Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #143

When you think of the early days of Punk Rock, Belgium is probably not the first place you see on the map in your mind's eye.  But there was indeed a rumbling there back in 1976 in the form of a trio who called themselves The Kids.  Ludo Mariman played guitar and sang; the De Haes brothers, Danny and Eddy, played bass and drums respectively.  None of them were particularly proficient, but they had passion and energy and attitude, and wasn't that what Punk Rock was all about?

The Kids took their cues from media reports and magazine articles about The Ramones and The Sex Pistols.  They wore leather jackets and safety pins and played loud and hard and fast.  They spat at their audience and rejoiced when the audience spat back at them.  They wrote songs with titles like "Fascist Cops," "Johnny's On The Dole," "I Don't Care" and "Bloody Belgium."  They could easily have been written off as a paint-by-numbers wanna-be Punk band, except for the fact that they were so damn engaging and their music, while probably veering closer to tough bar-band swagger than Punk Rock in the traditional sense, was catchy as hell.

Their records are difficult to find but worth the search.  In 1978 they released both their debut, The Kids, and its follow-up, Naughty Kids. Both are very much of their time, with the first being a bit stronger of an album and actually seeing a brief reissue a few years back.  By the time of the third album in 1980, The Kids had expanded their lineup by adding another guitarist, Luc van de Poel, and had refined their sound to a less abrasive, more power-pop noise, in keeping with the musical trends of the time.

That third album, Living In The 20th Century, is an absolute masterpiece, and ranks high on my personal list of criminally overlooked Punk and New Wave albums.  Within its hook-filled grooves of tight, melodic Punk, you will find no filler, and when the needle hits the amazingly irresistible "Do You Wanna Know?," you'll wonder why all music can't be this damn good.

After those first three records, The Kids soldiered on for another five years, releasing a few more albums but never quite duplicating the sound of 20th Century.  In 1985 they called it quits, but their records found new audiences through bootlegged copies and occasional collector reissues.  Ten years later Mariman got the group back together for some reunion gigs, and they have been playing together ever since.  In 2004, they played their first ever show in the USA in Brooklyn, NY, in front of a sell-out crowd.  The Kids Anthology, a very difficult to track down and fairly pricey seven-disc (!) boxed set, was issued in 2007 containing just about everything they ever recorded, but is now out of print.

For this week's NW4NW, here are The Kids with a live (and, unfortunately, very poor audio mix)  performance of "Do You Wanna Know?" followed by an audio-only clip of the early "Fascist Cops."  Enjoy!

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Monday, January 23, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #142

With their plinky, chant-along music and their hillbilly/dreadlock/thrift store chic appearance, Haysi Fantayzee staked out a unique territory during the year or so that the band existed.  Dismissed by many as so much fluff, their singles still found enough receptive ears to get them steady mention in the UK charts during 1982 and into 1983.  Undeniably childlike, those songs nonetheless spoke to the issues of racism, nuclear apocalypse, and suicide.  At the same time, they were addictive little bits of ear-candy that kept club dance floors packed.

Jeremy/Jeremiah Healy and Kate Garner were the image of Haysi Fantayzee, while Paul Caplin stayed in the background playing all the instruments and managing the band's affairs.  Instead of taking the usual route of sending demo tapes to various record labels in hopes of landing a contract, Haysi Fantayzee leveraged their most obvious feature: Healy's and Garner's carefully constructed image. They put together a low-budget video and sent that around, eventually finding a home with the Regard label.  Granted, dancing about in their colorful rags made Healy and Garner an eye-catching duo, but the "style over substance" label would haunt them.

The substance was there, even if the critics chose to ignore it.  Their debut single, "Holy Joe," caught on enough to get them into the lower reaches of the charts; their sophomore effort, "John Wayne Is Big Leggy," broke them big.  Using a story of The Duke taking liberties with a squaw as an allegory for the treatment of Native Americans by European settlers, it was mildly controversial.  But damn if it wasn't catchy! The single went to #11 and got them national exposure throughout the UK.

Their third single would be their most well-known, the post-apocalyptic square dance "Shiny Shiny."  Though it fell a bit short of its predecessor's mark (only reaching #16) in the UK, it was a huge club hit in the States and remains a staple of nostalgic New Wave compilation albums today.

In early 1983, their lone album, Battle Hymns For Children Singing, appeared, gathering up all three previous singles as well as the concurrently released "Sister Friction."  A fun record worth picking up if you can find it, but be wary of the CD reissues:  the version issued in 2000 by Razor and Tie features extra tracks, but was poorly mastered resulting in some songs being sped up while others are slowed noticeably; Cherry Pop's 2007 reissue doesn't have the mastering issues, but has different bonus tracks.

This week's NW4NW features Haysi Fantayzee's two big singles.  First up, the exuberant "Shiny Shiny," followed by "John Wayne Is Big Leggy."  Enjoy!

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Monday, January 16, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #141

Boston seems to have always had an interesting underground music scene.  From the early-70s days of Jonathan Richman's Modern Lovers to the barroom punk of The Real Kids; from the skronk-y noise of V; (note: the ";" was part of the band's name) to the hyperspeed hardcore of The Freeze; and currently, from the farfisa-driven garage sound of The Charms to the retro-synthpop sounds of Freezepop.  New York and L.A. can claim all the history and influence they like; there was always something special in the dirty water of Boston. (Just ask The Standells!)

One of the too-often forgotten blips on the early-80s Boston music scene was the fascinating Human Sexual Response.  Formed in 1978 from the remnants of a goofy all-kazoo project (the awesomely-named Kazoondheit) and the semi-serious a capella group Honey Bea & The Meadow Muffins, Human Sexual Response featured a unique band configuration: seven members including a drummer, bass player, guitarist, and four - count them, four! - vocalists.

In their relatively brief existence they issued two albums.  Their debut, Fig. 14, appeared in 1980; In A Roman Mood followed a year later.  Both sport the same pluses and minuses.  Human Sexual Response was a solid band that featured an overflow of creativity and a marked inconsistency in their ability to translate their ideas into enjoyable songs.  When they hit the target, they were incomparable.  Early singles like "What Does Sex Mean To Me?" and "Dolls" are great fun; later material ("Pound," "Andy Fell") is darker but equally catchy.  They scored a minor regional hit with 1980's "Jackie Onassis" ("I wanna be like Jackie Onassis/I wanna wear a pair of dark sunglasses..."), and were club favorites in and around their native Boston.

Unfortunately, when they missed the mark, they could be pretentious, overly theatrical, and frankly boring.  Over both albums they sounded like a band trying to settle on a sound, but never quite finding that comfort zone.  Between the two releases an album's worth of solid material could be culled, so the records are definitely worth picking up, but buyer beware - there are a few clinkers.  In 1991, nine years after the band dissolved, Rykodisc issued a CD titled Fig. 15.  This was the original Fig. 14 album reissued with the addition of the song "Butt Fuck," which they had performed unannounced on a live Boston TV program, Five All Night Live, causing trouble for the band, the show, and the station on which it aired.  It's a perfect encapsulation of where the band went wrong:  the idea of getting away with thumbing their nose at the FCC was far better than the actual song.

But rather than rehash the bad, let's celebrate the good!  This week's NW4NW includes two of Human Sexual Response's best songs.  "Blow Up" incorporates footage of the legendary Tura Satana; "Land Of The Glass Pinecones" is a cult masterpiece ("Their seeds are made of rhinestones... / ...They smash on the grass when the wind blows...").  Enjoy!

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