Rhythm and Paranoia
Bush Tetras might not be household names, but they should have been. Combining monster dance rhythms with clanging, trebly guitars and an impassioned female singer/shouter, their first 7”, Too Many Creeps, was the blueprint for dozens of bands and genres yet to come. Remember about 10 or 20 years ago when everyone was describing their music as “angular” and name-checking Gang of Four? There’s an obvious throughline from those bands (and “Too Many Creeps” could actually be an LCD Soundsystem song if you added electronic instruments) to Bush Tetras.
Thanks to Rhythm and Paranoia, a new three record set, Bush Tetras’ decades-spanning output can be heard in one collection, displaying both the band’s musical growth and the inspiration they would give to countless other bands. The first batch of songs with their sparse production are instantly recognizable, even if you haven’t heard the actual songs. If anyone ever asked for an example of post-punk, this is what you would play them. You can hear pieces of Gang of Four in here, as well as the darker British bands like Bauhaus, with the reggae and disco influenced rhythm section supporting scratchy, frantic guitar lines. The band’s next phase is a bit denser, with a heavier reggae/dub influence and a more “singing” vocal style that totally works—this stuff should be up there with the best of new wave/post-punk. “Things That Go Boom in the Night” and “You Can’t Be Funky” especially should have been constants in old wave DJ sets—haunting, danceable tunes that would totally get a crowd up.
The band evolved into a different animal in the ’90s, and while the song structures are a bit more traditional and Cynthia Sley’s vocals have a more mature feel, they still recall the best of the era’s alternative pop. While belters like “Page 18” or “You Don’t Know Me” stand with the best of the noisy but hook-filled tunes of the genre, slower songs like “Pretty Thing,” “Sucker is Born,” and “Motorhead” are beautifully haunting, and will get stuck in your head for days.
While different people will have different favorite songs or periods on Rhythm and Paranoia, it’s interesting to hear the progression throughout. It’s also interesting to consider how a band that so encapsulated an era and acted as such an inspiration to others never became as famous as they should have. Fans of post-punk, new wave, or noisy pop should definitely check this one out.