THE “BEYOND THE VALLEY OF NORMAL” MIX

This week’s BHYH is again eclectic (sorry, we can’t help it), with a range of recommendations from slammin’ summer hip-hop, chainsaw-wielding adrenaline boosters, a whole slew of alternative black voices, unifying ska sounds, and a couple of perhaps forgotten classic rock’n’roll interjections. Read on to see what The Grumps are blasting from their speakers this week!

YEA BIG & KID STATIC, “RUN TO THE FACTS” (THE MAE SHI)

I listen to music in intervals. Sometimes I miss stuff. I also usually listen to hip-hop during the summer– it just seems like rap is best when in the sun. As of summer 2019, this track is “new to me,” but it came out in 2007 on the HLLLYEA EP from Big Yea + Kid Static. Admittedly I know very little about this group, however that doesn’t stop the song from tickling the parts of my brain that need this kind of hip-hop. The song is a kind of remix of The Mae Shi’s “Run To Your Grave,” with the initial song as another sing-along slightly sloppy electro garage stomper with an irreverent punk edge. Now rework the verses and make room for some really tight rap, and you have “Run To The Facts.” The song is essentially a mashup between the Mae Shi song and Big Yea + Kid Static’s “Speak The Facts”, and though this track is over a decade old, the chorus and point of the song couldn’t be more relevant today. And not to put too fine a point on it, it’s just FUN. – Andrew Bargeron

THE PLASMATICS, Beyond the valley of 1984

People use music to spice up their life in numerous ways, that or they smoke weed to spice up music. Haven’t we all been trapped in a stoner’s apartment as they rambled about how great music sounds while you’re high as a Dave Matthews Band bootleg sucks the energy out of the room? My heart goes out to anybody who pretended they liked Sublime to keep the peace. 

Some use music to spice up their sex life. What pairs better than Barry White and a lavender candle? I once put “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love Babe” on a mixtape for a girlfriend, she was horrified. For whatever reason, she took no issue with having sex multiple times to Chicago’s “You’re The Inspiration” on repeat. Scoring orgasms is an unpredictable hobby. 

Maybe you’re getting back into working out and need a sound with an adrenaline rush. For that I have no better recommendation than The Plasmatics. Whenever I listen to them, my pulse races faster than Danny Thomas watching a woman taking laxatives near a glass coffee table.

My reference point with The Plasmatics is their album Beyond The Valley Of 1984. It was something I first came across during my brief time collecting vinyl. Tracks like “Masterplan,” “Headbanger,” “Nothing,” “Fast Food Service,” and “Sex Junkie” are the type of dopamine hits I consider the peak of rock ‘n roll, punk, or whatever genre you toss this group into.

If you’re on a treadmill and in need of visual material, I’d suggest looking up the video for “Butcher Baby.” If there’s any track that helps get you past your breaking point it’s that one. Some fellow gymgoers might find you inappropriate for watching a charismatic Wendy O. Williams modeling a whip cream bikini and licking her lips while destroying a Fender Stratocaster with a chainsaw. But who has time for those hang-ups? 

Whether you’re in need of an audio personal trainer or an album to get you through the daily mundane routines, there’s no greater option than The Plasmatics. It’s the music equivalent of the giggling joy Sam Kinison felt while doing rails of coke on the Sunset Strip. — Emilio Amaro

ELBEE MADE A PLAYLIST FOR HER BHYH THIS WEEK, WHICH IS UNCONVENTIONAL, BUT SHE’S THE EDITOR SO SHE CAN DO WHAT SHE WANTS

I started off my Thursday morning listening to Death Grips at my desk, and as my gay, polo-shirted Latino Republican coworker (nuance, friends) came into my office to use the Keurig, he looked at me pretty weirdly. It was then I decided I wanted to use this opportunity to bombard everyone with a personal Spotify playlist I’ve been working on; one that’s inspired by the turmoil we’ve all been experiencing these last few weeks; one that’s confrontational, soulful, eclectic, experimental, peaceful, anarchic, and generally off-putting.

I think the theme goes without saying. — elbee

The Kinks,Sleepwalker

In these interesting times, we’ve seen a surge of interest in the “comfort album”: records you have a special relationship with, that you return to when you need a bit of grounding. Sleepwalker is mine. I first encountered this record on a hand-labeled tape in my parents’ old collection and from the very first listen it affixed its stamp on my brain like a hot branding iron. I’ve revisited it many times over the years through countless evolutions of taste and personal needs and it always hits exactly the same. It’s my lodestone.

The period from 1977 to 1984 (their “arena rock” period) is, in my opinion, the definitive era in Kinks history. Critics devote the most attention to their seminal mid-60s Britrock and their post-Village Green pastoral period, and for a long time eschewed the decade after the band’s switch to Arista records as mercantile trend-chasing. I think it bears tribute to Ray Davies’ amazing compositional abilities that he was able to adapt his songwriting to an arena rock style and still clearly enjoy himself. Every single song on Sleepwalker is a banger. “Juke Box Music” in particular is like a master class in arranging. Moods range from melancholy (“Life Goes On”) to slyly exuberant (“Sleepwalker”) to heartfelt (“Brother”) to furious (“Mr. Big Man”), hitting the mark every time. Davies fills the songs with his trademark breezy lyrics filled with deceptively simple rhymes and a surprising amount of homoerotic innuendo – hey, it was the ’70s – while his little brother Dave accentuates his words with guitars full of punk crunch (“Life on the Road”), pop color (“Stormy Sky”), and everything in between. And if you’re missing some of the Kinks’ signature satirical goofballery, the CD release has the bouncy “Artificial Light” and “Prince of the Punks” whose brutal roasting of hipsters has proven timeless.

Sleepwalker is an album that marries superb musicianship, admirable artistry, and savvy commercial instincts. The result is something exceedingly rare in this fragmented musical landscape of ours: an album that pleases all palettes. I myself have foisted this album on countless friends, girlfriends, and captive road-trip audiences and none so far has had a word to say against it. Rockers, heshers, punks, metalheads, indies, proggy types, bubblegummers, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads – pop in Sleepwalker and vibe. — Tyler Peterson

Ruskabank, “MY FRIENDS”

There was a point in my late teens where I was the embodiment of Jake Peralta in Brooklyn Nine-Nine when he declares, “Ska defines who I am as a person and I will never turn my back on ska.” Part of that was due to the fact that, just as I went off to college, the ska boom hit, and for several years, there were any number of local acts I could catch weekly.

One such band was Ruskabank, from Manhattan, Kansas. Formed in 1996, the band was an eight-piece which drew just as much from ’50s rock ‘n’ roll, classic rock, and soul as they did from Two-Tone era sounds. The band’s sound was defined by big, catchy horn lines, accented by keyboards, and overlaid with earnest lyrics about trying your best and sticking by your friends.

As a matter of fact, the band’s local hit was “My Friends,” which featured the crowd singalong chorus of “My friends, they’re really all that I wanted anyway/ They’re all I need to get me through the day,” which is one of those songs which will just earworm its way into your brain and never leave once you’ve heard it. It came off their first album, This Took Some Time, released in 1998 on the Lawrence, Kansas label, Noisome Records. It did pretty well, and the band would go on to release a second album, I Don’t Think You Hear Me, Though in July of 2000.

As that sophomore release nears its 20th anniversary, I took a relisten to both albums at work earlier this week to see how they held up. Their debut features some great songs, such as the iconic “My Friends,” as well as the back-to-school shopping horror story “Tube Socks,” the Buddy Holly meets ska of “One Shot Judy,” and the seemingly perfectly timeless “Hot Head,” but tracks like “Gangster Girlfriend” and “SkaOnDaRadio” have not aged well. Ska songs about ska are just painful, at a 20 year remove, no matter how much they might’ve once meant so much.

Hitting up 2000’s I Don’t Think You Hear Me, though, was more of a revelation. These dozen songs aren’t just good ska songs — they’re great songs, full stop. The title track and “Give It Up” might be two of the best songs to ever come out of the area, and there’s something about the piano line which starts the latter that fills me with absolute joy, because it indicates that there’s this perfect song which is about to follow. The lyrics are reflective, and the song kind of soars.

There was this hot minute where it seemed like the band might’ve signed with a label — Moon Records was mentioned in several conversations I had with the Ruska boys at one point — but it never materialized, and they all ended up going their seperate ways, which was a bummer. This was a band on whose floor I slept after an amazing fundraising show in their hometown, along with an equally epic party, and I never felt like these guys were anything less than comrades in ska, and the joy which you hear in their music was just as likely to come out in conversation.

Relistening to these albums made me remember the joy of going to shows, dancing until my feet hurt, and knowing that I was going to run into a solid dozen people or more that I loved hanging out with. There are people with whom I spent hours on multiple nights over multiple years, and I probably couldn’t tell you their names if you put a gun to my head, but we were best friends at those shows.

Ruskabank never officially broke up, but their last shows were in April of 2008, and while folks had fingers crossed that there might be some sort of reunion at some point, the death of trombinist Dave “Stud” Studnicka a couple of years back probably put that concept to rest permanently. This was a band that managed to play the occasional show without certain members, or fill-in drummers, but it was really the sound of all eight members on stage, absolutely cramming a room with musical talent, which made Ruskabank what it was. — Nick Spacek

THE WHO, TOMMY ON BROADWAY

In 1993, Pete Townsend, director Des McAnuff, and producer Sir George Martín brought The Who’s Tommy to Broadway. The band had performed the rock opera its entirety on their 1989 Kids Are Alright tour, inspiring Townsend to bring the story of the “deaf, dumb, and blind” pinball wizard to the stage. Broadway had seen its fair share of rock musicals before, but this would mark the first time a rock ‘n’ roll band would make its way to the Great White Way.

The Who were known for their—sometimes literally— explosive performances from Woodstock to the Isle of Wight, and the Broadway cast reinterpreted those classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes with both a slick sheen and that particular Broadway bombast…and it worked. Backed by massive, echoey drums, shimmering keyboards that swell on the pre-chorus, and arguably the most overdriven guitars Broadway has ever seen in ‘93, “Go To The Mirror/Listening To You” is one of the standout compositions of the musical. Baritone Norm Lewis made his Broadway debut as the The Specialist who seeks to cure Tommy, and his big voice gives original singer Roger Daltrey a run for the money…and embarrasses Jack Nicholson who performed the song in Ken Russell’s 1975 big screen adaption. And when Marcia Mitzman and Jonathan Dokuchitz as Tommy’s parents harmonize “what is happening in his head, oooh, I wish I knew,” I’m instantly that angsty, misunderstood 14 year old hearing this for the first time. — Mike Vanderbilt