Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Safe and Happy New Year with a handful of musical Christmas-y goodness! See you in 2013!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Side Four

Today this humble little blog celebrates four years online!  Quite amazing to think that when I was posting my first screed bemoaning the inconsiderate behavior of so many folks at Lancaster's historic Central Market on this date in 2008 that it would grow to 467 posts read by 14,060 unique visitors representing 117 different countries across the globe! I thank each and every one of you - whether you're a regular reader or just happened to stumble upon the site by chance - for being willing to take in my rantings, ravings and recommendations, for cheering me on in my battles against my demons, for being my road companion to many live shows, and for bearing with me through my occasional hiatuses (or, perhaps, hiati?).  You make this worth it; you give this blog purpose.  You have my gratitude.

I've been trying to determine the best way to celebrate four years in today's post, when it struck me that perhaps it might be time to provide at least a partial answer to the question I am often asked, How did I start listening to all that weird music I write about so often in the first place?  There are many factors which came together to shape my musical tastes, many of which are near impossible to truly pin down.  But there is one major influence that is easy to point to.  And what better time than Year Four of the blog to write about Side Four?

Side Four are words spoken in my family in the hushed tones reserved for Very Special Things Indeed.  While our reactions to Side Four varied then and vary now, all of the members of my family know Side Four very well. We were all, in some way, affected by it.

In the late 1960s/early 1970s, Warner Bros. Records issued a series of mail-order only compilation albums the called Loss Leaders.  The concept was a good one: folks will gamble a dollar a record to hear a selection of new music, will probably find a couple tunes they really like, and then are likely to pony up the dough for a full album or two by those artists who caught their ear. Most of these were two-record sets for $2, and my parents had several of the good ones including one that is often heralded as among the best of the bunch, 1970's The Big Ball.  Boasting excellent tracks from stalwarts like Arlo Guthrie, Neil Young and The Beach Boys; psychedlic folksters like The Pentangle and a pre-Stevie Nicks/Christine McVie Fleetwood Mac; and now-forgotten gems from The Fifth Avenue Band and Savage Grace, The Big Ball captures the turn of the decade from the groovy 60s to the far out 70s as well as any album you might name.  For three sides of its two records, that is.  Then there was Side Four.

Side Four held within its grooves a host of forbidden delights, a cornucopia of crazed cacophonies, the most geeked out stuff you ever heard.  It was wild, it was vulgar, it was rude, it was in your face.  And it changed the way I listened to music.  Warner Bros. had given Frank Zappa a sub-label of his own, Straight/Bizarre Records, to which he could sign any act he chose and let them record with relatively unrestricted artistic freedom.  Side Four collected several of these, along with some like-minded artists, in an offering of pre-punk underground anti-mainstream performances that, in hindsight, boggle the mind that they existed in the same world - on the same compilation! - with James Taylor and Joni Mitchell and Small Faces.

Side Four begins with Ed Sanders founder and leader of one of the more notorious subversive hippie bands of the era, The Fugs. Sanders warbles/shouts "The Iliad," a ironic character study of the typical insensitive intolerant good ol' boy of the day who hated those longhaired, drug-tokin', obviously queer hippies with their free love and peace and all that. Ed spits that hatred in your face and dares you to wipe it off, and in the process predates the far more "commercially acceptable" Charlie Daniels tale of "Uneasy Rider" by at least three years:

Up next, The GTOs warble giddily about "The Captain's Fat Theresa Shoes". The GTOs (Girls Together Outrageously...or Organically...or Orgasmicly...or, as they declare on their lone album, 1969's Permanent Damage, "all those other O's") were a group formed by a bunch of honest-to-goodness groupies led by the infamous Pamela des Barres.  Their childlike chanting and simplistic music would have fit in perfectly with the New Wave era:

Following that, the Captain himself!  The late Don Van Vliet, better known as Captain Beefheart, had recently released his yet-unequalled masterpiece Trout Mask Replica, and from it the stunning "Ella Guru" was plucked for this collection. With shifting rhythms and odd time signatures, the surprisingly catchy shoulda-been-hit inspired many, from Pere Ubu to Tom Waits.  It remains a classic:

Zappa himself shows up for a bit of a doo-wop goof with The Mothers of Invention celebrating a well known poor-man's drink of the day. "WPLJ" (white port and lemon juice) goes down just a smoothly as its namesake...and slowly eats away at your guts, again just like its namesake:

At this point, Side Four hits its crescendo, with a visit from the legendary Wild Man Fischer.  Fischer was a street singer who suffered from severe schizophrenia, who was known to hang out on Sunset Strip shouting his "songs" at the top of his lungs for anyone who would pay him a dime to hear one.  Zappa corralled Larry (Wild Man's given name) into a recording studio, put a microphone in front of him and rolled tape. Zappa found studio musicians to put a musical bed under some of the more "melodic" compositions, allowing others to stand in stark a capella harshness.  The resultant album, An Evening With Wild Man Fischer, is a stunning creation which will leave you wondering just how blurred the line between celebration and exploitation truly is. (For a truly emotion-wrenching experience, dig up the documentary on Fischer's life, Derailroaded, and then ask yourself where that line is.)  For The Big Ball, Warner Bros. created an elsewhere unavailable hybrid of two tracks from Evening, the absolutely wonderful (if lyrically inscrutable) "The Taster" and its explanatory companion track "The Story Of The Taster." Here are both as they appear in their original forms:

Finally, the tour of the bizarre ends with a remarkably straightforward little piece of folky sunshine, Pearls Before Swine's "Footnote."  Kind of like a palette cleanser after an exotic meal, "Footnote" brings you safely back to the real world after surviving Side Four:

In those six tracks, you can hear so many sounds that clearly influenced my musical choices later in life. And the most telling thing about Side Four?  There is a seventh and final song on that side, one that I seldom ever listened to then or now.  I have never been able to stomach much at all from The Grateful Dead. A few songs here and there are OK, but the endless, formless jam-band concept is one I've never been too keen on. So, for all my love of Side Four, the seven-plus minutes of "Turn On Your Love Light" that seems oddly tacked on at the end is as out of place as I would be at a Grateful Dead show.  (Apologies to my Deadhead friends - I respect your love of the band. Just never was and never will be my thing. Peace?)

So, after four years, a peek into what made me, well, me.  Stick around for the next four years, friends!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

Like many of you, I am readying myself for a day a feasting. I am also, like many of you, taking the time to list things for which I am thankful.  2012 has been quite a year filled with deep valleys and lofty peaks. The challenges have been strong and I certainly have been tested this year, but I am pleased to say I have so far come through it all relatively unscathed and blessed by great rewards along the way.

I am thankful for my Family.  Though Mom, Dad, my Brother, and I each live our individual lives apart from one another and, at times, fall out of contact  for longer periods than we would like, there is never a time when I do not feel their love and support.  I know that they are there for me through thick or thin, as I am for them. They are the foundation on which my life is built.

I am thankful for the addition of Edison and Amadeus to my world.  The old saying goes that you do not choose a cat; a cat chooses you.  To have been chosen by these two crazed furballs is an honor, and their company and the unmitigated love you can only receive from pets (plus their downright hysterical antics), have helped to keep me sane. Welcome additions to the Family indeed!

I am thankful for my Friends, both those who I am close to in Real Life and those who I have yet to meet in person but have come to know online.  Your support and wise counsel are invaluable; the joy you all bring to my life is immeasurable. Special thanks to my "chat buddies" (you know who you are) who have done more to keep me balanced with our now far-too-infrequent late night chat or text conversations.  Honorary Doctorates of Psychology to each of you!

I am thankful for good music and the artists who make it - those who I have mentioned throughout the years on the blog and many, many more.  Music feeds the soul and connects us all to one another in some way.  It is celebratory; it is introspective; it is emotionally wrenching; it is comforting to the soul.  And for as much as I love music of all types, I am not able to play a single instrument or even carry a tune (trust me, you do NOT want to bring me to karaoke!). And so I am greatly thankful for those who can and do.  Whether you and I know one another or not, you have greatly enriched my life.

I am thankful for the written word, and for those who can create "music" with nothing more than language on a page.  At the risk of sounding immodest, this is an area where I do count myself as at least marginally able.  I am honored to count more than a few writers whose work I admire greatly among my friends, and am grateful that more than a few of them have pushed me  to continue to write as well.

I am thankful to be healthy and gainfully employed.  Both of these areas of my Life were challenged this year, and to now be in a place where both are, at least for the moment, in good condition is more than reason enough to celebrate.  My work now is to keep both in good shape.

I am thankful for my demons, OCD and Anxiety.  Does that surprise you, considering all the strife they bring to my world?  Without them, I would not be the person I am.  The need to be ever vigilant against their deceit and treachery keeps me alert and in touch with my own being, and learning to cope with them has taught me much about both my self and my inner strength.

I am thankful for you, my Readers.  Your feedback and encouragement keeps me going, keeps me writing, keeps me sharing, and lets me know I'm not alone in my craziness.  I thank you for spreading the word about my blog by sharing posts and telling friends.

I wish each of you a Safe and Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Now Hear This!

Wow, has it really been more than two weeks since I last posted? Much has happened in the ensuing fortnight.  Work at my full time job has hit the busiest time of the year, and a new client sits on the horizon for the marketing company I am helping to build - been putting in long days. The cats have been fixed, and yet have not calmed down an iota.  They keep me sane, though, as do my family and friends and you, my dear readers.  A sincere thank you to those who have sent messages through the Facebook and Twitter pages asking how I'm doing.  Pretty well, actually - doctor gave me a clean bill of health, conditionally. (Still a few tests to run. You know, in all my free time...)  Just have to work on keeping the stress levels down.

Another thing that helps me when the demons get to playing too rough with me, of course, is music, and there's been a lot of it to enjoy around here lately.  If you haven't yet, please take a moment to read my reviews of new albums from The Dollyrots and Amy Gore & Her Valentines.  And here I've created yet another handy guide for you of some of the coolest things blaring from my speakers lately - things that should be blaring from yours, too. Your ears will thank you, and so will these artists.

One Eyed Doll- "Comitted (2012)"
Honestly, I did not purposefully wait to do another one of these "listening party" posts until there was new music from my raving fave duo from Austin, Texas.  Just a happy accident; an aligning of the stars; serendipity in action.  That they've made a new recording of one of my favorites from their entire catalog, and a new video to go with it, makes me grin a big ol' grin; that it could be my theme song given recent events just adds to the cosmic convergence of awesome music and real life. And what are these rumors of a possible new album in early 2013?

The Dying Elk Herd - "Don't Let The Riverbeast Get You"
Also making a reappearance from the last Now Hear This list are local faves The Dying Elk Herd, whose second single (and first video) is decidedly killer.  Campy fun and insanely catchy, the Herd strike a bit of a Presidents Of The United States Of America pose on this one. Which is a good thing. A damn good thing. Allegedly from the movie of the same name - at least we can hope so after seeing what they've done in just a three-minute music video. (The MTV-esque chyron at the beginning and end of the clip is a brilliant touch!)

Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave - "Where The Wild Roses Grow (2012)"
So there seems to be a lot of rerecording of oldies but goodies this year. The Dollyrots revamped "Because I'm Awesome," One-Eyed Doll took a new stab at "Committed," and one of the most unlikely yet eerily, hauntingly beautiful duets ever recorded has also been redone.  Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue are musicians from Australia, but beyond that there isn't much you'd expect to find in the combined section of their Venn diagram.  Yet in 1997 they came together to record a masterpiece. This year, they reunited on a new recording of the track for Minogue's Abbey Road Sessions album, and they nailed it again.  Click the link to hear the new take on Soundcloud, and prepare for a shiver down your spine.

Blondie - "Rock On"
It's hard to believe Blondie is approaching four decades (!) of music, but it's not at all difficult to accept that Debbie Harry remains the coolest hot chick (or hottest cool chick) in all of punkdom, still going strong at age 67. (Remember when no one was supposed to trust anyone over thirty?  Can we amend that to "under thirty" nowadays?)  Just finishing up the wonderfully named Whip It To Shreds tour with fellow old fogies Devo, Blondie unleashed a few new tracks via ReverbNation.com.  The best of the bunch is this bass-heavy slink through a song that's as old as the band, David Essex's 1974 hit "Rock On." Smooooth....


Iggy Pop & Zig Zags - "If I'm In Luck I Might Get Picked Up"
Speaking of old fogies still rockin' after all these years, the always amazing Iggy Pop surfaced again recently helping to launch an intriguing series of limited edition color vinyl 45s issued on the Light In The Attic label in which a cover version of track the label has reissued is flipped with the original.  In this case, the former Jim Osterberg teams up with LA's Zig Zags for a murky gut-crunching take on Betty Davis's 1973 funk soul workout.  (That's Betty with a "y," not Bette Davis with an "e," which would have made this an even more cool thing.)  Check the clip, then pick up the vinyl:

Songs For Snakes - Charcoal Heather
You want people to hear your band?  You gotta take the bull by the horns! You gotta step right up and introduce yourself and blast them with sonic joy.  That's how I found out about San Francisco's Songs For Snakes and there seriously awesome Charcoal Heather album, currently available as a name-your-price download from Bandcamp.com.  Band member Bill Taylor took it upon himself to send a message to the TWIWGTS Facebook page and point me in the direction of their music, which he describes as "Husker Du and Jawbreaker having a pleasant cup of green tea with Simon and Garfunkel." Well if a description like that doesn't pique your interest, there's something wrong.  Nothing wrong with Songs For Snakes, though.  My fave track is "St. Mary," but the whole dang LP is just as good. Get it and spread the word.

First Times - "(I Don't Wanna) Party No More"/"Girl On The Run"
Can't tell you a whole lot about First Times other than they're from Helsinki and they've been introduced to the world through this impossible-to-order import debut single. (Anyone read Finnish and willing to help me navigate the webstore for their label, Combat Rock?) Oh, and they rock. Hard. At least on the absolutely killer A-side, anyway. The flip slows the barrage about a half-step and underscores the band's sonic similarity to Sahara Hotnights.  I NEED this single, dammit!  Catch both songs here via Bandcamp:

Swilson - "Witchtrial Modern Day"
"If Roky Erickson was a member of the cast of Fast Times At Ridgemont High, he'd be Swilson," says Classic Rock Magazine in perhaps the most perfectly crystallized description of any artist ever.  Swilson sounds like what every garage band made up of stoned kids thinks they sound like in their own heads. Swilson the man co-hosts the wonderful Advanced Demonology podcast, a monthly offshoot of the indispensable Movies About Girls podcast I've raved about on this blog before; Swilson the band makes wonderful music like "Cool Skull," the title track to a long-awaited EP you can hear at the link above, "Polyester Shirt Polyester Pants" from their debut Demonology LP, and the mindbending "Witchtrial Modern Day," presented for your listening and dancing pleasure here:

1-800-Band - "Maraschino"
For a long time I thought the world was basically out of good, clever band names.  Then I found these guys and wondered why no one had thought of this one before.  These Brooklynites keep the clever coming in their music, too, bringing an updated 1979-ish New Wave groove into the present day.  They've got an album on iTunes and a live set from WFMU on FreeMusicArchive.com.  They make me smile.

Angelspit - "Defibrulator"
Not sure how this Aussie electro-punk outfit has escaped my notice over the course of 8 albums.  I mean with a punky/plinky sound like theirs and band members with names like Zoog and Destroyx, I should have been all over this.  Instead, here I am playing catch-up.  At least the oversight is being rectified.  This was the shard of sound that first stabbed my eardrums and pulled me into their retro-future-industrial-robot world. It can be found on last year's Hello My Name Is Angelspit.  It can be heard right here:

So there you go, a compendium of the sounds keeping my head on straight these days. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, or speak up over on the Facebook or Twitter pages. For the record, these picks were made solely on my own enjoyment of the music. Ain't getting any kind of compensation from anyone on the list, save for the enjoyment of their work. If you like what you hear, please support the artists and spread the word.

Promise it won't be two weeks before the next post. No, really...
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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Revenge of My Beautifully Broken Brain

"With your feet in the air and your head on the ground
Try this trick and spin it, yeah 
Your head will collapse if there's nothing in it 
And you'll ask yourself 
Where is my mind?" - The Pixies

Where Is My Mind? by Pixies on Grooveshark

Stress and Anxiety are hellish things.  Those who are fortunate enough to go through life without having to deal with the constant insidious treachery these two demons bring to the lives of those of us who aren't so lucky cannot fathom the havoc they wreak: the mental anguish, the physical discomfort, the emotional turmoil.  You can try to ignore them; many of us do just that.  But they will not be ignored for long.  If they haven't been able to disrupt your world with their usual  incessant undercurrent of of bilious badness, they will temporarily retreat - just long enough to let you think everything is fine - and then they launch a salvo that brings everything crashing down horrifically around you.

I speak from experience.  I've been the victim of their salvos before.  About twenty years ago I began noticing areas of my body that were suddenly going numb: the heel of my left foot, a spot on my back, another spot under my chin, one on my arm.  All areas about the size of a half-dollar (those of you under age 30, go ask your parents what a half-dollar is), and each time dead numb.  Not foot-falling-asleep-tingly numb, but literally no sensation at all numb.  After months of test after frustrating test looking for everything from pinched nerves to Multiple Sclerosis, each test coming back normal, I asked my doctor in exasperation how I can be absolutely healthy on paper and yet be experiencing these very real symptoms?  And his response, indeed the final diagnosis: Stress. Anxiety.  These things can affect you physically, and yes their symptoms are very real.  You can, he warned, quite literally worry yourself death.  That experience was what initially spurred me to seek out therapy, which in turn introduced me to my personal demons, OCD and Social Anxiety.  I learned some coping skills and stress-relieving techniques, and after time, the numbness went away.

Some years later, having stopped therapy and living a reasonably happy life (or so I thought), I found myself dealing with intermittent pains in either my right side or my left shoulder and upper chest.  Again, a battery of tests quickly ruled out the expected causes.  One night I showed up in my doctor's office complaining of chest and shoulder pain, and my doctor was taking no chances.  Had the ambulance pick me up there and take me to the hospital cardiac unit - just in case.  After spending the better part of the night hooked up to monitors and machines and being given more tests, the word came back that my heart was perfectly fine.  Once again, the demons had struck a heavy blow.  Anxiety or panic attacks can often mimic heart attacks: shortness of breath, clammy sweating, and chest pain.  That, it was determined, is what this had been.  I had not been vigilant against my demons, and had allowed stress to build up until the dam finally burst.  A return to what I know works soon had me back to my "normal" self.

Now, I add a new chapter to the book.  My demons found a new way to express their rage and remind me that they are still (and always) very much with me.  And this time was the most frightening of all, because this time there was no slow build as there had been with the numbnesses, no series of preceding pains as there had been with my faux heart issue.  This time it was a lightning bolt out of a clear blue sky.  No warning, no precipitating event, just a full-on attack.

My current job is in customer service, answering inbound phone calls.  On Wednesday, I was having a very normal day.  In fact, I remember thinking as I took my lunchtime walk around the office grounds that it was a good day.  I ate my lunch and returned to work.  Took a few calls as I normally would.  And then it all went to hell.

In essence, I must have blacked out, although my doctor is calling it an “amnesia event” and we don’t believe I ever actually lost consciousness, at least in the sense that I didn’t fall over or pass out. I was just suddenly aware that I was in the midst of a phone call talking with someone, but I had no idea who I was talking with or what we were talking about.  More unsettling was the fact that I could not make sense of the screens up on my computer.

After trying to regain a frame of reference and failing, I at least had sense enough to put the caller on hold and page my supervisor to my cubicle. I tried to explain what I was experiencing, and at this point I was physically shaking, more from being frightened by the event than anything. My supervisor had me transfer the call to another agent, then we looked at my screen.

I have no memory of actually taking the call, but when a call comes in we have to ask for either a Social Security number or a Member Number to find the person’s record in the system and pull it up. Obviously I had done that, although again I have no memory of it. However, I also had a second screen up of a completely different and unrelated person. I still don’t know why I had that screen up. I have no sense of time or duration of this event, although I imagine it couldn’t have been that long. I was, however, apparently functioning on auto-pilot.

I called my mother to come pick me up from work, then called my doctor. He couldn’t see me until 7:30 that evening, but because by the time I got home I was feeling fairly normal (other than being badly shaken up and feeling horribly embarrassed), the nurse didn’t feel it was an emergency situation. But, she told me if anything like it happened again before my appointment, I should have someone take me to the hospital.  My doctor gave me a thorough once-over, and said I looked OK – not ashen or flushed or pupils dilated or anything. He said it could have been anything from a sudden drop in blood sugar to a seizure, or – as my wise mother had already suggested – my old friends Stress and Anxiety. Of course, the doctor wanted to rule out the big stuff quickly (seizure, brain tumor, aneurism, etc.), as well as check my blood sugar levels and make sure I wasn’t anemic. So it was over to the hospital for a full blood work and a CAT scan of the brain. Because he asked for those two tests to be done “stat,” the hospital would keep me there until the results came back and he could talk with me about them. So, at 10:45 Wednesday  night, there I was sitting in the emergency room waiting area on a portable phone with my doctor, only to learn that, in typical fashion, both tests came back...wait for it...absolutely normal.

We’re not done with tests yet. I’m waiting for a pre-authorization from my insurance for two more tests: an EEG and a 24-hour Holter Monitor. Then I must schedule them and also schedule an ultrasound of my carotid arteries. Bets on the results?

So, its back to the coping skills and stress-relieving techniques.  Maybe it's time to get back to therapy.  Has there been a lot of Stress in my world lately? Oh you bet.  Being unemployed/underemployed for two years will bring the Stress in a big frightening way.  And, as I have mentioned in previous posts, those demons are cunning and wait until your defenses are completely down before they attack.  I am still processing this event; this post is part of that processing.  This was the scariest storm I've been through to date, so I think I'll be processing this one for awhile.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Amy Gore & Her Valentines: "In Love"

This is the time of year when those of us who tend to create such things begin to consider which albums will be making the cut for the omnipresent year-end "Best Of" lists.  2012 has been a damn good year for music, so it will be interesting to see how varied the lists will be this year, but only those without a lick of actual musical taste will leave Amy Gore & Her Valentines' debut In Love off their rundown of the best recordings of the past twelve months.

While In Love is a debut for this particular assemblage, Amy Gore is no rookie.  She already has three albums of killer garage rock under her belt with The Gore Gore Girls, as well as an EP of powerful bubblegum punk with Gorevette (her collaboration with Nikki Corvette).  Echoes of both of those bands are evident here, but In Love is more straightforward rock and roll than anything else, with occasional countrified tinges and power pop riffs surfacing throughout.

The album kicks off with last year's outstanding single "Drivin' Around," and builds on that foundation from there.  Amy's Valentines (guitarist Jackson Smith, bass player Leann Banks, and drummer Joe Leone) are tight and talented, and the songs are strong and catchy.  From tough rockers like "Baby In Your Arms" and "Static" to emotionally charged cuts like "I'm Addicted" and "Remember Me," there isn't anything here that you might call "filler."  The winning track here for me, though, is "Cadillac."  With it's insistent opening riff and earworm-ready chorus, it's the song that jumps out from the pack on first listen; the strongest cut among a consistently strong set list. Throughout, In Love brings to mind a cross between Lone Justice and The Pretenders. Gore's voice especially has notable resemblance to Chrissie Hynde's.

The album exists thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign that allowed the band to record without artistic restriction or record label politics.  Hopefully, the same grassroots support that got the project funded will help to spread the word about this incredible album.  This is definitely one not to be missed! For a taste of their sound, here's the video for the second single, "Fine Without You." Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

More Things to See and Do

So I'm working a lot lately.  Glad of it, don't get me wrong, but it has cut severely into blogging time.  You may have noticed...  Anyway, been meaning to put together another post sharing with you some of the nifty gems I've found online and elsewhere. So here's another handful of goodies - the things that I've been seeing, hearing, reading and doing lately, and think you should too:

Bitchin' Kitchen
Being a typical guy, two of my favorite things in the world are beautiful women and delicious food.  A beautiful woman who can cook delicious food is, therefore, an awesome thing in my book.  If she's funny and has a bit of a sarcastic edge to boot, well, that's downright....um, what's the word I'm looking for here?...ah yes: bitchin'!  Coming across as equal parts Riff Randall and Julia Child, and armed with the most unusual accent you'll hear all day (Italian/French-Canadian, for the record), Nadia Giosia made the leap from web show to big-time network TV with her program Nadia G.'s Bitchin' Kitchen, an amalgamation of cooking, comedy and rock 'n' roll that has become must-see TV around these parts.  With an outstanding supporting cast that includes the forever henpecked Panos the Fish and Meat Guy, The Spice Agent (whose name Nadia keeps on a handy recording so she doesn't have to attempt to pronounce it), and the slightly creepy Hans, as well as an assortment of her own Italian-slang interjections and catch-phrases, Nadia's kitchen is a damn cool place to hang out. Let's plate this dish.

Daym Drops
Speaking of folks who bring the food and the funny, that list must include Daym Drops.  With his YouTube series of Super Official reviews (canudigitbaby?), Daym has become something of an online sensation and, in a just world, will be next in line to make the jump to the mainstream.  He's a modern-day food critic, but he is no nose-in-the-air epicurean snob reviewing haute-cuisine in four-star restaurants. No, Daym Drops is a regular joe like you and me, reviewing drive-through fast food from the point of view of a guy who loves the stuff and knows he ought to be eating healthier but damn, it's just so good!  I discovered Daym through his hysterical review of Five Guys Burgers (which has since been brilliantly songified by The Gregory Brothers); if you haven't discovered Daym Drops yet, it's a good place for you to start as well:

Cake & Polka Parade
Do you like odd? I mean really, truly odd? Do you enjoy the looks of bewilderment and horror on your friends' faces when you play a Residents album for them? Do you pine for the days when every other album was recorded entirely on a Moog synthesizer? Are you fond of singing along loudly with Wild Man Fisher? Then friends, the Cake and Polka Parade podcast is right up your alley!  Your host, Fatty Jubbo, takes you on audio tours of the twisted obscurata of the music world.  Like a dour Doctor Demento he curates some of the most wonderfully weird music that is likely to reach your ears any time soon, with enough of a knowing wink to keep the balance just this side of the sane/insane line.  Courtesy of the good folks at WFMU.  Go on, give it a listen!

I am, as you know, a proponent of grassroots indy music distribution.  Which is why I have become a huge fan of Noisetrade, a site dedicated to bringing together those who create music and those who love it, without thought one given to music as a product or - shudder - a business.  Artists can sign up and upload their music, and fans can browse and download what they like, all at no charge.  The theory is that fans will share the music they find that they like (the opportunity is there to share each download via Facebook, Twitter or email), the artists will reach new fans who otherwise might never have found them, or might not have spent the money to take a chance on an unknown entity, and everybody wins.  Fans can also "tip" artists they like - up to $100 if so inclined.  I've discovered a few fantastic artists through Noisetrade already, some of which I'll be sharing with you in an upcoming Now Hear This post.  Spend some time at Noisetrade and see what goodies you find!

Troma Films is the purposefully shlocky, intentionally low-budget production house that brought us such classics as The Toxic Avenger, Class Of Nuke 'Em High, and Surf Nazis Must Die!  Now they have set up a YouTube channel stocked with over 150 flicks from as far back as the 1930s, some of which are Troma Films creations, but all of which could have been.  From classics like White Zombie, The Ape, and Africa Screams to more recent titles like Rabid Grannies, Space Zombie Bingo, and Blood Boobs And Beast, there is hours of viewing enjoyment.  Gather the family and pop the corn...

Top Documentary Films
Truth is, so they say, often stranger than fiction. which is why a good documentary can capture my attention and fully drag me in, especially given the right subject matter.  I was therefore overjoyed to find Top Documentary Films, a website that hosts a veritable treasure trove of free-to-watch documentaries that can be viewed online. The documentaries there range from 30-minute amateur YouTube shorts to full-production theater-quality films, and cover just about any topic you can imagine from 9/11 conspiracy theories to scientific discovery to serial killer profiles to historical reenactments - and beyond! It can all be found here, and you can spend hours watching before you even realize it.  Bookmark it!
Real Actors Read Yelp
High on the list of Things I Wish I Had Thought Of is this series of videos from a group calling themselves Gotta Kid To Feed Productions.  Real Actors Read Yelp is exactly that:  professional actors from film, TV, and Broadway giving dramatic life to the words of actual reviews taken from social user review site Yelp.com.  Yes, it's an old concept (those my age and older will recall the great Steve Allen reading real letters to newspaper editors with great feeling and gusto), but it's done well.  The actors are chosen well, and are skilled enough to mix overwraught scene-chewing with truly touching moments of emotional focus, allowing you to feel the reviews viscerally. Or something like that. 

Now that should be plenty of fun to keep you entertained for awhile, I would be truly interested in your feedback, and maybe your suggestions of things to see and do.  Speak up, friends! And, as always, enjoy!
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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Because They're Awesome

So, the fourth album from The Dollyrots (Kelly Ogden, Luis Cabesaz, and whomever is occupying the ever-changing drummer slot) has been here in the house for about two weeks, and since it's arrival, few other recordings have seen much airplay.  With my ever-changing moods and a collection pushing 4000 titles, the soundtrack around here usually changes often. So for an LP to dominate the turntable like this says a lot.  The Dollyrots is simply a fantastic record - and yes, mine is a vinyl copy (neat-o clear vinyl, no less!) that actually does claim the turntable as home right now.

In some ways, the album comes across of something of a reboot for the band.  After three remarkably solid efforts, two of which were issued by Joan Jett's Blackheart Records, the band went back to a grassroots approach this time around.  The record was done completely independently with funding coming from fan contributions through Kickstarter.  Often, a band's self-titled album is their debut; by calling this one The Dollyrots, the band seems to be signalling a new phase.  Original drummer Chris Black was gone, replaced by Alicia Warrington, and the band recorded an updated version of their biggest hit, "Because I'm Awesome," which is found as a hidden track here.  The album even kicks off with a short track called "Starting Over," expanded at the end of the album as "Starting Over Again."

Of course, the more things change the more they stay the same, they say.  It may be a new era for The Dollyrots, but they sound as good as ever.  They deliver plenty of their brand of high energy punky-poppy fun spiced with Kelly's usual mischievious wink and lyrics that are much more substantial than her kartoon-kiddie vocals suggest they might be.  The cuts are more polished these days, and there are a few obvious nods to present-day pop-radio hooks ("I Wanna Go" and "So Wrong It's Right" are noticeably radio-ready), but because the band did it on their own terms, they managed to make those concessions without losing a bit of their personality.

When the album really cooks, though, is when all such trappings are dropped and The Dollyrots just  do what they do best. "Twist Me To The Left," "Pretty On The Outside," and the single "Hyperactive" are prime cuts for blaring speakers and crazed air-guitaring; "F U Famous" is one of the best things they've ever done.

Unfortunately, the news is that Warrington is already gone and a new drummer is sitting in during The Dollyrots' present tour.  A shame on one hand, because the Kelly/Luis/Alicia trio made a joyful noise this time around; on the other hand, they have survived one drummer change already.  This one could lead to an equally fortunate find for a replacement.  My work schedule means I'm going to miss the band on this tour (they're in Philly on Monday night at Kung Fu Necktie), so I guess the album will be seeing even more airplay around these parts.  Should be seeing airplay in your world as well.  Go pick up a copy!

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Monday, September 17, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #163

Most sensible people agree the Washington DC scene was an incredible one, packed with talented musicians playing outstanding music in any of several excellent bands, with styles spread across the spectrum of musical genres.  Of course, as in any scene, a few names loom considerably larger in importance and legacy in DC's history: The Teen Idles, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and Razz to name a few.  But they were all beaten to the punch by DC's original DIY combo, The Slickee Boys.

Starting out in 1976 and briefly fronted by a female singer, The Slickee Boys crossed straightforward bar-band rock with the emerging sounds of the New Wave, creating an edgy psychedelic-blues-garage sound with more than a little bit of attitude.  In their first year, they released the completely independently produced Hot And Cool EP, one of the earliest American DIY releases of the era.  An independently produced and distributed debut album, Separated Vegetables, appeared a year later, mixing covers of forgotten '60s garage nuggets and current DC scene favorites with an original or two, the album was pressed up in an issue of 100 copies.  Good luck finding an original!

Original singer Martha Hull was soon replaced by Mark Noone, and the best-known lineup of Slickee Boys was in place: Kim Kane and Marshall Keith on guitar, Noone on vocals, and Dan Palenski on drums.  Two more EPs were recorded (Mersey, Mersey Me and Third), which were then combined with the original Hot And Cool and released as Here To Stay in 1982.

All of this set the stage for their must-have masterpiece, Cybernetic Dreams of Pi.  Released in 1983, the album scorches from the incredible opening cut, "Escalator 66," on through a series of fresh originals ("When I Go To The Beach," "Nagasaki Neuter," "Life Of The Party") and covers both obscure (Hamilton Streetcar's "Invisible People") and almost expected (Status Quo's oft-covered "Pictures Of Matchstick Men").  A stunning album.

Having found their musical footing, they issued Uh Oh...No Breaks! in early 1985 - a collection padded with early Slickee Boys material re-recorded by a more confident band.  Only a step or two below Cybernetic Dreams, even retreads like "Jailbait Janet" and "Gotta Tell Me Why" sound sparkly and new.

Two more albums would hit the shelves before The Slickee Boys' run was over: Fashionably Late in 1988 seemed to focus more heavily on the band's affinity for bluesy rock; 1989's Live At Last is an accurately titled collection.  In the years since, The Slickee Boys have stayed semi-active by playing at least one reunion weekend a year.

For this week's NW4NW entry, enjoy a pair of clips from The Slickee Boys' classic Cybernetic Dreams Of Pi album: "When I Go To The Beach" and "Gotta Tell Me Why."  Enjoy!

Monday, September 10, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #162

North London's Neo-Neon-Rockabilly guys, The Polecats, started out thumping a stand-up bass and slinging their geetars as a trio (Tim Polecat, Boz Boorer, and Phil Bloomberg) joined by a succession of drummers, playing under the name The Cult Heroes around 1977 or so.  With Punk Rock being the cultural kick in the UK at the time, they soon discovered difficulty getting booked on Rockabilly shows:  their name sounded more like one of those upstart punk bands.  Early drummer Chris Hawkes suggested the name change before departing, and by the time Mercury Records scooped them up in 1980, they were forever more The Polecats.

Combining straightforward Rockabilly with a healthy dose of '70s Glam (Bolan's "Jeepster" and Bowie's "John I'm Only Dancing" were among their choices for cover songs and would provide them two minor hits in their home country), and wrapping the whole package up in early 1980s New Wave style, The Polecats became a popular live band.  Their 1981 debut album, Polecats Are Go!, was met with positive response back home.  With The Stray Cats starting to find radio success here in the States and spearheading a minor Rockabilly revival  (see The Rockats, Robert Gordon, etc.), it's no surprise that The Polecats' record proved to be a decent seller here as an import-only LP.  It should have been a natural for Mercury's American arm to jump on the fad and issue Polecats Are Go! domestically.

In typical American big-label fashion, they screwed up.  They waited a year and a half, and finally issued a seven-song EP, containing a few tracks from the LP and a few single sides. Make A Circuit With Me did, however, include its mighty title track, a killer rave-up that saw minor airplay on MTV, and remains The Polecats' calling-card single to this day.

The inexplicable lack of support from their record label left the band at a crossroads; the gap was filled with the release of Cult Heroes, a collection of early recordings, some of which were vintage cuts from when they used that name.  But most of these were also simply early versions of songs that had appeared on Polecats Are Go! in a more polished form.  A short live record, Live And Rockin', also appeared and offered some new material, but the time to strike had passed.

The Polecats soldiered on, however, maintaining a presence on the underground Rockabilly circuit and, in 1999, signed with a Japanese label to release an all-new collection, Polecats Won't Die! By now they had dropped much of the Glam edges and New Wave affectations and focused more a traditional, driving Rockabilly sound, a decision that served them well.

In the years since, a handful of "Best Of" compilations have surfaced, all offering different permutations of, essentially, the contents of Polecats Are Go! along with assorted live tracks and studio throwaways.  Any of them are fine, but your best bet is to find the CD reissue of the first album.

This week's NW4NW entry offers two clips from The Polecats.  First, of course, their classic, "Make A Circuit With Me," followed by a clip of their take on Bowie's "John I'm Only Dancing."  Enjoy!

Monday, September 3, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #161

From the release of their debut single, "Ignore The Machine," in 1982 through their present-day incarnation, few bands have staked out such singular musical territory as Alien Sex Fiend.  The fact is that, then as now, there is simply no other band that sounds like them.

Alien Sex Fiend is often lumped in with the Goth scene, especially since they cut their teeth playing at The Batcave in London, often cited as the home of Goth.  And sure, with their whiteface makeup and stringy Aqua-Net hairdos, they looked the part.  But to call them a Goth band doesn't quite convey what Alien Sex Fiend is all about.  Those expecting the somber chill of Bauhaus, the retro-glam of Specimen, or the lace-and-cobweb melodies of Siouxsie & The Banshees will find only slight shards of such sounds among Alien Sex Fiend's sonic attack.  Instead, the listener is met with rumbling pseudo-mechanical undercurrents, electronic bleeps and blorps firing from all directions, highly processed sheets of guitar noise, and the seeming lunatic rantings of frontman Nik Fiend.  Standard verse/chorus song structures are often only hinted at, and once you think you've finally latched onto an actual melody you are thrown off by a sudden sharp turn - or by the complete lack of one where it would be expected.

Their early albums as a quartet (Nik Fiend joined by his wife, billed only as Mrs. Fiend, guitarist Yaxi Highrizer and drummer Johnny Ha-Ha) are all excellent, if daunting, sonic explorations of the insane universe the band created for themselves.  Who's Been Sleeping In My Brain?, Maximum Security, and It - The Album each have rather distinct personalities, but each contains some must-hear moments.  Their high-water mark, however, is 1984's Acid Bath, wherein you'll find some of their best material: "In God We Trust (In Cars You Rust)," "Hee-Haw (Here Come The Bone People)," and "Attack!!!!!#2" lead a set that more than one reviewer has likened to a soundtrack for a horrific nightmare.

Highrizer and Ha-Ha left in the late 1980s, reducing Alien Sex Fiend to a husband and wife duo; this also freed Nik and Mrs. Fiend (real names: Nik and Chrissie Wade) to experiment more with electronic music and studio trickery.  They continued to issue albums at a regular pace (Another Planet, Curse, and Open Head Surgery, among others) as well some killer singles like "Buggin' Me" and "Now I'm Feeling Zombified."  They briefly re-expanded to a four piece unit with two new members, but for the past few years have reverted to the Fiend duo.  Not nearly as active or prolific as they once were, Alien Sex Fiend nonetheless continues to issue reports from the furthest outposts of musical sanity.

For this week's NW4NW entry, here are a pair of Alien Sex Fiend videos: their debut single, "Ignore The Machine," and the later-era "Buggin' Me." Enjoy!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Doings, Happenings, and Goings On

After a week or so of radio silence from Ruttville, I thought it time to bring you up-to-date on what's been happening, follow up on some previous posts, and just generally present the report from the home front.  Those of you who already follow my personal accounts on Facebook and Twitter know most of these things, but for the benefit of those who do not, here's the recap of a whirlwind week or so:


Yeah, I suppose that's the biggest and best news - after hitting about rock bottom both in finances and in spirit during a hellish 15-month job search, gainful employment is mine again! Well, it will be, starting September 10 when I begin a roughly four-month temp position with a leading national employee benefits plan administration company.  They're heading into their busy time of year, and need to do a temporary ramp-up of customer service folks to soak up the excess business.  Having spent much of the past fifteen years working directly with clients and managing a call center, while also being successful in sales, training, recruiting and strategic planning, customer service is practically my middle name.

I landed this gig through a regional staffing service, who have proven to be excellent at placing people like myself in paying positions quickly.  In fact the process of signing up with this service, getting scheduled for an interview, and being offered the job all happened in under a week - whereas on my own 15 months had garnered me little more than a collection of rejection letters, an interview with someone who actually responded to text messages while interviewing me, and the growing dread that I would soon be carrying a negative net worth.  I have gained a healthy respect for this type of service, and highly recommend finding one to work with if you're still out on the job hunt.

Granted, the job doesn't pay what I'm used to making, but it's reliable income and a foot in the door with a good company.  If I prove my worth, this could lead to a permanent position more in line with my skillset and value.  Plus, I continue to do freelance work which, while it couldn't support me in itself, goes a surprisingly long way to make up the difference in income I'll be experiencing.  Also, it'll be nice not to be the one in charge for awhile.  I'm pleased, as are the electric company, the gas company, and the bank who holds my mortgage.


Also making my world a happier place are the two newest arrivals to Ruttville, Edison and Amadeus - two of the coolest cats (pun intended) you could ever hope to meet!  In a world often divided into "dog people" and "cat people," I am a card-carrying member of the latter group.  My family has always had cats, and once I had settled into my own apartment back in the 1990s, I had a wonderful Siamese named Napoleon.  He was an incredible cat - very social, very friendly, a favorite among my circle of friends at the time.  Unfortunately, Napoleon succumbed to kidney disease after many years of being a true friend and companion, and making the decision to put him down was, to this day, the singularly most difficult decision I have ever had to make.  For many years I thought maybe I'd never be ready for another cat, but I knew that when and if that day came, I wanted another Siamese.  Ideally two, so they could keep one another company while I was away at work.

Of course, I wasn't about to jump back into cat ownership without a job, and Siamese are often quite expensive to adopt.  It's not uncommon to see ads asking $250 - $400 per kitten!  Well, sometimes things just come together because they're supposed to:  just two days after finalizing the job with CoreSource, a friend posted on Facebook that her mother was looking to place a 12-week-old sealpoint Siamese - $20 to a good home!  After talking with her mother, I also agreed to adopt an 8-week-old Siamese/tiger mix, and last Monday, Ruttville welcomed Edison and Amadeus.

Edison, the Sealpoint, earned his name by being the immediately inquisitive one.  He is smart as a whip and investigates everything.  Amadeus, meanwhile, was so named for his constant joyful noise.  As he follows Edison around like a big brother (they are not actually littermates, but sure act like it!), he mews and chirps happily.  He is also the troublemaker of the two, regularly instigating the whole-house chases and ball-of-fur wrestling matches which he invariably loses, being 4 weeks younger and not nearly as big as Edison.

They often say that having pets can be a calming, healthy thing for people - especially anxiety-prone folks like myself.  To a person, my friends and family have said they can already see the positive difference these two have brought to my psyche. Sure, they can be exasperating as they play-fight loudly, knock things over, and generally get into typical kitten mischief.  And sure, I find myself wondering already why I invested in various catnip-filled balls, fishing-pole mice, and other assorted cat toys for them to play with when their favorite toys have turned out to be, in ascending order, a cardboard box, my feet, and each other.  But they are the greatest companions in the world, unfailingly entertaining comics, and will undoubtedly become regular blogpost fodder around here.


One bit of forward-looking news to report, although I don't want to go too much in depth because it might be a few months off.  But, the seeds have been planted for what just might possibly turn into a That's What I Was Going To Say podcast!  Tossing some ideas around with a few folks as far as what the structure and frequency of such a podcast would be.  I need some feedback from you:  what would you want in a TWIWGTS podcast?  Would you want something weekly? Twice a month? Once a month?  Would you even listen?  Want to be a part of the fun?  Let me know in the comments below, or at the Official That's What I Was Going To Say Facebook Page and/or Twitter Stream.

OK, that's it for now.  Looking forward to hearing from you guys!

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Monday, August 20, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #160

Brian James' spot in punk history was assured after he joined up with Rat Scabies, Captain Sensible and Dave Vanian to form The Damned and wrote/co-wrote their classic debut album, Damned Damned Damned.  After being such an integral part of one of the most important bands of the Punk/New Wave Era, James found himself fronting one of the Era's most sadly unknown footnotes.

After the second Damned album, Music For Pleasure, James struck out on his own.  He assembled a band that included Andy Colqhoun on bass, Tony Moor on keyboards, and ex-Hawkwind drummer Allen Powell. Collectively known as Tanz Der Youth, the quartet issued one positively brilliant single, "I'm Sorry I'm Sorry"/"Delay," in 1978.  Both sides of the single crackle with energy and excitement, maintaining the intensity of James' songs with The Damned while clearing moving forward from that sound.  In interviews, James declared Tanz Der Youth's sound to be "transmagical" and "the sound of the '80s," a mix of punk rock and psychedelia and old-fashioned garage rock.

Somehow, Tanz Der Youth landed a gig opening for Black Sabbath, but after only a few dates of being pelted with assorted garbage from the lunkheads who didn't want to hear anything but Sabbath, Tanz Der Youth quit the tour and, shortly thereafter, quit as a band.  They left behind only that one awesome single as their entire officially released output, although a bit of searching will turn up recordings of a Peel Sessions broadcast they did in September of 1978 which included both songs that appear on the single as well as two others, "Mistaken" and "Why I Die."  The MySpace page set up for Tanz Der Youth offers up a few unreleased gems as well, in the hopes that enough interest might be generated to put everything out in official form.

James drifted through the next couple of years releasing a pair of solo singles, "Why? Why? Why?" and "Ain't That A Shame," in 1979, and forming Brian James & The Brains as a touring act, before landing a spot in Stiv Bators' punk rock supergroup The Lords Of The New Church.  These days, he heads up The Brian James Gang, and has issued at least one album with that band.

For this week's entry, however, we present both tracks from an undeservedly forgotten band.  Here are audio-only clips from Tanz Der Youth for "I'm Sorry I'm Sorry" and "Delay." Enjoy!

Monday, August 13, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #159

"The hipness and success of London punk-explosion photocopy fanzine Sniffin' Glue was almost entirely due to the irreverent, pugnacious sincerity of its founder/sparkplug Mark P(erry). That Perry should form a band seemed a natural progression; that it was any good at all a surprise; that it maintained a stance utterly disdainful of compromise a small miracle. Unfortunately, this musical Diogenes had neither adequate vision nor foresight to avoid the pitfalls of Striving for Artistic Expression."  - TrouserPress.com (source)

In that single paragraph TrouserPress.com does a damn good job of explaining the lifespan of the band that Mark Perry formed, Alternative TV.  Perry and Alex Fergusson co-founded the band in 1976; their first recording was the reggae-punk goof "Love Lies Limp," issued as a flexi-single (remember those, kids?) with the final issue of Sniffin' Glue.  Perry's Cockney ramblings about his *ahem* shortcomings and failures are more spoken than sung, purposefully rude, and juvenile, but backed by a lazy, loping groove, the single works and is actually damn good.

Two proper singles followed in the remainder of 1977.  "How Much Longer" mocked the conformity of the various social cliques in late-70s England, punks included; the utterly brilliant "Life" may just be the finest expression of the futility of it all ever written: "Life's about as wonderful as a cold."  By the time the full-length LP The Image Has Cracked was ready for release, Fergusson had left and Perry had become disillusioned with punk's self-imposed musical limitations.  The album, then, was a bit adrift.  The more straightforward tracks are quite good: "Action Time Vision" is one of the all-time great forgotten punk singles.  But opening the album with the interminable "Alternatives" meant a lot of people never got to the good stuff before yanking the record off the turntable.  (Punk kids in 1977 weren't about to sit through ten minutes of whooping and screeching.)

If you didn't know better, you'd think the second ATV album, Vibing Up The Senile Man, was either a poorly executed joke or the ramblings of an asylum escapee. Song structure is all but forgotten in many places, with seemingly random plinking of instruments and Perry screaming poetry at ya in its place.  There are moments where it all seems to almost coalesce into something worthwhile, but most of the album is simply a difficult listen that never rewards the effort.  Avoid this one.

Alex Fergusson returned in 1981 for a brand new Alternative TV LP, which sounds nothing like either of the first two albums.  Strange Kicks is neither punk nor experimental, but rather surprisingly upbeat new wave pop.  Taken on its own merits it's a good album, so long as you don't find Perry's strong-as-ever accent particularly unpleasant.  "There Goes My Date With Doug" (with guest vocalist Dee Dee Thorn) could have been a hit for Kirsty MacColl or Tracey Ullman; "Fun City" is a fun romp; "Communicate" is solid early synthpop.  Just don't go into the album expecting "Action Time Vision," or you'll be very disappointed.

Cherry Red's 1999 compilation Action Time Vision does a surprisingly good job collecting the best from ATV's catalog as well as some assorted Mark Perry side projects, despite containing none of the material from Strange Kicks.  Nonetheless, it's a good primer to the odd musical world of a former fanzine editor turned musician.

Not a lot of video of Alternative TV is out there, so this week we feature two audio-only clips.  First up, the excellent "Life," and then, of course, "Action Time Vision."  Enjoy!

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