Friday, July 20, 2012

Getting Kicked While I'm Down

In my last post I mentioned the fact that I'm collecting quite a stash of rejection letters.  They mostly show up in email these days, which is fine.  Money's tight everywhere, so if a business doesn't shell out to mail an actual physical form letter, I understand.  (One rejection I recently did receive in the mail was so blatantly a form letter that the person who's name was at the bottom couldn't be bothered to actually sign it.)

You can imagine how psyched I was this afternoon, then, when one email showed up saying I was an ideal candidate for the position offered!  A bit of a rush overtook me as a re-read the email, and was quickly replaced by a sinking feeling that something was amiss here.  Backstory time:

As noted, I am applying anywhere and everywhere I can.  More than one person has told me to keep an eye on the want ads on Craigslist.  In fact, one or two people I know have found jobs through Craigslist, and even if I would only find temporary work or a part-time position, it would certainly help.  I'm not picky these days.  On Craigslist, I found the following listing:

(click to enlarge)

Now, I'm always a bit wary of blind ads like this - they so often turn out to be Multi-Level Marketing schemes or door-to-door vacuum sales or some other highly suspect situation that involves a layout of cash rather than a income-producing career opportunity.  But this one didn't sound like those types of ads.  You can usually spot them by their wordings: "Make thousands in your spare time!" "Work from home!" "Build your own business! Be your own boss!"  As you can see, this ad was much more understated, so I took a chance and replied, submitting my resume and asking for more information about the position.

Here's the email I received today from these folks.  See if you can spot the things that sent the red flags up in my eyes right away:

(click to enlarge)

As I say, after the initial rush of hopefulness that this might be an opportunity, my naturally skeptical inner voice spoke up rather quickly.  "Um, Bryan, why would a business be sending you email from a HotMail account?  Why would a hiring manager need a resume that was viewable online?  And even if she did, I emailed my resume to these folks - is that not viewable online? And what in the blue hell are those lines of symbols at the beginning and end of the email?!?"

So, I Googled 1st Premier Staffing, and all quickly became clear:  seems 1st Premier Staffing has a bit of a reputation.  It also seems that they have a whole team of "Hiring Staffing Assistants," as this thread from details other folks receiving the same email, word for word, from Libby, Dulce, Shannon, and Mark, among others.

But the pièce de résistance was the site they have set up if you follow the link in their email.  It takes to a site that appears to be the website for a company called JVW Property Management.  I love how it claims to be a "secure page," yet the address does not begin with https, nor are there any other indicators of security.  But someone at least spent a little bit of time trying to make this look like a real site.  The navigation links on the side do work, and appear to take you where they say they will.  The "News" link, for example, certainly takes you to a page with news stories on it.  Funny that none of them mention JVW Property Management, but those are definitely new stories! Spend a moment looking around the site, and you'll discover more than few laughs. What you won't discover, though, are the names of anyone who works there, a physical address, a geographic location, a phone number...even the "Contact Us" page only contains an anonymous form with no email address.  Makes sense, though, when you discover that Googling "JVW Property Management" returns no results - not even their own supposed website!

I can at least laugh about it (and no, I did not go deep enough to see what info they might have asked for, although reading some of the scam complaints indicate that they are probably phishing for Social Security Numbers), but to be honest, it's mostly infuriating.  Scammers will take advantage of people wherever and whenever they can, but in this economy where so many are busting their humps to try to find work, it seems doubly cruel to put that carrot on a stick out there only to have it lead to such a sham.  At least, from the side of the fence I'm presently sitting on, it feels like being kicked when you're already down.

To those of you in similar job-hunting circumstances as I, a reminder:  don't limit your job-search options, but be aware to whom you are giving your information.  If you get that feeling in your gut that something is a little off, remember Google is your friend.

Meanwhile, I keep searching...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Demons Again

My demons have the upper hand right now.  They are mocking me, belittling me, making me feel empty and worthless.  They have seized upon a moment and their grip is strong, much stronger than I expected, and I don't know how to get away.

I haven't talked about it on this blog - partially out of pride, moreso because I didn't feel this was the place to talk about it - but I am among the far too many people in this country who are currently searching desperately for employment.  To be truthful, I have been under-employed since 2008, when the company for which I had worked since 1997 took its first hit in our collapsing economy and laid off 90% of its employees.  Those of us who stayed on took a pretty deep salary cut, but worked hard to try to save the company.  To our credit, we kept it afloat, barely, for another three years before the doors finally closed last April.  I have been essentially unemployed for a little over a year now, scraping by on the meager crumbs of whatever freelance work I can find.

I am at a crossroads now.  There are no more unemployment benefits available to me to supplement my partial income.  In fact, I'm being asked to repay some of the benefits I did receive, because in the eyes of the PA Unemployment Commission, the fact that I have been doing freelance work makes me "self-employed," and self-employed people cannot collect unemployment benefits. I would have been better off being a lazy bum who sat on a couch and just collected checks from the government.  But I never wanted to be that person.  I took work where I could, but because I was not on payroll as an employee any of the places I did work for, and because I am an honest person who reported the small income I made so that my benefits could be properly offset, I am actually now in debt to PAUC and no longer qualify for future benefits.  Our government in action, folks.  (Or should that be "our government inaction"?)

I have burned through nearly all of my savings.  I am proud of myself that I have maintained excellent credit throughout these past few years, and as I write this I am not behind on any bill.  But August 1st looms large on the horizon and at the moment I have no idea how I will pay next month's bills.  (Of course, since I am unemployed, I no longer carry employer-provided health insurance.  I'm on COBRA, which actually adds an additional $300 a month to my bills.  Losing a job doesn't just mean you lose an income; it can actually cost you more money!)

I have pounded the pavement, knocked on doors, utilized my network of friends and colleagues, and sent out so many cover letters and resumes that I ought to qualify for bulk mail rates at the Post Office.  And all I have to show for it is a fistful of rejection letters, most of which were sent in lieu of even a perfunctory interview.

The truly scary thing is that I am far from alone in this experience.  Friends I know who are in the same or similar situations are running up against the same dead ends.  Local news reported today that two local companies are shutting down putting another 300 people out on the streets to compete for jobs.  It is easy to feel defeated in this situation, and I do.

And that is when my demons pounce.  They waited patiently this time, as they always do.  I can tell you exactly when they made their move:  Sunday night was a sleepless night for me.  As I lay in bed trying to shut off the swimming thoughts and get some sleep, I felt it in the pit of my stomach.  I felt it behind my eyes, which had begun burning.  I felt trapped in my own head, fighting to get out.  And I heard the demons whispering in my ear:  "You're going to lose the house.  You're going to lose your insurance.  You're credit will be ruined.  You have nothing, you're worth nothing, you're a failure. No one will hire you!  Look, they won't even interview you.  They read your resume and laugh." And their infamous refrain that I have mentioned on this blog many times before: "You're not good enough!"

It's panic.  And it has been gurgling in my gut and pounding in my brain since Sunday night.  My usual coping mechanisms are not working well this time; the rational side of my brain that recognizes what is happening and normally works to quell the demons' uprising is not doing the trick this time around, and I am spiraling down.

I have good friends and a wonderful family who are supportive, and they all want to say or do the "right" thing that will help me turn the demons away, but I'm in a place now where, despite their good intentions and despite my great gratitude for their support and caring, I need them to stop trying to help - it only aggravates things, if that makes any sense.  Motivational quotes and positive affirmations and lists of what's good in my life and all those other things are, I know, meant to help, but they don't.  Not right now.  Right now this one is my internal struggle, and the best thing those who want to be supportive and helpful can do is let me go through this cycle, and be there when I get to the point where I'm ready to reach out again.

I know this cycle.  I've lived with it all my life, and even if it is presently not strong enough to do anything about it, there still exists that rational side of me that recognizes this for what it is.  I know my thoughts are cycling irrationally - that's what the OCD Demon does.  I know the physical reactions in my head and stomach are the result of the Anxiety Demon flooding my system with adrenalin in an effort to keep in full panic-attack mode.  And, I have not given up the job search - nor will I.  I have a few leads that I am following up on this week, and more places to apply to.  I will get to the other side of this.

Will it get worse before it gets better? Maybe. I hope not, but I recognize that it could.  As usual, writing this has actually helped a bit.  I beg your indulgence if I write more - it's been awhile since I've had to discuss my demons.  With luck, before long, my demons will be the ones on the unemployment line!

Monday, July 16, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #158

The Sound was one of those shoulda-been-bigger-then-they-were bands. Coming from the same part of the musical spectrum as Echo & The Bunnymen, The Comsat Angels, Magazine and Joy Division, The Sound sounded a little bit like each of those bands. Their melodies were hook-laden; their lyrics were literate. Why they never reached the same sized audience as their contemporaries remains a mystery.

Adrian Borland formed The Sound around 1980. He and his bandmates (Graham Bailey, Mike Dudley, and Bi Marshall) were all refugees from an earlier group, The Outsiders. The Sound's early albums, Jeopardy (1980) and From The Lion's Mouth (1981), received little notice despite solid songs. In hindsight, they stand as lost classics. The lack of success at the time, though, rankled The Sound's record label, who demanded a more "commercial" album. Borland believed the reason for poor sales was the label's lack of support and promotion, not the band's material, and responded with 1982's All Fall Down, a decidedly uncommercial affair that satisfied the band's three-album contract if not the label's wishes.

By 1984, The Sound had found a new home on the independent Statik label and rebooted their career with an excellent six-song EP, Shock Of Daylight.  It was this record that contained the incredible "Golden Soldiers," an insistent, irresistible steamroller of a song that seemed like it might finally be the break The Sound needed.  The band's luck faltered again, however, when Statik collapsed in bankruptcy shortly after the release of the follow-up album, Heads And Hearts.  Again adrift with no label and no promotion behind them, The Sound faded quickly back into obscurity.  Borland himself had begun fighting a steadily worsening depression.

The Sound tried once more, in 1987, with the independently released Thunder Up.  When that album, too, failed to capture much attention, The Sound split apart.  While his bandmates wandered out of the music business in the ensuing years, Borland continued to record.  Over the next ten years he released several solo recordings.  Sadly, his depression worsened over time.  Unable to find happiness, Adrian Borland took his own life in 1999.

The Sound's tale is a sad one to be sure.  But for a bit of luck here or there along the way, their name might be right alongside their better-known contemporaries in New Wave history.  This week's NW4NW remembers The Sound through two clips: first up, a televised performance of "Sense Of Purpose," an early track from the excellent From The Lion's Mouth album; then, an audio-only of their crowning achievement, "Golden Soldiers."  Enjoy!

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

One-Eyed Doll: Dirty

Sometimes I have those nights when all I want to do is sit in a darkened room with maybe a candle or two flickering, and be alone with my mind.  It's very different from the bouts with my demons that I have talked about here before; the feeling is neither anxious nor depressed.  It's almost meditative, more like my brain needing to take some time to organize the confetti-like bits of thoughts that have become strewn about over time.  It can be an odd, mildly unsettling experience, just letting my thoughts wander wherever they want to go.  They tend to lead me into an almost dreamlike state where those bits of thoughts, ideas, memories, and whatnot juxtapose into strange combinations, becoming simultaneously familiar and unknown.  Yet it is at those times when I do some of my best writing, some of my most effective problem solving, some of my most creative brainstorming.  Though it can be a strange journey, it is quite restorative.

Two weeks ago, I was happy to receive my copy of One-Eyed Doll's newest album, Dirty.  Regular readers know how I have become a huge fan of the Austin, TX, duo, and when word reached my ears some months ago that a new album was in the works, I was quick to get in on the pre-order list for one of the first 1000 vinyl copies.  One-Eyed Doll on vinyl?!? Yes, please!  Kimberly Freeman and Jason Rufuss "Junior" Sewell spend a lot of time on the road, however.  A lot of time.  Since they do everything independently, from touring to recording to distribution to promotion, being on the road meant getting the record out would be delayed.  Always connected to their fan base, both Kimberly and Junior kept everyone in the loop, apologizing for the wait and promising it would be worth it.  And when the record finally landed on my turntable two Fridays ago, I can tell you without reservation it was worth the wait.

From the first drop of the needle I was taken with the album, and knew immediately I would be raving about it here on the blog.  But there was something about this album, something different from all the previous One-Eyed Doll recordings, and at first I couldn't put my finger on it.  After two weeks of sitting with the album, it finally struck me:  this album takes me to that same sort of place I described above.  A place where things are both familiar and unknown, a place where thoughts are shredded and reassembled in ever-changing variations, a place that is unsettling yet restorative.

The strange journey that is Dirty begins with one foot in the familiar.  The opening track, "Plumes Of Death," is one of three songs from One-Eyed Doll's back catalog (along with "Roses" and "Fight") that were re-recorded for the new album.  All three originally appeared on 2008's Monster"Plumes" is probably the most different from its original to my ears, although none of the three vary greatly from their earlier incarnation.  Still, it's four years later and One-Eyed Doll has matured as a band, so these songs are being performed from a different place.  I daresay Kimberly's voice is more confident now; she's playing less of a character here and allowing more emotion to come through.

Settling into a synchronization with Junior has, I think, allowed her to feel more at ease with her own music.  Previous albums tempered her pseudo-nightmarish images with winking humor (and succeeded on that level).  Junior's strength as a musician lies in his ability to not only interpret Kimberly's songs, but to also anticipate them. He sees where she's going, and is able to clear the path for her.  That they implicitly trust each other as artists is apparent, and allows each to occasionally let go of that need to use humor to keep the emotional intensity at bay.  Dirty, as a result, is a very open album, a very raw album, yet a very confident and strong album.

The new material on Dirty is among some of the duo's best work.  "Dirty Man" is a swampy, bluesy romp; "Envy" (the first video from the album) is a stunning take on trying to measure up to impossible perfection; "Fool Me Once" - my favorite track on the album - tries to break the ties of a relationship that has ended but won't leave.

The music is heavy and cloak-like, and there is a vague melancholy throughout, but it is not a depressed or depressing album by any means.  No, this is more like One-Eyed Doll taking a moment after a few years of constant touring, some artistic upheaval, and all of the associated craziness with being an independent band trying to make their mark, and organizing their thoughts and ideas in a darkened room, and just seeing where those thoughts take them.  By the time the album closes, they are back to the familiar ("Fight").  They have come full circle, they are fully restored, and they are ready to take on the world again.

Dirty can be purchased directly from the band in either vinyl or CD.

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Monday, July 9, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #157

It's hard to know exactly how to describe Couch Flambeau to someone who has never heard them before.  They were young, loud, and snotty, but they weren't exactly a punk band; they were very funny, but much more than just a novelty act; they had the chops to play in unusual time signatures and with jarringly shifting tempos, even moving into jazz-like improv jamming at times, yet the band was almost like a hobby they indulged in their off time from their day jobs.  A list of of the band's gigs dating back to 1983 on their website lists no shows outside of their hometown Milwaukee area, yet every "big name" band that came through Milwaukee had them as their opening band.

Back in 1980, Jay Tiller and Neil Socol formed the band that would become Couch Flambeau, quickly releasing a local cassette, Curiosity Rocks, under the name Couch Potatoes.  By 1983 they had adopted their new name and released their debut album, Mammal Insect Marriage.  While the rest of the world looked at Milwaukee as the home of Violent Femmes, the Femmes themselves and others in the know were raving about Couch Flambeau.

They hit their stride with 1985's The Day The Music Died. Containing slices of snarky fun like "The Zoo Is Cool," "Curtains For You," and "Satan's School For Girls," it's a record that takes a few listens before it really sinks into your brain.  Once it's there, though, you'll never forget it.  The following year they issued a hysterical, perhaps autobiographical, single, "We're Not So Smart."  On the flip side was a wonderfully irreverent cover of Mountain's "Mississippi Queen."  That was followed in 1987 by the five-song Models ep, whose title track may be Couch Flambeau's best known song outside of Milwaukee - which is not to imply it was anything more than an obscure cult favorite.  By the time Ghostride appeared in 1989, though, Couch Flambeau was reduced to only the original duo of Tiller and Socol, and it seemed that their run was over.

Almost a decade later, though, Tiller and Socol were back with a self-titled CD that picked up right where they left off. For those who had missed out the first time around, 2004's I Did A Power Slide In The Taco Stand anthology does a nice job of spanning their career.  It's a perfect primer to the joys of Couch Flambeau.

Here is a rare clip of Couch Flambeau in an early local TV appearance performing "The Zoo Is Cool," followed by an audio-only of their anthemic "We'll Go Through The Windshield Together." Enjoy!

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Things You Should Be Seeing, Hearing, Reading and Doing

Been awhile since I've done one of these posts recommending some of the best stuff I've found, so I figure it's about time.  Here's a guide to ten nifty things I've found recently that you really ought to discover as well, if you already haven't.  Think of me as your personal Director of Fun, and these items as my recommendations to you to break the ennui while you sit indoors in the air conditioning trying to escape the sweltering heat.  You're welcome.

Radio Free Steve - Last month, Boston radio personality Steve LeVeille retired from the airwaves after a 35-year career.  I've been a fan of Steve's for many years.  His overnight broadcast was one of the last live, local overnight radio shows left on the commercial airwaves - you can read more about it in this piece I wrote in 2009 when he was temporarily taken off the air as result of a poor station management decision. Steve has retired to Maine, the lucky bum, and already refers to himself as a part-time writer.  Among the things he is writing part-time is this blog, Radio Free Steve.  His semi-regular posts maintain his folksy, conversational style and wonderful sense of humor, and it's a good thing for those of us who miss his nightly program to read these reports from Up North.  Bookmark it.

In My Hummel Opinion - I treasure writing that makes me laugh out loud, and the posts that my friend Janine Hummel writes over at her blog, In My Hummel Opinion, often make me do just that.  When she started out a couple years ago, her blog focused mainly on how-to posts for DIY home decoration; she still occasionally shares project ideas and other informational posts, written in a way that makes it sound like someone as un-handy and unmotivated as I could actually complete such projects successfully (I haven't tried yet. Remember: unmotivated.)  Along the way, though, she found her voice in posts that simply share her wickedly funny observations about her life.  Whether she's bemoaning the oddities of her town (Vernon, NJ) or sharing the gory details of ocular surgery, she has a point of view that is both sarcastic and incredulous, and a sharp sense of the absurd.  Also to be bookmarked.

Heather The Vampire - After a seven-month hiatus, my Absolute Favorite Thing Ever On YouTube has returned! Megahn Perry and Michael Cornacchia are simply brilliant as Heather Campbell (Kelly's best friend who happens to be a vampire in Liam Kyle Sullivan's Kelly videos) and her father, Lou, in this video series presented as Heather's video blog, or vlog (or possibly, vjournal).  Heather tries to answer viewers' questions about vampire life, only to be regularly embarrassed by her vodka-loving father's insane malapropisms and usually hysterically crude interjections.  Cornacchia is a gifted comic who is often laugh-out-loud funny in his spot-on performance as that person we all know who seems to have neither the filter to censor his words before speaking nor the ability to grasp how others are reacting, but it's Perry who regularly steals the scene with her reaction takes to the camera, shifting from stunned disbelief to horrified embarrassment in a flash.  The chemistry between the two is perfect, and especially evident in those instances when they seem to surprise themselves by momentarily dropping character.  The Harry Potter episode, below, is one of my favorites and a fine example of their work.  (Be aware: NSFW language.)

For the record, I am not a big fan of the Kelly videos from which Heather The Vampire was spun off, but it is worth your time to search for Liam Sullivan's clips as anachronistic radio pitchman Bob Tulap, especially the video in which he's advertising limes.

The Flog - speaking of nifty things you can find on inner geek leapt with joy over the launch of the Geek And Sundry channel this past April, particularly their every-Monday entry, The Flog, which is Felicia Day's video blog (, vlog? flog? fjournal?) Gamers out there will know Felicia from her work with The Guild; others might recognize her from the viral "Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?" video from a couple years ago. Her weekly format begins with her sharing her Fave Five things of the moment - websites, games, shows, music, whatever, that she recommends you discover.  (Hey...wait a minute...that idea sounds awfully familiar! Well, nyah nyah Felicia! My list is ten, not just five, so I win!)  *Ahem.* Anyway...from there she takes part in learning some skill, such as chainsawing swans out of ice, crocheting, or blacksmithing, and then she wraps it all up by answering a viewer question on her typewriter.  It's fun; it's entertaining; it's goofy and geeky and should go on your regular viewing schedule.  See sample episode below:

Munchkin - I discovered the wonderful game Munchkin from another program on the Geek And Sundry channel, Wil Wheaton's TableTop. (The link is handily set up to show you the specific episode.  You're welcome.)  Not long after, I had the chance to actually participate in a game, and quickly became hooked.  Munchkin both celebrates and mocks traditional role-playing and card deck games like Dungeons & Dragons and Magic The GatheringMunchkin sets the proper mood for play with its own game play instructions, including a brief summary of the object of the game ("Go down into the dungeon. Kill everything you meet. Backstab your friends and steal their stuff. Grab the treasure and run.") and rules for determining who goes first ("Decide who goes first by rolling the dice and arguing about the results and the meaning of this sentence and whether the fact that a word seems to be missing any effect."). Fight monsters like Shrieking Geeks and Tongue Demons; use nifty weapons like a Rat On A Stick or a Rapier Of Unfairness; beg your friends to help and pray they don't turn around and curse you or, worse yet, help the monsters; and be the first to reach Level 10.  Or 20. Or 22.  Depends on how you're playing.  Gawd it's fun!

Bibliodiscoteque - The first of three podcasts to make this list of very neat things is a monthly entry dedicated to "those who worship the Dewey Decibel System."  Bibliodiscoteque bases each podcast on a particular book, and then builds an hour-long (give or take) mix of music inspired by that work.  Rather then describe the music you're hearing during the set breaks as a radio DJ would, our host synopsizes the plot of the story at hand (don't worry - no spoilers).  The effect is a sonic journey that will keep you hooked for the hour and leave you wanting more: both more of the story and more of the music.  More than one episode has sent me scurrying to find new reading and listening material.  Genres covered include Sci Fi, Cult, Comics, and Mystery; the musical choices run the gammut from Blues to Punk to Rock to Country.  The associated blog adds the occasional album or book review.  Great concept and a good choice for your iPod.

How Did This Get Made? - Have you ever found yourself watching a movie that was so awful, so poorly written, so horrendously acted, that you found yourself wondering who on Earth thought the project was worth greenlighting in the first place?  Not the "so bad it's good" type of movies, but the ones that leave you wondering "what in the blue hell did I just watch?!?"  Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas watch a lot of those movies.  A lot of them. Then about ever other week, they bring a guest into the fold and spend an hour or so hysterically dissecting them.  Recent episodes have found the crew waxing incredulous over films like Speed 2, The Adventures Of Pluto Nash, Birdemic, and Tiptoes.  Their takes on how these films came to be and what must have been going through the minds of the cast and crew almost - almost - make the films watchable.  Unlike the myriad of programs in which questionable "celebrities" make snarky comments on pop culture while failing to be funny on any level (e.g.; just about any program on VH1 these days), Paul, June, and Jason's podcast hits the mark consistently with informed, funny commentary and an obvious desire to truly try to figure out how these movies got made. 

Movies About Girls - I could go on for hours about the Movies About Girls Podcast, which is only fair given that the Movies About Girls Podcast itself often clocks in as a 4 - 6 hour marathon. It takes some doing to make a podcast that long consistently entertaining, but the MAG crew is up to the task, creating far and away my favorite podcast going these days.  Described on its iTunes subscription page as "Your weekly guide to lowball pop-culture and teen sex comedies from the 70's, 80's and beyond, plus Songs About Girls, weird humor, hijinks, and saucy talk from a your favorite gang of writers, musicians, artists and creeps," Movies About Girls and its associated podcasts (Advanced Demonology, MAG Follies, MAG Lite) consist of a revolving cast of characters who use the kind of movies that used to be found airing overnight on cable channels like USA in the early-to-mid 1980s (think Meatballs, Valley Girl, Blue Velvet) only as a jumping off point to riff on pop culture, current events, and each other.  Regular bits like That's Not A Real Band Name Is It? and Crazy News provide the illusion of structure, but insanity and hilarity rule the roost here.  Ken McIntyre serves as your Master of Ceremonies and Ringleader (although it is often Stacey, Ken's wife and the show's producer, who serves as the Voice of Quiet Reason amidst the chaos).  Other regulars include Cherrybomb, BoDuley, Siobhan and Alistair (all the way from Australia!), Kent Shelton, and Jeff Crazy; others come and go from the proceedings, sometimes in the middle of episodes.  A Wiki page, MAGpedia, is in the process of being created which attempts to explain it all, but it's better to just close your eyes and dive into the pool.  This is exactly the type of podcast I would have created had I ever created a podcast, and I still might.  But until I do, you must subscribe to Movies About Girls.  I give it a "Rumspringa, WOOOOO!"  (Be aware: NSFW language.)

Gemma Ray - British artist Gemma Ray is among my favorite musical discoveries of the past few months.  I am admittedly late to the party, as her discography already includes four albums.  Her unusual sound has been described as "Norah Jones on Amy Winehouse's drugs," and as what it would sound like "if Audrey from Twin Peaks made a record."  With the smokiest voice this side of Fiona Apple and a modern-retro flair, Gemma Ray has not only shown a vast and eclectic taste in choices of songs to cover (her through-a-fan vocals on "Hey Big Spender" are other-worldly; her work with Sparks to cover a pair of their songs on a recent single is how I was introduced to her), but has demonstrated that her original compositions can be simultaneously seductive and unsettling.  Listen to "100 MPH In 2nd Gear" below, then go hit up iTunes for more:

Brokeass Gourmet - the self-described "premier food and lifestyle blog for folks who want to live the high life on the cheap,"  Brokeass Gourmet has become a regular source of kitchen inspiration for me these days as I struggle to piece together a liveable income through freelance work.  Gabi Moskowitz presents easy to follow, healthy, and, most importantly, tasty recipes that can be prepared with relative ease for under $20 worth of ingredients.  Many recipes actually clock in under $10, yet are surprisingly filling.  She also offers suggestions for accompanying wines or beers, keeping budget-consciousness in mind.  Her blog has been successful enough to spur her on to writing her first cookbook.  The Brokeass Gourmet Cookbook is available through, and collects some of her best recipes along with tips on stocking your kitchen, pantry and bar without leaving your wallet completely empty.  Pick up a copy and start cooking!

OK, so there's my current list of neat items that I think are worth sharing with you.  If you've missed any of the previous times I've recommended blogs, books, podcasts, etc., click on "Recommended" link at the top of the page.  Also, please check out the sites listed on my blogroll on the left-hand side of the page (keep scrolling, you'll find it).  I share these items with you because I think they are worth your time and attention - I'm not receiving any compensation from any of these folks for pointing you towards them.  Heck, most of them have no freaking clue who I am!  Still, if you find something you like, let me know in the comments below.  Similarly, if you have some recommendations to add, feel free to list them in the comments, or contact me through the blog's Facebook Page to talk about a guest post.  Let me hear from you!

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Monday, July 2, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #156

Out of Indiana in the late 1970s came the glint-edged metal machine music of MX-80 Sound.  Treading the darker waters of the same art-school music pool as Devo and Pere Ubu, with obvious nods to early-'70s Krautrock bands like Neu! and Can, and clearly brethren to the like-minded Chrome, MX-80 Sound was loud, sinister, and unsettling; simultaneously they were literate and compelling.  The line from MX-80 to bands like Sonic Youth or Nine Inch Nails is a fairly direct one, or at least very easy to trace.

They debuted in 1976 with a 7-inch EP, Big Hits - Hard Pop From The Hoosiers, which was a solid enough effort to catch the attention of Island Records.  With Island they recorded their debut album, Hard Attack, the following year.  Baffled over how to promote MX-80's sonic attack, Island never issued the LP in the US, and soon dropped the band.  Both the album and the EP have been reissued as a single CD.

A move to San Francisco reinvigorated the band, who were picked up by Ralph Records, home of musical bizarros like The Residents and Snakefinger. Given free reign, MX-80 Sound came up with the absolutely incredible Out Of The Tunnel in 1980.  Giving off one of the loudest, lowest sustained vinyl volume assaults since Blue Cheer recorded Vincebus Eruptum, Out Of The Tunnel rumbles out of the gate with a pair of stunners, "It's Not My Fault" and "Follow That Car," and somehow manages to maintain the frenetic energy and unceasing wash of sound from there.  The single "Someday You'll Be King" is a definite high point; "Frankie I'm Sorry" or "Gary And Priscilla" could just as easily have been plucked as the single. An incredible record start to finish.

A year later they nearly matched it with Crowd Control.  The wall of sound is still in full force, and the volume is still turned up to 11, but this time around vocalist Richard Stim is buried deeper into the mix.  Stim's lyrics were never easy to decipher, but here they are even more hopelessly lost in the white noise.  Still, with standouts like "Why Are We Here?," Crowd Control is a winner.  It's obvious that Mission Of Burma and Fugazi, among others, were paying attention.

The two Ralph LPs were also combined for a single CD, retitled Out Of Control.  You must own it. 

The MX-80 story gets fuzzy at this point.  While the band never really split, they seemed to drop off the radar screen, not returning until 1987's Existential Lover, which attempts to pick up where they left off.  I've Seen Enough, released in 1995, duplicates a lot of the same material.  Das Love Boat followed in 1990, collecting a CD's worth of the band's instrumental tracks dating back throughout their history (their cover of the theme to John Carpenter's Halloween is not to be missed!)

Again the band went into seclusion, emerging 10 years later with We're An American Band, titled after their nightmarishly creepy cover of the Grand Funk Railroad party anthem.  A bizarre legal entanglement involving the album and at-the-time recently enacted laws about advertising product as being made in America seemed to have finally disillusioned the Hoosier noise machine, although, again, they have never officially disbanded.

For this week's clips, we go back to the two wonderful Ralph LPs: Out Of The Tunnel's "Someday You'll Be King" and Crowd Control's "Why Are We Here?"  Enjoy!

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