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Live Skull

Inspired by the likes of Glenn Branca, Sonic Youth, and the New York no wave movement, Live Skull delivered the kind of relentlessly bleak, abrasive noise rock that made their better-known contemporaries Lydia Lunch and Swans into cult underground figures during the '80s. The band usually favored a ponderous, crushingly loud grind, but tempered their assault with sophisticated, arty arrangements and thick, hypnotic sheets of pulsating white noise. Their subject matter was invariably dark and downcast (some critics said oppressively so), though not as deliberately shocking as some of their even more confrontational peers. Live Skull's earlier output tended to de-emphasize vocals, but the 1987 arrival of vocalist Thalia Zedek gave the band a new spark and focal point; even if their sound was just as uncompromisingly difficult and amelodic as before, most observers heralded this phase as the group's creative prime.

Live Skull was formed in New York City in 1983 by the guitar/bandleader tandem of Mark C. and Tom Paine. They were initially joined by drummer James Lo and Paine's girlfriend at the time, Marnie Greenholz, on bass. The group issued its self-titled debut EP -- generally regarded as a formative effort -- on the small Massive label in 1984, and subsequently signed with indie notable Homestead. Their full-length bow was 1985's Bringing Home the Bait, which found Greenholz, Paine, and C. all splitting vocal duties. The follow-up, 1986's Cloud One, adopted much the same approach, and the band began to make its name among fans of the more extreme wing of underground rock. A concert album, Live: Don't Get Any on You, was recorded at CBGB's late that year and released in 1987.

Seeking a stronger vocal presence, C. and Paine invited Boston native Thalia Zedek to join the band in 1987. Zedek had previously played in the Boston-area punk outfits White Women, the Dangerous Birds, and Uzi, and quickly injected a shot of new energy into the forbidding Live Skull sound. The band also replaced drummer Lo with ex-Ruin member Rich Hutchins; Lo would go on to play in Wider and the much better-known math rock outfit Chavez. Zedek and Hutchins made their debuts on 1987's Dusted, which received some of Live Skull's strongest reviews to date. The group subsequently switched to the Caroline label, debuting with 1988's well-received, six-song EP Snuffer.

By this time, Hutchins was also playing concurrently with the similarly styled Of Cabbages & Kings. Greenholz, who had long since ended her relationship with Paine, subsequently departed and was replaced by Sonda Andersson, a former member of Rat at Rat R and the cousin of avant-garde guitarist/composer Glenn Branca. Released in 1989, Positraction was a more accessible, song-oriented effort that maintained the generally positive critical reaction, but also proved to be the band's swansong. Following their official breakup in 1990, Zedek moved back to Boston and formed the acclaimed, blues-flavored Come. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
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