|One Per: Pere Ubu|
I've been on a huge Pere Ubu bender recently, thanks to the band's particularly satisfying blend of a straight-ahead foundation and squawky icing. They've also stayed pretty solid all through their run to date, and I pieced together a playlist made up of one song per album to help acquaint my singer with their back catalogue. An hour-long tour of 40 years of albums, if you will. It actually came out quite nice, with flow and everything, so figured I'd put it up here too. Here's the thing on Spotify if desired: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2Y1nWlRmETk4wiOLObszFz
Terminal Tower: An Archival Collection
30 Seconds over Tokyo
This is 1975, goddammit. Members of a proto-punk band throw caution to the wind and indulge their weird side. The end result is a mesmerising number with haunting riffs and near-omnipresent noise lurking in plain sight in the mix, with the combination soon to become a blueprint for Pere Ubu.
The Modern Dance
The Modern Dance
A ridiculously catchy vamp with a loosely on-key singer and staticky synth. Just add an interlude of random crowd noises into an atonal slide solo and you've got a hell of a winner. Not a lot to say about this one, really. Once you hear it it's probably stuck in your head for good.
Take the same general idea, but crank it up to 11 with an even more frenetic frontman delivery. This time around the synth actually seems to try to contribute pitches, but oh man do they have little to do with what's going on in the rhythm section. This stuff is regarded as the golden age of the band for a reason.
New Picnic Time
A transitionary work, with bits of the prior retro rock catchiness showing up in a loose, plodding number. It's hard to believe this is over five minutes of two riffs alternating, the hypnotic atmosphere really draws you in and this doesn't drag at all.
The Art Of Walking
Quite deep abstraction, most of the song only has one instrument keeping time as everything else weaves itself around the minimal base even more loosely than normal. Probably the craziest vocal take David Thomas ever did.
Song Of The Bailing Man
West Side Story
If not for the unique vocals and synths, this could be quite easily mistaken for a different band. Pere Ubu mixes in a whole lot of jazz (and a bit of carnival music) to their prior deconstructed sound, and the combination doesn't fly with the same ease as their initial garage-tinged styling. Still pretty cool in its own way, though.
The Tenement Year
We Have the Technology
The underlying musical content is extremely tender and transcendent, to the point of still sounding emotional when fed through the frontman and a particularly absurd synth line. The best song the band did after the seventies, a strict career highlight, and a sign of things to come.
Take a similar sort of melodicism to the prior cut, hide the synth in the mix, get the singer to actually hit most of the notes and you've suddenly got something like it could have charted! In fact, a different song off the record did, but somehow this track's particularly satisfying chorus edges "Waiting for Mary" out for me. That said, you still can't get the Ubu aroma out of this, David Thomas still sounds like an oboe and if you pay close enough attention you can spot some synth bleeps in the distance.
Worlds in Collision
A fun little experiment where the band messes around with 80s pop templates a bit, getting something so gleefully stupid that most other acts would look ridiculous putting this out. Also one of the last chances to hear Allen Ravenstine's analogue mayhem, as he was out of the band by this point and came back on a few cuts here in a guest capacity. Despite employing other electronics personnel, Pere Ubu never sounded the same again.
Story of My Life
It might be that I'm a sucker for a drop-tuned guitar riff to the point of seeking it out in the work of an unrelated band, but I'm quite fond of this little ditty. The vocal lines really make the song though, with a monotone verse giving way to a razor-sharp chorus.
Ray Gun Suitcase
Folly of Youth
A return to roots of sorts, with a stripped down rock sound and unconstrained vocal performance. Note the slight sluggishness, which would only grow with time. For now the band is still capable of dropping catchy up-tempo material though. The dip in production quality is annoying from a playlist flow perspective, but that's out of my control.
Songs like this one really make you appreciate the work the various rhythm sections put in through the years, as the song grooves tightly despite the frontman completely ignoring what's going on and heading off on a little tangent of his. In a bit of a hot take, I actually prefer the Director's Cut version of this as it hands song-carrying duties to the bass, with the guitar rearing its head occasionally to do something off-kilter.
Piece together a wall of thick, drab synth with a mildly muted vocal delivery and you've got a prototype for successfully ageing with grace. It's honestly hard to pinpoint why I like this one so much, as it's not particularly catchy or accomplished in any objective fashion, but the mixture of the components on display here just does it for me somehow.
Why I Hate Women
Conceptually similar to "Goodbye", with a few repeating motifs stretched out into a time-defying song. This time around, it's the bass doing the lifting with a series of ideas that successfully hide their complexity. The little guitar meltdown at the end does make for a welcome change of pace.
Lady From Shanghai
And Then Nothing Happened
The rare late-era Pere Ubu rock song that actually works, possibly due to the sparseness of the arrangement. Oh, and it lasts for 74 seconds, which could help too. The remaining three minutes are deeply abstracted cymbal clatter, bass jamming, guitar fade-ins and synth mulches loosely based on what happened in the first part. Oddly fitting title? Great fun though.
Carnival Of Souls
The most soundtrack'y entry on here (kind of makes sense, given the album's genesis), with the rhythm section sitting this one out for the most part. The glue holding this together is a foreboding, scraping acoustic guitar, which gets occasionally visited by its out of tune clean electric friend for some numbing chords. The star of the show is the clarinet though, which adds a certain freshness to the proceedings.
20 Years In A Montana Missile Silo
I Can Still See
Take the sort of vibe the prior song championed, add a structured rhythm section and feed everything through a bit of a crooked mirror. Even the clarinet sounds more dysfunctional here. The bass parking itself on a high-register B and being quite unwilling to budge adds to the unease and tension.
The Long Goodbye
The core is literally just two alternating chords on a melodeon and a minimal drum beat crushed beyond recognition, but David Thomas busting out some of his old swagger lands him in a territory adjacent to Trout Mask Replica poetry readings. A charming little ditty, and a perfectly fine coda if this proves to be the band's final album.