On what has to be the first independent album ever released by a Sioux Falls, South Dakota punk band, No Direction plays earnest political protest numbers with a lot more spirit than technique. Far removed from any stylistic trendiness (or, for that matter, pop musical trends of any sort), this trio gains strength from its basic simplicity. The sixteen songs on No Direction have energy but a spare sound with open spaces that would benefit enormously from bigger amps and a skilled producer.
Except for horribly mis-EQ’d sound that entirely ignores the audio spectrum’s bottom half, Becoming Obsession (recorded in 1984) demonstrates an enormous amount of growth: guitarist Rick Smith works complex jagged figures around singer Rich Show’s busybody bass (at least what can be heard of it) and Charles Luden’s understated drumming. Without suggesting that it sounds dated, the trio’s drivingly hypnotic swirls recall ’78/’79-vintage Cure or Gang of Four, with a bit of Joy Division in the rhythm section. Really cool.
Presented in unedited form — complete with false starts, unstructured jams, etc. — The No Direction Tapes is positively amazing, easily comparable to the work of any other post-punk band around. Displaying exceptional trio skill (Show’s vocals, having acquired a Bonoesque emotional range, are also drastically better), the thickened attack turns rich and catchy melodic rock songs like “Rise Up,” the touching “Letter to Jeffrey” and the evocative “Michael Nydelski” into storms of harmonics and rhythm that are equally powerful on conscious and subliminal levels. A reverent cover of Joy Division’s “Transmission” may be a bit too tributary, and “Dark Basement” more or less reinvents U2 (clearly the strongest influence here) in an unpretentious American mold, but “Life Is a Crisis” switches through something resembling the Minutemen’s sideways funk, some unmistakable Who quotes and a U2-ish charge within a few seconds. That the tracks were recorded virtually live suggests what an awesome unit these guys had become; few local indie bands sound as ready to play for 50,000 people as this. Or not. No Direction broke up in 1989.