We’ve moved!

After several months of negotiations and various wrangling of arrangements, we at the Northeast Underground are proud to announce that we have changed locations. Please click on the corresponding link (http://www.valleyadvocate.com/blogs/home.cfm?uid=94) to follow us to our new home as part of the main website for the Valley Advocate alternative newspaper based in Northampton, Mass.

While our name and ideals will remain unchanged, by working with a respected institution like the Advocate we hope to expand our already varied coverage of independent music and artists with connections to the northeastern United States. From now on, readers can expect more album reviews, more interviews, and more news related to music as well as other assorted pop culture tangents we see fit to post. Though we have thoroughly enjoyed our time blogging with wordpress.com, like Dylan said, “The times they are a-changing,” and we are changing with them.

Or, in the immortal words of Tommy Boy:

Some of us are leaving, and that is sad, but this isn’t the end. No way. We’re gonna show this world a thing or two.”  

Amen brother Farley. Thanks to everyone for the support and contributions so far. We will see you in the big leagues. Keep jamming econo. Mahalo.

- Northeast Underground, January 2011

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This music could save your life: a tribute to Captain Beefheart and D. Boon

Double Nickels on the Dime (Album cover courtesy of the Minutemen)

25 years ago today a van traveling to Arizona for the holidays crashed and flipped over alongside route I-10 near the California border. Thrown from the vehicle was D. Boon, singer/ songwriter and founding member of the indie punk band the Minutemen. Boon broke his neck in the accident and died instantly. He was 27.

Five days ago it was announced that Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart) had finally succumbed to complications from multiple sclerosis and died at the age of 69. While first coming to the public’s attention in the ‘60s as the eccentric leader of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band, Vliet was known for performing a hard-to-categorize mix of rock, delta blues, and avant-garde jazz. Additionally, he was recognized as a notable sculptor and abstract painter, and was also a well-known acquaintance of rock musician Frank Zappa.

Though the stories and career trajectories of the two musicians listed above could not be more different, both men were able to inspire thousands with their extraordinary bodies of work that wowed critics but never managed to reach the upper echelons of the billboard charts. Yet, despite this lack of commercial recognition, there was a sense of daring present at all times in each man’s words and music.

For D. Boon, this sense of daring meant “jamming econo” and writing short, biting, political songs with band mate and friend Mike Watt. Along with drummer George Hurley, Watt and Boon’s take on punk rock was an anomaly that somehow fit, though never quite comfortably, within the strict confines of the hardcore community. Still, for a group of males growing up in San Pedro, California during the ‘80s options were at a premium, and even rarer was a chance to express oneself with complete artistic freedom.  Here, the Minutemen succeeded in spades. Whether by recording a debut for SST Records that consisted of seven songs in six and a half minutes, or by releasing their magnum opus “Double Nickels on the Dime,” a four-sided dual album response to contemporaries Husker Du that also managed to mock hard-rocker Sammy Hagar and psychedelic legends Pink Floyd, the Minutemen did things their way. How can you get any more punk rock than that?

Trout Mask Replica (Album cover courtesy of Captain Beefheart)

Meanwhile, on the other side of the equation, for Vliet a sense of daring meant challenging the music establishment itself by turning audiences on their heads and making listeners question what actually constituted rock music. For instance, during the recording of 1970’s Trout Mask Replica it was rumored that Vliet had the Magic Band rehearse for 12 hours a day in a house with blacked out windows so the musicians could learn their parts by heart. Years later, the group, now equipped with a seemingly constant rotating set of members, found success on tour and even appeared on Saturday Night Live in 1980. However, after the release of “Ice Cream for Crow” in 1982 Vliet unexpectedly retired and abandoned music to embark on a career as a painter while living with his wife in the Mojave Desert. Fittingly, his influence continued to loom large and a diverse set of artists ranging from Tom Waits to Sonic Youth and more emerged over the years citing him as an inspiration and cross-generational forefather.

Though relegated to a set of discriminating, diverse cliques, fans of both Captain Beefheart and the Minutemen can commiserate today like no other time before. While D. Boon passed on in his youth over 20 years ago and the Don Van Vliet faded away recently just a few weeks shy of his 70th birthday, the memories and experience both men gave to listeners the world over remain behind. So, in honor of such spirits and their impact on the musical landscape we at the Underground leave you with the words of indie icon Steve Albini. Though Albini’s statement was written in his diary as a reaction to hearing the news of D. Boon’s death, his sentiments are universal enough to apply to Vliet as well. Enjoy:

So there’s no one left who’s been doing it since the beginning and doing it all the way right. Fuck. It’s like Buddy Holly or something. Sure it’s kind of pathetic to get all worked up over it but hell they meant it, and that means something to me…Man, what do we do now?

Answer: we survive Steve. That’s all we can do. And, we will always have our memories. Mahalo.

See D. Boon and the Minutemen perform an acoustic take on their song “Corona” here:

See Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band perform track “Electricity” live at Cannes beach in 1968 here:

For more information on the Minutemen and Captain Beefheart please visit www.hootpage.com and www.beefheart.com.

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Caption contest winner:

Erland and the Carnival (Photo courtesy of Vanessa Galvin)

One week ago, we at the Underground asked you the reader to submit your most creative caption for the photo of British folk-rock act Erland and the Carnival seen above.

Now, we are pleased to announce the winner as one Beau Bensch of Belchertown, Mass. with his caption:

“Okay, we robbed the bank. Time to make MUSIC… guys, guys. You were supposed to lose the masks.”

While any caption containing a reference to a known felony is often comical enough, Bensch’s submission had just enough creativity to put him over the top. And, for those who didn’t win this time don’t worry, more caption contests are already being planned for future posts. Check back soon for your chance to win.

As for the group in the picture itself, they have been pretty busy the last few months. Erland and company released their debut EP “Trouble in Mind” in October on the Full Time Hobby/ Yep Roc label, and recently wrapped up a series of U.S. tour dates that included stops in Boston and New York City.

See the band perform the title track to their EP in the back of a cab here:


 
For more information and tour dates please visit www.erlandandthecarnival.com,  www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erland_and_the_Carnival, or www.yeproc.com/artist_info.php?artistId=14277.

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Photo caption contest: Animal Farm

Erland and the Carnival (Photo courtesy of Vanessa Galvin)

It’s that time of year again. No, not Christmas. And sorry Mr. Sandler, I don’t care how many songs you’ve written, it’s not Hanukah yet either. It’s time for another photo caption contest.

This week’s photo is of British folk rockers Erland and the Carnival, but as you can see the group’s affinity for farmyard-inspired masks leaves plenty to the imagination. So, dear readers it is your turn once again.

For the next week, the Northeast Underground will be accepting entries via this post’s comment section for our latest photo caption contest. Winners will be announced on December 4, so check back soon to see if your effort makes the grade.

As always, keep it clean and have fun. There’s plenty more where this came from.

Happy captioning!

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Happy Thanksgiving: Alice’s Restaurant edition

Alice's Restaurant (Album cover courtesy of Arlo Guthrie)

Ah, Thanksgiving. By now lucky reader your belly is surely full of turkey. While football plays in the background, your Uncle Mel is fast asleep on the couch. And, your mom, grandmother, and old high school basketball coach are gathered in the dining room sipping coffee with their pumpkin pie. Tomorrow your big sister and her friends will head down to the mall for Black Friday, but today it is time for rest.

However, before the tryptophan kicks in completely we at the Northeast Underground are keeping the feast going the only way we know how, with music. And what better tune for the hungriest of holidays than Arlo Guthrie’s classic protest anthem “Alice’s Restaurant.”

See Arlo Guthrie perform his best-known song here:

Hippies sure know how to celebrate, but before you get up to grab a second helping of your aunt’s deep-fried turducken listen to these words of wisdom from comedian Jon Stewart:

I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere (at least I think so), but even if there is not Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!

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Girl Talk releases new album, manages to ‘break Internet’

All Day (Album cover courtesy of Girl Talk)

Fresh on the heels of announcements for his 2011 world tour, Greg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) unexpectedly released his newest album, “All Day,” online November 15. Unfortunately, for those eager to grab a copy for themselves numerous problems arose when attempting to download the free release. In fact, demand for the album was so great that excited fans temporarily overwhelmed the server at Gillis’ record label Illegal Art.

According to MTV News Gillis said,

“Since I woke up, it’s been insane, just endless messages and so-and-so person wants to talk to you today. And then, people haven’t been able to download it, because the site has been down, which I’m sorry for, so, yeah, it’s been a crazy-ass day.”

Still, for those lucky enough to grab a copy of “All Day,” reviews have been consistently positive.

Philip Cosores at Consequence of Sound says:

“As far as advanced reviews or hype, “All Day” doesn’t need it. You know whether you’ll like this album before you even listen to it.”

Elsewhere, a trio of “mashed-up” interns at Paste Magazine claim:

“At his best, Gillis’ combinations are better than even the sum of their classic parts. Even the strictest punk-rock purists have to smile hearing the Ramones up against Missy Elliott or Iggy Pop duking it out with The Beastie Boys.”

While building off the formula first introduced to the world on 2006’s “Night Ripper,” Gillis’ newest mix is an instant party album that is as engaging as it is fun. Though some may be put off by “All Day’s” steep 71 minute running time, listeners who hang on for the ride will find surprises around every corner. Whether it is Ludacris rapping over Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” or the inclusion of ‘90s faves the Toadies, part of the secret joy in experiencing the album is naming the samples as they fly by in furious fashion.

Yet, for all the potential his latest work holds perhaps the greatest area of impact for Gillis could be on the Billboard charts. Not in sales of course, Girl Talk is still too much of a fringe act for that, but what of the possible effect on popular artists and musicians?

Listen to an extract of “All Day” track “Let it Out” here:

Can one even imagine a world where top 40 songsters clamor to have their material chopped up into an alternate form for hungry music fans in search of a new morsel or treat? Imagine no more. That time is rapidly approaching, whether record companies and labels like it or not. And, I for one eagerly await the results.

To download “All Day” online for free visit http://illegal-art.net/allday.

For more information on Girl Talk and future tour dates please visit www.facebook.com/girltalkmusic, www.pitchperfectpr.com/a_gt.html, www.myspace.com/girltalk, www.twitter.com/therealgirltalk, or www.windishagency.com/artists/girl_talk.

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Emily’s Toybox and “Pill”: Side effects may vary

Pill (Album cover courtesy of Emily’s Toybox)

Although it is typically the practice of music writers to cover the newest releases, there are times when older material resonates more powerfully. Simply put, nothing beats a classic. And, for every individual there are those significant touchstone records that accurately define a moment in time or the passing of a particular event.

For example, maybe you had your first kiss while slow dancing to Journey’s “Faithfully.” Or, maybe you drowned your sorrows while wailing along to the tune of R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts.” No doubt there has been a soundtrack to accompany most of your life’s memorable moments.

For me, my late teens and early-twenties will forever be associated with the band Emily’s Toybox. Although popularly labeled as a “cover act” or self-crowned as “the band that fucks your mother,” this Pennsylvania-based group’s unique spin on a variety of classic songs, as well as their delightfully inappropriate original numbers and stage act, provided a catharsis of sorts for my group of friends and I as we embarked on our first tentative steps towards adulthood.

Relationships were formed by attending live performances. Other fans were recruited to our side by a fierce process of indoctrination, more often than not involving copious amounts of alcohol, and long harangues about how one just had to “see them in person man.” New experiences were had and shared. But above all else was fun. We became disciples ingrained with the gospel of the party, and nothing else mattered as long as a good time was had by all.

By the time the group released their record “Pill” in late 2005, our loyalty was without question. When confronted by the group’s decision to part ways with their longtime bassist Leon Karpovich, we readily accepted the newcomer, Matt Kyle, the moment he burst into a comical rendition of Styx’s “Come Sail Away” sung entirely in the voice of Cartman from South Park. Still, there was also the small matter of the music itself.

Pained by their pigeonholing as a cover band, Toybox often used their self-released material to try new things or craft crowd-pleasing anthems that usually ventured on the more risqué side of poor taste. Tracks like “Fuck You,” “Phuck Filly,” and “Beat the Fuck Out of My Friends” sound vulgar, but manage to walk the fine line of being sing-able, while also simultaneously offending any sensitive person within earshot.

Photo courtesy of Emily’s Toybox

Similar to their past work, the rhythms Toybox employs on “Pill” vary from punkish to near-hardcore and even venture into R&B and mock-pop. Catchy guitar riffs drive the momentum of each number, while the bass and drums remain in tight lock-step throughout. Elsewhere, searing leads by wild-man/ guitarist Todd Sensenich occasionally grab the spotlight, but always remain musically in line with the rest of the piece.

Standing out above all else are the vocals of front man Mike Wise. He screams, he croons, he raps. He even breaks out a near-embarrassing falsetto on “Fuck You Too” that oddly plays to the song’s strengths. It’s a manic performance that is never less than engaging, and all the more surprising given the grim tone of the album’s lyrics.

The subject matter of “Pill” appears harsher than the rest of Toybox’s catalog because the anger behind the words is almost palpable. Whether writing sympathetically of a soldier friend as a “Casualty” or portraying the government as a “Meat Machine” that eats up individuals in the name of progress, Wise and company drop their class clown personas momentarily to tackle issues straight out of the headlines.

Unfortunately, what was once rousing now makes portions of the record sound dated. Even though the album is a scant five years old, its references to the conflicts going on in Iraq and Afghanistan are inextricably pinned to the moments they were written. As a historical document, such instances are acceptable practice. However, for current work the sentiments expressed may too often fall on deaf ears and numb brains. Yet, through it all the charm of such a record (and group) is not lost on me.

See Emily’s Toybox perform fan favorite “Your Girlfriend is Pretty Ugly” here:

I count Emily’s Toybox still amongst my personal favorites, and their impact on my life remains immeasurable. Though as music writers we may seldom stoop to recognize such acts, since they aren’t “hip enough” or on the “cutting edge,”  they are continually worthy of our attention. If only as remembrances of times gone by or memories long since faded to legend, bands like Emily’s Toybox are the building blocks in one’s musical education. Oh yeah, and they sort of rock too.

For more information on Emily’s Toybox and future tour dates please visit www.emilystoybx.com. Or, check the group out on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Emilys-ToyBox.

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