Bush Tetras – [Album]

Thursday, 22 November 2012

How does one call an album a “new release” when it was recorded over a decade ago? How can one call an album a reissue when, in truth, no one has ever heard it before? Such is the quandary that listeners and critics will find themselves wrestling with as they listen to Happy – Bush Tetras' ill-fated third and final album.

As the legend goes, Happy was scheduled for release in 1998 after being recorded and produced by Don Fleming [who's other production credits include work with Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Teenage Fanclub, Richard Hell, Alice Cooper and Andrew W.K. – ed] and was expected to be the band's long-awaited, much-anticipated mainstream breakthrough. The album was to be released on Mercury Records in 1998 – but that never happened. As the story goes, after the label was sold and the group's Artist & Repertoire representative was laid off, the album was shelved indefinitely. Attempts by various labels to secure the rights and release the album were hindered as one major label merger after another led to lost contacts and contractual questions which no one seemed to be able to answer. Happy got lost in a succession of shuffles and everyone dismally lost hope and confidence which is upsetting, not not incredibly uncommon. In the end, Happy fell victim to a music business which was facing an uncertain future and ultimately joined the list of records which were made but never released (others on this list include Butthole Surfers' After The Astronaut) in spite of many pundits and professionals guaranteeing their success among the radio tastes of the time. It's unfortunate, but it's how it went.

It took a while, but both Bush Tetras and Happy finally get their day in court now, in 2012. After fifteen years of fighting and general confusion, the rights to release Happy have been secured by ROIR (who has been supporting and releasing Bush Tetras' music since 1983), and they're finally making the album available. That people will finally have the opportunity to hear this music has to be gratifying for the surviving members of the band certainly (singer Cynthia Sley, guitarist Pat Place, drummer Dee Pop and bassist Julia Murphy are all still around, but original bassist Laura Kennedy has passed away) but the added bonus about this release is that it seems to fill in some of the unusual space left blank which lies between the mainstream and the Riot Grrl movement of the 1990s.

While there is a bass presence on Happy, it's very easy to draw a connection between Bush Tetras and Sleater-Kinney. The muddy, dark and menacing low end as well as the more sinewy sounds that S-K always perched on top of such a base to flesh their songs out are in a sort of primordial evidence  through songs like “Heart Attack,” “Slap,” “Trip,” “Chinese Afro” and “Pretty Thing,” but the positively incendiary tone of “You Don't Know Me” seals the deal definitively. There, Sley's soaring vocals play almost like the how-to that Corin Tucker would mirror to secure international acclaim on albums like All Hands On The Bad One, One Beat and The Woods, and Carrie Brownstein's guitar tone sounds as though it may owe a debt of the same size to Pat Place's sound here too. There are so many common stylistic threads  and sounds to be found here, in fact, that it's almost impossible to believe that Happy never asserted some sort of presence or inspiration on Riot Grrl; but the upside is that, with it out now, it stands a chance at reopening those avenues and inspiring new music again. That potential may be one of the most exciting possibilities Happy could have in store; with the right luck, this forgotten album could be the match which strikes a new wildfire.



Happy is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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