Bush Tetras

Rhythm & Paranoia: The Best of Bush Tetras

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Rhythm & Paranoia: The Best of Bush Tetras Review

by Mark Deming

Pat Place was a member of the groundbreaking No Wave band the Contortions when, in 1979, leader James Chance created an offshoot, James White & the Blacks, meant to fuse the worlds of dance music (read: disco) and the expressive noise of the Lower East Side underground music community. As it happened, Place had similar ideas of her own, but had a better notion of how to make them work. That year, Place formed the Bush Tetras, whose first release was the 1980 single "Too Many Creeps," an underground classic that sold 30,000 copies. Where Chance tried to marry his fractured noise to the rigid pulse of disco, Place took the angular sweeps and squawks of her guitar and paired them with rubbery funk rhythms generated by drummer Dee Pop and bassist Laura Kennedy. The result was music that was tense and edgy, but with a sensuous groove that transformed their stories of urban paranoia into something you could dance to, assuming you weren't put off by their often-ominous tone (the latter reinforced by the vocal stylings of Cynthia Sley). Despite the initial success of "Too Many Creeps,"various calamities ensured the Bush Tetras would develop a cult following without breaking through to mainstream recognition. In spite of that, the band occasionally went on hiatus but never died, and released a number of superb and expressive recordings well into the 2010s (even after the passing of original bassist Kennedy, who would be replaced first by Julia Murphy, then Felice Rosser, and then Val Opielski.) 2021's Rhythm & Paranoia: The Best of the Bush Tetras is an expansive set (two CDs or three LPs) that provides a thorough overview of their career thus far, beginning with "Too Many Creeps" and closing out with "Sucker Is Born," one of three tunes recorded in 2018 at Jack White's Third Man Studio in Detroit. While some of the details evolve over the passing of time, the essential vision of the Bush Tetras remains constant throughout these recordings, as well as the intense, effective interplay between the musicians, who never stopped finding worthwhile things to say within their formula. (And it's worth noting the feminist subtext of many of their songs has sadly remained relevant more than 40 years after they made their debut.) The music of the Bush Tetras is as challenging, exciting, and contemporary in 2021 as it was in 1980, and if you want an introduction to their body of work, Rhythm & Paranoia is the perfect place to start, while longtime fans will be happy with the selection of rare and hard-to-find tracks that have a bold sound on the remastered tapes. Either way, this is a must for anyone who believes dance music shouldn't be vapid. (Rest in Peace to drummer Dee Pop, who died just a few weeks before this album was released.)

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