Monday, February 20, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #146

Since the band had been built on the foundation of a former XTC keyboardist and a one-time Gang Of Four bassist, it was no surprise that Shriekback's earliest independent singles found receptive ears on UK dance floors.  Their rather unusual sound was part New Wave, part funk; slinky melodies that burrowed into your brain as they slithered over and under vocals that sounded more breathed than sung, all propelled by pulsing bass and busy percussion designed to keep bodies in motion.

Barry Andrews (the keyboardist) and Dave Allen (the bass player) recruited guitarist Carl Marsh to form the original Shriekback lineup in 1981. This trio released the six-song Tench EP, which included early singles "Sexthinkone" and "Accretions," both of which garnered both critical praise and minor chart action.  They followed that in 1983 with Care, one of the most under-appreciated gems of the New Wave era.  Leading with the gorgeous "Lined Up," Care takes the listener on a trip through a dimly lit maze of electronica and rhythmic ambiance that hints at darker things but stops short of plunging over the edge.  There is a constant tension that begs to be resolved and teases that resolution before fading into vague shadows and echoes. "Accretions" is reprised and the single "My Spine (Is The Bassline)" is added on the American version of the album, but neither detracts from the flow.  It's an album you can easily get lost in, and highly recommended.  Both Tench and Care are found in their entirety on a 2000 CD called The Y Records Years, but that disc is out of print and commands a pretty penny.  The vinyl can be had for much cheaper on eBay.

1984's Jam Science saw the band move to a major label (Arista) and expand to a quartet with the addition of drummer Martyn Baker.  The lead single, "Hand On My Heart," was the perfect appetizer for the full LP. On it, Shriekback sounded more confident and poised without losing that sense of eeriness that pervaded their early work.  It's a fine album that made perfect sense as the next step after Care. The overall album is not as visceral or as memorable, but "Hand On My Heart" stands alongside their indy singles with no problems.

Their next album, Oil And Gold, continued the band's progression from underground critics' choice to international hitmakers, thanks to the muscular single "Nemesis."  Even more than Jam Science, this is a one-single record, but what a single! Andrews' hissing vocals are still there to lend a shroud of potential danger, but where once was slippery, ethereal melody there was now insistent, no-punches-pulled power.  "Nemesis" became their biggest hit, and will forever be remembered for rhyming its title with spelling-bee stumper "parthenogenesis."

After that peak, though, came the inevitable fall.  1986's Big Night Music wasn't that bad, but had no key single that really drove it as the previous two records had.  Arista was trying to make Shriekback a commercial success, and was slowly stripping the band of its personality.  Go Bang!, released two years later, has very little to recommend it.  Shriekback's demise was sealed with that album's completely unnecessary cover of "Get Down Tonight."  Hard to believe the band that did this was the same band that recorded Care just five years previous.

Since then, Shriekback has reunited a few times in various permutations, releasing a few innocuous albums along the way, but nothing that came close to their early magnificence.  That's what we'll remember with this weeks clips.  First up is "Lined Up," the leadoff track from the marvelous Care.  After that, Shriekback's most well-known track, "Nemesis."  Enjoy!

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Gap in Perspective

"You don't have no Doctor Robert
You don't have no Uncle Albert
You don't even have good credit
You can write, but you can't edit..."
                               - Regina Spektor

Edit by Regina Spektor on Grooveshark

Well, it looks as though my story isn't getting published after all. At least, not the way it was scheduled to be.  A bit of back story, for those who need to catch up:

This past July, I wrote a short story called It's About Time, in which one of my two main characters winds up existing ever-so-slightly out of sync with the rest of the world.  Originally written as part of an assignment for the writers group I was a part of, the story was quickly identified as potentially a great candidate for the Gloaming Gap website, which is run by some members of our group.  At first I was reluctant, given my own internal critic's voice loudly and constantly reminding me that I do not write fiction well.  After sharing the story with several folks, including a few folks who read everything with editors' pencils dancing in their heads, the feedback I received was extremely positive.  "Hey," I began to think, "maybe I can write fiction after all!"

I submitted the story to the site in August.  Keep that in mind - that's six months ago.  Soon after, I was told that Gloaming Gap wanted to run my story, but the first available opening in the schedule would not be until February 10, 2012.  In the interim the story kept floating around my head, and I found myself seeing a number of ways I could and wanted to expand on it.  That short story turned out to be a seed that was quickly sprouting into a much a larger plant than I had expected, and as November came up on the horizon, bringing with it NaNoWriMo, I decided to jump in with both feet and start cultivating that short story into a full-fledged novel.  I informed the folks at Gloaming Gap about my decision to do more with the story, and was told that they still wanted to run the original short story.

As I shared here on the blog, NaNoWriMo brought with it many challenges that fed my demons and eventually helped them wear me down.  I was back to the mindset that I clearly am not able to write fiction, and by the end of the month had put the whole mess on the shelf.  I did not write a word through the month of December.  Still, I was cheered on by my writers group, and was constantly told how wonderful my short story was.

Publication date, February 10, soon appeared on the horizon, and as it approached I found within myself a renewed energy for the story.  Ideas started coming to me fast and furious, often fully-formed. I was writing again!  The story was growing again!  Then, the first of what would be a quick succession of punches to the gut while the rug was snatched out from under me:

On February 2 I received an email announcing that my publication date was being pushed back two weeks because another author had submitted a story that related to the Pagan holiday of Imbolc, which occurs February 1. Therefore, her story would be published on February 3, effectively rearranging the schedule for the month.  Of course, that last-minute change set off my OCD like crazy: for six months I had been building towards a February 10 publish date; now, suddenly, at the last minute, it was changed, and for what?  A story that turned out to have an inscrutable connection at best to an obscure holiday?

After a brief exchange of irritated emails with the Gloaming Gap folks, I calmed my OCD demon down and apologized for being out of sorts.  My story would be published on the 24th. Fine. Onward!

On February 10 (the originally planned publish date) I received an email from Gloaming Gap's team saying that one of their staff had edited my story, and took issue with my use of alternating perspectives.  Given that my story has to do with a warping of time and the confusion and discomfort it causes, I quite intentionally used changing points-of-view, as well as non-linear chronology, as a way to create an undercurrent of discomfort in the reader - to make the warping of my characters' reality vaguely palpable to the reader on a level other than simply describing it in the text.  This editor didn't get it. This editor also happened to be the author whose story caused the upheaval in February's publishing dates.

I exchanged emails with the Gloaming Gap editing team explaining why perspectives shift within my story; they came back saying, "Yeah, but sometimes they shift within the same paragraph. It's confusing."  Again, I reminded them, that was by design.  Further, no one who had read the story - literally not one person, some of whom were also professional editors - had said one word about being confused or even annoyed by my use of switching perspectives.  The feedback was unanimously positive.  I let the Gloaming Gap folks know that I did not wish to change the way the story was written.

Tuesday morning, I got an email from the editor-in-chief saying that, because he felt that stories told from a first-person perspective were most effective, those were the type of stories he really wanted; stories told from a third-person perspective were next on the acceptability scale; switching perspective stories like mine were not on the list.  He wrote that "...point-of-view is something that a lot of people struggle with," and that he "...will have to insist on resolving this issue."

I wrote back that his implication that I struggle with point-of-view was out of place, and for a third time I explained the purpose of the intentionally shifting perspectives.  Further, I reminded him that since it was intentional, there was nothing to "resolve."

Yesterday I got the notice:  "I'm afraid that as the story currently stands, without those corrections, we cannot accept it for publication. The way it's written doesn't fit in with the style for the overall project. Please let us know if you should reconsider."  I replied that there was nothing to reconsider because there was nothing to "correct."  Nothing was "incorrect" in the first place.

So there it stands.  After six months of being told my story was fantastic and Gloaming Gap was eager to publish it, my story gets nixed in the 11th hour by an arbitrary decision about point-of-view that, incidentally, was never mentioned at any point as a submission guideline, much less a deal-breaker.  Am I angry? Eh, more disappointed than angry, really, but bottom line is it's their site and they have the right to reject content for any reason - or for no reason at all.  I don't take issue with that.  I do take issue with the way it went down and the fact that over six months such an obviously major point of contention was held until the final week to be brought up.

And therein lies the eternal struggle between author and editor.  In what other art form does this take place?  What museums add brush strokes to an artist's paintings before displaying them?  When musicians are asked to alter lyrics for specific performances, cries of "Censorship!" fill the air.  But in the world of writing, the equivalent is accepted as the way the game is played.

Guess it's lucky I didn't submit something in the style of The Dragon Speaks.  Their heads might have exploded.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #145

I have this habit of coming up with ideas for mix tapes (nowadays, mix CDs) that I keep meaning to put together, but never seem to find the time.  In fact, I may do a separate post sharing some of those. One of my favorite yet-to-be-realized mix ideas would be a compilation of later bands and solo material by any permutation or subset of Johnny Rotten, Steve Cook, Paul Jones, Glen Matlack and/or Sid Vicious, and would be called Never Mind McLaren, Here's The Ex-Pistols.  Of course it would include Public Image Ltd., The Rich Kids, maybe even some of Sid's cringe-worthy solo material (oh, that Sid Sings album...), among other odds and ends.  Featured on such a mix would be this week's NW4NW band, The Professionals.

In many ways, despite PiL being Johnny (Lydon) Rotten's next project and therefore the more immediate media magnet, The Professionals were truly the most direct descendants of The Sex Pistols.  Anchored by the Pistol's guitar and drum combo of Steve Jones and Paul Cook, the original lineup of The Professionals included bassist Andy Allen, who had been a session musician on the final Pistols recordings with Jones on vocals ("Lonely Boy," "Silly Thing," etc.).  As a trio, these three released the first Professionals single in 1980, the bombastic "Just Another Dream."

With booming rhythm, crunching guitar and shout-along chorus, "Just Another Dream" is a nearly perfect single that sounds just as good today as it did three decades ago.  It wouldn't be until their second single, "1-2-3," however, that The Professionals saw any action on the UK charts, just missing the Top 40.  Around this time, Allen left the band and was replaced by Paul Meyers and second guitarist Randy McVeigh.  A third single, "Join The Professionals," received wide exposure when it was included in the soundtrack to the movie Ladies And Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains.

Just as The Professionals were about to release their self-titled debut album, Allen sued the band for back royalties he claimed he never received.  In order to avoid paying him any further, the band shelved that album and went back into the studio with the new lineup to record a few new songs and re-record the old ones.  The result was the lone Professionals album to see public release, I Didn't See It Coming.  A solid if slightly uneven album, it contains a few more moments of brilliance (notably "The Magnificent" and "Kick Down The Doors").  The band's internal upheaval, however, contributed to some of the tracks sounding a bit rushed and premature.  Nonetheless, it's a record well worth owning, with sound that lands somewhat closer to the hard rock that Steve Jones would later pursue than the punk rock of The Sex Pistols.

After the album's release, Cook and Jones went their separate ways.  They each found work as session musicians and semi-regular members of several bands; Jones eventually released a couple of solo albums.  In 2005, a Best Of The Professionals CD was issued, culling its tracks from the early singles and cuts from the album, as well as rescuing a few unreleased tracks.  A couple of years later, legal wrangling finally freed up the old Allen recordings, and The Professionals finally saw the light of day 27 years after its intended release.

For this week's clips, please enjoy a real rarity - the original promo clip for "Just Another Dream." After that, a fan-made clip for "The Magnificent," which has been said at different times to be about Johnny Rotten or Sid Vicious.  Listen for yourself and decide. Enjoy!

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Monday, February 6, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #144

Greg Shaw was probably responsible for more fantastic independent music reaching more ears than anyone else in the late '70s and early '80s, through his LA-based record store, fanzine, and later, label, all known informally as Bomp! (Officially, "Who Put The Bomp!," but why quibble over details?)  One of his niftiest finds of the era was a group who had come from Tulsa, OK, to the big city of L.A. to seek their fortune.

It was Shaw's Bomp! label that released the debut single from the band 20/20"Giving It All" appeared in 1978, a brightly colored wad of late-'60s/early-'70s bubblegum in the midst of a bland late-'70s disco world.  Crisp, shimmering and joyous, "Giving It All" caught a few influential ears, and before long these kids with their skinny ties, holdover shag haircuts, and mildly anachronistic sound found themselves signed by CBS via their Portrait label.

Their debut LP, the self-titled and absolutely essential 20/20, is one of the most underrated records of the 1970s.  A virtual primer on what power-pop is supposed to sound like, the record boasts several shoulda-been hits that have received much more notice in recent years than they did at the time.  "Yellow Pills," a pseudo-psychedelic trip through producer Earle Mankey's bag of studio tricks, may be their best-known track; "Cheri" is one of the most heartfelt declarations of unrequited love ever put down on vinyl; cuts like "She's An Obsession" and "Out Of This Time" basically laid the ground rules for a thousand power-pop bands to follow. The album is simply a must-have.

The same high praise cannot be offered for their 1981 follow-up LP, Look Out!  While it isn't without its charms (notably "Nuclear Boy"), there were some obvious changes made to the band's overall sound - likely at the urging of CBS in hopes of mainstream sales.  Where the debut glistened, Look Out! could at best offer a dull sheen.  It didn't sell, and CBS cut ties with the band. Both records were reissued on a single CD in 1995.

Undeterred, 20/20 went back to what they did best.  After finding a home with the independent Mainway label, they issued a third album in 1982. Sex Trap was a refreshing return to the sound of the first LP, and offered the band promise: Enigma Records picked up the album, remixed a few tracks, dropped one and added the excellent "Jack's Got A Problem."  This new version of Sex Trap also boasted better distribution and is usually the version you find floating around for sale these days.  (Originals on Mainway sport blue graphics; the Enigma reissue changes the graphics to red.)  For completists, there exists a Japanese CD reissue circa 1999 that includes all the tracks from both versions and changes the graphics color to yellow.  Collect them all!

20/20 split after 1983, but were reunited ten years later.  Two more albums have since been released: 1995's 4 Day Tornado and 1998's Interstate.  Those looking for the 20/20 of old may find complaints, but those who care to hear a solid band who have matured into musicians willing to test waters outside of their comfort zone (especially on Interstate, which veers into country-twinged sounds) should be pleased.

For this week's NW4NW, we go back to that wonderful debut record.  First up, a clip for "Yellow Pills" followed by the simply wonderful "Cheri." Enjoy!

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