Now that dance-punk has shown itself to possess little staying power and the trove of out-of-print post-punk records has all but dried up, we can’t connect either of Ut’s last two LPs to pop’s current zeitgeist. But In Gut’s House (1988) and Griller (1989) were anachronisms when they were first released, too. After forming in 1978, Ut became integral figures in New York City’s downtown avant-garde rock scene, influencing groups like Sonic Youth with their acerbic free-form guitar barbs. The trio migrated to London in 1981, where they fit perfectly in with other art-damaged all-female tribes like Lilliput, the Raincoats, and the Slits. They seldom recorded while active in either of these fertile music scenes, however, and the albums from those early years that do survive are mostly live and impenetrably noisy. By the time that Ut settled down to cut these two more thoroughly baked, song-oriented affairs, most of their peers had broken up or pursued new artistic directions. While post-hardcore, the New Pop, and early post-rock were fermenting, Ut were still corralling their jagged aesthetic and making the albums they were too freewheeling to churn out during post-punk’s heyday.
In Gut’s House is steeped particularly deeply in the era of DNA and the Raincoats, with most tracks hanging barely together. In “Dirty Net”, Jacqui Ham howls like a Chicago bluesman over a scrapheap of tattered electric guitar, bass, and violin strings, while “Homebled” hedges toward a discernable melody before plummeting into a void of abstract plucking. The energy with which Ut dismantle their songs transforms messes into spectacles, and subvert-at-all-costs lyrics like “There’s a pedestal over there / Follow the stench” suggest that resistance matters most here. More impressive are the tracks in which these women channel their anguish into directly confrontational statements. “Mosquito Botticelli” offers an immersive mix of lonesome harmonica, spliced vocals, dubby bass, and atavistic drumming, wrapping chaos within alluring textures. And “Evangelist” and “Hotel” are flat-out rockers, festooning Nina Canal’s sophisticated drumming with massive, overdriven guitar hooks.
If In Gut’s House is the record you’ll tout as a lost post-punk classic, Griller is the more conventional follow-up that you’ll sheepishly admit gets more spins in your iPod. This Steve Albini-engineered effort revels in the fist-pumping rock glory that flickers through its predecessor’s most accessible tracks. As with most late ‘80s Albini joints, violent treble bleeds over the vocals, but that’s fine—riffs do all the talking here. Anthems (“Safe Burning”), death marches (the Jesus Lizard-ish “How It Goes”), and even driving pop songs (“Canker”) are the order of the day. Vocals are always in-step with the music, and the guitars always give the vocals something to be in step with.
Ut broke up a year after Griller‘s release, and they’ve languished in obscurity since, perhaps because they went out on such a hegemonic note. In a decade in which many critics and members of rock bands immersed themselves in critical theory, subversion was always a group’s most credible option, even when it worked to the music’s detriment. As much as Griller packs a visceral punch, it’s also a controlled record—you could even call it polished, in its own way. But in purely aesthetic terms, it’s just as successful as In Gut’s House.
In Gut’s House