Listening to…

Fountains of Wayne, “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart” and “Richie and Ruben”

Fountains of Wayne, a band I’ve followed slavishly from their earliest days, has signed to the Yep Roc label and has a full album due later this summer. A single’s been released on iTunes and elsewhere. For better or worse, it’s classic FoW: the matter-of-fact false-confident-sensitive-guy advisory “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart and the character study “Richie and Ruben” (about pesky guys with big ideas who blow through their patron’s investments). The production is on the same pure-pop level the band has maintained since “Radiation Vibe” a decade and a half ago. “Someone’s” has the big choral doo-doo-doos while “R&R” has the patented laidback Fountains jangle. Expectations run high for the full album, the band’s first in a few years and one which should find them out of the shadow of their freak video-fueled mainstream hit “Stacy’s Mom.”

Am I Blue?

The only disappointment in my trip to L.A. was the lack of interesting local brands of soda pop. I’d been told about a specialty soda pop shop that has brands from all over the country, but didn’t make it there. What I wanted was variety at the corner shops.
There is an upscale convenience store chain out West called Famima, which carries cultier foods. That’s where I rediscovered an elixir of my youth, Frostie Blue Cream Soda.
This is not a California carbonated delicacy. Not does it hail from the Antarctic, as its label might lead you to believe. Frostie Blue Cream Soda is, as its label attests, “a registered trademark of Frostie Root Beer LLC.” Before the Michigan-based Intrastate Distributors took it over a couple of years ago, the brand was owned by beverage companies in Texas, Georgia and Maryland
As blue as the antifreeze in a new Motortown automobile, Frostie Blue Cream Soda may not local to L.A., but neither is it local to accustomed carbonated beverage guzzling climes of Connecticut. It felt exotic enough that for the last three or four days of my trip, Frostie Blue Cream was just about all I drank.
P.S. That watermelon one, not so good.

Rock Gods #136: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

New club in town—for a week. Old Firehouse 28—aka Community Stage—has a hot festival. The programmers are the DJs, writers and crew from college station WCOH, putting the music where their mouths are.

“We thought, ‘We’re always talking about the music, why don’t we make some?” explains station manager Mac Lennon, who changed his summer vacation plans to help ignite the harmonic Firehouse conflagration. Likewise, COH publicist/treasurer/“Hill Herald” DJ/Jill-of-all-trades Anna Air stuck around campus just for this.

Some of the bands are indeed COH-connected: Stein of Wine, The Slakes, Deputy Op and the Bearded Wordies all have membered who’ve mumbled through the station’s mics. Other fest participants hail from all over: The Waterhouses, Rush Stage, HerKansas, several dozen acts in all scattered over a 10-day schedule.

Headlining the final night are Humble Harry and Grace in Name Grace in Nature.

Some other collegians, the type who prefer to write their ideas down and not sing them aloud, are setting up symposia, holding trivia matches and giving a club tour of the community.

Nothing this fast and loud has been seen at Firehouse 28 since it had fire engines in it. Expect regular reports from us on this phenomenon, but be sure to stop by the firehouse yourself for a full schedule, and to congratulate them on what a swell job they’ve done setting up the space.

The alarms are sounding over yonder, but don’t neglect the trusted established music joints like the Bullfinch (which this week features Tranny Mall, Veer/Tell and Two or Three Beccas), Hamilton’s (with The Red Cats, Wood Fringe and The Culvers upcoming) and D’ollaire’s (hello to The Graumans, Bonaventure and Edit2Jeff)…

Listening to…

Thee Oh Sees, “Castlemania.” San Francisco band currently in the midst of a European tour, where their deft mix of acoustic folk and ‘60s garage will surely be enthusiastically appreciated. Personally, I’m a huge fan of what some call “twee” pop which mixes aggressive playing and whimsically lightweight vocals. I find the hyperproductive Oh Sees rather simplistic compared to gods from the same sphere, The Pastels. But they’re amiable and approachable, and that counts for a lot. When they get loose and psychedelic, it’s like Brian Jonestown Massacre in a good mood, which is a concept I thought I’d never hear. Opening tune “I Need Seed” really is a good intro to the whole disk—raw, raucous, a little rude, and a whole lot of sing-along fun.

The Cows Are Drying Off

The Archers, the BBC soap opera which has been running since 1950, with 16,000 fans and millions of devoted listeners worldwide to its credit, appears to be returning to its roots. After a 60th anniversary year where key characters forwent their day-to-day agricultural enterprises so that they might fret about friends and neighbors who’d served time in jail, had a baby or fallen off a roof, it was downright refreshing to hear this deliciously dull exchange between college student Pip Archer and her mother Ruth last week:

“So what are you going to do now? Watch your new DVD?”

“Watch television in daylight?”

“Well, you are supposed to be having the day off.”

“I’d rather be out in the farm.”

“You’re not so busy now, though—haymaking done, still weeks ‘til harvest, the cows are drying off… If Dad can have time to go to the show, you can put your feet up a bit.”

“I’m sure I can still find something to do.”

This leisurely, realism-packed back-to-the-bland movement is welcome, since a whole new Archers series has begun on the revamped Radio 4 Extra, the online comedy-and-drama channel formerly known as BBC7. Ambridge Extra is named for the rural village where the main Archers show takes place (plus the word “Extra”), but most of the stories so far concern young adults who’ve fled farmland for collegiate pursuits, or for wastrel adventures in bigger towns.

It’s unfair to suggest that the villagers of Ambridge, on the traditional Archers show, doesn’t pay attention to the younger members of its community—there’s rarely an episode without a recalcitrant child or concerns over how to deal with an infant, or worries about summer jobs or career choices or school exams. But very few of the young adults are given lives of their own. They’re mostly living at home and answering to family. When Alice and Chris got abruptly married in Las Vegas last year, for instance, the story was told largely through the reactions of Alice’s straight-laced (and Chris’ considerably earthier) parents.

So the Ambridge element is ambiguous. The “Extra” is clear, though: we get fuller background details on relatively minor characters in the main Archers narrative. “Extra” stands for extrapolation—in The Archers, 16-year-old Jamie Perks is always “skint” when he sneaks into pubs with his mates, and his mother is always worrying about whether he’s doing his “revisions” for his final exams. So Ambridge Extra invents tangential scenes where Jamie constantly considers stealing money or valuables.

Having only a couple of 15-minute episodes a week, compared to the six The Archers gets, means Ambridge Extra can be pretty slow going. Only two main storylines have dominated the show’s first two dozen installments. In the one about newlywed Alice and her adventures at university—away from her husband Chris, and unknowingly the object of the affections and machinations of her sinister, outwardly ingratiating housemate Chaz. Ambridge Extra has created new characters, but the one we’re hearing most about is a despicable villain, and the others are hangers-on whose characters are far from developed.

I’m having the same problems with The Archers courting a younger audience as I am with Archie Comics (via the Archie Marries… series and the now year-old Life With Archie magazine) courting an older crowd. Whether or not they’re well done (and the writing on both Archers and Archie has been inconsistent), it seems forced. Coming up something entirely new might be tougher to establish, but the novelty appeal of a spin-off can be shortlived if it isn’t eventually able to stand on its own.

The Archers airs Sunday through Friday at 7 p.m. (London time); each episode is rerun at 2 p.m. the following afternoon. There’s also “omnibus” edition of all that weeks episodies’ end-to-end on Saturday. Ambridge Extra airs Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 a.m. (London time) with same-day reruns at 2:15 p.m. and an omnibus edition Fridays at 10:30 a.m. repeated Sundays at 11:15 a.m. and 7:15 p.m. BBC streams all its channels live online, but it’s easier to keep up via podcasts (iTunes has ‘em) or the BBC’s “Listen Again” option, which keeps programs available for a week after they first aired.

Rock Gods #135: Adventures in Our Little Music Scene

Folks, Wednesday’s bill at the Bull was the kind of thing that never happens in real life. Because in real life, rock bands worth even the tiniest dose of respect might be informed by club managers that their former bassist’s new band would be opening for them on a night when a guy who works at a label in a big city has been specially invited. In real life, the leader of the older band might even have heard that his old bandmate and former friend-since-birth had even started a band of his own. But it’s a Wednesday in a small city, and all bets are off. A band was needed mid-week for no pay, the drummer was drinking at the bar and mentioned they might be ready, and history was made. Yes, somebody walked off with a record contract last night. And no, it wasn’t The Blats!

The artist formerly known as Bloody Stink now goes by his birth name of Robert Stankus. The rap on Bobby was that he couldn’t play bass well enough to be a Blat, but it turns out—to these ecstatic ears at least—that he was really meant to play guitar, and to play a much more prepared sort of music that his ex-friend Scott’s rangy blues-punk-rock. Out of eight songs in the debut set—first gig anywhere, remember—I deem four good and two great. (I’m still hummin’ one of ‘em, the one with the chorus that says something like “You’re smart,” or maybe “you’ll smart” or maybe both. It’s the kind of pop/rock that’s unfairly gone out of style. Which befits the band’s name (which I’m guessing is also a complex pun on Bloody Stink’s transformation): Extinct.

Some (presumably more comfortable) multi-bills at area clubs, all tomorrow: The Warm-Blooded, Egg-Laying Feathered Vertebrates with Rhamphor Hynchus and Middle Awash at The Bullfinch… Ancient history (i.e. lots of “classic” covers) with Cabbage Palmetto and Audax at Hamilton’s… Family night at D’ollaire’s with The Leakeys, The Huxleys and (sorry, can’t stretch the theme any further) Poison Dart Frogs…

Listening to…

Iceage, New Brigade.

My first impression of this instantly disarming album is that it’s staggering great. I only hesitate because it moves faster, both musically and intellectually, than you can keep up with. It’s a tricky job, listening to this layered, frenetic masterpiece.

You could say Iceage mashes together every great punk band of the past 40 years or so, from Buzzcocks to Wire to Nirvana.

Because I was away, I just missed a chance to see Iceage live in New Haven on June 23 at the offhand venue Popeye’s Garage. I regret it, but at the same time I’m not sure I could have handled it.

Now, I may well wake up some morning and decide that Iceage sucks. That’s punk for you. For now, I’m intoxicated.

Adieu Ideas

The Mandingo Ambassadors have a lot going on. Maybe it was because I’d just happily wandered the punk gauntlet at the Ideat Village festival in Pitikin and Millennium plazas before the Brooklyn-based Afro-beat band began playing on the Green. While much of the crowd was dancing and grooving, I was detecting a gorgeous guitar-buzz Velvet Underground vibe under all those frenetic beats and tropical flourishes.

Something for everyone, then, at the culminating free public concert of the 2011 International Festival of Arts & Ideas. The weather was nicer than it had been for most of the festival (which Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble had opened in a rainstorm).

The last couple of A&I fest-closing acts had been the kid-coddling bands They Might Be Giants and Dan Zanes & Friends. Mandingo Ambassadors and headliners Freshly Ground maintained that family-friendly vibe without emphasizing any single generation.

And it was one wide community that came out to bid A&I 2011 goodbye. Mayor DeStefano kept his introductory remarks brief, thanking a host of city departments who’d served the festival, then announcing “Politician is done for now. See you later.”

Maybe that one was, but I ran into politicians from my neighborhood, as well as festival speakers, old friends, activists, casual acquaintances—the full range of New Haven. Friends visited from rural Roxbury. We hit FroYo for dessert. We flitted down the sidewalks without stepping on a single crack.