Mars Rehearsal Tapes & Alt. Takes: NYC 1976-1978 3xLP

What a beautiful time to be a fan of MARS. I remember when I was discovering no wave, and trying to find anything by the band (physically or digitally) was like hen’s teeth. But once I heard them and GLENN BRANCA, my tastes for guitar noise were forever refined and I never felt the need to hear SONIC YOUTH again. In the last few years, we’ve seen a slew of archival releases from the group, but this release is the motherlode. Three LPs of demos, rehearsals, alternate takes, and more—truly for the most hardcore of MARS obsessive. The audio fidelity is far from pristine, but if you’re here for the noisiest of no wave, you probably aren’t a snooty audiophile. The evolution of the band is heard from originally making piano and acoustic guitar demos at home before quickly taking up electric instruments, writing a set of VELVETS-indebted songs, and playing one gig as CHINA. The mutation of the band from a minimal, arty proto-punk band to the harsh experimentalism of MARS starts here. The music becomes more abstract, rattling, industrial, and truly experimental—where the band is questioning the format of the standard rock’n’roll song as well the place and physical use of the instruments within them. MARS’ music sounds to me like taking rock music closer to the realm of painting or sculpture, using their instruments to create texture and color as opposed to melody or harmony. It’s here where we get to the real meat of the compilation, and the true endurance test for listeners. Listening to the multiple takes of the songs “Hairwaves” and “Helen Forsdale” reminded me of something like the massive STOOGES’ Funhouse Sessions, where the band is drilling down the song with minor variations, but you hear the song take shape and come to life. The drum-and-vocal-only take of “Puerto Rican Ghost” was interesting to hear separate from the avant guitar sounds they’re known for. What really captures the spirit of this record is the band doing a run through of “11,000 Volts,” after which they sound happy about the results and then immediately go back into the song again, finish it, and then hoot and holler with joy at the end of that one. It gives you an interesting two-fold perspective on the song from what you’re hearing as a listener and what they were hearing at the time as musicians. What part of the song did they nail that they didn’t before? What sounded different that time that they knew they got it? It’s documentation like this found on this record that truly makes it a treasure and dispels any notion of this music being random, but rather being vigorously rehearsed, instilling the craft and discipline the band had in creating such dissonant music.