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Jim DeRogatis

Return of the black heads

Named for six heads sporting jet-black tresses—which stood out in bland, blonde, snow-blanketed Minneapolis then as now—Têtes Noires were yet another of my favorite devotedly eccentric and startlingly original indie-rock acts from an era when weirder really was better in the underground. The six-member, largely a cappella, all-female troupe was for me as beloved as their male Twin Cities peers the Replacements and Hüsker Dü. I saw them often during their ambitious cross-country tours in the mid-’80s, and rave reviews of their self-titled debut EP (1983) and follow-up album American Dream (1984) were among the first I ever published (the latter in the late, lamented, Chicago-based Matter magazine, if I recall correctly).

Founded by Jennifer Holt, a former Miss South Dakota, with roots in the Twin Cities’ performance art scene, the band delivered smart, sarcastic, wickedly funny, and wildly sexy anthems about diversity, feminism, boneheaded boyfriends, and many other social problems in the dire days of Ronnie Reagan, powered by intricate six-part harmonies, unison singing, a lot of hand clapping, and a little violin, guitar, percussion, and Farfisa thrown in for good measure from time to time.

“That was the beauty of Tétes Noires: We were in a non-constraint of innocence,” singer and keyboardist Angela Frucci said in a chat late last year with Andrea Swensson of the Current. “We were working out these cool things without thinking we had to be cool, or really had to prove anything to anyone yet.”

While the charms of songs such as “Recipe for Love,” “True Love,” “Can’t Even Dance,” and the title track have lost nothing with the passage of time, the production on American Dream did sound pretty raw and ragged the last time I pulled out my vinyl—not exactly as bad as Spot’s on all those great Hüskers albums, but not much better, either. About two years ago, partly because of the righteous thought that the world needed to hear this music again, and partly as a tribute to original member Polly Alexander, the guitarist who died in 2005, Frucci set about remixing the original disc, and now it’s not only readily available via CDBaby, BandCamp, iTunes, and discerning indie record stores, but sounding  better than ever.

Têtes Noires also have done a few live reunion shows to celebrate—please, ladies, come to Chicago!—but the following is a clip of them back in the day, performing “Lucky Girl” from the first EP.

Têtes Noires, The New American Dream (East Saint Paul Records)

Rating on the four-star scale: Four stars.

Follow me on Twitter @JimDeRogatis, join me on Facebook, and podcast Sound Opinions and Jim + Carmel’s TV + Dinner.

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