Pere Ubu, Lady From Shanghai

Anthony Mark Happel

Pere Ubu, Lady From Shanghai [Fire]

2012 marked Pere Ubu’s 35th anniversary, and this is their first new studio album in three years. In some ways this album marks the beginning of a new era in the (de)evolution of their sound, but with all the pretenders out there pimpin’ that weak shit it’s also time for one of the pioneering weirdo- experimental rock bands to go back to the drawing board and show everyone how it’s done.

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If you’re an Ubu-ite who has been biding their time in desperation awaiting this platter, don’t get too excited because this album is not going to change your life, but it’s at least as amusing as anything else of its type that’s floated past me in a while. “Thanks” starts as a harmless hambone that turns out to be a re- working of the hook from Anita Ward’s dance classic, “Ring My Bell.” “Free White” is all bass and snare with some spangly guitar effects and David Thomas really tempering his usual warbly vocalizations. The oddly titled, and muy excellente, “Feuksley Ma’am, The Hearing” is a slap and tickle number with a cool disembodied mumbly, honking vocal tumbling over a quick-time back-and-forth slap beat, with Michelle Temple’s floaty bass moaning somewhere in the back of the mix. The distended, seven-minute long “Mandy” is a little tired and self-indulgent, in that tried and true Pere Ubu way, but then they redeem themselves with “Musicians Are Scum,” which is funny on several levels, and sounds like a drunken, slurry Firehose.

The sound of this record is unnerving in a mildly queasy kind of way, as opposed to the jarring qualities of some of their earlier material, and this is where the synth playing of Robert Wheeler comes into the discussion. In the media, the band is apparently calling this “the Ubu Dance Party record,” and rhythmically it is pretty accessible, but this time they seem to be more aware than usual of the miasma of background noises they create (by accident?). A case in point being the last song, “The Carpenter Sun,” which is built around chaos and never really comes together as anything other than an assemblage of loose sonic vibrations, but it doesn’t matter because the whole thing melds into a fine expressionistic abstract. As a closing piece it sums up the point of contact between art and music in Pere Ubu’s world. Let it be a lesson to all those bands that want to smash art and noise together in this way. Sometimes you don’t have to try so hard, just let it happen.

 
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