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Theoretical Girls (1978-1981)

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Reseña de álbum

Some may believe, if they are aware of the late-'70s New York no wave scene at all, that the genre begins and ends with the Brian Eno-produced compilation No New York. But only four bands are found on that album, and in truth there were dozens of New York-based groups that fell into the no wave category represented only by a single or two, a ROIR cassette, or nothing. Theoretical Girls were a major group in New York no wave, but their reputation mainly rests on one small-run 45 containing two songs that was issued on their own Theoretical Records imprint in 1978. The 19 selections heard on this disc, the first release from Acute Records, vastly improves Theoretical Girls' fortunes, albeit more than 20 years late. It constitutes a treasure trove of classic New York no wave that anyone interested in this genre will want.

Theoretical Girls were led by guitarist, keyboardist, and singer Jeffrey Lohn and featured future legendary New York producer Wharton Tiers on drums, Glenn Branca on guitar, and avant-garde composer Margaret De Wys on keyboards and bass. On the Acute disc Lohn is the primary writer and singer on all the material included, although the others pitch in backing vocals from time to time. "U.S. Millie," the track included from the single, is an acknowledged classic of the genre and makes its bow on CD here. There is little detail provided as to the origin of the recordings, and no notes to speak of, but some are obviously live, others are from rehearsals and yet others may be low-budget studio recordings or demos. Certainly these recordings are better preserved, or at least more carefully transferred, than the average no wave artifacts that have surfaced so far on CD. The sound of Theoretical Girls is like a well-oiled machine that nonetheless has several moving parts sticking out of it. As Theoretical Girls' drummer, Wharton Tiers works magic, keeping these difficult arrangements (and divergent stylists) on one page. Margaret De Wys demonstrates that among no wave keyboardists (such as the Contortions' Adele Bertei and DNA's Robin Crutchfield) she had a unique sound, particularly shrill and disjointed, yet amply fitting the bill. Alternate versions are given for some titles, and in the case of "Chicita Bonita" this is particularly helpful, as the alternate has entirely different surface elements, yet the structural underpinning is the same. The two versions of "Chicita Bonita" are only six seconds apart in length, although they sound wholly different. The band's theme, "Theoretical Girls," succeeds in being hypnotic, compelling, noisy, innovative, and catchy all at once with its counting and repetition; indeed, the word "innovation" could be applied to any number of the pieces included here.

Theoretical Girls split up in 1981, and shortly thereafter Glenn Branca went onto prominence as a semi-classical composer of noisy, massed electric guitar symphonies. The others were not quite so lucky in terms of celebrity, and in Lohn's case this lack of recognition has been something of a sore spot. Hopefully, the Acute release will help to improve matters all around. One side of the original single, "You Got Me," was withheld from this all-Theoretical Girls disc, as it was written by Branca; it can be found on his Atavistic compilation Songs '77-'79. Despite that so much time has gone by, and that so many bands have worked towards a similar end since, Theoretical Girls are still fresh, edgy, witty, raw, and fun. None of this music has a date stamped on its forehead, and it remains both timeless and welcome after its long eclipse and obscurity.

Theoretical Girls (1978-1981), Theoretical Girls
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