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."  - (source)

In that single paragraph 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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Friday, August 10, 2012

Now Hear This!

I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of traffic generated by last month's aggregation of niftiness, Things You Should Be Seeing, Hearing, Reading and Doing.  It has turned out to be one of the most popular posts in the history of the blog.  Well, don't accuse me of not knowing a good thing when I see it!  If it's recommendations you want, recommendations you'll get.  I figured that this time around, since my ongoing job hunt has cut dramatically into my blogging and as a result I've missed a few NW4NW posts along the way, I'd focus specifically on some of the best music I've been listening to lately.

It's a big wide Internet out there, and it's full of tunes.  Some are good, some are bad; some you can acquire legitimately, some...well, not so much.  It's enough to make your head spin! Friend, I'm here to help.  I've done the hard part - I've separated the wheat from the chaff and come up with a list of 14 excellent musical curios for your musical curio, iPod.  These aural treats are not presented in any particular order, and I am receiving no compensation of any kind from the artists, other than the sheer enjoyment of listening to their creations. Almost all of these are very recent, but some are not.  And, truth be told, there is one list item where two artists doubled up, meaning yes, 14 artists, but 13 items.  Or more, actually, depending on how you're counting. That's just the way it is. Regardless, they are the artists I'm listening to at the moment, and think you should be, too.  Let's begin, shall we?

1. Beaujolais

I recently discovered an excellent independently published quarterly magazine that focuses exclusively on cult films, Paracinema.  I will certainly be singing this book's praises in later posts, but for now I mention it because it was through Paracinema's Facebook page that I found one of the most well done music videos I've seen in some time, Beaujolais' outstanding "Where We Came From."  Beaujolais is the musical side of Joseph A. Ziemba, who, along with Dan Budnick, runs the website Bleeding Skull, wherein they review and celebrate the low-budget slasher film.

It's no surprise, then, that the video is made to look like one of those 1980s straight-to-video grade Z slashers.  Fans of that genre will smile at every trope and cliche presented here, from the chase through the abandoned school to the slightly creepy sheriff who promises to come back and check on the terrorized girl to the final lightning-flash reveal that the horror isn't over.  The song is actually from last year's Beaujolais release, Moeurs, which can be streamed or purchased for down load here.  The clip is new, though, and is a perfect joining of concept, visuals, and song:

2 & 3. Nikki Corvette/The Dahlmanns 

The split single is a great invention - two bands' A-sides and no B-side in sight! Now that's a bargain!

The split single Surfin' Ki Records issued earlier this year, shared by Nikki Corvette and The Dahlmanns, is even better, sporting two great tracks from each artist.  Nikki Corvette delivers the ultra-fun bubblegum punk she's always been known for, and The Dahlmanns travel all the way from Norway to prove they can hold their own sharing the vinyl grooves with Nikki C.  Picking up the vinyl also bags you a download code for the digital versions.  This one was only done as a small run of 400, so pick yours up quick!

BTW, Nikki just finished up a European tour with her current band, The Romeos, with plans for more dates in the spring (hopefully some US dates!).  The Dahlmanns' new release, Dumb Me Down, will be officially out this Monday, August 13.  You can - and should - grab it here.

4. Magic Christian w/ Gord Lewis

A bit of backstory for those who need it:  in the late 1960s, Cyril Jordan was a founding member of perhaps the greatest garage band of all time, The Flamin' Groovies.  In 1971 they recorded the pre-punk classic "Teenage Head."  Four years later, a group of snotty young Canadian kids headed up by a fellow called Gord Lewis formed an early punk band, and adopted the song title as their band's name.  Teenage Head would become one of the more popular Canadian punk bands, scoring a hit in their home country with 1980's "Let's Shake."

Fast forward to 2009. After more than 30 years, Jordan had disbanded The Groovies and was now playing with a sort of power-pop super group, Magic Christian, whose members also included Blondie's Clem Burke and Eddie Munnoz from The Plimsouls.  Cyril invites Gord Lewis into the recording studio, and this amalgam of amazing musical talents records both The Flamin' Groovies' "Teenage Head" and Teenage Head's "Let's Shake."  This year, Schizophrenic Records released both tracks as an awesome 7-inch - on clear vinyl no less!  Suffice to say, this is a must-have!  Here you can catch some of the recording session for "Teenage Head."  Enjoy:

5. Mud Pie Sun

I have pointed you before in the direction of the outstanding ...tapewrecks... blog.  If you haven't added it to regular blog reading rotation, please do so.  You think I tell you these things for my health? Jeez, I wish you kids would listen when I tell you stuff! Anyway, I've also mentioned before that Tom, who curates the wrecked tapes there, is one half of a spiffy lo-fi homebrew-recording duo known as Mud Pie Sun.  They've got a new CD out called Wooden Circle, and are offering a free sampling in the form of a digital single, "Church of Bitter Souls."  The single can be had here, and a measly $8 will get you the whole 14-song shebang in both physical CD and ethereal digital forms.  Good folky freakout kind of stuff, courtesy of a pair of Philly musicians noodling around in their home studios.  Listen:

6. Prefab Messiahs

One surefire way to discover good music is to find out who the musicians you already like listen to.  It was through Tom of Mud Pie Sun that I learned of Prefab Messiahs, thanks to Tom's NW4NW request back in 2010.  You can click back to that post to learn virtually everything I know about the band; two years later I haven't uncovered much more, except that this year they have released Peace, Love and Alienation, an 8-song collection of remastered recordings from another place and time.  The Messiahs also offer a morsel of musical goodness to whet your appetite, a digital single of "Desperately Happy."  The whole collection can be both digitally streamed (here) or purchased in pristine vinyl packaged with a fold-out 'zine (here).

7. The Dying Elk Herd

There's a new(ish) band on the scene here in my hometown of Lancaster, PA, and I bring them to your attention because they're damn good.  The Dying Elk Herd is a trio that has been playing together under that name for a relatively short while, but all three are veterans of the local music scene.  Dave Benner, Greg Cathey, and Curt Laudenberger have been bandmates in various permutations over the years, putting in time in Nobody's Fools, Kirk & The Jerks, and Jet Silver.  These days their sound is more mature than that old skate punk, but carries a definite nostalgia for that time.  Their track "Another Restless Night," recorded for this year's Music For Everyone charity compilation CD, is offered up for free download from their website.  If this is indicative of where their sound is going (think later-era Stiff Little Fingers with a bit more power-pop in the mix), I'm eager to hear more! 

8. Brandon Locher

If your tastes run to the more avant-garde sound-collage performance pieces of artists like Negativland or The Tape-Beatles, Johnstown PA's Brandon Locher's Conversations may be right up your alley. If you're looking for music you can sing along with and dance to, keep moving, but if you, like me, are fascinated by audio verite pieces and human psychology, you'll find these two tracks remarkable.  Locher is part of Johnstown's My Idea Of Fun art collective, and in these works he takes the concept of a prank phone call away from small-minded juveniles and raises it to a level of stunning sophistication.

The process is simple:  call person #1, say nothing when they answer, and record whatever they say.  Then call person #2 and play back the recording of person #1.  Person #3 then is called and played person #2's recording, and so forth.  The result is an otherworldly version of the old children's game of Whisper Down the Lane.  It's remarkable to hear people carrying on conversations, completely unaware that they are not talking to a live person.  Before long, an odd rhythm starts to develop with various voices unwittingly repeating a chorus of "Hello? Hello?"  Both tracks can be downloaded for free.

9. Buttress O'Kneel

How much time have you got?  While we're off on this little sound-as-art side-trip, it seems the right time to mention a most remarkable series of recordings.  These would be easy to dismiss as conceptual works where the idea of the thing is more the point than the substance, but if you are willing to invest the time they demand, there are rewards to be found.  Let me explain:

Buttress O'Kneel has been a prolific mash-up artist for some time.  Her ability to combine disparate songs and sounds into seamless new pieces is almost confounding and at times quite funny (check out "She Blinded Me With Shatner" from this year's Avant Retro: Post Tardcore album, or the utterly brilliant "Nyan Inch Nails").  But recently she has embarked on a rather different type of sound manipulation. She is creating a series of works based on the theme of spirituality, in which she takes well-known songs and slows them down extremely using a time-stretching software that allows pitch to remain relatively the same as in the original format.  And when I say "slows them down extremely,"  I'm not exaggerating:  my favorite piece, shared here, is "Heaven," which stretches Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" out over 77 minutes and 7 seconds (777 being the number of Heaven).  Other works in the series include "A Devil Put Aside For Me" which stretches Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" to 75 minutes, since it was released in 1975, and "Neverending," in which Limahl's "Neverending Story" is made to almost literally reflect its title at 102 minutes, the length of the motion picture from which it comes.  Listening to these pieces is an experience that's hard to describe.  The music becomes ambient, almost trance-like, and when vocals finally appear (almost ten minutes into the track in the case of "Heaven"), they are otherworldly yet vaguely recognizable.  The effect is meditative; at points you forget that you're listening to it as your mind wanders off into your own thoughts, occasionally being brought back to awareness that the song is still playing.  Absolutely worth slowing your own day down to experience.

Buttress O'Kneel - "Heaven"

10. Plurals

I'm so very pleased to see Baltimore MD's Plurals making waves - New Wave waves, in their case.  I was first exposed to this band last October when I saw them among the opening bands for Shonen Knife; I raved about them then, saying that I wanted to hear more.  Well, ta-da! Plurals have released a 4-song digital EP, Laced With Boniva, which will hopefully begin to spread the word about this excellent band.  If Boston's Freezepop is keeping the 1983 synthpop sound alive, then Plurals are doing the same for the angular New Wave sounds of 1979/1980.  With B-52's-ish female backups, jagged guitars and hiccuppy synths, their sound brings back fond memories to my ears.  They're a fun, danceable, good time to see live, and it's nice to hear that they translate so well in recorded form. Four songs isn't enough, though - we need more! (Hint, hint!) Listen here to "Mental Illness/Sooner Or Later," in which they invoke The English Beat rather directly, then go get the whole thing.  They have it set up as a "name your price" download here.

11. One-Eyed Doll 

Come on, you knew I wouldn't get through a list of music you need to hear like this without mentioning One-Eyed Doll!  I won't spend a great deal of time discussing their incredibly awesome current album, Dirty, here - you can read my full review at this post.  I include them in the list because the album is now finally available as a "name your price" digital download in addition to physical CD and vinyl formats.  They're on tour right now with Otep; if they come anywhere near you, please go see them.  Best live show you will ever experience, bar none.  And, since I must unfortunately miss them this time around, do me a favor and tell Kimberly and Junior I said "Hi!"

12. Trebor Sor

Another case of finding a very cool artist by discovering who the artists you already like listen to.  In this case, One-Eyed Doll mentioned independent musician Trebor Sor on their Facebook page, as both Kimberly and Junior helped out on his current digital release, On My Own.  But don't think you're in for the same sort of sounds as One-Eyed Doll.  Sor's music is a bit more subdued, smooth and glistening.  His page on ReverbNation describes him as sounding like, among others, The Moody Blues, The Sisters Of Mercy, and Cat Stevens - and I'd have a hard time arguing that description. On My Own is yet another "name your price" download - do go get it. Listen to "Set Yourself Free," which includes helpful backing vocals from Kimberly Freeman from One-Eyed Doll:

13. Jello Biafra & the Guantanamo School of Medicine

My friends and I have a standard line whenever we're at a show where the band onstage goes into generic rock band mode and starts encouraging the crowd to clap along with whatever song they're playing: "Jello Biafra never told me to clap my hands. Jello Biafra told me to think."  34 years after launching Dead Kennedys, Jello is still trying to get people out of conformist sheep mode and into thinking for themselves, and given his history of political and social protest, it's no surprise that he would find himself in alignment with the Occupy Movement (at least in theory, if not in specific practice.)  "SHOCK-YOU-PY!" is the first glimpse of what will eventually be a new EP and full length LP from his current band.  He offers it in two variations, one exclusive to the "name your price" download.  Take some time to read his description of the song and why he wrote it; no need for me to rephrase his words here.  Then listen.  Download and share. And, most importantly, think.

14. The Dollyrots

If you are a regular visitor to the TWIWGTS Facebook Page (if you're not, what's up with that?!? Stop on by, "like" us, and hang with the cool kids!), you already know that the new Dollyrots album will be available September 18!  But did you know you can get a free pre-release download of the single "Because I'm Awesome (2012)" just by visiting The Dollyrots' webpage?  You can!  Go there now and get it; I'll wait here.  You're back? Good, where were we?  Oh yes...The Dollyrots will be available as a CD, on vinyl, or digitally.  You can pre-order here and get some nifty goodies to go along with the music.  They'll be headed off to the UK for a tour in support of the new record; hopefully they will then come tour the US. They actually played right here in Lancaster on their last tour, and I missed them - I am still kicking myself for that!  "Because I'm Awesome" is one of their very best songs, and this new recording of it stays true to the original.  Can't wait for the whole LP!

Now, among those 14 artists, you're bound to find some new goodies for your listening pleasure.  You're welcome.  The only thing I ask from you is feedback.  Which of these do you enjoy the most?  Are you like me and love them all?  Any you didn't care for? Why?  Speak up!  Also, if you have some music that you think others should be hearing, feel free to let us know!

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