A Look Back at Band of Susans’ Noise Rock Symphony—Love Agenda

As Robert Poss readies his solo album, Frozen Flowers Curse The Day, his current work is more intricate these days. The songs are more soundtrack in essence than his past sonic architecture. Frozen Flower Curse The Day is hauntingly beautiful. Strings, chiming guitar tones, and guitar ambience—these are some of the things you will find in Poss’ current music vocabulary. Yet, he hints back at the Band of Susans days with the feedback rich “You’ll Curse the Day.” It brings back memories of how Band of Susans quietly took over pop culture with their alternative buzz.

The band acted as a catalyst between ‘80s subculture of New York No Wave punks like Sonic Youth and the more brazen DNA to the lost ‘90s dissonance of My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. Poss, a New Yorker, helped pave the way for an eclectic view of alternative rock. And before there was MBV’s Loveless, there was Love Agenda.

Band of Susans Love Agenda Back Cover Photo

Band of Susans on Selective Memory

Considered one of the louder guitar rock albums of its time (this was also before Flaming Lips released In A Priest Driven Ambulance), Love Agenda launched in 1989 as the sophomore release for the band. Waves of distortion that filled Hope Against Hope was back but with a more precise gameplan of controlled chaos and stop/start melodies.

At this time the band was less two Susans — Tallman and Lyall — and was replaced by Karen Haglof and Page Hamilton, who we all know later formed Helmet. Haglof played with Susan Stenger and Poss in Rhys Chatham’s guitar ensemble, a critical figure to the New York No Wave scene. It was Chatham who served as mentor to Poss’ noise guitar development and therefore the construction of sound for Band of Susans. To have this circular activity of transition and change was necessary in order to push their sound forward.

Band of Susans – The Pursuit of Happiness Video

Name dropping this band in 1989 was like giving you a pass code to be cool enough to join their secret group. Their imagery was amplified when the film Empire Records kept showing scenes with the Love Agenda promo poster. Suddenly people beyond 120 Minutes and Night Flight were taking note. But now all we can do is look back at an era where bands like this were capitalizing on youth confusion through rock and roll sound destruction. Here on this album, we get one of the very few videos released by the band. It features dissonant footage shot by Poss and Chris Metzler. Southwest landscapes roll by, transitioning to the band effortlessly conjuring up a wall of noise within the desert setting. It gives us a brief glimpse into how the band brings the music to the forefront.

Band of Susans – Live at the World East

When you hear a song like “Tourniquet,” you understand that, at this point, Band of Susans was no more a reaction as it was a state of mind. The way the vocals slur and hum into each other feels more like chant than statement.

Stenger stepped up for vocals on “The Pursuit of Happiness,” Birthright” and Hard Light.” Hamilton assumed vocal duties on “It’s Locked Away,” a song that takes two tones and merges them into one. Although it sounds more like Big Black than Helmet, you begin to experience Hamilton’s punctuated style.

Bonus tracks include the Rolling Stone cover “Child of the Moon.” Most of this album breaks down their idols yet this song pays homage to a rock and roll idol. The song sounds more Social Distortion than Band of Susans as the giveaway are the varying levels of noise exploding out of a blues rhythm. Although different for the band, they pull it off.

Love Agenda is still a pertinent album that has dissapeared  and overshadowed by the over-populous perception of MBV’s Loveless. What Band of Susans did was lay down the groundwork noise rock bands in the ‘90s. And Poss was a catalyst, taking from the New York No Wave scene and spinning his creative art into something more than himself.

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