If you believe certain music reviewers, any young band touting dissonance and minimalist rhythms is carrying the No Wave torch into the future. But the 2006 documentary Kill Your Idols — which attempted to bridge original No Wave bands with fresh young buds like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs — proved such connections are forced at best. The problem is that many dilettantes know the phrase but have no grasp of the late-1970s genre's true purpose: to annihilate the very foundations of music itself, then build new forms upon the wastelands of dead old rock 'n' roll.
Thankfully, No Wave, Marc Masters' written history of this short-lived (but still resonant) New York antigenre, sets the record straight. For starters, Masters wisely chose Oakland's Weasel Walter to write the foreword: Though Walter's contribution doesn't amount to much here, his Web site (www.nowave.pair.com) has long been one of the most dedicated information troves on the subject. Masters then provides the most in-depth attention yet given to the bands who made punk seem conservative and passé as early as 1978. He separates his chapters into stylistic subgroups, so the devolutionary spaz-splatter bands (Mars, D.N.A.), misanthropic confrontationalists (James Chance's Contortions, Lydia Lunch's Teenage Jesus and the Jerks), and cerebral aesthetes (Theoretical Girls, Rhys Chatham, Glenn Branca) don't get force-flattened into one reductive mold. He touches upon the connected world of No Wave filmmakers, then concludes with nods to the groups who grew out of its scorched-earth remains, including the Lounge Lizards, E.S.G., Swans, and a li'l bunch of kids called Sonic Youth.
Coincidentally, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, on-the-scene writer Byron Coley, and the inimitable Lydia Lunch release their own book of insights into No Wave's legacy next week. Masters' book will certainly face some stiff competition — but as the current front-runner in a small pack, No Wave is required reading.