex Ain't Love" and see for yourself:

Hillbilly Moon Explosion - Buy Beg or Steal
After half a dozen albums, it's a shame Switzerland's Hillbilly Moon Explosion haven't found a larger audience.  Basing their sound in American rockabilly with a modern twist, not entirely unlike HorrorPops, Hillbilly Moon Explosion are at once very familiar and very foreign. You could jump in just about anywhere in their discography and be pleasantly surprised at the gems you'll find, but the prize found in this year's release is their cover of Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark's "Enola Gay," about the first aircraft to drop an atomic bomb as a weapon of war.  Brilliant!

Kimberly Freeman - Into Outer Space
I discovered Austin, Texas' One-Eyed Doll earlier this year, and they have quickly become one of my favorite bands. As I've gotten to know their material, I've discovered that Kimberly Freeman is a remarkably talented and unbelievably creative force.  Within the framework of One-Eyed Doll she is all over the musical map (as noted in earlier posts, they run the gammut from death metal screaming to hook-laden pop to children's-song chanting); outside of One-Eyed Doll, her solo work finds even more facets to her fascinating musical world.  I could rave about her work for hours, but that would take away time you could be spending listening for yourself! Check out "Fame And Loathing," the single from Freeman's 2011 solo album Into Outer Space, then follow the link to the One-Eyed Doll site and start exploring!

Amy Gore & Her Valentines - "Drivin' Around"
A late entry in the 2011 sweepstakes, but a winner nonetheless, is the debut track from Amy Gore's current ensemble.  Best known for her work in The Gore Gore Girls and her teaming with Nikki Corvette to form Gorevette, Amy gathered up these particular Valentines for a one-off gig in her native Detroit.  They discovered they really enjoyed playing together, and ta-da: a new band is born! "Drivin' Around" is one of those tracks that nearly defies genre.  It's a solid chunk of whaddaya-wanna-do-tonight-I-dunno-whadda-you-wanna-do guitar rock, with a simple but insidiously catchy chorus and sound that holds great promise for a full album's worth of goodies from the band. Soon Amy?  Please?

OK, those are my picks for 2011. How about yours? Any glaring omissions here? Have at it in the comments section! And also, please have a safe and happy New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

He Jammed Econo - D. Boon 4/1/58 - 12/22/85

Just posted up a couple of clips on the Facebook Page, in remembrance of two musical giants we lost on this day.  The Clash's Joe Strummer passed away on December 22, 2002; I wrote about the anniversary of his passing in one of my earliest posts here.  But many years before that, on December 22, 1985, D. Boon of The Minutemen lost his life in a car accident at the far-too-young age of 27 (yes, he's a member of the 27 Club).

Remembering D. Boon, my mind immediately goes back to the night of December 4-5, 1985.  I was finishing up the first semester of my Freshman year at University of Richmond, and was discovering what great town Richmond, VA, was for seeing bands.  Although R.E.M. had not yet broken through to their mainstream popularity, they were already huge college radio idols - especially south of the Mason-Dixon Line.  Word had come to town that R.E.M. would be coming to Richmond, playing live at The Mosque (now The Landmark Theater).  My circle of friends were eager to see them; I might have been the only one in our group who was even more psyched to see the opening band: The Minutemen.

The Minutemen came out of San Pedro, CA. The trio of D. Boon, Mike Watt and George Hurley had been together for about five years, playing a unique amalgam of punk, jazz, and folk that seemed at times, to borrow from one of their album titles, to buzz and howl. At other times, their music soared, rolled in on lazy waves, and landed harmlessly at your feet. D. Boon sang, hollered, whispered, recited poetry; Mike Watt thumped a bass like no one else; George Hurley pounded out the most intricate rat-a-tat-tat-boom.  They were amazing, but they were a band out of place at times: too progressive and intricate for the harder-core-than-thou crowd who wanted only fasterandlouder, too abrasive and political for the hairspray kids.  But Michael Stipe and the rest of R.E.M. heard them, loved them, and took them on tour with them. And they were coming to Richmond!

The Mosque was theater seating, and tickets were to go on sale the day of the show, so about half a dozen or so of us got the bright idea that we would camp out the night before so we could be first in line and get the best seats in the house.  So on an early December night, there we were, wrapped in blankets and sleeping bags like hobos on the sidewalk in front of The Mosque, feeling not quite safe enough to fall asleep but becoming more and more exhausted as the night wore on.  Odd folks roam those city streets at the wee hours, we learned; yet to them we were the oddities putting ourselves on display.  I know I nodded off once or twice throughout the night, but mostly we stayed up swapping stories, cracking each other up, sharing a few beers and the joy of knowing that forgoing our soft warm mattresses for the cold hard sidewalk would be worth it for the front-and-center tickets our night would earn us the next day.

As dawn broke, we began to wonder why no one else had thought to camp out...or why no one was even lining up for the ticket office to open. Ha! We thought we had outsmarted them all!  I can only imagine what went through the box office person's mind when they opened that morning to find six shivering, exhausted, unshowered bodies wrapped in sleeping bags and waiting with money clenched in our fists.  We asked for the best tickets available, and in that completely disinterested, unemphatic voice that can only come from a jaded ticket booth attendant we were told the horrible truth: "Ain't no best tickets. All General Admission."

We had camped out for General Admission tickets.

The show turned out to earn a place in infamy.  In her contribution to the liner notes of the excellent Rhino Records 4-disc boxed set Left Of The Dial, Karen Schoemer talks about being at that same show, and describes the sad scene:
...the crowd, collegiate and beery, booed [The Minutemen]. Now, I had no idea at the time what The Minutemen were about, except that their songs were short, but I remember looking at the crowd and thinking, 'This isn't cool. If we wanted to act like a bunch of close-minded morons, couldn't we just attend a Rod Stewart show?'
My  memory is that, despite the crowd, both bands played fantastic sets, although in my mind's eye I see The Minutemen looking out of place with their minimal gear on the fairly large Mosque stage.  Still, they were electrifying, and I am so glad I had the chance to see them, even if it meant being so foolish as to spend a night on a city sidewalk.

Seventeen days after that show, on December 22, D. Boon was killed. RIP, D.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #140

This time of year, radio station playlists seem to fill up with the usual Christmas fare.  For the past 28 (!) years, those Yuletide playlists have included The Waitresses' holiday hit, "Christmas Wrapping."  So, no surprise to have already heard it several times this year. I will admit to a chuckle, however, when I heard one DJ refer to The Waitresses as "one hit wonders," referring to their annual classic as being their one hit. While they were never a chart-topping act, they had at least three singles receive notable mainstream success - that's more hits than many acts can claim!

The Waitresses started life as an imaginary band in Akron, Ohio, circa 1978.  Chris Butler had been playing with the band Tin Huey, when he noticed that the bands that were breaking big out of the scene in Ohio (The Dead Boys, Pere Ubu, Devo, etc.) were doing so by heading to New York and merging into the CBGB's crowd.  Wanting to let the world know that Ohio was a happening place, he and musician/producer Liam Sternberg came up with the idea of putting together a compilation where the joke would be that none of the bands actually existed, but were really all Chris and Liam (as he explained in the liner notes to one of the many "Best Of" compilations of Waitresses material, reprinted here).

By the time the first piece of Waitresses vinyl appeared, the Short Stack 7-inch, in 1978, there still wasn't an actual band.  The record's A-side, a Devo-esque track called "Clones," was quite different from the funkier and more accessible B-side, "Slide."  Neither sound anything like what The Waitresses would eventually become; legend says that both tracks were actually Chris and Liam with Tin Huey backing them up.

Butler had a knack for writing songs from a female perspective, and soon went in search of female vocalist to bring those works to life.  Enter Patty Donahue, who would join the band in time for their next recorded output, a song called "The Comb."  Liam Sternberg had become the in-house producer for Stiff Records and had apparently never forgotten the idea for a compilation of Ohio bands; by the time The Akron Compilation hit the shelves in early 1979, there were plenty of real bands sprouting up in the second wave of the Ohio scene.  The Waitresses were represented by "The Comb" and "Slide" (while "Clones" ended up being a hidden track on the end of the comp).

By the turn of the decade, Butler had followed the path of many others to New York with Donahue in tow.  There, The Waitresses' lineup was soon rounded out by ex-Television drummer Billy Ficca, saxophonist Mars Williams, keyboardist Dan Klayman and bass player Tracy Wormworth. They became a popular live band, and in 1981 contributed "Christmas Wrapping" to Ze Records' holiday compilation A Christmas Record. A year earlier, Ze had released The Waitresses' second single, "I Know What Boys Like."  It was with these releases that The Waitresses found their signature sound - a funky New Wave vibe with horns that were far less skronky than the concurrent No Wave scene happening in the Big Apple, with Patty Donahue's unmistakeably sarcastic vocals layered over top. Trouser Press described her style quite accurately: "she doesn't sing so much as carry a simultaneous conversation and tune."

The band soon signed to Polydor Records, who in 1982 reissued the "I Know What Boys Like" single.  This time it caught on thanks to a quirky video getting airplay on MTV, and the song soon became a cult hit which is to this day a New Wave staple.  On the basis of that success, The Waitresses were tapped to sing the theme song for the TV series Square Pegs.  The wonderfully-titled I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts EP appeared soon after, containing two of their three biggies, "Christmas Wrapping" and "Square Pegs," along with three more similarly snarky tracks.  The success of that record led to a full album, Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?, which made "I Know What Boys Like" available on LP, but otherwise contained new material that followed the standard Waitresses formula.  Some tracks are very good ("No Guilt", "It's My Car"), while others start to sound a bit repetitive.

When their second album arrived in 1984, the snarkiness was wisely toned down a bit.  Bruiseology showed great promise in its lead single, the perfectly wonderful "Make The Weather."  Unfortunately, the band was going through a great deal of internal strife during the recording of the album, resulting in Patty Donahue walking out of the band and several tracks needing to be finished without her.  As a result, the album is a bit shaky at points, although still recommended.

With Donahue gone, Butler called on Holly Beth Vincent to join the band as the new frontwoman.  She toured with the band for a few weeks, but it just wasn't a fit, and before long Patty was back.  It seemed The Waitresses were back on track, but it didn't click. By the end of 1984, The Waitresses were done with no more material released.

Chris Butler stayed involved in the music business, mainly doing production work and songwriting.  The most visible members of the band these days are Mars Williams, who is currently touring with The Psychedelic Furs, and Tracy Wormworth, who has been playing off and on with The B-52's for several years.  Sadly, Patty Donahue passed away in December 1996 after battling lung cancer for a year.

For this week's NW4NW, here are the clips for the classic "I Know What Boys Like" and the excellent "Make The Weather." Then, as a Christmas bonus, a fan-made video for "Christmas Wrapping." Merry Christmas!

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Winner! Winner! Chicken Dinner!

Oh boy, am I a lucky guy! Apparently, I've won $68,000 dollars! Let the singing and dancing in the streets commence!

Pictured is the letter I received from World Link Finance Inc. informing me that was one of the "lucky winners" in a "Publisher's Clearing house [sic]" Compensation Draw Sweepstakes, and I've won a lump sum of $68K which will be delivered to me by special courier.  Can you imagine the joy?  I'm already spending the money in my head!

"Lucky" is absolutely the right word, too!  You wanna know just how lucky I am? I won a sweepstakes that I never even entered! That's right, read 'em and weep: all you chumps out there who think you have to play to win - I just proved you wrong!

I'll be contacting my File Agent on Monday to start the claiming process.  These folks thought of everything! They even sent me an advance check of $3866 to cover the Government Service Tax and Insurance! All I have to do is cash that check and wire them back $2976.55 of it, and I'm on my way to riches, baby!

Sure, I find it a little strange that the good folks at World Link Finance Inc. sent the letter to me in an envelope bearing the logo and name of Hudson's Bay Co., and that the check bears the logo and name of a company called Tahitian Noni.  I figure that must be some sort of security measure. A simple Google search tells me that  Hudson's Bay Co. happens to be the oldest commercial corporation in North America and today is a retail clothier throughout Canada, and that Tahitian Noni is a multi-level marketing company promoting a health drink.  My guess is that World Link Finance uses their names and logos to throw others off the track: greedy relatives and friends will just think I'm shopping for clothes or getting paid for marketing a beverage rather than winning a sweepstakes, and won't come begging for money.  Pretty smart, World Link Finance!

You see, I did my homework!  I know World Link Finance Inc. uses top-level security, because they can't even be found in a Google search! I looked up their address on Google Street View, and as you can see, they take security so seriously that they even camouflage their offices.  You wouldn't even know they were there! So, before you ask, that's also probably why a finance company in New York City has a phone number with a Toronto area code.  It all makes perfect sense!

And how considerate of them to rely on me to handle the Government Service Tax and Insurance, rather than simply taking the funds they sent to me and just delivering them to the proper authorities!  They were nice enough to send more funds than needed, so I get to have a little extra spending cash for Christmas. Happy Holidays, World Link Finance!  Now, I had never heard of "Government Service Tax and Insurance," so I turned to Google once again.  Google couldn't point me to any place that told me exactly what it was, but it did show me that lots of other winners were supposed to pay the same thing, so it must be legit, right?

The check itself is a thing of genius, sheer genius! My scanner kind of picked up the watermark, which clearly says "void" on it - obviously a way to test bank employees to make sure they're validating these checks!  Why, with security measures that advanced, how could this be anything but the real deal?

Those clever bastards even managed to keep my name entirely off the actual letter, and rather than have it signed by anyone, they had it "approved" by Mark Stines. He's a Vice President of Global Operations, so he  must be very important.  Just look at his smiling, trustworthy face right there at the bottom of my letter.  You know he's got to be a big muckety-muck, because he looks an awful lot like another Vice President of Global Operations, Vernon Kimberly, of C&C Services Inc.  I found a picture of one their letters to another winner online.
Almost an eerie resemblance, isn't it? But you know, put those bigwigs in their monkey suits and you can't tell 'em apart, right?

What? Scam? Whaddaya mean scam?  Naw, you're just saying that because you're envious of my good fortune!  Why, I bet next you'll be telling me that there really is no Nigerian Prince who needs my help in secretly moving millions of dollars out of his country, and is willing to split the funds with me 50/50!

I'm rich, rich I tell ya!

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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

This is Number Three

Today marks three years of existence for this li'l ol' blog o' mine!  Talk about time flying! Hard to believe that much time has passed since I sat down one afternoon and pounded out my first rant, in this case about people who seem unable to grasp that they are the ones slowing traffic at Lancaster's otherwise wonderful Central Market.

In the three years since then, over 10,000 unique visitors have stopped by to spend a little time here.  That amazes me. Not because I think I'm uninteresting, but rather I am amazed by the sheer scope of reach my words have here.  When I was doing my radio show in Richmond, VA, many years back, I don't think I reached 10,000 people!  Certainly I didn't reach folks from so many varied locations.  You've come to my blog from Spain, Japan, New Zealand, the UK, Sweden, Malaysia, Croatia and more other countries than I can list here.  In fact, six of the seven continents have sent readers to this blog (only Antarctica remains - come on, where are my Antarctic readers?!?).

Please know I am grateful for you all, whether you're a regular subscriber here or you just stumbled on the blog by chance and decided to read a post or two.  I am always open to your thoughts and suggestions on how to improve - what would you like to see more of? Less of? Want to suggest a band for an NW4NW post? Interested in writing a guest post?  Let me know!

If you're on Facebook and haven't already "liked" the blog's page, please consider doing so.  On occasion I put bits and pieces up there that don't make the cut for the blog itself.  If you're on Twitter, you can follow the blog's Twitter account, @TWIWGTS.

I'm looking forward to what the next year brings - I hope you are too!  In the meantime, join me in celebrating our Happy Third Anniversary!

Monday, December 5, 2011

New Wave for the New Week #139

Canadian-born Jeff Plewman has been making fascinating music since 1975, although you have likely never heard of him.  An incredibly talented individual, Jeff seems capable of playing any instrument you hand him. He is best known, however, for his work with electric violin and mandolin, often processed further through assorted synthesizers and, as he refers to them, "devices."  He has toured with Gary Numan and Iggy Pop, among others, and he is still going strong in 2011, having just released a fine retrospective compilation of his career's work. But if you go to your favorite record store (or, as I guess we must say in 21st century, "music source") and ask for Jeff Plewman's latest release, you'll get little more than funny looks. Jeff doesn't record or perform under his given name.  Jeff records and performs with his head and face wrapped mummy-like in bandages, wearing tuxedo and top hat, and goes only by the name Nash The Slash.

It wasn't always thus.  Nash started out as a normal, unbandaged musician as part of a Canadian mid-70's progressive band called FM (think long hair and long, long songs).  After FM released their first album, Nash struck out on his own, beginning with 1978's Bedside Companion. At the time this four-song instrumental EP was released, as the cover art reveals, the top hat and jacket were already in place, but the bandages didn't appear until the following year.  During a 1979 tour, with the crisis at Three Mile Island having just occured, Nash wanted to make a statement about the dangers of a nuclear meltdown. He appeared onstage one night wrapped in bandages dipped in phosphorescent paint as a warning that "this may happen to you!" The bandages quickly became a trademark, and he has not appeared in public unwrapped ever since.

1979 also saw Nash's first full-length LP, Dreams And Nightmares. Following the debut EP stylistically but beginning to add vocals to the mix, Nash slashed out a sound not far removed from German electronic noodlers like Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream. In 1997 both the EP and this first LP were combined onto one CD as Blind Windows.  Setting his sights on the pop music world next, Nash released a cover of Jan & Dean's "Dead Man's Curve" in 1980 to positive acclaim.  The follow-up album, Children Of The Night, included that single as well as a few other covers ("19th Nervous Breakdown," "Smoke On The Water") as well as the usual experimental instrumental pieces.  Covering well-known songs made Nash more accessible, but also threatened to paint him into a corner as a gimmick act - and the hidden-identity/bizarre cover songs gimmick was already taken by The Residents (with whom Nash was briefly associated).

Nash answered his critics with his most wonderful album, 1982's And You Thought You Were Normal, which split the difference with one side of fairly standard New Wave pop and one side of instrumental noodling, and no cover versions to be found in either basket.  Nash scored a club hit with the album's single, "Dance After Curfew;" other notable cuts include "Pretty Folks," "Vincent's Crows," and the utterly majestic "Citizen" ("I've got nothing to hide/I just can't decide/Am I just a citizen?").  Then, in the ultimate thumb-your-nose-at-your-detractors move, he followed that two years later with an album full of nothing but cover songs! American Bandages found Nash slashing up the theme from American Bandstand, "Born To Be Wild," "Psychotic Reaction," and "Hey Joe" among others, while also taking another stab at "Dead Man's Curve."  The song from which the titular pun was taken, Grand Funk Railroad's "(We're An) American Band," gets a slight rewrite given that Nash always performs completely solo; hence he sings, "I'm an American Band."  Brilliant.

Having made his point, Nash pulled a most unexpected move and returned to his old bandmates, rejoining FM, although he retained the now-standard Nash The Slash uniform.  While spending the next few years playing with FM, Nash also dabbled in film scores and other production work.  But it wasn't until 1991 that we got the next solo Nash The Slash album, his soundtrack to Highway 61. 1999's Thrash demonstrated handily that Nash had not missed a step in his instrumental work; 2008's In-A-Gadda-Da-Nash equally proved he still knew his way around a goofy cover version or two.  In between those two albums, Nash issued a stunning score he created for the silent horror classic Nosferatu. Is there anything this guy can't do?

Despite all his work and critical acclaim - both from the music press and his fellow musicians - Nash The Slash remains relatively obscure. This year's The Reckless Use Of Electricity, a handy compendium of Nash's finer moments, is a welcome introduction for those new to this fascinating musician's oddly mesmerizing world of sound.  Get it.

For this week's NW4NW, here is some early-80s vintage Nash The Slash. First, the clip for his breakthrough cover of "Dead Man's Curve," then his club hit, "Dance After Curfew."  Enjoy!

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Friday, December 2, 2011


NaNoWriMo is done. Over.  And I failed.

I tried; I really did. 50,000 words is a lot, sure, but it wasn't an unachievable goal.  Many folks reached or surpassed that number.  Hell, in the NaNoWriMo Group on Facebook, there were folks who cranked out nearly half of the target in the first week alone.  Many folks "won" this year by reaching or surpassing 50,000 words, and I applaud them. It ain't easy to do!

To say I fell short of the mark would be an understatement.  At month's end I had just shy of 10,000 words - less than a fifth of the goal.  (OK, confession time: I really probably wrote closer to 25,000 words if you count everything I wrote and then immediately discarded as being worthless, terrible, or downright embarrassingly poor writing. Still, that's only half the way there.)

It was not for lack of ideas.  I had plenty of them - scribbled on scraps of paper and backs of envelopes, recorded on the Voice Memo app on my iPhone, swirling through my mind at night keeping me awake.  What I seemed incapable of doing was distilling those ideas down to basic English words and phrases and putting them on paper or screen in any way that resembled a coherent story.

It was not for lack of support.  Many friends spent the month cheering me on, pushing me along, letting me vent my frustrations and telling me to shut up and write when the situation called for it.  Thank you all; I apologize for not completing the task despite your best efforts and your good advices.

I spent more than one night staring at a blank screen, willing myself with all my might to start putting words down, and feeling that internal block pushing back just as mightily.  I tried everything: write meaningless bullshit until the words start flowing, write about a character going through the mundane actions of the day until he or she does something interesting, create dialogue equivalent to small talk between characters and let that conversation build.

I tried to write with music on. I tried to write with music off. I turned off my modem so that I would not be distracted by the Internet and Facebook and Twitter.  I tried writing in different rooms of the house. I tried writing outside of the house. I tried writing at different times of the day. And I grew more frustrated as the month wore on, and I saw - and felt - the time slip away with little progress being made.

I discovered a few things.  I don't write in chronological order; rather, I start to delve into a scene no matter where it is in the story's timeline.  Hey, I figure when the words actually do flow, who am I to stop the current simply because I haven't yet written the chapter before it?  My secondary characters are more fully fleshed out than my main characters.  The MCs have become little more than the vehicles for the inherent conflict that drives the story, whereas the SCs with whom they interact along the way have evolved into almost real people.  I kept thinking that if only I could get to know the MCs as well as I did the SCs, then things would really start to happen. Unfortunately, they hid their true selves from me.  I still don't even know their last names.  (Oh, don't get me started on naming character has had her name changed at least four or five times already...)

To top it all off, as I dug deeper into the story, I opened a door that created an entire second cast of characters and a completely new subplot.  That happened around the 20th day of the month, and while it was a breakthrough for the story, it sealed my fate for NaNoWriMo - it was just too much to think about.

So, I failed.  I didn't reach my goal. I didn't "win" NaNoWriMo.  But, I'm glad I did it, and I'm sure when I am finished beating myself up for not reaching 50,000 words I will see the positives of doing it.  People are already trying to show them to me: made a major plot breakthrough, have 10,000 more words than I did on November 1, am continuing to learn about and improve my own writing style and habits, and so forth.  On a certain level I know that, but right now I'm not ready to accept it.  Right now, in my mind, I failed.  Let me wallow in that for awhile, please. I need to do so to process it.

I will keep writing the story.  But I know now that it'll be slow going.  And next year, just maybe I'll come back and take on NaNoWriMo again.
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Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's Gonna Be A Punk Rock Christmas

I'm not quite sure how I missed The Angry Snowmans the first time around two years ago when they released their first album full of Christmas joy, especially considering my annual search for cool and unusual holiday music for the CD mix I make for friends each year, but I did.  My bad; my head is hung by the chimney in shame.

But lo, I have been shown the light with this year's release of their follow up album.  These guys are simply geniuses!  Punk rock parody is not an easy feat; attempts usually fall flat because people forget that at the heart of the best parody you find honest tribute.  These Snowmans know their Punk Rock and play it well, and will leave you laughing (and pogo-ing) all the way as they transform old mosh-pit classics into new Christmas carols.  They carry the joke to its fullest extreme, too; from the band's name itself (hello, Angry Samoans!) to each album's cover art.  The 2009 self-titled debut pays homage to The Adolescents' first LP, with a yuletide red/green color scheme in place of the original's red/blue; this year's offering, the brilliantly titled What We Do Is Festive, takes on the appearance of The Germs' (GI), with holly wreath in place of that band's blue circle logo.

A quick scan of the song titles will bring a smile to any old-school punk's face, as many of those titles immediately reveal their source material, from the debut's "Richard Hung His Sock," "Blitzen Bop," "Ebeneezer Über Alles," and "Somebody's Gonna Get Their Halls Decked In Tonight" to the new record's title track and "I Love Christmas In The City."  In other cases, the presents are only unwrapped upon listening: "Decoration" takes on The Circle Jerks' "Operation," "Egg Nog" is a brilliant holiday reworking of Black Flag's "Six Pack," Agent Orange's classic "Bloodstains" is reimagined by these Snowmans as "Fruitcakes."

What makes it all work on both records is that, snarky humor aside, these guys are a damn good band! The music is tight, fast and loud - and, most importantly, accurate.  In a few cases you'd swear they used the original tracks and just recorded new vocals, but these guys actually play live! Dates so far have been only on the West Coast (they are from Victoria, British Columbia, so it's easy enough for them to make the Seattle-to-California circuit); wish they'd find their way over here to PA.

Both albums are available as digital downloads for a measly $8 a piece from The Angry Snowmans' site;  physical copies are also available from the band themselves (I picked up the debut on CD and What We Do Is Festive on Christmas-y red vinyl - score!).  Get yourself over there and get them downloaded, and fill your home with their special brand of Christmas cheer!

To ring in the holiday season, here's The Angry Snowmans' take on the Angry Samoans, "Lights Up." Enjoy!

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