Tuesday, May 29, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #154

Holland's Gruppo Sportivo has been making music since 1976, but in three and a half decades and over the course of numerous albums released in several variations across the globe, they have achieved little more than cult status.  Their following, however, is a rabid one, and keeps the band active even today: they are currently touring throughout The Netherlands, where they have seen their greatest commercial success over the years.

Gruppo Sportivo writes and sings mainly in English because, as founder and frontman Hans Vandenburg once explained, "no one else outside Holland speaks Dutch and we want our songs to be heard and listened to everywhere."  In their initial incarnation, their sound fit very much into the punky New Wave mold of bands like The Rezillos or The B-52's, despite having a strong '70s Europop flavor.  The occasional awkward phrasing as they tried to translate from Dutch to English gave their music an offbeat feel; their witty lyrics and tendency towards satire won them many fans on the underground scene.

Their first two albums, 10 Mistakes and Back To 1978, were distilled into a single LP, Mistakes, for the American market in 1979.  Distributed with a bonus 7" EP (More Mistakes), it was a great introduction to the band then and remains the place to jump in to this day.  The package contains many of their best moments, including "Beep Beep Love," "I Shot My Manager," the wonderfully scathing "Disco Really Made It" ("It's empty and I hate it...") and the nearly perfect "Girls Never Know."  You will seldom find the LP and EP together in used record bins these days, but each turns up separately now and again and are well worth picking up.  (Many years later an import-only CD again combined the first two records and the 6-song American EP into Back To 19 Mistakes, adding a then-current cover of Wall Of Voodoo's ""Mexican Radio" to the proceedings.)

1980's Copy Copy suffered a bit from having stronger ideas than songs ("The Unusual Soup Recipe Blues" has to rank among the greatest song titles ever!),  but the catchy hooks were back a year later for Pop! Goes The Brain.  Still, the band seemed to be running out of gas.  Design Moderne followed in 1982, issued in a shopping bag over the album's cover - original copies with the bag go for big money on eBay, but that's more for the artwork than the music.  1984's SombreroTimes effectively brought Gruppo Sportivo's first era to a somewhat disappointing end.

Like many other bands, Gruppo Sportivo came back together a few years later, and have continued to record and release material in their home country, but for this week's NW4NW entry, I celebrate the wonderful early New Wave days of the band with two of their best.  First up, enjoy the video for "Disco Really Made It."  Then, an audio-only clip of "Girls Never Know." Enjoy!

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Monday, May 21, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #153

When it comes to Los Angeles-based punk bands, there are certain names that spring immediately to most people's minds: Black Flag. The Circle Jerks. X. The Germs. One often overlooked name that belongs on that same short list of important LA bands is The Plugz.

Along with fellow Chicano punks The Zeros, The Plugz played rough, loud, driving music that was abrasive enough to please the punk kids, but was given a decidedly noticeable flavor of traditional Mexican folk music.  Over the course of two outstanding if underrated albums and a handful of memorable singles - not to mention inclusion on the soundtrack of one of the greatest movies of the era - The Plugz found a unique and memorable voice among the throng of often samey-sounding LA bands cropping up in the late-70s/early-80s.

The original line of lead vocalist Tito Larriva on guitar, Barry McBride on bass and Carlos Quintana on drums came together around 1977-78, debuting with a 3-song 7-inch that included "Move," "Mindless Contentment," and "Let Go."  This was followed a year later by an outstanding single (one of my favorites of the era, actually), "Achin'."  These two records introduced the band's basic sound: basic, straightforward garage-y punk.  It was the flip side of the "Achin'" single, however, where they really let loose with a hyper-speed cover of Richie Valens' "La Bamba."

An album soon followed.  1979's Electrify Me gathered re-recordings of "Let Go" and "La Bamba" together with a strong selection of new material that ran the gamut from the reggae-fied folk of the title track to the thunka-thunka punk of "A Gain - A Loss" to the Clash-like "Satisfied Die."  There simply isn't a clunker in the mix.  Excellent.

Barry McBride left the band around this time, and was eventually replaced by Tony Marsico.  In 1981 The Plugz issued their second album, Better Luck.  While the music here harks back to the earlier material ("El Clavo y la Cruz" could have fit easily on the first record; "Achin'" gets re-recorded for this LP), The Plugz did not remain stagnant in their sophomore effort.  This album explores some of the folkier sides of their music which were only hinted at on Electrify Me, and tracks like "Touch For Cash" and the stunning "Blue Sofa" show a band that has matured and moved out of the garage.

The Plugz disappeared for awhile after that, resurfacing in 1984 when they donated three tracks ("El Clavo y la Cruz," "Reel Ten," and an excellent cover, "Hombre Secreto (Secret Agent Man)") to the soundtrack to the movie Repo Man.  Rather than a triumphant comeback, however, this turned out to be The Plugz' swan song: the trio would morph into The Cruzados, a more straight-ahead and, unfortunately, bland rock and roll outfit.

Both Plugz albums were reissued on CD by the Enigma label around 1990, but those discs have fallen out of print, and unfortunately both they and the original vinyl albums command high dollars if and when you can find them.  Still, if you're patient you can sometimes find them turning up in an eBay auction or a used record shop at more budget-friendly prices.  Trust me, both are well worth the effort.

Listen to the original single recording of "Achin'" and their outstanding cover of "La Bamba" below to enjoy one of the truly underrated bands to come out of the LA scene. Enjoy!

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Let's Make the Amy Gore & Her Valentines Record a Reality!

In lieu of this week's NW4NW, I wanted to take the opportunity to ask all of you out there to help in this final day of Amy Gore & Her Valentines' Kickstarter campaign to raise $4,500 to release their debut LP.  The clock runs out at midnight tonight, and they're just under $1,400 shy of the goal.

We can help make this a reality if everyone is willing to pitch in!  895 of you follow @TWIWGTS on Twitter; 244 of you "like" the TWIWGTS Facebook page.  By my math, if everyone pitched in $1.25 per Twitter follow and $1.25 per Facebook like, we'd make this album happen! Why, that's couch change!

Of course, if you're willing and able to donate more, the band is offering some pretty nifty incentive gifts, which you can read all about on their Kickstarter page.  I'm willing to throw this out there as well:  if the goal of $4,500.00 is hit, anyone who donates any amount to this campaign, even if only a dollar, will earn the right to either
          a.) write a review of the album, which I will post right here on the blog*;
          b.) write a guest blog post as part of an upcoming series called "My Favorite Band" (more to come about that in a few days)*; or
          c.) choose a band to featured in an upcoming NW4NW post

So come on, folks!  Let's make this happen!

 * Any submitted material subject to editing or refusal for offensive or inappropriate content, at my sole discretion.

Monday, May 7, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #152

There are those who will argue exactly where the whole Mutant Disco/No Wave scene happening in late-70s New York fits on the Punk Rock-New Wave spectrum.  That it was a fascinating, creative scene is obvious from the cast of characters populating it: if you don't know the names Lydia Lunch, Arto Lindsay, Jim Sclavunos, Robert Quine, Judy Nylon, etc., get thee to Googling!  No less than Brian Eno found it a scene well worth documenting, which he did on the absolutely necessary 1978 compilation No New York. Some dismiss the music as artless noise; others see in it the seeds of influence for bands ranging from Sonic Youth to Nine Inch Nails.  No Wave had a sense of humor (or at least a sense of irony), but it was gritty, harsh, and confrontational.

Among the most confrontational of that scene were The Contortions.  Led by saxophonist James Chance, The Contortions squawked out a groove that sounded like James Brown jamming with Captain Beefheart.  Blaring and atonal one moment, funky and smooth the next, The Contortions were infamous for not only challenging their live audiences sonically but physically as well.  Chance was not above getting into shoving matches and out-and-out fistfights with the audience.

After making their vinyl debut on No New York, The Contortions issued their lone album, Buy, in 1979.  Anchored by the fantastic "Contort Yourself," Buy is a difficult but rewarding listen.  Internal tensions caused the band to blow apart around the same time the album appeared, and those tensions are audible here.

Shortly thereafter, Chance rechristened himself, assembled a new batch of musicians, and as James White & The Blacks issued the outstanding Off White LP.  While still exploring the atonal fringes of sound, this record was considerably more accessible than Buy.  A silky take on Irving Berlin's "(Tropical) Heat Wave" provides a safe and familiar jumping-off point for novice listeners, while "Contort Yourself" reappears here in a somewhat less intimidating version to welcome existing Chance/White fans.  Fellow No Wave figure Lydia Lunch (with whom Chance had helped to create the infamous Teenage Jesus & The Jerks) appears incognito on the album.  A fantastic record.

A somewhat revised lineup of James White & The Blacks released Sax Maniac in 1982, basically continuing where Off White left off.  (This time around, the Johnny Mercer/Howard Arlen chestnut "That Ol' Black Magic" gets the wailing treatment.) A few years later, a final James White & The Blacks album, Melt Yourself Down, appeared as a Japanese-only release.

Over the years, Chance has never stopped, playing with various musicians and under assorted variations of the Chance/White/Contortions names, and a number of live recordings of varying quality have been issued on vinyl and cassette.  In 2003 a handy 4-disc career retrospective, Irresistible Impulse, turned up, eliminating the need to track down the whole discography.

For this week's NW4NW entry, here are a couple of clips from The Contortions.  First, an audio-only clip of the legendary "Contort Yourself," and then rare footage from a NYC cable access show, InnerTubes, of The Contortions performing "I Can't Stand Myself" at Max's Kansas City in 1979. Enjoy!

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