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Theoretical Girls 

Theoretical Girls

Wednesday, Nov 6 2002
With the success of the Strokes, Interpol, and other New York rock groups, a new generation of listeners is discovering such seminal NYC bands as Television and Suicide. But the downtown revival has also spawned an upsurge of interest in lesser-known acts from across the no wave and post-punk spectrum, acts like the Theoretical Girls. It's hard to say precisely how influential the Girls were, given that the band only released one record in its career, a two-song 7-inch that came out in 1978 and immediately disappeared from view. But the individual members certainly made an impact. While leader Jeffrey Lohn went on to be known mainly in the realms of dance and visual art, during the late '70s he hosted all-night parties where influential musicians and artists performed. Meanwhile, drummer Wharton Tiers would go on to produce some of the most important rock artists of the '80s and '90s, including Dinosaur Jr. and Unrest; and guitarist Glenn Branca proceeded to compose mammoth symphonies for electric guitar, influencing the polyphonic strategies of Sonic Youth, Swans, and CREMASTER composer Jonathan Bepler.

The 19 cuts on Theoretical Girls, culled from live and studio sessions between 1978 and 1981, reveal the swirl and drone that would define the next two decades of indie rock. The very first song, "Theoretical Girls," kicks off in a blur of punkish vigor and irony: Pummeling guitars and drums churn as Lohn repeatedly yells out, "One, two, three, four!," counting down to a song that never really starts. There's a seismic restlessness to the repetition, and Branca's guitar and Margaret De Wys' keyboard gradually bend the song's single chord to its breaking point. "Lovin in the Red" hints at the approach of bands like Sonic Youth and Mission of Burma even more explicitly, exploring cacophonic maelstroms of sound. At times, the album makes for an almost uncanny listening experience, its many links and references moving backward as well as forward. There are echoes of Jello Biafra's warble in Lohn's quavering vocals and dadaist lyrics, as well as the Velvet Underground's cool detachment in every ringing power chord. And the stomping garage rock of the Monks, a crew of American servicemen stationed in Germany in the '60s, informs the crude, banging "Europe Man."

Recent reissues of early material from Branca, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, and others have filled in part of New York's long-forgotten -- or just plain ignored -- '70s musical legacy. But as Theoretical Girls makes clear, the story is woefully incomplete without factoring these boys (and girl) into the equation.

About The Author

Philip Sherburne


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