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Complete Studio Recordings, NYC 1977-1978 Ned Raggett , August 11th, 2008 11:24

Mars - Complete Studio Recordings, NYC 1977-1978

If every innovation becomes a hidebound reference point then theoretically the work of Mars should be nothing but boring classic rock at this point. An extreme sentiment, perhaps, but when listening to this short, half-hour long collection of eleven songs, initially one might wonder what the shouting was all about. The chug of ‘3E’ betrays the New York group’s origins jamming over Velvet Underground songs, and is spiked with the kind of nervously friendly edge that became tagged as New Wave more than No Wave. ‘11,000 Volts’ manages the neat trick of predicting both early Martin Hannett productions and the kind of dissonance with which Sonic Youth began their career. Then ‘Helen Forsdale’ starts, guitar as scraggly hyperspeed mosquito freakout and vocals as half-comprehensible chant, and things turn…wrong. In the right way.

In a time when No Wave has become fetishized and celebrated like never before – three separate books on the scene alone in the past year – it seems appropriate that Mars should be given the cleaned-up and ‘properly’ remastered approach (a 1990s compilation was remixed by Jim Thirlwell but in the liner notes surviving members Mark Cunningham and China Burg insist that they wanted this to be heard as was originally done).

But what’s most audible in hearing these eleven tracks – a single, their four songs for the No New York compilation and a final EP – is how Mars clearly resisted easy classification then, and how that works to the songs’ benefits now. Certainly in moments like the distressed, crumbling trebly rage and buzz of ‘N.N. End’ and the detuned shuffle of ‘Hair Waves’ one can hear all sorts of things here through a 2008 lens – Deerhoof, No Age, any number of noise bands for a scratch-the-surface start. It all sounds present, alive, not dead and pasted into a history book.