Pere Ubu
Dub Housing
New Picnic Time

Previously near-impossible to find, two early Pere Ubu albums from their original lineup have been re-released to confuse and badger the general public. Part of the early eighties New York underground music scene, Pere Ubu never broke out like The Talking Heads or They Might Be Giants. This could be due to the constant experimentalism of this enigmatic band and the lack of clear, singable melodies in much of their music. As mentioned before, their sound is experimental in nature, incorporating accidental, John Cage-like music with actual written parts, resulting in rhythms that jerk spasmatically, melodies sung as though the singer is unsure of which note to sing, mixed against a synthesized background that was later used to define the sound of the eighties. Lyrically, the band writes visionary, humorous, intelligent (although often unintelligible) word pictures that easily stand on their own.

Dub Housing, originally released in 1978, finds the band creating a new musical language, combining elements of rock and roll with tape loops, analog keyboards, and random sounds. It took a few listens before this CD sounded like more than random noise, slowly drawing me in, inviting me, daring me to listen, to where I actually enjoy a couple of the songs. "On the Surface" begins, ends, and is held together by a single, cheesy analog keyboard melody while "Thriller!" is a conglomeration of tape loops, spontaneous sound effects, and sparse, repetitive percussion, all dripping in reverb. "Ubu Dance Party" is what it claims to be, a fun, catchy, singable party song, though understanding the slurred, squeaking vocals of Dave Thomas is a chore. My personal favorite is "Codex", a spooky, guitar-driven song whose only lyrics (sung in a bemoaning slur) are "I think about you all the time" and something about his shoes.

New Picnic Time is very similar but I personally found more difficult to get into. Opening with "The Fabulous Sequel", singer Thomas is even more difficult to understand as he laughs and cries against a jangly guitar and rock drum mix seemingly going nowhere, as a good sequel is wont to do. "A Small Dark Cloud" spends almost six minutes with just a random squeak toy that morphs into multiple bird calls and heckled calls of "don't rock the boat", or at least that's what it sounds like they are saying. More mood pieces than anything else, elongated songs such "The Voice of the Sand" and "Make Hay" are juxtaposed against the bouncy, revved up songs "One Less Worry" and "Kingdom Come", making for a schizophrenic album that spastically jerks along, heaping confusion and surprises on the listener.

This review first appeared in WhatzUp, September 1999.