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'They Live In My Head' is as vital any album the Bush Tetras have ever made


This is FRESH AIR. Bush Tetras is a rock band that formed in 1979 in New York City at the height of the punk era. It was the rare band to be led by two women, Pat Place and Cynthia Sley. The band was known for its abrasive yet danceable sound. Now the group has released a new album called "They Live In My Head." And rock critic Ken Tucker says it's as inventive and vital as anything that Bush Tetras have ever made.


BUSH TETRAS: (Singing) I am not a member - belong to no one, belong to nothing at all. I hid my laundry, my dirty laundry where none would venture, none would dare. I am not a member.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: In the 1970s music scene that gave birth to this band, Bush Tetras were outsiders among outsiders. The Tetras were part of the so-called no wave scene in New York City, a reaction to the punk and new wave bands that, rather amazingly, some found not loud or chaotic enough. Guitarist Pat Place, who'd been a member of the ultimate no wave outfit James Chance in The Contortions, formed Bush Tetras as a deafening but danceable alternative. The Tetras' trademark song was its glorious complaint about obnoxious men called "Too Many Creeps."


BUSH TETRAS: (Singing) I just don't want to go out on the streets no more. I just don't want to go out on the streets no more because these people - they give me, they give me the creeps anymore - because these people - they give me, they give me the creeps anymore.

TUCKER: Bush Tetras never had much commercial success, but they enjoyed enough of a following to continue releasing singles and EPs here and there, playing in various configurations, all of them organized around Pat Place, singer Cynthia Sley and drummer Dee Pop. Pop died in 2021 at the age of 65. "They Live In My Head" is only Bush Tetras' fourth full-length album. Producer Steve Shelley, longtime member of second-generation noise band Sonic Youth, is playing drums. The band members are in their late 60s and early 70s, and this album is haunted by the past. That's one meaning of the phrase "They Live In My Head" - memories, people who've passed away. The title song starts off with an unusual quietness that ramps up quickly in sound and fury.


BUSH TETRAS: (Singing) They, they live in my head. When they enter my dreams, life is not all that it seems. And you, you're the type of guy that thinks he's got everything. But you don't have someone like me. When they live in my head, they enter my dreams. When they enter my dreams, life is not all it seems. When they live in my head, they enter my dreams. When they enter my dreams, life is not all it seems. Life is not all it - life is not all it - life is not all that it seems. But I...

TUCKER: I came to this album with modest expectations. The Tetras had already had their moment of rediscovery a couple of years ago with the release of a career-spanning box set called "Rhythm And Paranoia: The Best of Bush Tetras." For most bands, what follows after that are one or two nostalgia-laced reunions to squeeze a bit more cash out of the remaining renewed interest. Thus, the energy and force of "They Live In My Head," its urgency to get some things said and make some different sounds, was a very pleasant surprise. At this point, I'm inclined to think that it's the best, most sustained work the Tetras have ever done.


BUSH TETRAS: (Singing) I have been born into the night, bathed in warm moonlight. Bottle this scent so fragrant. I'm lost like a lover's stolen kiss, stolen kiss - so strange that things come to this, so strange that things come to this. In the midst of constant itch, we must resist. They've come to this. They've come to this.

TUCKER: That's "So Strange," on which Cynthia Sley sings, how many times can we repeat the past? Well, turns out you can do it a number of times in different ways and make it all matter, as Bush Tetras are doing now.

GROSS: Ken Tucker reviewed "They Live In My Head" by Bush Tetras. Tomorrow on FRESH AIR, my guest will be the first woman to be president of Harvard, Drew Gilpin Faust. Her new memoir is about growing up in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, where she was groomed to be a proper Southern lady, which she resisted every step of the way. Her grandmother identified with the Confederacy. Faust rebelled against the norms of racism and gender inequality she grew up with and became a student activist and a civil rights and anti-war activist. She's written several books about the Civil War. I hope you'll join us.


GROSS: Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Ann Marie Baldonado, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. Our co-host is Tonya Mosley. I'm Terry Gross.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOWARD ALDEN'S "WHO CARES?") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ken Tucker
Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.