Graded on a Curve:
No Trend,
Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex

As the forthcoming Drag City Records’ box set Too Many Humans/Teen Love will make clear, No Trend was the turd in the punch bowl of Washington, DC’s depressingly earnest hardcore scene. The Ashton, Maryland No Wave band countered the scene’s emphasis on emotional sincerity, integrity, puritanism, and commitment to social issues with cynicism, black humor, and scorn, and they took great pleasure in ridiculing their musical peers–”Hanging Out in Georgetown” (sample line: “Hanging out in Georgetown/Being an asshole”) took direct aim at the breeding ground of bands like Minor Threat, Faith, and SOA.

No Trend’s harsh sound and nihilistic tendencies made them persona non grata on the DC hardcore scene, and its official curators have treated them accordingly. You’ll find nary a mention of them in Scott Crawfords’s 2014 film documentary Salad Days, and they receive but a grudging mention in Mark Anderson’s 2009 book of oral recollections, Dance of Days.

And don’t for a moment think their omission was due to the fact that they hailed from distant Ashton. Plenty of relative outsiders found their way on to both documentaries–it was No Trend’s refusal to play by DC rules that resulted in their being airbrushed out of the picture, just as Josef Stalin erased the images of purged apparatchiks from official photographs.

Early No Trend attracted a small but dedicated fan base attracted by the band’s radical Flipper-like tempos and anti-humanist bile; while song titles like “Too Many Humans,” “Cancer,” “Die,” and “Mass Sterilization Caused by Venereal Disease” were coins of the realm in certain segments of the hardcore population, No Trend sounded serious. Or maybe they were joking; “Teen Love,” the song they’re best remembered for, is a hilarious commentary on conformist adolescent culture whose story line falls into the great death by car crash tradition of Jan and Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve.”

Most bands attempt to build a fan base. But with committed contrarian Jeff Mentges at the helm, No Trend went out of their way to lose theirs. Come 1985 Mentges did an abrupt volte-face, abandoning his band’s patented fuck you gnash and grind in favor of new sounds, first on No Trend’s 1985 collaboration with Lydia Lunch, A Dozen Dead Roses, and then with 1986’s Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex. And by then most of the band’s fans were long gone–they simply had no way of processing a sound that was equal elements free jazz, spazz rock, big band, funk, and even country.

No Trend’s radical shift in direction was greeted with howls of outrage–disgusted listeners to Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex went so far as to demand their money back, and precise number of how many copies were defenestrated, smashed, burnt alive, drowned in the bathtub, or tortured into revealing where Mentges lived so its owner could fill a paper bag full of shit and put it on his doorstep will probably never be known. Bad Religion pulled a similar stunt on 1983’s great Into the Unknown, but unlike No Trend they turned chicken shit and retreated back to what they were doing before. At least they were honest about it and came right out saying that they weren’t going to let a radical musical statement land them back in their day jobs.

Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex is an ambitious affair. Recorded with a dozen musicians, it’s a bizarre and breathtaking testament to the power of positive shrieking. Imagine Frank Zappa, sans the snooty condescension, the anal-retentive perfectionist impulses, and annoying obsession with the music of Edgar Varese, then add the dementia and vitriol of Mentges, who sounds like a strait-jacketed Captain Beefheart trying to scream his way out of a padded room.

But Mentges doesn’t stick with the shriek. On “Space Disco” he sounds like Darby Crash gargling Drano. On “Overweight Baby Boom Critter” and “Without Me” he spits out bile hardcore style. He talks his way through songs like “Copperhead” and “Fred Reality,” and on “Space Disco” he comes on like that guy who thinks he’s Jesus you cross the street to avoid. He goes full Beefheart on “Cry of the Dirtballs,” channels Alice Cooper on bad LSD on “Angel Angel Down We Go,” and caterwauls his way through “Freak.” In general he sounds like somebody you don’t want to share a bunk bed with.

As for the music, opener “Under Parr” and closer “Bel-Pre Rising” are horn-driven instrumentals that would sound right at home on a Mothers of Invention LP. And the horns run throughout the LP; you get some moody sax flavoring on “Fred Reality” and “Cry of the Dirtballs,” freak-out free jazz on “Space Disco,” and the big band treatment on both “Overweight Baby Boom Critter” and “Freak.” No Trend throws in a lot of other flavorings too.

The best thing about Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex is you never know what’s coming next; music listeners are programmed to expect some semblance of continuity, but on this monument to polymorphous perversity No Trend does their very best to keep you off-balance. Continuity was especially valued on the hardcore scene, where self-declared nonconformists somehow managed to all sound the same. But like any good hardcore band only more so, No Trend tired of its constraints and never looked back.

Drag City’s soon to be released box set sticks to No Trend’s early (and best known work), and includes the original releases along with dozens of demos and live recordings. But I can only hope Drag City goes on to afford Tritonian Nash-Vegas Polyester Complex the same treatment. What higher praise can you give an artist or band than they caused their own fans to scream for their money back?

GRADED ON A CURVE:
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