Few recordings transport me directly to a time and place like Dusted, the 1987 album by foundational New York noise-rock band Live Skull. Founded in 1982 by guitarists Tom Paine and Mark C., Live Skull were a buzz saw of guitar-led postpunk that combined art-rocker sensibilities with leather-jacket sneer, almost perfectly encapsulating the early-80s Lower Manhattan scene that birthed them. Dusted came fourth among the seven studio releases of the band’s initial incarnation, before one too many lineup changes and a lack of commercial success led to their breakup in 1990. It’s also the first to include lead singer Thalia Zedek, who’d go on to form the band Come with Chris Brokaw of Codeine and maintain a long, productive solo career.
Live Skull don’t get the recognition of their 80s NYC scene peers (say, Swans or Sonic Youth), but their music continues to resonate with fans of postpunk and avant-rock. Last year, Mark C. and Live Skull drummer Richard Hutchins (he’d joined in 1987) led a resurrected version of the band on the album Saturday Night Massacre (Bronson), which also includes appearances from Zedek and original bassist Marnie Jaffe; it combines the band’s classic vigor with lyrics decrying police brutality and misguided men in power. And on this month’s Dangerous Visions, Live Skull mix a few new songs (recorded by Mark C., Hutchins, and two new members) with previously unreleased music, including a set cut in 1989 for John Peel’s BBC radio series. Zedek had come aboard in 1987, infusing the band with new energy and allowing Paine and Mark C. to concentrate on their guitar wizardry, and the second half of this record, including the Peel tracks, features her lead vocals. The pulse of “Adema” is so fast that it sounds like Zedek’s lyrics are in a footrace with Hutchins’s drumming, and it must’ve blown the roof off the place when they played it back in the day. The live material works well among the new tracks and outtakes—for longtime fans like me, it feels like an unexpected visit from an old friend. And a new version of the Dusted song “Debbie’s Headache” shows a reinvigorated Live Skull, with a mix that highlights Mark C.’s spoken-word-style vocals rather than a haze of guitar feedback. v