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Theoretical Girls

The Theoretical Girls were among the most enigmatic of the late '70s New York no wave bands, famous not so much for their music, since they released only one single during their brief existence, but because the group launched the careers of two of New York's best known experimental music figures, composer Glenn Branca and producer Wharton Tiers. The latter played drums, the former guitar (as you might expect) in the quartet, which also featured keyboardist Margaret DeWys and vocalist/guitarist Jeffrey Lohn, a classically trained composer who, like Branca and so many others in the no wave scene, wasn't interested in working with popular musical forms until inspired to do so by the explosion of punk rock. The group's sound was comparable to that of the other no wave bands working in Manhattan at the time, i.e. Contortions and DNA. Always confrontational and often funny in an aggressive way, the band's sound consistently displayed the influence of American minimalist composers, ranging from sparse, clattering rhythm pieces that sound like immediate forbear of early '80s Sonic Youth to fascinatingly brutal, abrasive slabs of art-punk noise.

As mentioned, the group released only one single during their short (1978-1980) career. Fortunately, two recordings have emerged in recent years to preserve this seminal band's legacy. The first, which came out on Atavistic in 1997, consists of all the Glenn Branca-penned songs, including the flipside from the group's only single, "You Got Me." The A-side, "U.S. Millie," appears on a newer collection of Theoretical Girls songs all written by Lohn. That compendium owes its existence to the noble efforts of Acute Records proprietor Daniel Selzer, who spent several years collaborating with Lohn to compile the songs, working from poorly recorded old rehearsal tapes and live reels. It can be tough listening at times, but provides insight into the unique combination of nervous braininess and spastic energy that infected the New York underground rock scene for a few short years as the '70s gave way to the '80s. It's also an essential document for anyone intrigued by the sounds of the current no wave revival that has blossomed Chicago and New York.