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The Bush Tetras have made punk music at the fringes for over four decades. Flashes of reggae, bursts of noise, guitars that rattle, shake and snake, born out of a gutter behind CBGBs. The band’s first iteration lasted just a few years, from 1979 through the early ‘80s. But they respawned time and time again, contorting their sound, tweaking the vision, remaining completely singular and indispensable along the way. In the late 2010s the group—Pat Place, Cynthia Sley, and Dee Pop—reformed again, releasing an EP, Take the Fall, in 2018. It was their first offering of new music in over a decade. A few years later in, 2021, they released a career spanning box set called Rhythm and Paranoia. The New York Times called the box set an artifact that “proves for decades [that the Bush Tetras] continued to evolve in surprising yet intuitive directions.” And in Pitchfork’s Best New Reissue, Rhythm and Paranoia revealed “just how vital [the Bush Tetras] remained each decade.” Around the same time of the release, the band began working on a full length record, starting writing sessions during the pandemic over Zoom. Right before the release of the box set, beloved drummer Dee Pop passed away. Determined to complete the record to honor his memory, the Tetras went into the studio to finish what they’d started, once the timing was right. They brought in a new drummer, Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley, who also served as producer. Enter They Live in My Head. They Live in My Head is the band’s third full length record since their formation in 1979, but that fact is a little misleading. The Bush Tetras have written songs together for decades. They’ve thought about their output, they’ve played heart stopping live shows. They Live in My Head is a natural evolution to the band’s sound. When Shelley joined the band, the Bush Tetras went into the rehearsal space, entering into kinesthetic writing sessions. “We just went into the rehearsal space and things just would fall right into place,” says Place, “We’d just start playing and the next thing would happen and we’d know where to take it.” This intuitive approach to songwriting lends itself to music that feels urgent, natural, the kind of stuff you can really grind your teeth and dance to. Opener “Bird on a Wire,” is trancelike. Place’s guitars shoot off sparks of lightning, bassist RB Korbet keeps things dubby. Sley sings about tiny satellites spinning round, clocks on the wall, the feeling of looking at the world from down below. It’s dedicated to her mother, who passed away in 2022. The record is a collection of songs that often reflect on the past, of thinking back to old memories, and honoring those who are no longer with us. “We thought a lot about memories from 1979 in New York City.” says Sley, “It’s a reflection of growing up together, what we were eating, what we were doing, weird little things people probably won’t get. But that’s cool.” Look no further than “Ghosts of People,” to see that in practice. The song is searching: Shelley’s drums keep pace, Place’s guitar meanders through closed doors and portals. “Ramen and slices/snickers and coke/burn your crosses in the snow,” sings Sley. There’s ample moments where the Bush Tetras reflect on the immediate challenges of the 2020s: the pandemic, the need to protest, the need to stand up against what is right in the face of evil. The Bush Tetras have always been a political band, a band that calls out all kinds of bullshit, and They Live in My Head, is absolutely no exception. “Tout est Meilleur,” is about the radical possibilities of appreciating the little things during the crisis of the pandemic. It’s smooth as butter, groovy as all hell, where guitars and bass eat up post punk goodness while Sley sings in French. “2020 vision,” is a scorcher. “I don’t want no man-splaining,” says Sley in one memorable moment. And in another: “Looking back at 2020/all I know it’s been a journey.” The song leaves you breathless, angry, it is a call to arms to get on the streets and get something done. No need to sit around idly watching the world turn. The Bush Tetras are always like this: a band that demands your attention, that isn’t definable by any sort of genre descriptors or cheap shots. Four decades on they’re as essential as ever, ready to make you think, make you dance, hit up a mosh pit and throw elbows in your combat boots, but only if you won’t be a jerk—or a creep.
Listening to Weeping Icon’s debut album is to enter a dim catacomb of psychical catharsis. A critical commentary on the unique pressures and power dynamics experienced by the social media generation, the self-titled LP digs sharply into the destructive, repetitive nature of the neoteric tasks idled through daily by the ambitious urban millennial. Uniquely contemporary and keenly perceptive, the ubiquity on this album is natural territory for drummer Lani Combier-Kapel and guitarist Sara Fantry, native New Yorkers who grew up playing in bands together at the center of the booming Brooklyn arts scene. Determined to vent the energy left stirring in the inert confines of lazy, decades-old band tropes, Weeping Icon is the almanac to the complex contrarian language they developed as innovational collaborators during a decade of major socio-political uprooting. Alongside the classically trained, sludge/doom seasoned bassist Sarah Reinold and the scientifically explorative noise musician (and daughter of a scientist) Sarah Lutkenhaus, they devised a dream project in which they could freely encourage equal collaboration, pursuit of challenge, and a dedication to dismantling the cliches they encountered as disenfranchised females in a male dominated arena.
The results are an expansive whirlwind of compelling sonics. Urgent yet calculated riffs rip through a thunderous pummel of percussion, Combier-Kapel’s anomalous blend of punk and psychedelic drumming carrying their songs with an atmosphere of organized chaos. Typical song structure is a rubric to draw from and ultimately deconstruct, as we experience through the whipping tempo changes and sudden tactile shifts that unseat us throughout the album. Switching off vocalists, they give us a panoramic view into the plagued world of the millennial female, with lyrics that reveal intense contemplation, telling harsh truths through dark and poignant sarcasm. Confronting a generation undergoing perplexing, exponentiated change, Weeping Icon doses their listeners with such a controlled sense of horror and humor that they test our very comprehension of the world we participate in.
Take, for example, the track “Natural Selection,” spoken from the umbral voice of a powerful individual, addressing a confidant who is on the path to wielding a comparable amount of social power. The man advises his crony that the way to get ahead is to stay silent, on any matters that feel uncomfortable or could complicate or ensnare his rise to affluence. He assures him that it is not his ethical imperative to support the weak, but follows up by offering his support should any issues arise, without irony and to the effect of ominous alarm. The track “Like Envy” critiques the mutation of social media into a place where everyone can become their own brand, and the unsustainable model of one’s livelihood being staked on constantly staying relevant to a public whose attention is being fought over by, potentially, everyone on social media. Its story is told through the voice of an instagram influencer who unravels before us, suddenly aware that it’s possible no one enjoys having to present as secure all of the time. The songs on this album deliver a brutal defiance of the modern status quo that to so many of us has felt stale in the genre for too long.
Beyond crucial lyrical matter and gripping punk songs, Weeping Icon’s tenacious performance experience is augmented by sets woven together by textured sound interludes and the use of an assortment of unconventional objects outfitted as instrumentation. In keeping with their live performance, a sequence of dystopian sound interludes complete the album, serving as guided meditations between the candid subversive fury of the main tracks.