Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Datapanik and Musical Heroes.

Though everything post-punk, new wave, synthpunk etc. etc. etc. has been successfully related to us by the rich kid hipster chorus of America via the miracle of the intraweb, I am oft amazed that some bands tend to escape the omniscient glare of these observant and independently wealthy purveyors of accepted wisdom and musical knowledge.That's not to say that these overlooked bands haven't been given some attention, it's that they haven't undergone the same level of scrutiny as say, The Au Pairs — a truly awesome band — or Josef K (another banging outfit, which was also Scottish, meaning it was absolutely fantastic). One band that I believe (and I could be wrong) falls into this category is Pere Ubu, especially their early recordings in the the mid to late '70s.

I know, I know, they have been talked about a bit, Simon Reynolds gives them a fair shake of the stick in his Rip It Up and Start Again tome, but I just don't think the Ohio band's ground breaking aspect has been given its rightful due. The five track EP pictured above is a real portal into their forward looking — and fun — approach to music. It's a heady stew or straight up garage rock, electronics and musique concrète, which perfectly fuses experimentalism and an odd sense of fun. I dare you to listen to "Heart of Darkness," which was recorded in the fall of 1975, and not think of Joy Division. "30 Seconds over Tokyo" — a reference to the amount of time US bombers would spend over the Japanese city on a mission, and the 1944 movie of the same name — is fractured, ethereal, sombre and very new wave for a track recorded in 1975.

Flip the record over and you have "Cloud 149," a dreamy and thuddy little rocker with plinky organ sounds, wiry guitar sounds and an overall approach that sounds like Jimi Hendrix crashing into Bill Haley, with a few synth bits thrown in to confuse everyone. It's terrific!!! "Unititled" has a sixites rock feel to it and is in fact an early version of "The Modern Dance," the title track of Pere Ubu's classic debut album. "Heaven," is just that, it's divine and akin to the weird, spacey, meltdown part in The Doors' "Hello, I Love You," injected into a sunny, folk song with some whispered vocals and synthy noises thrown in there for good measure.

I got acquainted with the band in 1980, within the pages of Smash Hits magazine. This was a British mag that kept one up to date on all the pop music factoids needed to maintain a knowing conversational style with judgmental peers. But not only did it contain pop music news it also had excellent indie rock and disco sections. Pere Ubu were constantly referenced, as were the likes of Delta 5, the Au Pairs, Red Krayola, Josef K, Swell Maps, Crispy Ambulance, the Fall, Joy Division, Dead Kennedys and Killing Joke. Reading about these bands was one thing, finding the records was another, especially when rare imports or limited indie pressings were hard to come by. Some would show up in weeks, some would take years to acquire in the pre download, blog wilderness of the eighties, when knowledge and info was difficult to access, it wasn't at your fingertips all the time. Maybe it was better that way, not because it left the resources in the hands of the few, but because you really appreciated something when it took forever to find.

Jump forward to 1986 and Northern Irish band That Petrol Emotion, a post-punk/dance-rock outfit that grew out of the ashes of The Undertones, had a live cover of Pere Ubu's "Non-Alignment Pact" on their "Natural Kind Of Joy" EP. I bought that and Ubu's Terminal Tower compilation, which came out on Rough Trade in '85, on the same day. The Petrols did a good job on the cover and there's also a kick ass version of the song on the Pere Ubu live album 390 Degrees Of Simulated Stereo : Ubu Live Volume One, on which singer David Thomas utters the title in an unusual fashion before launching into the song. However, the EP featured in this piece didn't fall into my hands until about 2003 in Rasputin Music in Berkeley, twenty three years after the band's mythology was introduced into my life. So, if you're vague on this excellent American outfit, or you're curious but haven't given the music a listen, then please do so, you will be amply rewarded by the sounds of a band who stood somewhere between the tail end of the '60s and the doorway to the modern rock that we now take so much granted. I hate using the word visionary, but it is applicable here.


SeeqPod - Playable Search

No comments: