La Peste

Better Off La Peste

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The legend of La Peste has only grown with time -- not bad for a band that only released one official single -- to the point where even the only previous CD anthology of the original group, Matador's self-titled compilation from 1996, simply wasn't enough. Further CD-Rs circulated in the following years, compiled by Jordan Kratz, who had recorded a variety of demos and live concerts over the years. Drawing on many of these selections, the 26-track (with no repetition!) Better Off La Peste is the latest formal attempt to capture the original lineup's best work on a single disc. Besides the inclusion of the "Better Off Dead"/"Black" single and a live recording of "After Dinner Crimes," everything else comes from Kratz's archives, and given the provenance of some of them the sound is often quite strong (while the mixes can be uneven, the homemade loft tapes sound anything but muddy, for instance). The single itself still smokes a lot of what followed in its wake -- the A-side's crisp and surprisingly brutal for all the trebly edge of the performance, while the moody crawl of the B-side, combined with the disaffected spoken word delivery, provides a strong contrast. With that as a leadoff, many of the subsequent tracks are often revelations -- there's an almost surprising sense of underplayed intensity, especially in the half-spoken singing, that infuses studio recordings like "Whites of Your Eyes" and "Don't Know Right from Wrong" with a subtler power than so many of the group's immediate contemporaries. (Peter Dayton's snarling but simple guitar solos on songs like "Acid Test" deserve the term "metallic" much more than most.) The live tracks are definitely quicker in the main, but that same restrained-but-strong punch in the vocals in particular is the killer touch. Liner notes from guitarist/singer Dayton give Better Off La Peste a further official stamp of approval, and anyone looking for a simple way to investigate the group's work has found the right spot.

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