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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