Review Summary: Boy, that sounds swell.
The first song on Pere Ubu's 1979 classic Post-Punk release is an apt introduction to what can be found within the album itself. It takes just a few seconds before David Thomas is unleashed full force on the listener's ears; as usual he is an elemental force: nervy, artsy, odd, twitchy - even by Post-Punk standards. His first words to the listener are:
"I got these arm and legs that flip flop flip flop"
Thomas is often the deciding factor as to whether someone enjoys Pere Ubu's music, and he is really probably the most memorable staple of the band - even when not considering he's been the only constant member these past 39 years. Some find his quirks and his odd voice grating but his vocal work has always really intrigued me and I've always found it to compliment the strange music at work. In fact I'll go as far to say his vocals make me happy and that I think he has one of the most distinctive voices in music.
With the band's first excellent effort 'The Modern Dance', if you couldn't stand Thomas you at least always had a brilliant rhythm section with excellent guitar work and impeccable synth textures, and these forces return: but they're definitely valuing experimental over 'rock' here - and that is ultimately the factor that will mean the difference between loving or hating this album.
It's possible you might find this album to be a few strange sonic experiments that every now and then become semi-catchy post-punk 'jams'; and on my initial listen I didn't enjoy it as much The Modern Dance - an album where their avant-garde elements are ultimately layered over post-punk and rock songs, where with this album such a statement could be flipped. But it didn't turn me off and on my third listen I found myself familiar with the songs and enjoyed the listening experience immensely, it was on this listen that I became convinced of it's 'classic' status.
Love them or hate them the original lineup of Pere Ubu were undoubtedly a well oiled machine, every member brings something memorable to the songs and the texture they create is always superbly crafted, especially on this album: the bass surges underneath every track with gleeful groove, the drums pound insanely and drive the album expertly, the guitar soars with indulgent experimentation, the synth-lines are spectacularly formed and Thomas' vocals leap throughout the whole album like a completely demented (yet very clever and intensely creative) demented person. Dub Housing presents them on top form, with perfect chemistry, and perhaps it is this that allows them to pull off the unthinkable: catchy avant-garde.
The contrast between the two words is just too unbearable! But while my first listen of this album didn't necessarily grab me, it's true that on my following listens I found myself remembering most parts to every song, they were catchy!
Crazy huh. But it is true Dub Housing is not at a loss for memorable moments and unique sonic qualities, the songs aren't exactly pop songs but each is jam-packed full with character, inventiveness and memorable aspects that means the experience of listening to it is a highly enjoyable one.
Disregarding each track's strong individuality the album works spectacularly as a whole, from it's meandering beginnings ('dub housing and 'on the surface' open the music up vividly and almost straightaway) to it's strangely uplifting dub grooves ('drinking wine spodyody' and 'Ubu dance party' both are equally danceable, and dance party is a tremendous track) to its spooky moments (especially the closer 'codex') it feels like an odd soundtrack to a road-trip through a very strange city - which is perhaps why its cover art suits the album so well. I've always felt listening to it was like taking a journey through a alienating landscape, the title was inspired by the band driving past slum cities and perhaps this rubbed off on the overall feel of the album - also the start of Galigari's mirror sounds like 'jesus christ was an only child' by Modest Mouse, just putting that out there.
So it's hard to think of a better adjective for the band than their self appointed one of 'avant-garage', the experimental meets the downright 'rockish' (if that counts as a word) and it is this that lends Dub Housing it's classic status. The fact that the two sides of Pere Ubu can be so expertly intertwined, to the point where each aspect complements each other so subversively that you'd never think of them as separate forces, is where the real triumph lies. All the experimentation is even fun even when it really pushes the boundaries, and those boundaries are pretty far pushed.
This is definitely not the weirdest thing ever recorded, but it is easily one of the most unique sounding products from one of the most unique sounding bands ever - so that's pretty unique. Whether you go for this or for Modern Dance or for neither, it must be said that on this release Pere Ubu became their own band and forged an abrasively distinctively sound and made the whole process not only fit together into an album with remarkable flow but also into something wholly enjoyable. For every guy quick to judge Pere Ubu as artsy and pretentious and full of unsavoury aspects, just listen to Ubu Dance Party and try not to smile - then the album might just worm its way into your head and refuse to leave.