Bush Tetras | Support: NIE
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.