Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Fall - Cerebral Caustic (Expanded Edition)

By May of 1995, my military tour in Christchurch, New Zealand was winding to a close.  I'd already moved out of my rented house in Casebrook at the end of March, and all of my household goods had been crated and were aboard a cargo ship somewhere in the Southern Pacific Ocean.  The command had 
moved me back into the Airport Gateway Motor Lodge on Memorial Avenue, a short distance away from the airport and the command headquarters of the Naval Antarctic Support Unit (NASU). The Airport Gateway was where I lived for the first few weeks after arriving in country; I was placed right next door to the original room I'd occupied a couple of years earlier. So my New Zealand adventure definitely seemed to be coming full circle.

I'd already gone back to the States in early April, for a week-long "Officer Transition Seminar" being held at a base in San Diego. I didn't want to go, since I considered it a total waste of time and travel resources. The course was ostensibly for junior officers who were leaving the service, but who were still relatively undecided as to what they wanted to do out in the civilian world. By that time, I'd already received word that I had been accepted to the several graduate schools I had applied to, and had already locked in on the University of Virginia as where I'd be commencing my MBA studies that coming fall. So my immediate post-Navy future was all set for the time being, and as I predicted, the course was a boondoggle and of no value to me. I spent the mornings and early afternoons of that week striving to pay attention to career advice and strategies that really didn't apply to me, then running out to my rental car and driving two hours north to Long Beach to hang out with old friends, having fun with them every night, capped off with an epic Vegas run that weekend with my friends before I flew back to Christchurch. Life was going pretty good for me at that point.

Back in New Zealand, I still had
my car, my gold Porsche 928, there with me.  I was planning on having that shipped back with my other furniture and other belongings earlier that month, but an unusual opportunity arose.  A local film production crew had put out a casting call for local Americans to appear as extras in a film being shot in nearby Lyttleton.  The director Peter Jackson, fresh off of his breakthrough critical success with the 1994 film Heavenly Creatures, was tapped by Universal Pictures to helm his first
big-budget movie, The Frighteners, starring Michael J. Fox.  Jackson was allowed to film in New Zealand, just so long as he made the setting look similar to a Western U.S. locale (this involved mainly switching around/transforming a lot of the local road signs and driving on what, for New Zealand, was the "wrong" side of the road). With the majority of local Yanks being involved with/employed by NASU, this meant a large group of us went in to audition for walk-on roles, at a space the production company had established in downtown Christchurch. I went in, hoping for one of these stand-in-the-back supplementary parts, but to my surprise, the crew asked me if I'd like to have a (very) small speaking part, which I happily accepted. The producers were also looking for American-style left-hand drive cars to feature in the film; when they discovered I owned a Porsche of that kind, they got very excited, and started making inquiries into featuring my ride in some of the scenes.

On the day that I and several other local Americans were slated to shoot, we gathered under a cold, wet mid-fall April sky (remember, the seasons are reversed in the Southern
Hemisphere) in the parking lot of the Wunderbar, a funky, quirky little bar and local concert venue in Lyttleton.  The Wunderbar's parking lot had been commandeered by Jackson's crew, and covered with trailers containing costumes, makeup facilities and electrical equipment. I was there for two days... and in all I can say that my first experience on an authentic movie set was a miserable one - a lot of sitting around, eating whatever Craft Services put out in terms of food for the cast and crew, then being herded around here and there like the inconsequential cattle the staff regarded us as, and enduring endless reshoots. I never came within spitting distance of Michael J. Fox or any of the other principal actors, and my much-anticipated speaking part was removed before filming even began. I made it into a couple of background shots, but apparently these ended up on the cutting room floor. Seeing the film after it came out, I didn't see or recognize any of my other local compatriots in any scenes either. It seems that they really didn't need us after all.

After all of the initial hullabaloo about my Porsche, the production company never got back to me about using it in the movie. I waited a couple more days to hear from them, then gave up and made arrangements to put my car on one of the last ships that would get it back to the States so it would be there waiting for me when I got there in early June. For the remainder of my time in Christchurch, I used one of the NASU vehicles to get around, a a beat-up old right-hand drive pickup truck decidedly less eye-catching than my own car.

The new Supply officer who was to take over my duties had arrived in mid-April, and by early May I had pretty much transitioned most of my duties to his responsibility. I still had some final work to do, but I was feeling a bit at loose ends. Before I left the region, I wanted to make one last run over to Sydney; I'd been to Australia a couple of times already for some R&R, and always had a good time there. I went there the year before with my buddy Tim, who ran the NASU Navy Exchange, and we had an excellent time - attended an Aussie Rules Football match, went to the top of the thousand-foot high Centrepoint (Sydney) tower, and visited several of the pubs and venues in the Rocks district, the city's Party Central. When I asked him if he'd like to go back with me on my farewell trip, he quickly agreed. We booked accommodations, the command cut our travel orders, and by the early morning of May 17th, we were over the Tasman Sea, en route to Sydney International Airport.

Our arrival later that morning was somewhat of a disappointment.  The hotel we booked sight-unseen overlooked the water at Circular Quay and looked swank in the advertisements, but when we got there to throw our bags down, we found that it was minuscule. To this day, it remains the smallest fucking room I've ever stayed in that managed to squeeze in two beds, a desk and a TV. We were both pissed, but sucked it up, since we figured we weren't going to be spending too much time in it anyway.

The first thing we did in town that afternoon was jump on the Sydney Harbour Tours ferry out of Circular Quay for a swing around the length and breadth of the waters surrounding the city.  The boat took us right
under the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge and past the Opera House (where I had attended a show almost a year earlier), and out almost to the entrance on the Pacific.  While on board, we began chatting up these two twenty-something Dutch girls who were also visiting the city.  While their final ferry destination differed from ours (we were going to get off at Taronga Zoo), they seemed pretty receptive to our dialogue, and elicited promises from them that we would all meet up later that evening at a bar on the Rocks that Tim and I had found during our previous visit.  We were both feeling pretty large by the time we walked through Taronga's gates.

Initially, I wasn't all that jazzed about spending my first hours in Oz walking around a menagerie.  But the zoo, the largest in Australia, turned out to be incredibly cool, full of (what was for
us) exotic animals like emu, platypuses, wombats and koalas.  We spent hours wandering around the place, taking everything in; it turned out to be a highlight of the trip, and highly recommended, should you ever find yourself out that way.  But as fun and interesting as it all was, as the afternoon wore on, Tim and I were anxious to get back to our shoebox hotel room and get ready to meet up with those chicks from Holland later that evening...

...which, of course, turned out to be a bust.  The girls never showed; I'll assuage my pride here, and charitably assume that they got lost and couldn't find the place we recommended (yeah, I'm sure that's what happened...).  No matter; there was booze available there, along with music and madness, so Tim and I settled in for an extended drinking session that concluded with us stumbling out of a cab back at our shit-ass hotel in the wee hours and drunkenly passing out in our beds.

We woke up late the next day, close to noon; the combined effect of drink, our extended walkabout and the time zone difference between Australia and New Zealand doing us in.  I wanted to get some shopping in while I was there, to pick up some souvenirs for myself and for people back in the U.S.  So we went into the city for those retail errands.  During our excursion, I happened to walk by a local record store, so I popped in to see what was new.  I was very surprised to find a brand-new CD by my favorite band, The Fall, in the bins - a new work titled Cerebral Caustic (In hindsight, I guess I shouldn't have been THAT surprised, as The Fall tended to put out a new album every year or so...).  Anyway, I immediately bought the disc, intending to listen to it later, and brought it with my other purchases back to the hotel in the late afternoon.

Tim and I were looking forward to heading out again that night and seeing what was what with the local female population, but we had to get something to eat first.  We ended up at, of all places, the Hard Rock Cafe's Sydney location (probably because it was something semi-familiar, and we couldn't be bothered with coming up with something different).  We spent the early evening eating burgers under a display case featuring what was purported to be Sid Vicious' actual leather jacket, which was kind of cool.  Then we headed out, walking the streets around Darling Harbour toward the Rocks once again.  En route to the
district, traversing down George Street, we came upon what appeared to be a wild, crowded bar called Jacksons On George, and decided to stop in for a gander.

I walked in to this jam-packed venue, and instantly met the eyes of an absolutely lovely woman standing halfway across the large room.  Not to say that I'm "all that"... but for whatever reason or vibe I was putting out, she froze in her tracks and seemed to completely lock onto me.  To me, she was... well, I've used this Raymond Chandler quote before, but I'll use it here again to describe her: "Whatever you needed, wherever you happened to be—she HAD it."  Her laser-beam eyes never left me as I played it cool after meeting and acknowledging that first glance.  I walked across the room towards the bar on the far side with Tim in my wake, passing close by her - but not TOO close.  Didn't want to appear overeager!

Ordered a couple of beers for myself and my buddy, all the while keeping a sideways look in her direction; she remained locked onto me.  Excellent...  Our drinks arrived, and after a couple of minutes of chat, I told Tim I was going to go out into the crowd and "mingle" a bit.  And SOMEHOW, I ended up right next to this girl, and we began dialoging.

Her name was Viv, and she lived in a distant suburb of Sydney, but was there in the city spending a long weekend of fun and clubbing with a girlfriend.  I told her my deal as well, then brought both her and her friend over to where Tim was holding up the bar for an introduction.  My buddy quickly sussed out what the situation was and assumed the role of 'wingman' in regards to Viv's friend... not that it helped my cause; the other girl was not about Tim AT ALL.  However, Viv and I were hitting it off like gangbusters.

We all spent a couple of hours together at Jacksons On George before moving down the street to a couple of other local pubs, with Viv and I enjoying each other's company more and more... in inverse proportion to her friend, who began to grouse about the hour, how tired she was, etc.  It seemed that any further progress would be blocked for that night.  Viv told me that they had plans the following night to visit Reva, a dance place in central Sydney, and asked me if I would meet her there.  I said that I would, all the while thinking "Try and stop me!"

The next day, the 19th, was pretty much a blur to me - I was looking forward to the evening.  I'm sure that Tim and I did some stuff around town, and I think I might have listened to my new CD; I simply don't recall.  What I DO recall is arriving at Reva slightly after the appointed time (my buddy had begged off, preferring to do his own thing that night) and finding Viv there with a couple more of her girlfriends.  Once again, she seemed very happy to see me; as such, she and I didn't stay at Reva for very long.  I spare you the details; suffice to say that we had a fun night together.

The next morning, I made my farewells to Viv, and staggered/dragged myself back to my Circular Quay hotel for a couple of hours of shuteye before Tim and I had to catch the flight back to Christchurch later that day.  All in all, I was pretty pleased with the way my final visit to Oz turned out...

...Except that as it turned out, it wasn't my last trip to Australia while I lived in that region.

Before I left Sydney, I'd provided Viv with my phone number in New Zealand (remember, cellphones weren't really affordable or widely available yet in the mid-1990s), and shortly after I returned there to my motel room in Christchurch, I began hearing from her.  Apparently, she had REALLY enjoyed my company there in Australia, and was eager to see me once again, so much so, that she was willing to foot the entire bill on a swank weekend for two in downtown Sydney, including a round-trip flight from where I was and a room at the Four Seasons (she had come into more than a little money recently, and was amenable to splurging).  Needless to say, she didn't have to lobby me very hard... six days after getting back from Sydney, I found myself running to board another late-night plane going back in that direction.

But before I left, I took the opportunity that week to unwrap and listen to my new Fall CD.  Cerebral Caustic marked band leader Mark's ex-wife Brix Smith's return to the band after a five-year hiatus (a situation I detailed in a previous post).  Brix immediately brought her music aesthetic back into the group; half of the songs on this album were co-written by her.  But, in my opinion, I can't say that her return infused the band with a shot of innovation or energy.  Cerebral Caustic was the second in a series of mostly "meh" albums that The Fall put out in the mid-90s, in the wake of 1993's
critically acclaimed and commercially successful (Top Ten on the British charts) disc The Infotainment Scan.  There were flashes of brilliance on Cerebral Caustic, particularly in songs like "Rainmaster", "Life Just Bounces" and "Feeling Numb".  But all in all, to me, the album just felt like sort of a generic and by-the-numbers Fall release, without any real drive or inspiration behind it. 

Perhaps this was due to band turbulence and stresses on Mark caused by Brix's quasi-return (she didn't move back to England, but stayed mostly in her new home in Los Angeles, flying in for the group's recording sessions and gigs).  Already a heavy drinker, Mark began hitting the bottle big time during this period, leading to periods of incapacitation, warped judgements and angrier-than-usual outbursts.  He unexpectedly fired keyboardist Dave Bush just as the recording sessions for the album were being completed (for years, there were rumors that he wiped all of Bush's contributions to the record and had them rerecorded).  And later that year, he booted stalwart guitarist Craig Scanlon, who had been with the band since the late '70s, for equally unknown reasons.  Releasing an album in the midst of this turmoil was probably not a good idea... but Mark was going to do what he was going to do, and no one was going to make him do otherwise.  But this instability remained, and was carried through the next two lackluster Fall albums,
1996's The Light User Syndrome and and 1997's LevitateAs I wrote before, The Fall didn't really get its shit back together until 1999's The Marshall Suite, recorded with almost an entirely new band after the remaining early members quit the group after the Brownies punch-up/debacle during their American tour the prior year.

In any event, that was my take on the latest Fall album as I arrived back in Sydney that Friday night and found Viv waiting for me at the airport.  The next three days were excellent; we had an amazing time running around the city and canoodling back in our gold-plated hotel suite.  Dining out, dancing, shopping, seeing the sights, checking out the high- and low-lights of Sydney, all the places that she knew about that I had missed on my earlier visits - it was just nonstop fun.  When Monday rolled up, far too quickly for us, I was very unhappy to leave the place, and her.  But, regretfully, duty called, and I got back on the plane that morning, heading back to Christchurch.  I will say that I flew back home to New Zealand with a big smile on my face...

That smile quickly faded upon my arrival at Christchurch International.  I sauntered off the plane and into Customs for what I figured was going to be another routine "wave me through" check-in... but I was stopped as the desk by a steely-eyed Customs officer, who demanded to see my official documents.  It was only then that the realization struck me: I'd spent so much time in New Zealand - living in the neighborhoods, going to the shops and pubs, learning all of the side streets and short cuts - that I essentially considered myself a local.  As far as I was concerned, Christchurch was my home.  But in the eyes of the entities running the state there, we were little more than official long-term guests, representatives of the U.S. government traveling on American passports.  As such, we required authorized documents - official travel orders - from a recognized U.S. facility there (such as an embassy or a military base) in order to leave and return to New Zealand without any undue hassle. 

In my zeal to get back to Sydney to hang out with Viv that weekend... I kind of forgot to get that sort of documentation from the NASU Administrative Department. So without that official OK, the airport official regarded me not as a fellow Kiwi, but as an undocumented scumbag trying to slip into the country.  He starting making noises about "deporting me back to Australia", which wouldn't have been good at all.

I tried explaining to the guy that I wasn't a tourist, but I actually lived there, and showed him my New Zealand driver's license and Bank of New Zealand ATM card, among other items, as proof.  But that cold-blooded bastard wasn't buying it.  Finally, I told him I could clear this situation up with one phone call, and used the phone at his desk to call the NASU Main Office.  Oddly, there was no answer... so I tried again, with the same result.  It was then that the realization struck me - it was Monday, May 29th... MEMORIAL DAY - and the office was closed for the American holiday.  Damn.  I had no idea what the home phone numbers were for anyone from NASU who could assist me.  In a word, I was screwed.

It was only then that the Customs official's attitude softened somewhat; I guess he figured out by then that I hadn't been
BSing him about living there.  Instead of sending me back to Sydney on the next plane, he would provide me with a ten-day Visitor's Permit, to get me back into the country and give me time to get things straightened out.  This was the perfect solution for me - especially as my last day in New Zealand was scheduled for June 8th, only nine days away.  I gladly accepted the stamp in my passport, and made my way out of the airport as quickly as possible.  But I spent my last few days there as a "visitor" in my own country, as it were.

That's how that situation ended... but it wasn't the end for Viv and I.  After I got back to the States and entered grad school, she and I stayed in touch constantly through letters and the occasional phone call.  During the break between my first and second years at UVA, we decided to meet somewhere mutually convenient for both of us... so in the latter part of the summer of 1996, we reconnected in Maui for a week, which was as epic and awesome a trip as I've ever had, even surpassing my last sojourn with her in Sydney a year earlier.  After that vacation, I didn't see her for many years, although we remained constantly in touch.  She still lives near Sydney, and got married a couple of years later to Joseph, a local Aussie-by-way-of-New-Zealand, a staunch and outstanding guy.  And I got to see them both a few years ago, when they came over to New York City for a visit and I met them there.  We're all great friends now, and any such feelings I may have had for her - longing, lust or whatever - have long since fallen by the wayside.

She's still piping hot, though... and on occasion I think back on the days when we first became acquainted, twenty-five years ago this week, and smile a secret little smile of remembrance.  These occasions to reminisce occur more often then not when I hear a song off of Cerebral Caustic, which I've been playing slightly more in recent years and starting to semi-appreciate, even if my initial mediocre assessment of it hasn't changed all that much.  It was all great fun, way back when, but that's life... and like the man, Mark E. Smith himself, once said:

" just bounces so don't you get worried at all;
And life just bounces so don't you get worried at all."

No worries indeed.

And to alleviate your worries - yes, I AM offering up this album for your listening pleasure! 

Here's The Fall's Cerebral Caustic, Castle Music's 2006 expanded edition of the 1995 release originally put out on Permanent Records on February 27th, 1995.  The first disc contains the original album lineup; the second disc includes a four-track Peel Sessions recording from December 17th, 1994 (hence the prevalence of all the Christmas songs; however, the Peel Sessions version of "Numb At The Lodge" crushes the album version ("Feeling Numb"), IMHO...), ten early mixes/rough tracks from the album (which prove that the rumors regarding Dave Bush's contributions being wiped were unfounded), and a couple of promo items, including a brief interview with Mark and Brix.  Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Various Artists - "Space Age Love Song" covers

Nowadays, the early '80s band A Flock Of Seagulls has been reduced to little more than a punchline, remembered more for lead singer (and former hairdresser) Ali Score's unusual hairstyle and the derisive mention of the group's name in the film Pulp Fiction than for their music.  And if any of their songs are recalled at all, most people lump them all together and refer to the band as "just another cheesy '80s group". 

But in hindsight, A Flock Of Seagulls were pioneers and extremely influential, with their dance-able electronic synth-pop sound and style leading the way for similar and subsequent British bands that followed in their wake.  While their heyday was brief, they opened the door for New Romantic bands like Duran Duran, Culture Club and Adam & The Ants to dominate the US and international charts, along with "Second British Invasion" groups like Wham!, Eurythmics and Bananarama, and allowed subsequent later acts such as Kajagoogoo, ABC, Dead Or Alive, and Talk Talk to make significant inroads on worldwide charts as well.  In my opinion, in many ways you can draw a direct line from what A Flock Of Seagulls was doing at the time to the current state and nature of dance, electronic and some pop music on the airwaves today.

As significant as their achievements were, as I mentioned above, A Flock Of Seagulls' time in the spotlight was very brief, peaking in 1982 with three monumental international hits:  "I Ran (So Far Away)", "Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You)", and what I consider to be their magnum opus and one of the greatest synth-pop songs of all time, "Space Age Love Song":

"Space Age Love Song" is so well-constructed that over the years, many a band, both well-known and obscure, has seen fit to try their hand at covering it.  I think it was about three or four years ago that I came across an entire ALBUM of these covers offered on someone's website; I wish I could recall where I got them from, so I could give the compiler all due credit and respect for pulling these together.  But the location seems to have been taken off-line, or has otherwise eluded my searches for it.

But in any event, here it is for you to enjoy:  Space Age Love Song covers, a delightful and entertaining bootleg of some of the best attempts to re-record/reimagine this tune.  Have a listen, enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Friday, May 29, 2020

Jane Wiedlin - Blue Kiss 12"

Jane Wiedlin's music career has long been a source of curiosity and disappointment to me. As a member of the seminal new wave girl group The Go-Go's, Wiedlin wrote or co-wrote at least half of the songs on the band's first three albums - including huge hits and fan favorites such as "Our Lips Are Sealed", "How Much More", "Lust To Love" and "Tonite" off of 1981's Beauty And The Beat, "Girl of 100 Lists" and the title track off of 1982's Vacation, and "Turn To You" and "Beneath The Blue Sky" off of 1984's Talk Show. But after the band broke up after that third album (done in by nonstop touring, injuries, and the endless partying with its attendant copious use of drugs and alcohol), and Wiedlin began her solo career, she seemed to find little success in translating that songwriting ability into her own music.

I believe that part of this stemmed from the insecurity she might have felt then being on her own. With The Go-Go's, Wiedlin had four other band members to not only bounce ideas off of, but also serve as a "united front" against producers and label executives who were interested in exploiting the group and/or drastically modifying their sound. And for the most part, this unity was successful, only faltering somewhat on their second album, Vacation, produced by former Brill Building alum Richard Gottehrer. Gottehrer slicked the band's sound down somewhat on this album; although it was still successful (reaching #8 on the Billboard 200), it received lukewarm critical
reviews and was seen in many quarters as a step backward by the group. Talk Show, released two years later, was considered a "return to form" for The Go-Go's, returning the bite and drive to much of their music. I enjoyed this album very much, and recall being disappointed when I learned of the group's demise soon after its release; it would have been interesting to see in what direction The Go-Go's would have gone with future albums. But it was not to be.

Trying to make a name for herself as a solo act, I think that Jane fell under the influence of the label and the producers assigned to her first release in her/their drive to make the disc more accessible/"commercial" and
thereby more successful. In many ways, 1985's Jane Wiedlin is way overproduced, full of shimmering effects, '80s-style beats and guest musicians (Chris Sheehan participated in several of the recordings for this album) that bury the effect and urgency of the lyrics she penned. It also doesn't help that Wiedlin's voice is rather thin and lacking in range... but with the right producer, that could have been managed. In her best songs on this album, especially on "One Hundred Years Of Solitude", the special effects are toned down, allowing the quality of her music and vocals to shine through. Alas, it wasn't enough - IRS dropped her after Jane Wiedlin peaked at only #127 on the charts. I still bought the disc, though, out of my love for and loyalty to The Go-Go's (and because, on the album cover, Jane reminded me of a girl I once adored in college).

Jane moved to Manhattan Records, where she released Fur three years later, in 1988.  But again, she made the same mistake as with her previous album.  Fur is even more slickly produced than her first album, with producer Stephen Hague (who helmed albums by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Erasure and The Pet Shop Boys) liberally ladling on the synth-pop.  This album should have gone nowhere as well...
however, it did produce a Top Ten hit single, "Rush Hour", which helped drag the album up to #105 on the charts. But the rest of the disc is airy and forgettable. Wiedlin managed to release one more album, Tangled, on yet another new label (EMI) in 1990... but the damage was done. Tangled failed to chart. Jane wouldn't release another solo album for another decade.

[It is interesting to note that during this time, Jane's former band mate Belinda Carlisle also began a solo career, albeit in a poppier, more radio-friendly vein, and found much greater
success with arguably more inferior material (although her first big hit, 1986's "Mad About You", was originally slated for release on The Go-Go's aborted fourth album).  Other huge hits for her, including "I Get Weak" and "Heaven Is A Place On Earth", soon followed.]

Although "Rush Hour" was Wiedlin's biggest solo hit, I've always felt that "Blue Kiss", off of her first solo outing, was the best song she ever did on her own, even though it only reached #77 on the charts. IRS seemed to think so as well; "Blue Kiss" b/w "My Traveling Heart" was released as the first single off the album, and later that year the label issued a 12" of dance and extended versions of the song on vinyl. To date, these songs have never been released on CD.

Here's the lineup
  1. Blue Kiss (Special Dance Version)
  2. Blue Kiss ("V" Mix)
  3. Blue Kiss (Instrumental Version)
So here for your enjoyment is Jane Wiedlin's Blue Kiss 12", put out by IRS Records in September 1985.  Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

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Thursday, May 28, 2020

Thigh Master - "Exodus"/"Pity Run" (single)

I first heard Brisbane, Australia-based Thigh Master's single "Exodus" a little over two years ago, while driving into work in suburban Boston one morning. The local independent/ alternative station in the area, WMBR 88.1 FM out of the basement of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT's) student union, is fantastic, a harbinger back to the old days of college radio, when stations of that ilk were wild enough and brave enough to play anything that struck the DJ of the day's fancy, no matter how non-commercial or anti-mainstream it was. I generally switch between WMBR and the local National Public Radio station on my morning commutes... but with the news here in the States increasingly chaotic and depressing, I found myself grooving to alt/indie music more and more often. In doing so, I've come across some musical gems being put out at that station, including this one on that fateful day:

Although the band is from Australia, I instantly caught that New Zealand/Flying Nun vibe/sound shooting out of this tune, reminding me of the stuff I liked and listened to often when I lived over in that part of the world many moons ago. Needless to say, this band flipped my wig, and I couldn't wait to get home to order their single.

Thigh Master formed in 2012 around a nucleus of brothers Matthew (guitar and lead vocals) and Daniel Ford (bassist) with drummer Patrick Byron, but went through a few lineup changes in their first few years before settling on a stable, solid foundation of Matthew, Patrick, Innez Tulloch on second guitar and new bass guitarist Dusty Anastassiou. The band has toured extensively in the Australasia and Southeast Asia region, and to date has released two albums, Early Times in 2016 and Now For Example just last year, the latter of which contains the album version of the song presented here, released a year earlier. Both of these albums come highly recommended. The group was supposed to begin their first-ever US tour in March of this year... but that didn't happen, for obvious reasons.

In the meantime, here's the single to whet your appetite: Thigh Master's Exodus/Pity Run single, recorded in September 2017 and released on Bruit Direct Disques on January 4th, 2018. Enjoy, and as always... well, you know.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The B-52's - Remix EPs

In the mid-2000s, a small British label called Planet Clique, specializing in dance music, released a series of remix EPs of classic B-52's hits, mostly on vinyl.  The label was an offshoot of Manhattan Clique, maintained by founders Philip Larsen and Chris Smith, collectively referred to by the moniker "MHC". 

From their website:

One of the most enduring and well-respected remix teams of the last decade, Manhattan Clique have worked with some of the biggest names in pop and dance music, delivering over 200 dance/crossover remixes to date for all the world's major labels and many independents.  Highlights include Katy Perry, Charli XCX, Emeli Sandé, Lady Gaga, DJ Fresh, Ellie Goulding, Nicole Scherzinger, Britney Spears, Carly Rae Jepsen, Example, Wretch 32 and many more.

Manhattan Clique remixes regularly reside in the upper reaches of dance, club and pop charts in the UK, US and across Europe. Their remix edits are also hugely popular with radio stations, gaining support on BBC Radio 1, Kiss and Capital in the UK, and across a large number of radio stations in the US.  The team are also well known in the blogging world, picking up regular plaudits from leading music bloggers such as Popjustice, Perez Hilton and Arjan Writes.

Manhattan Clique have also worked with some of the biggest artists in Europe; from Germany's Frida Gold, Norway's Ida Maria, Holland's Esmée Denters, Russia's Valeriya to French megastar Mylene Farmer. Her duet with Moby, "Slipping Away" was Manhattan Clique's first #1 production, as well as Moby's first and only #1 single, spending several weeks at the top of the French singles chart in 2006. 

Outside Manhattan Clique, Philip Larsen has additionally won a Grammy award for his mix work on Kylie Minogue’s "Come Into My World".  Chris Smith runs the PR and marketing company Renegade Music, based in London, who consult for a wide variety of new and established UK and international talent.

Their remix EP of songs from Whammy! came out in 2005, followed by their Mesopotamia remixes the following year and their reimagining of songs from Wild Planet the year after.  All in all, I found these modified songs to be mostly interesting and enjoyable, and a welcome addition to the overall B-52's catalog.

Took me forever to find these discs... and as usual, I'm happy to share them with my fellow Bee-Fives fans.

So here, for your enjoyment and perusal, is the Whammy! - 2005 Remix EP, the Mesopotamia - 2006 Remix EP, and the Wild Planet - 2007 Remix EP, released in limited editions by Planet Clique in the years indicated.  Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think.

Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:

Whammy! - 2005 Remix EP: Send Email
Mesopotamia - 2006 Remix EP:  Send Email
Wild Planet - 2007 Remix EP: Send Email

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The North Atlantic - Wires In The Walls

The indie band The North Atlantic, comprised of brothers Jason Hendrix on lead vocals and guitar) and drummer Cullen Hendrix, along with their friend Jason Richards on bass, came together while the three were attending Kalamazoo College in Michigan in the late 1990s.  After Cullen's graduation, all three members relocated to San Diego, California to make a go at the music
industry.  Their debut album, the mostly-unheard Buried Under Tundra, was released there on Applep Records in mid-2001.  But the disc did get them a little bit of notice in certain quarters.

The band kept playing and touring in the Southern California area for the next couple of years, recording their sophomore album, Wires In The Walls, during this period and pressing a few hundred copies to sell at their shows.  The group went on hiatus shortly thereafter to allow Jason to go back to school to complete his degree, before reconvening in late 2005.

The North Atlantic's sound has been described as "math rock", an indie variation of '70s progressive rock championed by bands such as King Crimson and minimalist composers from that period like Steve Reich.  One definition I found of it described math rock as being "characterized by complex, atypical rhythmic structures (including irregular stopping and starting), counterpoint, odd time signatures (such as 7/8, 11/8 or 13/8), angular melodies, and extended, often  dissonant chords."  To me, this just sounds like the approach practically every other indie/punk band at the time, like Fugazi, Slint, Black Flag and Broken Social Scene, was taking.  Thus, I never have really "gotten" math rock...  It always seemed to me like the term was unnecessary, and slicing up the alternative/indie music genres/subgenres just a little too thin.

In any event, The North Atlantic had its (very) brief moment in the sun in the mid-2000s.  Shortly after Jason's college graduation and return to the band, The Syndicate, a West Coast radio promotion company, decided to expand into artist management and marketing, and picked up the then-three-year-old album for rerelease on their new label.  Wires In The Walls started getting moderate airplay on independent/alternative stations across the country.

I was living in Massachusetts at the time, and my local go-to station began playing the lead single, "Scientist Girl", fairly often.  Other than the sound and instrumentation featured in the song, what really grabbed me was that the band had the nerve/balls to not only name-check The Clash, but also lift one of their lyrics from the Clash song "Straight To Hell":

I was hooked, and based on this one song, I started looking everywhere in the Boston area for this album, without any luck.

This was also during the time when I would regularly travel three hours down the road with my toddler children to New York City some weekends.  I never spent much time in the Big Apple until I was in my mid-twenties, but from then on I always considered it a fun, "happening" place to be, and I vowed that my kids wouldn't have to wait as long as I did to see the city for themselves.  I would place the three of them in the big stroller, and we would roam all over town - visiting the museums, going to the Central Park Zoo and letting them play in the playgrounds there, browsing through the huge old F.A.O. Schwarz and Toys R Us locations, checking out new places to eat... all sorts of stuff.  I'm happy and proud to say that, now that my kids are teenagers, they KNOW New York.  They no longer have any interest in going to the touristy areas - they have their favorite shops and haunts in Soho and the Flatiron District; they know what subway trains to take to get to Harlem or Union Square; they know how to look at the light posts in Central Park and
know exactly what street they're parallel to; and before both locations closed, they regarded the Benash Delicatessen with disdain, considering The Carnegie (where we went so often, many of the staff knew their names) directly across the street the best deli in Midtown.  So I guess I did that part with them all right.

It was during one of our NYC trips late that summer that I was bound and determined to find that North Atlantic album.  So while we were there, I made a hateful side trip through Times Square (a locale I try very hard to avoid), pushing a loaded stroller through dense
crowds of tourists, in order to visit the old Virgin Megastore right there in the center of the square.  Once inside, I couldn't move around there much with three small children in tow, so I flagged down an employee and told him what I was looking for.  The guy disappeared for a few minutes, then came back with the CD I wanted.  I was in and out of there in less than five minutes!

I was happy to finally own the album... but again, I only bought it for one song.  So I can't say that this disc has been in heavy rotation in my house for the past decade and a half.  But listening to "Scientist Girl" again just recently, I still get the same sort of buzz I got when I first heard it, all those years ago.

And here it is for you all to get buzzed on as well:  Wires In The Walls, the second (and apparently last) release by The North Atlantic, originally released by the band on May 23rd, 2003, and rereleased by We Put Out Records on July 11th, 2006.  Have a listen, and as always, let me know what you think.

Please use the email link below to contact me, and I will reply with the download link(s) ASAP:

Send Email

Monday, May 25, 2020

Ten years... wow

On the first anniversary of this blog, way back when, I wrote the following:

A year ago today, I finally made the effort to put together my own music blog. I'd always wanted one, but at the time the process of establishing one seemed like something exotic and difficult, a thing that only truly savvy technogeeks did. When I finally made up my mind to give it a try, I was surprised at how easy making my own blog turned out to be.

I cannot tell you how much fun it has been, sharing my stories and music with you all over the past 365 days. I initially assumed that no one would take the time to find or read my words, or have any interest in this little corner of the Web that I designated my own... Some folks just passed through; some have lingered a while; and many have left comments with me, sharing their own thoughts about the things and events I've written about. To all of you, I just want to say "Thank you".

...This thing turned out to be a lot more fun that I ever thought it would be.

Even after a full decade of maintaining this site and providing my thoughts (and, more importantly, the files) on the music and bands that I have loved, hated, enjoyed and maligned throughout my life, I don't think I can add much more to this writeup.  As the number of visitors now approaches a million, all I can say is that I am grateful and humbled for your interest and support over the years, and the kind and thoughtful words many of you have left.  In my wildest dreams, I never thought that Pee-Pee Soaked Heckhole would resonate with so many for so long.

Near the end of my post in 2011, I added the following:

While my output has slowed in recent months, that does not mean that "Pee-Pee Soaked Heckhole" will be ending anytime soon. I have many more stories and tunes to share with you all (in fact, I have a number of posts that are currently in progress - just looking for the right words and the right time to finish them). I hope that you all keep on coming back here in the weeks and months to come, and please keep letting me know what you think of my funny little blog.

That part remains to be true; I've got literally dozens of essays in various stages of completion that I've been working on sporadically.  And in the next few weeks, I hope to get some of these longer-form screeds finished and up for your perusal, acquisition and commentary - along with some quickies I hope to put up in the next few days to celebrate this milestone.  Just bear with me, as always.  They don't come out as fast as they used to... but there are still plenty more where these current ones came from, and I look forward to sharing them with you.

All in all, this thing HAS turned out to be a lot more fun than I ever thought it would be.  Thanks to you all for hanging in there with me for the past decade.  Looking forward to the next ten, and beyond!

All the best to you from Pee-Pee Soaked Heckhole