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Category Archives: boston rock city

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the misremembered ’90s: Fuzzy, “Flashlight”

If you wanted to do an archeological study of a particular time and place, and that particular time and place was “1994” and “Boston, Massachusetts”, you could do worse than to watch this video.

I mean, besides the fact that it’s awesomely catchy and all, “Flashlight” – by former Boston popsters Fuzzy – features a video that was probably filmed in their back yard, with lots of black and white slow motion guitar chuggin’.  If you live around here, you recognize that back yard.  Heck, you might have even been to a party in that *exact* back yard.  It’s in back of a triple decker apartment building in… something makes me want to say Jamaica Plain, but it could just as easily be Allston or Somerville.

There’s an adorably “look at us, with our crazy tanning foil like our parents used to use before they invented skin cancer” cutesy retro-vibe here, although it’s undercut by the black and white, which makes the whole thing seem more threatening than it probably meant to.

Ok, the video itself isn’t great.  But I still love this damn song, to this day.  It’s one of those local tunes ‘FNX used to play in the OK Soda era and, if you were a kid in the ‘burbs, it made you think that Boston was the coolest place in the entire world and you’d never, ever leave.

I’m still laboring under that delusion.  Thanks, Fuzzy.

 

POST #500!! Wheeper-diddly-doo!

Yep, folks, looks like we’ve made it to post 500 on ol’ Geek USA.  We’d throw a party, but seriously, no one’s reading this crap anymore.

However, today something happened that, frankly, has never happened, ever.  I made it to work *early*.   You know all those modern conveniences we humans have invented?  All those wonderful machines we own and patronize in order to drag our sorry, sagging asses around this great big blue world?  The cars and trains and buses we drive or ride every day in order to get places on time, and sure, maybe we’re burning up the Earth’s resources and polluting the air to do it, but that’s the price we pay for a civilized society where everything moves at the speed of light?

Yeah – f**k that noise.  I biked to work and got here *early*.

I’d love to drop some snark and say “Boston’s the only place where it takes an hour to drive 5 miles,” but apparently, Atlanta and Dallas have it worse.  I know DC does.  If you ever plan on getting on the 495 in DC during rush hour, I recommend packing your car as if you were planning for a space mission.  The words “recycled urine” may be in your vocabulary sooner than you think.   It won’t be pleasant.

But anyway… of course I love Boston, especially all of the adorable little quirks that make our town so darn special.  Like our adorably hideous city hall, which High Fallutin’ Architecture Monthly actually named “The Ugliest Building In America.”  Awww.

First of all, my Mother was a tour guide there back in the 60s when it first opened, and she has some theory about how it was designed to represent the water and the earth and democracy.  I don’t know.  Every time I go in there, I feel like an extra in MC Escher’s production of 1984: The Musical!  Still, I have a certain fondness for the place, which means that I want someone to buy me this shirt.

That’s brutal, y’all.

 
 

2010: Our Hideous Future

Having been busy writing, producing, and recording a musical, I haven’t had much time to talk about how I wrote, produced, and recorded a musical (with my friend, Boston Playwright Carl Danielson and a score of talented local actors and theatrical artisans.)

So: Okay.  It’s called 2010: Our Hideous Future – The Musical! It’s a satire of Blade Runner/The Matrix/Max Headroom type stuff, but it’s also a queer-friendly romantic comedy.  Basically, it’s Thelma and Louise meets 2000 A.D.

It premiered at the Boston Playwright’s Theater last August to ravenous applause, and we just performed it at Arisia 2011.  We’re trying to find other places to perform as well, because dammit if we don’t believe in this little project.

The whole point of this is: here’s our official blog site.  It has music.  It (will have) pictures.  It has info and updates.  It has everything you need to navigate your scary spooky no good future.

We think that’s nice.

 

songs you don’t know: “No Way Out”, D Generation

Way, way back in the day, like 2007 or so, I declared Deconstruction’s “L.A. Song” a “RAGE TV song”, a term which I promised to explain and, of course, never ever did.

Okay.  A “RAGE TV” song is an “alternative rock” single from the early-to-mid ’90s that didn’t quite make it into heavy rotation on your local rock station.  In fact, one of the only ways You might have heard it (assuming “You” is a Boston-area youngish adult between the ages of 25 and 35) would be if you happened to be watching WSBK-TV 38 at 2 in the morning on Saturday.  You know, the same time I used to be on the radio.   For at that hallowed hour, the nice people at Channel 38 gave over the airwaves to a cheaply produced program called Rage TV.  It was hosted by some blonde guy with a leather jacket, who used to go around Boston meeting semi-famous rock and roll types.  And while they played videos by Green Day and Oasis and Cracker and other bands you may have actually heard of… and while Blondie in the Jacket occasionally got to interview such stars as Shirley “Garbage” Manson, the show was packed, mostly, with videos and interviews from the likes of Green Apple Quickstep, Ruth Ruth, and, yes, D Generation.  None of whom you’ve ever heard of, but trust me, they were great.  Green Apple Quickstep, in particular, is notable for being a “Two-No Hit Wonder Band”, having released two great singles that failed to go anywhere: “Feel My Way” and “Dirty Water Ocean.”   Alyssa still likes them.

According to the internet, there’s no proof Rage TV ever existed, except for this clip of legendary Boston ska band The Allstonians being interviewed by Blonde Guy (Eric?), who doesn’t have his leather jacket on today.

D Generation is notable because a) they’re such a New York Dolls rip off, it’s adorable, and b) the lead singer is one Jesse Malin, who you may now know as a vaguely folky/countryish guy who duets with Bruce Springsteen and hangs out with Ryan Adams in the sorts of New York bars where Ryan Adams hangs out.   But back in the day, Jesse Malin was pretty f*cking punk, that’s for sure.

The song “No Way Out” (which premiered on Rage TV in the summer of 1996 and I still have a copy of the Glorious VHS tape somewhere) was almost a hit for them, and is catchy and angry and you would have loved it when you were 15.   The video is standard ’90s alterna-fare, featuring several flash cuts, jumpy editing, and overlit shots of “freaky alternative” people doing freaky alternative things in unsanitary locales, such as the NYC subway system (which features prominently).

Merely hearing this song takes me back to a simpler time when a line like  “send us all to high school/make us pray to statues/so we hang on corners lookin’ bored”  actually made emotional sense.  Eric Bogosian wrote a whole play/movie about it, called subUrbia.  When U Maine produced it, it was notable for two things:  a) I wasn’t in it, despite the show requiring one of the cast to play the guitar, and I was the ONLY PERSON WHO COULD PLAY THE GUITAR in that department, and b) it used this song in the pre-show.

I’m not bitter, mind you, but godDAMNit…

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2010 in boston rock city, music, songs you don't know

 

WBCN: requiem for the rock

This Guy Right Here, at a WBCN event at Harper's Ferry

Note: In case you hadn’t heard, WBCN, the Rock of Boston, is closing up shop in mid-August after 41 years of broadcasting.  You probably know this, but I’m a DJ there.   This is mostly about my experience at the station – there have been plenty of obituaries written about 104.1 in the last few days.   Go read them, especially Danny Schecter’s.

It was January 2003.  I was driving back home from work, with a take-out order of egg lemon soup from the Greek place that I had ordered in hopes of fending off one of my nasty sinus infections.  I was driving on 495, it was about 5 o’clock at night, it was snowing lightly, and my phone rang.  It was my mother, telling me that she had received a phone call from Steven Strick at WBCN.

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niiice!: NKOTB, “Games”

Perhaps you remember the New Kids on the Block.   They were a “funky” band of Boston kids from the early 1990s, and may very well be the first “boy band.”  They were huge, but like anything else, then came the fall.  Like any phenomenon, the backlash wasn’t far off, and people started hatin’ on them.

Me, I actually used to dig them.  I made fun of them at the same time, of course: I remember Christmas of ’89, I got Hangin’ Tough on tape and first heard the hi-larious tune “New Kids Got Run Over By A Reindeer.”  There was no shame, not yet, in liking something and realizing it was also sort of dumb.  I was a very mature 10 year old.

This is the New Kids post-backlash single, and you can tell.  First, they’ve changed their name to the more “street” sounding NKOTB.  Secondly, the song’s all about tellin’ the haters where to go, even if its done in the name of “positivity” and no one in 1991 knew what a “hater” was.   Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2009 in boston rock city, Niiice!, nostalgia

 

Cover #16 – Bill Staines, “River”

Cover #16 is “River” by Bill Staines, originally released on his 1979 album The Whistle of the Jay and later on his 1984 live album Bridges.

Bill Staines was the first concert I ever went to.  Actually, he was probably the first several concerts I ever went to, not counting Rosenshontz, or the performance of Jesus Christ Superstar I attended while in utero.  I think my parents knew Bill from their days running the George’s Attic coffee house back in the ’60s.

I was raised in coffee houses.  Did I ever tell you that?  Coffee houses, church basements, VFW halls, school cafeterias… anywhere that folk music types were allowed to come and play, there you would find Alan and Peggy and little Andy.  Bill was a mainstay in that scene for years around Boston – still is, I suppose, but there was a time when he was the man.  And deservedly so.

Bill lives in New Hampshire these days.  It’s like he stepped out of an alternate dimension, one where country music came out of a different tradition; not out of cowboys and prairies, but of loggers and maple sugar farms.   You’ve probably never heard of him, which is really too bad.   You know that song “All God’s Critters Got A Place In The Choir?”  From camp?  That’s his song.  He wrote it.

Of course I liked that song when I was a kid, because my parents would bring animal puppets and their friends and I would all make them dance around in the audience (thus priming me for a lifetime of audience participation-related events, from Rocky Horror to Blue Man Group to my college thesis project, a staging of The Compleat Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, which was 50% audience participation and improv and included puppets) but that’s not the point.   “River” was the song I always wanted to hear.  It struck a chord with me as a kid, and I never knew why.  Now, further on down the river of life, it still makes me think.

And in case you’re experiencing some sort of whiplash, going from The Dresden Dolls to Bill Staines in the space of a day, know this: both Amanda Palmer and Bill are graduates of Lexington High School, where the teachers are apparently doing something right.  Both artists inspire their audiences to participate in the show, and both write songs with that inexplicable New England crispness.  “I was born in the path of the winter wind”/”I’m half my mother’s daughter, a fraction left up to dispute.”  Am I stretching?  Oh yes I am.  It’s late and I’m tired.

This is a fairly straight cover.  I’m not a particularly good finger-picker, so I went with my typical flat-pick-no-subtlety acoustic style, with occasional nods towards folksy pleasantries.

DownloadStream.

Next up…: It’s a definite maybe.

 
 

Cover #15 – The Dresden Dolls, “Half Jack”

Cover #15 is “Half Jack” by The Dresden Dolls, from their self-titled debut album, released in 2003.  Written by Amanda Palmer.

The fact of the matter is this: The Dresden Dolls got me going to shows again, writing music again, wanting to get involved in art and performance again after school basically killed any desire I had to make art or do anything creative.  They made me believe in music again.

That’s it.

DownloadStream.

Next up…: More from Lexington High School.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2009 in April Covers, boston rock city, music

 

2008: The Top 15 Songs Of The Year

Thanks for the Target gift card, Mom!  Our new shower curtain is teh awesum!

Thanks for the Target gift card, Mom! Our new shower curtain is teh awesum!

15.  “Shake It”  Metro Station

The only reason – the *only* reason this song is so far down on the list – is this: it’s the first song I’ve ever heard when I’ve actually thought to myself  “Oh my God, I am too old to like this song.”   There is no conceivable way for me to enjoy this tune without seeming like a skeevy perv with a Peter Pan complex, as it is sung by pretty teenaged boys and it is unequivocably about trying to get laid, in an adorable manner.  Plus, it’s obviously a rip-off.  It’s electro-indie like the hip kids are listening to, but the band met on the set of a Disney channel show, and NONE OF THEM WERE EVEN ALIVE IN THE 80s.  It is therefore completely stupid and unhip and I should probably stuff my ears with cotton and complain about these damn kids these days with their Pac Man video games, and even THAT line, the “Pac Man video games” line, is an outdated reference because it comes from a movie that was released 10 years ago this March, and the point is, I am old.  I am very very old.  And this song makes me feel really old.

So: shame on you, Metro Station, for making me feel old with your song.  Your catchy, hooky, awesome, infectious, song that I obviously hate so very much.

Yes, all right, we get it - you taught the tree to play "Jump" by Van Halen.  We get it.  That's enough now.

Yes, all right, we get it - you taught the tree to play "Jump" by Van Halen. We get it. That's enough now.

14. “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” – Vampire Weekend

Vampire Weekend might be this year’s Dave Matthews.  By which I mean: they run the risk of being that band/artist who’s really, really talented, but you can’t like them because, dude, every vanilla John and Jane you meet listens to them, like, all the time while they’re drinking Bud Light and being boring.  Am I an elitist?  You betcha.

Having said that, they managed to record a perfect summer road trip album that made us want to drive around with the windows down, despite gas being like $4.50/gallon.  The whole album’s great, but I’m going with this tune because Bay State represent.

mc-frontalot1

Drew Carey's skinny brother was the honored guest at this year's Karaoke Kickoff.

13.  “Shame of the Otaku” – MC Frontalot
I’m so glad we live in a world where such things as Nerdcore are possible.  Nerdy white kids rapping about nerdy white things, with as much snap and flow as those “gangsta” fellows.   MC Frontalot came to my attention a couple years back with his tune “It Is Pitch Dark”, a hip-hop ode to – I xyzzy you not – Infocom’s text adventures.  The video even features a cameo appearence from Steve Meretsky, the man who brought us Planetfall and Zork.    Now, Fronty’s rappin’ about his lonely, geeky childhood, and how he wants to get the ladies in his room to make ’em watch Evil Dead 2, with a chorus that sounds for all the world like the theme from some Anime movie.  Perfect.

The vending machine's their bassist.  He likes to keep it... coooool.

The vending machine's their bassist. He likes to keep it... coooool.

12. “Dream Cars” – Neon Neon

Neon Neon is a collaboration between the guy from Super Furry Animals and hip-hop producer Boom Bip, if you can imagine.  The album Stainless Steel is a concept album/pop opera about – I’m not making this up – John Delorean.  You know, the time travelling car guy.  Yes, him.  “Dream Cars” sounds like ’60s soul mixed with ’00s electro, and therefore sounds perfectly mid-80s.   I’m so addicted to this song right now, I want to snort it.

No. I give up. There are no unflattering pictures of Beyonce. Anywhere.

No. I give up. There are no unflattering pictures of Beyonce. Anywhere.

11. “If I Were A Boy” – Beyonce

Beyonce (or Sasha Fierce, as she’s sort of calling herself these days) always suprises me, because I’m not a huge fan of modern day R&B, and yet…. she just rules.  I caught her on SNL the other night singing this song, and was blown away.  It’s a pretty standard, classic pop song motif – playing with traditionally masculine imagery in an attempt to inspire empathy in her male lover – but Beyonce, who can be equal parts strong and vulnerable, really sells it.

Sri Lanka's biggest contribution to the world since tea.

M.I.A.: Sri Lanka's biggest contribution to the world since tea.

10. “Paper Planes” – M.I.A.

M.I.A.’s particular god-given talent is that her twangy-tangy voice *is* the hook.  She could rap “In Flanders’ Fields” and I’d wanna boogie.  Here, she has the added bonus of rapping over a sample from a Clash song and, apparently, the sound effects department from an Edward G. Robinson film.  She got more records than the KGB.

He who smelt it, dealt it, guys. (lol farts)

Starring Mario, Russell T. Davies, and some other guys as well.

9.  “One For The Cutters” – The Hold Steady

Stay Positive is a pretty great record, much like, well, everything The Hold Steady’s ever done.  The chorus – “when there weren’t any parties, sometimes she’d party with townies” tells you almost everything you need to know about the story they’re telling us here, except that, yep, it ain’t gonna end well, and it involves a water tower, and a college girl, and blood on his jacket.  You get snippets of the story as the song goes on, and it unfolds into a good ol’ American murder/accident waltz ballad.  God, these guys are good.

kings_of_leon7214

The Kings of Leon blame you for this lousy weather we've been having.

8.  “Sex on Fire”/“Use Somebody” – Kings of Leon

Imagine hearing a clearer recording of Led Zeppelin for the very first time.  That’s what Kings of Leon’s like.  Apparently, the band almost didn’t include “Sex on Fire” on their album – they thought it was dumb.  And it is, but it’s also kind of glorious.  “Use Somebody” is just an awesome lighters-in-the-air tune.  Kings of Leon, who released (imho) the most consistent album of the year (Only By The Light), somehow manage to make classic rock sound fresh and exciting.

I love language lab, you guys!  Est-ce qu'elles cahier?  Oui, c'est ma cahier!  Merci!

I love language lab, you guys! Est-ce qu'elles cahier? Oui, c'est ma cahier! Merci!

7.  “I’m Not Going To Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You” – Black Kids

Reading that song title and that band name, you’ve probably come to three conclusions: one, the band has black kids in it.  Two, the song is, ironically, quite dancable.  Three, it’s about how white people think all black people can dance.  You’re right about the first two, but the song’s actually about a teenaged lesbian who’s in love with her best friend and therefore is reluctant to do anything about the titular boyfriend’s inability to score with the protagonist’s intended.   It’s very sweet and kind of melancholy.

Note to self: I wonder how many more hits this entry’s going to get, just because it features the words “teenaged lesbian.”   I’d say I’m attracting a whole new audience to the blog, but Chris Clark already reads it I’M JUST JOSHIN’ YA, CHRIS!  Love ya baby!

Jules gingerly attempts to remove the multi-colored pasta from Katie's shoulder.

Jules gingerly attempts to remove the multi-colored pasta from Katie's shoulder.

6. “Shut Up And Let Me Go” – The Ting-Tings

Every year, even 2008, needs a big dumb hipster dance anthem.  The Ting-Tings sound, to me, like The Waitresses probably sound like to people who actually enjoy The Waitresses.   It’s probably the second best indie breakup tune of the year.

The Ting-Tings are fun.  I sort of wish I’d caught them at a loft party or something, during the brief three-month period when I was hip enough to be invited to loft parties.

kate-nash-3_optimised

Kate Nash says you can stand under her brolly..olly-olly-eh-eh-eh.

5.  “Foundations” – Kate Nash
Of course I love Kate Nash – she recorded her debut album in her bedroom, she has a cute London accent, she writes sassy, snarky, confessional songs, and she’s adorable.  “Foundations”, in short, is what my “band” The Pluto Tapes would be writing if I was British, female, and not unforgivably lazy.

Oh, looks like someone got an iMac for Christmas...

Oh, looks like someone got an iMac for Christmas...

4. “Sometime Around Midnight” – The Airbourne Toxic Event

Pitchfork famously panned this album, saying it was calculated and unoriginal and stale and all sorts of things that make no sense.  Personally, I think the reviewer on Pitchfork is just mad that a band fronted by a former music reviewer… who actually got off his ass and made music, mind you….  is doing so well.  Sour f***ing grapes, if you ask me.  “Sometime Around Midnight” jumped out at me the first time I heard it and demanded I love it – it builds and builds to a sonic and emotional crescendo as the band spins a melancholy melody and tale of running into an old girlfriend at a bar.   As the Pitchfork reviewer said, sarcastically, “we’ve all been there, maaaan.”  Yes, asshole, we have.  Leave the damn house sometime.

Don't laugh.  MGMT has much, much bigger balls than you.

Don't laugh. MGMT has much, much bigger balls than you.

3.  “Time to Pretend” – MGMT

See, everyone else has this on their Top 20 lists, right?  Except, it actually came out last year, on the Kids EP (I had “Kids” by MGMT as, like, the 11th best song last year or something.)    So I was reluctant to put it here… except that… well, look.  Every year has a “riff” by which it can be identified.  1991 is “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  1995 is “Connection” by Elastica.  1976 is “Anarchy in the UK”, and 2004 is probably “Yeah!” by Usher.   The “riff” for 2008 was obviously the hook for “Time To Pretend”, MGMT’s endearingly nerdy take on how awesome it’s going to be once we’re all rock stars.  Me, I give them credit for writing solid songs within a retro-electro-glam format, and for their spectacular headbands.

You must first answer the Riddle of the Sphinx.  Only then may ye pass.

You must first answer the Riddle of the Sphinx. Only then may ye pass.

2. “Guitar Hero” – Amanda Palmer

It’s about video games.  Except, it’s about the Virginia Tech massacre.  Except it’s really about how the army’s using video games to desensitize soldiers for combat.  Except it’s really about how the army’s sending non-violent games like Guitar Hero to the troops to keep them busy.  Except it’s really about the plastic guitar as a false phallus symbol, and about how, if you can synthesize combat, and you can synthesize music, what else can be synthesized?  Except it’s really about the growing disconnect between people, and between experience and reality.  Except it’s really about how that disconnect dehumanizes us and our fellow man and makes inhumanity a lot easier.
Also, East Bay Ray from the Dead Kennedys plays on it, which kicks ass.

Amanda Palmer (and Ben Folds, who produced it) released the best album of the year.  She’s one of the best songwriters alive today.  She manages to cram more layers into a four-minute song than just about anybody, and “Guitar Hero” leaves the listener with a sense of urgency and dread and “holy f**k”itude that’s like… well, remember the first time you heard “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam?  Not the 9,000,000th time, but the very first?  More specifically, remember when you saw that video?  Remember that sense of “what… the… hell just happened?”  That’s what it’s like.  2008 was the comedown after eight years of what the hell just happened.

flobots1. “Handlebars” – Flobots

You feel the exact same way after listening to “Handlebars” by Flobots.  Where “Guitar Hero” is a full on assault from start to finish, however, “Handlebars”  starts out all sweet and innocent.

The protagonist is a little kid, and he’s bragging, and he can do all this neat stuff.   He can ride his bike with no handlebars, he and his friend made a comic book, he can teach you how to scratch a record, he can take apart the remote control, and he can almost put it back together.  Almost.  That’s your first clue.

He can do anything that he wants, cuz look, he’s proud to be an American, and he can keep rhythm with no metronome.  These rappers, always bragging about something or other.   Now, though, he’s bragging about making new anti-biotics and designing engines and waterproof computers.  That’s strange, but what’s most important is, more than anything else… he sees the strings that control the system.  He can control his environment.  He can, as I believe someone once said, create his own reality.

Now he’s saying can split the atom of a molecule.  Oh dear.  This isn’t ending well.

His reach is global.  His power is pure.  Oh my God, he has the power of life and death over every single man, woman and child on the planet Earth.  He can heal everyone, or let them die.

He can make anyone go to prison, just because he don’t like ’em.

If you don’t get it, you’re really not paying attention.  “Handlebars” is about us.  The litle kid, riding his bike with no handlebars, is America.  We’re the land of opportunity.  We’re the most powerful nation the world has ever known.  But, as the great American mythologist Stan Lee once wrote, with great power comes great responsibility.   We’ve developed great technologies and we’ve pursued freedom and we’re the greatest country on Earth.  But we can still do a lot of damage if we’re not careful, and we have.  We can take apart the Iraqi government, and we can almost put it back together.

By taking the vast subject of American foreign policy and reducing it, without schmaltz or sentiment, to a hyperactive kid on a bike saying “Look, Ma, no hands!”, Flobots has written a classic song.  When people look back at 2008, they might remember songs like “Time To Pretend” or “You Can Have Whatever You Like” or, God help us, “I Kissed A Girl.  However, the song that summed up what it felt like to wake up the long drunken night of the past decade, and look around and realize, finally, what it all meant – that’s “Handlebars” – the best song of the year, and maybe the song of the decade.

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2008 in boston rock city, music, nostalgia, youtube

 

songs you don’t know: “Night Reconnaissance”, The Dresden Dolls

The Dresden Dolls, the official Punk Cabaret band of GeekUSA, have a new album of odds n’ sods out, called No, Virginia. (Well, their last one was called Yes, Virginia, so it stands to reason.) If you’ve seen the band live or listened to the copious bootlegs over at Automatic Joy, you probably know most of the tunes, but it’s nice to have official studio versions.

“Night Reconnaissance,” the first single, is pretty amazing. It’s one of the five new tracks, and it’s about sneaking out of your parents’ house to steal lawn ornaments with your best friend when you’re a kid in the suburbs. Seriously. It’s catchy and fun and there’s a video, filmed in Lexington, MA, where Amanda Palmer grew up.

Video and babbling below the cut.

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