Bush Tetras: They Live In My Head [Album Review]

Bush Tetras
They Live In My Head
Wharf Cat Records [2023]

That this is only the third album from NYC band, Bush Tetras, belies the fact that the band’s remaining original members – guitarist Pat Place and vocalist Cynthia Sley – have been playing around the New York club scene since 1979; the label bio suggest the band was “born out of a gutter behind CBGBs,” the historic venue that spawned The Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, and Talking Heads. Part of the No Wave’s post-punk response to the more commercial New Wave that was beginning to dominate 80’s radio airplay, the band’s best-known song appeared in 1980, “Too Many Creeps.” When there was a punk revival in NYC in the early 2000s, the influence of Bush Tetras could be heard, and in 2005 they returned to live performance, including a European tour. After the 2021 death of long-time drummer Dee Pop, longtime Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley played a memorial show with the band in March of ’22, then in April of this year it was announced that Cait O’Riordan had joined up on bass. O’Riordan had been an early member of Irish punk band, The Pogues, was married to Elvis Costello for about 15 years, and since 2020 has hosted the “Rocky O’Riordan Show” on SiriusXM’s U2-X channel.  

The difference four decades can make, given the on-going evolution of guitar-influenced variations on the rudimentary early rock, Bush Tetras’ sound will feel familiar to fans of The Pretenders, and a host of bands like them. While guitarist Place avoids traditional melodic riffing and linear soloing most of the time, in favor of the crunchy, distorted power of her instrument and its potential to elevate noise to sonic poetry, it suits the punk spirit underlying the 11 tracks here. Most listeners will find it only half a step away from conventional hard rock music. On the band’s opening salvo, “Bird on a Wire” the solid under-pinning of the rhythm section, and Sley’s smart vocal, Place demonstrates how a noise-infused solo section works, and then the band’s crunchy, hard rock attack on “Tout Est Meilleur” turns the French lyric into a hooky melodic rocker that takes no prisoners. “I Am Not a Member” is a two minute burst of punk angst, where Sley sings she can still “put my fist up,” and “put my heart in it.”

Track after track offers a serious rock groove, driven by a propelling, unrelenting rhythm from O’Riordan and Shelley, with the SY drummer also serving as producer, Place’s dense, over-driven guitar rhythms, and Sley bringing a vocal melody to the proceedings that holds its own, and in “2020 Vision” declares “a riot.” There’s not a lot of nonsense here, songs like “Things I Put Together” put forward a defining blues rock riff, and everyone else falls into place, solid songcraft, punchy vocals, and punchier sonic assaults. Late in the record seems to quiet down a bit, is on the more reflective “Ghosts of People,” a memorial for those who have passed, but Place’s guitar remains a noisy force, while they turn to acoustic at the front end of the album’s title track, but again it’s only a brief respite, because in “The End,” the closing track, all the noise and intensity is back, and the band returns to full force, a noisy rock unit that demands to be taken seriously. After all they’ve waited a long time to let their voice, and that guitar sound, be heard.

“Bird On A Wire” / “2020 Vision” / “Tout Est Meilleur”

Patti Smith Group / The Pretenders / Siouxsie and the Banshees

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Brian Q. Newcomb

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