Thursday, 30 May 2019

Pere Ubu ‎– Carnival Of Souls (2014)

Style: Alternative Rock, Art Rock, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Fire Records

1.   Golden Surf II
2.   Drag The River
3.   Visions Of The Moon
4.   Dr Faustus
5.   Bus Station
6.   Road To Utah
7.   Carnival
8.   Irene
9.   Brother Ray

Bass Guitar – Michele Temple
Clarinet – Darryl Boon
Electronics– Gagarin
Guitar – Keith Moliné
Synth, Theremin, Computer – Robert Wheeler
Drums, Percussion, Electronic Drums, Backing Vocals – Steve Mehlman
Producer, Vocals, Synth – David Thomas

Very few bands display such dedication to constant self-reinvention as Pere Ubu, whose highly methodological madness always seeks new ways of evolving their sound, whilst paradoxically keeping their DNA essentially unchanged. Perhaps only The Fall (who John Peel once famously described as "always different, always the same") can be said to have walked such a similarly fine line over such a lengthy career arc. 
Ubu began performing live soundtracks to classic black-and-white cult films starting in 2002 with Jack Arnold's 1953 science-fiction epic It Came From Outer Space and moving on two years later to Roger Corman's X: The Man With The X-ray Eyes. Given David Thomas's often stated acknowledgement of the influence of Ghoulardi (the anarchic fictional persona of Ernie Anderson, presenter of late night B movies and father of the film maker PT Anderson) in imparting a sense of 'otherness' to Cleveland bands of the 70s, such films could hardly have found a more apt band to underscore them. Indeed, Pere Ubu's inherent sense of inner darkness and use of widely ranging electronic textures–including the classic sci-fi instrument the theremin–made them the perfect B movie house band. The soundtracks were performed with such attention to detail and with such respect for the films in question that they were always hugely successful. 
As an Ubu fan, however, as much as I enjoyed them, I always wanted to hear the band play more than the spaces in the film allowed for–as great as their soundtracks were, I wanted to hear songs. Happily, with the release of the new album, the dichotomy has been solved. The live score for the film Carnival Of Souls was first performed at the London East End Film Festival in 2013, and ideas taken from the soundtrack were further developed and mutated whilst the band were on tour. The album takes the more electronic direction of 2013's Lady From Shanghai further still, towards what Thomas describes as a mixture of Suicide and Kraftwerk, and accentuates the prominence of newcomer Darryl Boon's clarinet in the mix. The result is a beautifully eerie song cycle whose pulsing analogue heart is even darker than the penumbral territories the band usually inhabit. 
In many ways, Herk Harvey's 1962 low-budget shocker Carnival Of Souls is the perfect Pere Ubu source material - a spectral road trip undertaken by an outsider into an increasingly alienating landscape. The other element in the album's stated intent, the "fixing of prog rock" is not immediately apparent, although the 1971 Van der Graaf Generator album Pawn Hearts (which Thomas claims as an inspiration prior to beginning the recording process) is certainly one of the darkest and most tortured sounding examples to be found in the genre, equal parts punk and krautrock in spirit and an avowed favourite of both John Lydon and Julian Cope. Opener 'Golden Surf II' - easily the most direct and rocking track on the album - is something of a red herring in terms of the songs that follow. It's as though the band are saying 'see how well we can still do this', before heading off on another tack entirely. 'Drag The River' contrasts doom-laden bass and booming drums with clarinet and theremin, the woodwind instrument rising crystal clear above the otherwise murky atmosphere. It's a startling combination, a simultaneous evocation of ancient and modern that is used to great effect throughout the album. 'Visions Of The Moon' shimmers and twinkles like starlight over a steady heartbeat pulse before dissolving into chaotically oscillating swathes of electronic sound. 'Dr Faustus' is one of the most far-out tracks on the album, a spooky spoken word piece which finds Thomas screaming 'I am damned' in a way that surely echoes Peter Hammill's 'I know I'm not a hero [...] I hope that I'm not damned' from 'Man-Erg' on Pawn Hearts. 
By the time we get to 'Bus Station', 'Road To Utah' and 'Carnival,' the band are really hitting  their stride. Propulsive, dark and hypnotic, its easy to see these tracks being inspired by the road scenes from the movie, as is aptly demonstrated by the video to 'Road To Utah.' Taken together, these three songs are for me, the highlight of the album and as compellingly powerful as anything Ubu have ever done. Following on from the intense climax of 'Carnival,' which showcases the band at their most driving and machinelike, 'Irene' changes direction once again with a lovely, serenely atmospheric melody. Given all that has gone before, the effect is like coming out of a dark tunnel into a spacious, calm night with a clear open sky. 
'Brother Ray,' the final track, available only on the CD version, is a 12-minute long improvised piece that Thomas describes as a prelude to Nathanael West's 'Day Of The Locust.' An epic exercise in delayed climax, it really hits home when the payoff finally arrives. The vinyl version omits the final track, instead opting for a series of minute-long 'strychnine interludes' made up of stretched out guitar notes, shortwave interference, Thomas reading from 'Last Of The Mohicans' and Morse code spelling out 'Merdre Merdre', thereby referencing both the infamous first word of the Alfred Jarry play from which the band took their name, 'Ubu Roi', and their song 'The Modern Dance'. 
Sean Kitching / The Quietus

Pere Ubu ‎– Cloudland (Remastered & Expanded) (1989)

Style: Art Rock, Experimental
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Fontana, PolyGram

01.   Breath
02.   Race The Sun
03.   Cry
04.   Why Go It Alone?
05.   Waiting For Mary
06.   Ice Cream Truck
07.   Bus Called Happiness
08.   Monday Night
09.   Love Love Love
10.   Lost Nation Road
11.   Fire
12.   Nevada!
13.   The Wire
14.   Flat
15.   The Waltz
16.   Pushin'
17.   Breath (Alt Mix)
18.   Wine Dark Sparks
19.   Bang The Drum
20.   Bus Called Happiness (Live)
21.   Love Love Love (Cajun House Mix)

Bass, Vocals – Tony Maimone
Drums – Chris Cutler, Scott Krauss
Guitar, Vocals – Jim Jones
Keyboards – Stephen Hague
Synthesizer, Vocals – Allen Ravenstine
Vocals – David Thomas

In a press handout that accompanied the original release of Pere Ubu's Cloudland, David Thomas quipped "We'd never been asked to write a pop record before. I guess it never occurred to anyone." Given the sonic Dadaism of much of Pere Ubu's work, what's most startling is not that it took so long for someone to suggest they make a pop record but that they were able to comply so successfully. Stephen Hague, who had previously worked with the Pet Shop Boys, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and New Order, produced these sessions, and Cloudland boasts a glossy surface that was unprecedented for Pere Ubu's work; the drums sounded crisp and tight, the songs included traditional melodies and melodic keyboard lines, Allen Ravenstine's noisy punctuations were pushed to the back of the mix, and the harmonies sounded as if they were performed by actual professionals. However, beneath the hipster friendly production, Cloudland remained a Pere Ubu record -- David Thomas' yelping vocal style was as unrestrained as ever, and while the tunes here lack the sharp angles of Pere Ubu's first era, the lateral sway of the melodies is still cheerfully off kilter. Lyrically, Cloudland finds Ubu moving cautiously from their passionate defense of the Midwest's industrial wastelands to a look at the broad plains that lurked elsewhere, as if they were looking for sunnier climes like many other denizens of the Rust Belt and finding many strange, troubling and wonderful things in their new surroundings. Ultimately, Cloudland showed that however much you dressed up Pere Ubu's music, their heart and soul would show through, and that is a very good thing. [In 2007, Mercury Records reissued Cloudland in a new remastered edition created with the input of the band. The new disc includes two non-LP B-sides, "Wine Dark Sparks" and "Bang the Drum," as well as a live BBC recording of "Bus Called Happiness" and alternate mixes of "Breath" and "Love Love Love." David Stubbs' liner notes describe the circumstances behind the making of the album as well as Thomas' lyrical themes on this material.
Mark Deming / AllMusic

Momus ‎– Don't Stop The Night (1989)

Style: Acoustic, Synth-pop
Format: CD, Vinyl, Cass.
Label: Creation Records, Rough Trade

01.   Trust Me, I'm A Doctor
02.   Righthand Heart
03.   Lord Of The Dance
04.   Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous
05.   How Do You Find My Sister?
06.   The Hairstyle Of The Devil
07.   Don't Stop The Night
08.   Amongst Women Only
09.   The Guitar Lesson
10.   The Cabriolet
11.   Shaftesbury Avenue

It was possible to hear a budding provocateur lurking behind Tender Pervert, and its follow-up, Don't Stop the Night, unequivocally puts Momus on the path of his hero Serge Gainsbourg. Musically, it also makes him a full-fledged synth-pop artist, with a strong club flavor (and coolly ironic outlook) highly reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys, who accordingly nominated Momus as 1989's most promising artist. But where the Pet Shop Boys' disco updates mirrored the jaded decadence of the Reagan/Thatcher/yuppie era, Momus went a step further into outright perversion. Song after song features characters using sex to gain power, or vice versa; some are merely quirky, and others genuinely disturbing: a doctor who molests his patients, a guitar teacher who molests his 12-year-old student, a social climber who pimps his sister to the rich and powerful, a necrophiliac, a jilted lover who fantasizes obsessively about his ex-girlfriend masturbating, a couple hoping to get caught making love one more time. While there's a lot of potential for adolescent glibness, Momus' literary bent leads him to flesh out these characters, to give them depth, history, and viewpoints. It's their recognizable humanity that truly makes the album shocking. Overall, Don't Stop the Night is just a little less successful than Tender Pervert; toward the end, the lively club beats disappear, and although the production remains skilled, Momus falls back into old hookless habits -- it's a shame that the music of "The Guitar Lesson" and "The Cabriolet" isn't as attention-grabbing as the lyrics. But for the most part, the record works very well. The synth-dance sound is cold and emotionally disconnected, to be sure, but that's an intentional reflection of the subject matter. Overlooking a couple of awkward hip-hop references, Momus' production is sleek and stylish, an amazingly convincing transformation for someone who'd been a Leonard Cohen disciple just two albums prior. And with its provocatively perverse sensibility, Don't Stop the Night set the tone for much of Momus' best work in the future.
Steve Huey / AllMusic