Optimo cover

Optimo

Released

For a band with just a handful of singles and EPs to their name — a discography that, in its entirety, would fit comfortably on a single CD with enough room left over for demos or live cuts — Liquid Liquid’s presence looms large in the history of NYC no wave. Optimo is the most prominent entry in both their own corpus and the 99 Records catalogue, albeit for reasons not entirely beneficial to the group: after “Cavern” was replayed wholesale and without credit by the Sugar Hill Records house band for Melle Mel’s hit “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It),” the ensuing legal battle dissolved into a lose-lose that neither label was able to recover from. But that infamy also bolstered the legend of a cult dance-punk band and reinforced their importance to the downtown scene’s decades-long echo in indie music, and it’s the band at the height of their twitchy-yet-groove-heavy powers. Richard McGuire’s basslines — not just on the famous fidgety rumble of “Cavern,” but the caged-animal pacing of “Scraper,” the blunt-yet-sparse emphases of “Out,” and the title track’s runaway-subway shuddering — are some of the most exciting examples of a musician using punk’s brute-force simplicity to embody the momentum of funk at its nerviest. And his bandmates reinforce that momentum wonderfully: Sal Principato chanting enigmatic, half-inaudible bursts of fractured panic (“Took a wrong turn but I can’t breathe”; “Slip in and out of phenomenon”), Scott Hartley tricking you into hearing chaos in his shuddering yet simple rhythms, and Dennis Young turning every instrument he could get his hands on — especially the marimba burbling all over “Scraper” — into the most counterintuitive version of itself. It all sounds like the kind of music DIY artists make when their self-taught instincts keep giving them new lesson plans.

Nate Patrin

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