Dusted Reviews

Theoretical Girls - Theoretical Record

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Theoretical Girls

Album: Theoretical Record

Label: Acute

Review date: Nov. 11, 2002

No Wave from Then...Now

The Theoretical Girls were previously known mainly as a footnote in rock history. A band better remembered for launching Glenn Branca’s career than for a scant musical output of one single in 1978, the Theoretical Girls shared with many other bands in the No Wave scene a tendency to dissolve quickly, leaving as little recorded legacy as is humanly possible from a working band (another good example being Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, whose entire works wouldn’t fill an entire LP). With the release of a new CD comprised of previously unreleased Theoretical Girls recordings, along with that one single, “US Millie”, the band will probably remain a footnote, though a better documented one.

Although Branca is the best known member of the group (having recently raked in mad cash and blown the tops off a nation’s boomboxes with his contribution to the soundtrack of the Richard Gere blockbuster “The Mothman Prophecies”), it’s evident that guitarist Jeffrey Lohn, who helped to spur the current reissue, was its heart (the artwork notes that all music, lyrics and instrumental parts were written by Lohn). Also members were keyboardist Margaret Dewys (who continues to be active in avant-garde art) and on skins Wharton Tiers, who is currently a producer and long-time Sonic Youth associate. The music they created is more “listenable” than that of many of their contemporaries; their music stays closer to the pop/rock underpinnings of original punk and new wave than the work of No Wave artists, who made a conscious effort to start at the point were those genres left off, taking from them their volume and attitude and refining it to produce music requiring an effort from the listener to penetrate an often structureless aural assault. The Theoretical Girls theme song, the aptly titled “Theoretical Girls” (or it’s possibly a joke of a theme song, considering that most of it is just a count-off dragged out to two minutes) recalls the fast chug of the Ramones; “US Millie”, their single, barely even features guitar, and is dominated by martial drums and pulsing keyboards. Some of the songs, such as “No More Sex” and “Mom and Dad” could be taken for products of the artier strand of original New York punk. That said, this still is not radio friendly music; the most recognizably No Wave moment is the room-clearing instrumental “Contrary Motion”, where the band does its best to mimic the sound of an electrical drill being driven into your skull. And “Keyboard Etude”, although lasting only a minute, is in the same spirit, with a strikingly atonal keyboard solo from Lohns.

Despite these ear-bruising moments, the Theoretical Girls are ultimately most memorable for their loopy sense of humor and the playfulness of their music (not that other No Wave bands lacked a sense of humor; sometimes it’s hard to detect it in music that often sounds as if it’s trying to harm you). “US Millie” might be a dig on American sexual mores, but it’s difficult to be sure exactly what Lohns is about when the absurd lyrics veer into pure dada, concluding with a list of items that offers “Jews for Jesus” and “Danon Yogurt” as a counterpoint to “Ms. Magazine” and “Scientology.” “Computer Dating” addresses its subject mainly by recreating a dating questionnaire in musical form. It doesn’t hurt their cause that the band was a gifted musical unit; although the playing is often primitive and amateurish, it’s also uniformly precise and effective. If they had released an album, the Theoretical Girls would probably have been one of the more fondly remembered No Wave bands; this posthumous compilation establishes their reputation, but two decades after it was truly deserved.

By Mark Hamilton

Read More

View all articles by Mark Hamilton

Find out more about Acute

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.