Bush Tetras

  • Bush Tetras
  • Rituals EP (UK Stiff) 1981 
  • Wild Things [tape] (ROIR) 1983 
  • Better Late Than Never [tape] (ROIR) 1989 
  • Floor Kiss
  • Goodnight Moon EP (Fr. Sourmash/L'Invitation au Suicide) 1985 
  • Lovelies
  • Mad Orphan (109) 1988 
  • Outsets
  • Outsets EP (Plexus) 1983 

Arising from the New York post-rock scene (Pat Place had been one of James White’s Blacks), the Bush Tetras attempted a synthesis of African sensibilities (as perceived by white Americans) with the modern dance to form a global tribal music. The 12-inch Rituals (produced by then-Clash drummer Topper Headon) sets songs against a funk/reggae beat with horns and punchy guitar work tossed in liberally. “Can’t Be Funky” and its doppelg„nger, “Funky Version,” are the most explicitly Third World tunes; “Cowboys in Africa” rushes along with punk intensity and “Rituals” employs a threnody pace.

The Wild Things cassette is a concert compilation of late ’82 performances in and around New York. The band is in fine ferocious form, and Cynthia Sley spits and scowls her vocals as if the songs really meant something. The material reprises most of the Tetras’ slim recorded repertoire, plus a couple of appropriately savage covers.

Better Late Than Never gathers together all of the Bush Tetras’ studio work — Rituals, two prior singles and two otherwise unreleased demos (the earlier of which finds the group pushing a funky and reasonably accomplished dance groove) — on one digitally remastered cassette. On the band’s last session (from ’83), Place and Sley are backed by a new rhythm section.

After leaving the Tetras, drummer Dee Pop and his singing wife, onetime John Cale sidewoman deerfrance, launched Floor Kiss with former 8 Eyed Spy guitarist Michael Paumgardhen and a bassist. Hampered by crude self-production, the band’s six-song 12-inch pairs simple rock-cum-power pop backing and breathy vocals in service of reasonably diverting material. A minor pleasure that might have developed into something.

The Lovelies are Sley’s quintet with guitarist Ivan Julian (ex-Voidoids), an unpleasant pairing of his common rock and her uncommon voice. On the “Thrash” side of Mad Orphan (the Mad Orphans were a Lovelies precursor), the flat, muddy production manages to hide Julian’s guitar sparks but not Sley’s artlessly abrasive singing. On the “Gash” side (what a charming title), keyboards, lower volume and more musical vocals (especially when multi-tracked) make several of the songs far more palatable.

Ivan Julian (who was briefly in Shriekback) leads the Outsets, a trio whose six-song EP is a clear and strong exercise — half funky-butt dance grooves, half slow rockers — with particularly interesting axework and a lot of spunk. The four songs produced by Garland Jeffreys aren’t brilliant, but Julian’s singing and playing provide them with a distinctive and attractive flavor.

Amazingly, the Bush Tetras reformed in the ’90s.

[Steven Grant / Ira Robbins]

See also: Richard Hell & the Voidoids