For the first and possibly only time in their long career, Bush Tetras put out the right song at the right time. “Too Many Creeps”, their nervy single debut, rang out like a shot in NYC’s gritty 1980 Downtown scene. The song was a cry of feminine exasperation, and almost universally applicable. It felt like a hit. Yet it was not to be, nor was their 1981 EP produced by The Clash’s Topper Headon. Their taut, piano-wire angst peppered their fans. Their few recordings captured their merciless attack. Admired by their peers, the band rubbed shoulders with Downtown alums destined for bigger success. Instead, like the Downtown scene itself, the original incarnation of the Tetras flamed out quickly. But they weren’t done, not by a long shot. For most of their messy, decades-long career, the lineup that locked in – former Contortions guitarist Pat Place, vocalist Cynthia Sley, bassist Laura Kennedy and drummer Dee Pop – is the one that reigned. After their breakup in 1983, it was more than a decade before they reunited. By that point Pop was deep into free jazz, Place was into Soundgarden. Yet they found their mojo again, for the first time recording two full-length albums, though a record company sale shelved their second for fourteen years. The band had shed most of their eighties drug dependencies but they still fought, breaking up again in 1998. Seven years later, they’re back at it again, only to lose Kennedy to liver disease in 2011. Yet for all their setbacks, the Tetras output is remarkably consistent. Rhythm and Paranoia (a term coined by Kennedy) isn’t the band’s first compilation by a long shot, but it’s the first to give equal weight to their post-eighties output. Despite a few slips over the line into faux-metal, the set is well-curated and full of surprises, adding to the mystery of how the band continues to toil in obscurity. “Mr. Lovesong” is another should’ve-been that sounds like the Go-Go’s evil twin, and among other rarities, the collection wraps with an excellent Third Man EP recorded in 2018. Particularly in view of the current UK post-punk revival, the Tetras work feels vital as ever. Yet just just after Rhythm & Paranoia’s release, the Tetras secret weapon, drummer Dee Pop, died suddenly in October. Sad but undaunted, the band vows to carry on. I’d count on it.
Review by Jeff McCord