The No Wave movement didn’t make anybody famous, but it certainly made some bands infamous. Some, like Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, earned a reputation for being hostile performers, while others, such as The Contortions, were mostly notable for being really weird musically, if still pretty revolutionary in the long run. Mars, however, contributed four songs to the Brian Eno commissioned No New York compilation, going down in history as being the only group on the album to have had no prior musical experience.
The interesting thing about being part of the No Wave movement, however, means avoiding conventional means of playing one’s instrument, and it may have been to Mars’ benefit to enter the fray as greenhorns. As fate would have it, their grating, extreme squalls of noise and sinister melodies would prove to make them one of the most interesting bands to have emerged in the scene. And, interestingly enough, they were a reasonably accessible outfit given their penchant for way out sounds. Much of their fierce, skronky, musical chaos can be traced back to the more experimental Velvet Underground pieces, and in listening to their odd, almost atonal approach, one can also hear seeds of Sonic Youth’s avant rock.
Some 30 years after the group’s demise, No More Records has compiled the group’s complete studio work on Mars LP, an 11-track set that reveals the band’s experimental fury in full force. And you read that correct—there are only 11 songs on this compilation, as the group’s output was pretty minimal during their short time together. That said, it’s still a staggering clamor to behold. First track “3E” is actually somewhat catchy, sounding like a melding of Devo and The Velvet Underground, a pretty spectacular combination to be sure. Things start getting pretty weird soon thereafter, with “11,000 Volts,” which finds a steady, mechanical beat laying foundation for almost completely rhythm-less vocals and guitar. “Helen Forsdale” is driven by a maniacally ascending bassline, while guitars squeal and screech. And I don’t even know what’s going on in “Hairwaves.”
Mars LP chronicles a band that may not have had any sort of expertise in instrumental technicality, but they most certainly knew how to make some provocative art. Most certainly ahead of their time, and making people squirm with harrowing sounds, Mars may not have ever gotten famous, but they’ll certainly continue to live in infamy.
Sonic Youth – Sonic Youth EP
The Contortions – Buy
Theoretical Girls – Theoretical Girls
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.