Disaster Amnesiac suspects that there are many people like him who own a copy of the great Punk Rock coffee table book, Hardcore California. The book's twinned focuses, the post-1976 underground music scenes of Los Angeles and San Francisco, are given thorough treatment. It is made especially clear in the S.F. section that this scene was rich and well populated, with tons of stylistic variety and personality. One of the groups that is mentioned in that section, Noh Mercy, is briefly described, given a few photos, and has the lyrics to their song Caucasian Guilt reproduced. I have often been intrigued by this group as I've thumbed through my very well-worn copy, but, up until very recently, have never heard the sounds made by the two women that made up Noh Mercy. Re-issue label Superior Viaduct has made it possible to hear this short lived group's great, arty Post-Punk. Disaster Amnesiac suspects that if you, too, own a copy of Hardcore California, or were there to see and hear Noh Mercy in person, you'll want to swoop up a copy.
Noh Mercy's most notable difference from their peers was their primarily, sparse, drums/vocals line up, featured on the first four songs of the release. In the liner notes, drummer Tony Hotel mentions their initial decision to stick with this simplified line up, and it is very hard to argue with her assertion that their music "sounded complete just by ourselves". Hotel's drumming shows varied influences. Jazz poly-rhythms, traditional international/cultural rhythms, Modern Compositional approaches; all of these elements and more can be heard within her drumming as she frames and drives Noh Mercy's tunes. Hotel's musical c.v. includes time spent at Berklee in Boston, as a session musician in L.A., and as a journeyman Jazz musician in the mid-West, and all of those experiences definitely served her well in utilising the drums as the primary instrumental focus of these songs. Hotel's drumming is not of the bashing sort by any means. Listen to her press rolls on the band's cover of the Doors My Wild Love, and hear text book clinical mastery at work. As much as Hotel shows sophistication on the drums, she plays a mean, primitive, acidic Punk guitar on some tracks, and it works to place Noh Mercy within their contemporaries' vision of a kind of Year Zero as regards musicianship. As with many Post Punk bands, the guitar is used as more of a rhythmic element within the overall sound of the band, its primacy within late 20th Century popular song taken down a peg or two, perhaps returned to its original role, more part of the overall rhythm section.
Standing bravely alone on Noh Mercy's melodic front line was vocalist/keyboardist/rattle shaker Esmerelda. Her biographical summary in the liner notes shows a life that was already rich with experience by the time Noh Mercy began. It's clear that she had plenty of sources for insight, rage, and railing from the years preceding the band, and rage she does. Her lyrics do not paint happy pictures, but more dystopian views are given full airing. Esmerelda had plenty of musical history from which to draw, and that she does. Elements of earlier vocal approaches such as the wailing style of Esmerelda's early hero Janis Joplin, post-hippie drag theater (this realm begs more retrospective documentation), Glitter (do I hear Tim Curry in there?) are fused with the then-emergent harder Punk style to give a sometimes harrowing voice to the darkened insights of her writing. Disaster Amnesiac hears the continuation of the original S.F. Punk voice of Penelope Houston and what was surely an inspiration for later voices such as those of Frightwig, Meri St. Mary, and countless others right on into the present. Esmerelda's sharp, distorted, edgy riffing on Farfisa and Moog organs gives Noh Mercy's sound a great, shimmery, Synth Punk edginess a la the Screamers or Nervous Gender. Needless to say, I like it a lot.
As for Noh Mercy's songs, they are sharp, tight, and dramatic. They sound as if they are the product of the varied influences that Hotel and Esmerelda brought to them. Not a peep of the generic "oh, so Punky" (thank you Rozz Williams!) vibe that many groups had at that time begun to feature. Put simply, they are intriguing and fun.Despite having been recorded in seemingly less than ideal spaces (a basement, the Catalyst in Santa Cruz), these recordings sound really good. Much respect to engineers Tommy Tadlock, Gary Hobish, and Peter Conheim. Clearly, all took care with their respective parts in the push to document Noh Mercy, then and now.
Disaster Amnesiac is excited about the prospects for further archival releases coming from Superior Viaduct.
I'd imagine that if you've spent any time pouring over the pages of books such as Hardcore California, or had the pleasure of being there as its events transpired, you might be, too. Getting Noh Mercy's sounds out into the public is a fine start!