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Sleep Asylum

audioRecording, 1986

Before powerhouse vocalist Thalia Zedek added her verve to New York's no wave band Live Skull or fronted her own blues-tinged Come during the 1990s, she was fulfilling, in part, the legacy Patti Smith left behind when she dropped from sight to raise her family at the end of the 1970s. Fronting the little-known and even less-remembered Boston band Uzi during the first half of the 1980s, Zedek spit her voice across a dark, underground rock that barely tempered the ferocity of her delivery. The group's only album, Sleep Asylum, was racked in 1986 and displayed their skill at creating a wall of sound that didn't depend on screamed vocals to front the din. It was a godsend for the Massachusetts no wavers, who'd only previously been able to sample the band via the college circuit. A delicious blend of gritty guitar, tape loops, and heavy drumbeats, the music was another slice of the pie served à la Sonic Youth and to a lesser extent, Big Black. Packed with sophisticated melody that barely traps the menace, Sleep Asylum builds across the opening "Criminal Child" to the sweet fragility of "Gabrielle" before launching into the balls-out crash-bang nervous breakdown of "Ha-Ha-Ha," which remains one of the band's finest. Nearly, but not quite outdoing that triumph, though, is the hypnotic "Collections," which roils around guitar and drums and some otherworldly chant before Zedek's vocals weigh in to pose the question, "Would you let me inside your house/Would you like to push me inside out?/Someone should dare." With that delicious intent and her bludgeoned come-on cutting through the music, one can only wonder if anyone would have. Probably not. This album, an early Homestead release, remains devilishly hard to find, but is well worth the price. Sleep Asylum is one of the American underground's long-forgotten secrets, a bit of archeology that, in its own way, helped set the scene for the drone of music's future.