Saturday, September 29, 2012

Because They're Awesome

So, the fourth album from The Dollyrots (Kelly Ogden, Luis Cabesaz, and whomever is occupying the ever-changing drummer slot) has been here in the house for about two weeks, and since it's arrival, few other recordings have seen much airplay.  With my ever-changing moods and a collection pushing 4000 titles, the soundtrack around here usually changes often. So for an LP to dominate the turntable like this says a lot.  The Dollyrots is simply a fantastic record - and yes, mine is a vinyl copy (neat-o clear vinyl, no less!) that actually does claim the turntable as home right now.

In some ways, the album comes across of something of a reboot for the band.  After three remarkably solid efforts, two of which were issued by Joan Jett's Blackheart Records, the band went back to a grassroots approach this time around.  The record was done completely independently with funding coming from fan contributions through Kickstarter.  Often, a band's self-titled album is their debut; by calling this one The Dollyrots, the band seems to be signalling a new phase.  Original drummer Chris Black was gone, replaced by Alicia Warrington, and the band recorded an updated version of their biggest hit, "Because I'm Awesome," which is found as a hidden track here.  The album even kicks off with a short track called "Starting Over," expanded at the end of the album as "Starting Over Again."

Of course, the more things change the more they stay the same, they say.  It may be a new era for The Dollyrots, but they sound as good as ever.  They deliver plenty of their brand of high energy punky-poppy fun spiced with Kelly's usual mischievious wink and lyrics that are much more substantial than her kartoon-kiddie vocals suggest they might be.  The cuts are more polished these days, and there are a few obvious nods to present-day pop-radio hooks ("I Wanna Go" and "So Wrong It's Right" are noticeably radio-ready), but because the band did it on their own terms, they managed to make those concessions without losing a bit of their personality.

When the album really cooks, though, is when all such trappings are dropped and The Dollyrots just  do what they do best. "Twist Me To The Left," "Pretty On The Outside," and the single "Hyperactive" are prime cuts for blaring speakers and crazed air-guitaring; "F U Famous" is one of the best things they've ever done.

Unfortunately, the news is that Warrington is already gone and a new drummer is sitting in during The Dollyrots' present tour.  A shame on one hand, because the Kelly/Luis/Alicia trio made a joyful noise this time around; on the other hand, they have survived one drummer change already.  This one could lead to an equally fortunate find for a replacement.  My work schedule means I'm going to miss the band on this tour (they're in Philly on Monday night at Kung Fu Necktie), so I guess the album will be seeing even more airplay around these parts.  Should be seeing airplay in your world as well.  Go pick up a copy!

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Monday, September 17, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #163

Most sensible people agree the Washington DC scene was an incredible one, packed with talented musicians playing outstanding music in any of several excellent bands, with styles spread across the spectrum of musical genres.  Of course, as in any scene, a few names loom considerably larger in importance and legacy in DC's history: The Teen Idles, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and Razz to name a few.  But they were all beaten to the punch by DC's original DIY combo, The Slickee Boys.

Starting out in 1976 and briefly fronted by a female singer, The Slickee Boys crossed straightforward bar-band rock with the emerging sounds of the New Wave, creating an edgy psychedelic-blues-garage sound with more than a little bit of attitude.  In their first year, they released the completely independently produced Hot And Cool EP, one of the earliest American DIY releases of the era.  An independently produced and distributed debut album, Separated Vegetables, appeared a year later, mixing covers of forgotten '60s garage nuggets and current DC scene favorites with an original or two, the album was pressed up in an issue of 100 copies.  Good luck finding an original!

Original singer Martha Hull was soon replaced by Mark Noone, and the best-known lineup of Slickee Boys was in place: Kim Kane and Marshall Keith on guitar, Noone on vocals, and Dan Palenski on drums.  Two more EPs were recorded (Mersey, Mersey Me and Third), which were then combined with the original Hot And Cool and released as Here To Stay in 1982.

All of this set the stage for their must-have masterpiece, Cybernetic Dreams of Pi.  Released in 1983, the album scorches from the incredible opening cut, "Escalator 66," on through a series of fresh originals ("When I Go To The Beach," "Nagasaki Neuter," "Life Of The Party") and covers both obscure (Hamilton Streetcar's "Invisible People") and almost expected (Status Quo's oft-covered "Pictures Of Matchstick Men").  A stunning album.

Having found their musical footing, they issued Uh Oh...No Breaks! in early 1985 - a collection padded with early Slickee Boys material re-recorded by a more confident band.  Only a step or two below Cybernetic Dreams, even retreads like "Jailbait Janet" and "Gotta Tell Me Why" sound sparkly and new.

Two more albums would hit the shelves before The Slickee Boys' run was over: Fashionably Late in 1988 seemed to focus more heavily on the band's affinity for bluesy rock; 1989's Live At Last is an accurately titled collection.  In the years since, The Slickee Boys have stayed semi-active by playing at least one reunion weekend a year.

For this week's NW4NW entry, enjoy a pair of clips from The Slickee Boys' classic Cybernetic Dreams Of Pi album: "When I Go To The Beach" and "Gotta Tell Me Why."  Enjoy!

Monday, September 10, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #162

North London's Neo-Neon-Rockabilly guys, The Polecats, started out thumping a stand-up bass and slinging their geetars as a trio (Tim Polecat, Boz Boorer, and Phil Bloomberg) joined by a succession of drummers, playing under the name The Cult Heroes around 1977 or so.  With Punk Rock being the cultural kick in the UK at the time, they soon discovered difficulty getting booked on Rockabilly shows:  their name sounded more like one of those upstart punk bands.  Early drummer Chris Hawkes suggested the name change before departing, and by the time Mercury Records scooped them up in 1980, they were forever more The Polecats.

Combining straightforward Rockabilly with a healthy dose of '70s Glam (Bolan's "Jeepster" and Bowie's "John I'm Only Dancing" were among their choices for cover songs and would provide them two minor hits in their home country), and wrapping the whole package up in early 1980s New Wave style, The Polecats became a popular live band.  Their 1981 debut album, Polecats Are Go!, was met with positive response back home.  With The Stray Cats starting to find radio success here in the States and spearheading a minor Rockabilly revival  (see The Rockats, Robert Gordon, etc.), it's no surprise that The Polecats' record proved to be a decent seller here as an import-only LP.  It should have been a natural for Mercury's American arm to jump on the fad and issue Polecats Are Go! domestically.

In typical American big-label fashion, they screwed up.  They waited a year and a half, and finally issued a seven-song EP, containing a few tracks from the LP and a few single sides. Make A Circuit With Me did, however, include its mighty title track, a killer rave-up that saw minor airplay on MTV, and remains The Polecats' calling-card single to this day.

The inexplicable lack of support from their record label left the band at a crossroads; the gap was filled with the release of Cult Heroes, a collection of early recordings, some of which were vintage cuts from when they used that name.  But most of these were also simply early versions of songs that had appeared on Polecats Are Go! in a more polished form.  A short live record, Live And Rockin', also appeared and offered some new material, but the time to strike had passed.

The Polecats soldiered on, however, maintaining a presence on the underground Rockabilly circuit and, in 1999, signed with a Japanese label to release an all-new collection, Polecats Won't Die! By now they had dropped much of the Glam edges and New Wave affectations and focused more a traditional, driving Rockabilly sound, a decision that served them well.

In the years since, a handful of "Best Of" compilations have surfaced, all offering different permutations of, essentially, the contents of Polecats Are Go! along with assorted live tracks and studio throwaways.  Any of them are fine, but your best bet is to find the CD reissue of the first album.

This week's NW4NW entry offers two clips from The Polecats.  First, of course, their classic, "Make A Circuit With Me," followed by a clip of their take on Bowie's "John I'm Only Dancing."  Enjoy!

Monday, September 3, 2012

New Wave for the New Week #161

From the release of their debut single, "Ignore The Machine," in 1982 through their present-day incarnation, few bands have staked out such singular musical territory as Alien Sex Fiend.  The fact is that, then as now, there is simply no other band that sounds like them.

Alien Sex Fiend is often lumped in with the Goth scene, especially since they cut their teeth playing at The Batcave in London, often cited as the home of Goth.  And sure, with their whiteface makeup and stringy Aqua-Net hairdos, they looked the part.  But to call them a Goth band doesn't quite convey what Alien Sex Fiend is all about.  Those expecting the somber chill of Bauhaus, the retro-glam of Specimen, or the lace-and-cobweb melodies of Siouxsie & The Banshees will find only slight shards of such sounds among Alien Sex Fiend's sonic attack.  Instead, the listener is met with rumbling pseudo-mechanical undercurrents, electronic bleeps and blorps firing from all directions, highly processed sheets of guitar noise, and the seeming lunatic rantings of frontman Nik Fiend.  Standard verse/chorus song structures are often only hinted at, and once you think you've finally latched onto an actual melody you are thrown off by a sudden sharp turn - or by the complete lack of one where it would be expected.

Their early albums as a quartet (Nik Fiend joined by his wife, billed only as Mrs. Fiend, guitarist Yaxi Highrizer and drummer Johnny Ha-Ha) are all excellent, if daunting, sonic explorations of the insane universe the band created for themselves.  Who's Been Sleeping In My Brain?, Maximum Security, and It - The Album each have rather distinct personalities, but each contains some must-hear moments.  Their high-water mark, however, is 1984's Acid Bath, wherein you'll find some of their best material: "In God We Trust (In Cars You Rust)," "Hee-Haw (Here Come The Bone People)," and "Attack!!!!!#2" lead a set that more than one reviewer has likened to a soundtrack for a horrific nightmare.

Highrizer and Ha-Ha left in the late 1980s, reducing Alien Sex Fiend to a husband and wife duo; this also freed Nik and Mrs. Fiend (real names: Nik and Chrissie Wade) to experiment more with electronic music and studio trickery.  They continued to issue albums at a regular pace (Another Planet, Curse, and Open Head Surgery, among others) as well some killer singles like "Buggin' Me" and "Now I'm Feeling Zombified."  They briefly re-expanded to a four piece unit with two new members, but for the past few years have reverted to the Fiend duo.  Not nearly as active or prolific as they once were, Alien Sex Fiend nonetheless continues to issue reports from the furthest outposts of musical sanity.

For this week's NW4NW entry, here are a pair of Alien Sex Fiend videos: their debut single, "Ignore The Machine," and the later-era "Buggin' Me." Enjoy!