Review - It's Still Artastic

Artist: The Styrenes

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It's Still Artastic
Label: ROIR
Media: CD
Format: Album
WorkNameSort: It's Still Artastic
One of the surprisingly nice byproducts of the '70s prog-rock trend was the leftist "Rock In Opposition" movement that centered around British bands like Henry Cow and Slapp Happy. Rooted in revolutionary politics and compositional overload, this small klatch of bands was the too-artsy wing of a genre that was already overcooked. But R.I.O. was a decidedly European phenomenon, as America's taste for pretense and socialism had begun to give way to blunt punk politicking by the mid-'70s. However, in Cleveland, Ohio (of all places), the angular peculiarity of R.I.O. took hold, and bands like Pere Ubu, the Electric Eels and The Styrenes wound up being the American wing of the movement. That these self-consciously "difficult" bands were making their way through a local scene enraptured with the brash, primal rock of groups like Rocket From the Tombs and the Dead Boys meant that their oddity was informed by sheer rock power, rather than the classical influences of their European brethren. The Styrenes themselves were less a true band than a rotating cast of musicians centered around Paul Morotta and Jamie Klimek, and the severely off-center attitude of these two meant that any time The Styrenes "happened," something interesting would unfold. Of all the groups in Cleveland, this was certainly the oddest -- and most rockin'. The 27(!) tracks here lay the groundwork for New York's "no wave" counterpoint to '80s post-punk and, covering a period from 1975 to 1998, they show a band that only got more insane with age, always nodding toward punk power but driven by severely looped-out songwriting. Thankfully, ROIR presents a good mix of studio work and lo-fi live recordings on this disc, so it's easy to get a real feel for how overpowering this band could be.

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