Sunday, February 22, 2015

NEW MUSIC: Plurals - "Your Situation"

Confession time: a big, goofy smile lit up my face the moment I first plunked the needle down on the beautifully marbled yellow vinyl album that arrived in the Ruttville mailbox a couple of weeks ago. Your Situation, the debut album from Plurals, immediately takes me back to a very happy musical place. From the first jackhammer guitar chords through the final washes against the side two inner groove, Plurals bring back everything that made New Wave (back in the days when it was a wave) so exciting and, yes, fun.  Their thoroughly modern takes on that nostalgic noise have made them a favorite of mine since catching them opening for Shonen Knife a while back, and later supporting Peelander-Z. I raved here about their first recorded output, the digital EP Laced With Boniva, and it should be no big surprise that I'm about to rave again.

Your Situation reprises the four tracks from the EP, adding five more shots of their insanely clever and insidiously catchy sound.  Over the course of nine tracks, the band (Michael Bowen on guitar and vocals, Elena Fox on bass, keyboardist Rachel Anne Warren, guitarist Jim Glass and Sean Pumphrey on drums) covers a whole lot of ground.  The opener, "Sicker/Better," starts off sounding like someone sped up Devo's "Uncontrollable Urge" until Fox and Warren bubble up through the mix with a series of tra-la-las that would make The Banana Splits proud.  As a counterpoint to Bowen's angular lead vocals, they evoke expected comparison to The B-52's.  The girls play the distant, alienated, emotionless New Wave backup singers role to even better effect on the phenomenal "Rose Garden," a bubblegummy romp that may be my favorite thing I've heard them do.

Sandwiched between those cuts is the hysterical "Look At the Nerds," a nearly operatic celebration of geekdom that serves as a showcase for Warren to channel both Nina Hagen and Klaus Nomi simultaneously (and yes, I used that line when describing the song as they played it live, but it is one of my favorite comparisons I've ever made and, if you listen, pretty damn accurate.)  Also worthy of note among the new cuts is "World Star," a knowing a jab at the infamous online site that collects cellphone videos of street violence and presents them as entertainment. The punchline, no pun intended, is perfect: "The hits keep coming..."

As mentioned before, if you missed out on Laced With Boniva, all four cuts from that digital EP are here as well: the funky herky-jerky "Manic Depressor," the almost Pixie-ish "I Am The Lions," the slightly retitled "On The Telephone (Clap Clap)," and the simply excellent "Mental Illness (Sooner Or Later)," wherein The English Beat is paraphrased to wonderful effect.

Yeah, the record put a grin on my face, because the fun these five folks have making this music comes through viscerally, both in their live performance and in their recorded work.  This is a band to keep an eye on, kids.  I get the feeling we've only scratched the surface of what they are capable of. You can pick up Your Situation on vinyl or as a digital download at the band's website, You can stream the whole record there, too, if that's your thing.  Me, I'm old school: colored vinyl and lots of inserts can't be beat!

I shared "Mental Illness (Sooner Or Later)" with you back on this Now Hear This round up; here are two standouts from the newer stuff, "Sicker/Better" and  "Rose Garden."  Enjoy, and then go pick up the whole album and help support the band!


Rose Garden

Friday, February 13, 2015

NEW MUSIC: The Dying Elk Herd - "For Real This Time"

The Dying Elk Herd’s debut album, For Real This Time, has been basically on constant repeat in the Ruttville CD player for the past week.  The much-anticipated disc most definitely delivers on the promise of their first two singles, the anthemic “Another Restless Night” and the insanely catchy “Don’t Let The Riverbeast Get You.”
For Real This Time may be The Dying Elk Herd’s debut album, but the band members themselves have been playing, both apart and together, for some time now.  Dave Benner, Greg Cathey and Curt Laudenberger are all veterans of the Lancaster punk scene.  Dave started out in Nobody’s Fools back in the mid-80s while Greg and Curt cut their teeth in The Dilemmas; all three eventually wound up members of Kirk & The Jerks and, later, Mystery City.  That pedigree is audible in the Herd’s material. There is much reverence for the past in the music (fans of Generation X, Stiff Little Fingers and early Clash are urged to move to the front of the line), but nothing here sounds dated or anachronistic.

The Herd come charging out of the gate in the opener, ”Progress Has A Price.”   The chiming guitars, driving beat and earnest lyrics set the tone for the rest of the ride.  “Restless Night” and “Riverbeast” are here, of course, amid hook-filled, sing (or shout) along concoctions like “Times Of Peril,” “Tired, Weary, Worn Out And Broke” and “The Fight To Be Free.” 

The song that caught me most by surprise, though, is the closer, “Every Avenue.”  No new ground is being broken here: punk kid has grown up and waxes nostalgic for the good old days while realizing the person he’s grown to be could only exist by living that life.  It’s a deft tightrope walk – a lyric like “…so I stumbled through my teens and through the Overlook Dance/And then on to Stan’s Records down Prince Street…” runs a high risk of overshooting the feeling of wistful nostalgia and landing somewhere between maudlin tripe and pretentious name-checking just to get a cheap pop from their fellow Lancastrians.  Here, they walk that line successfully, coming across with a gritty realness that hits home for anyone.  The fact that I, too, stumbled through my share of dances at the Overlook Skating Rink and spent most of my high school job’s earnings at Stan’s Record Bar, only means I know the precise places mentioned. Substitute your town’s local dance, indie record shop, neighborhood subdivisions and other landmarks, and you’ve lived it, too.

You can pick up For Real This Time through The Dying Elk Herd’s own website, or download through iTunes, and you really should.  I’ve shared “Another Restless Night” and “Don’t Let The Riverbeast Get You” in earlier posts, so this time around, with the kind permission of Dave Benner, I’m sharing the excellent opening track, “Progress Has A Price,” and the stunning closer, “Every Avenue.”  Enjoy!

Progress Has A Price

Every Avenue