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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