Down in the basement something scary is happening...
Nick Reynolds 2004-04-06
Down in the basement something scary is happening. Guitars clank like rusty pistons, a hysterical trumpet is buzzing around and a big man is intoning big, dark thoughts.
Pere Ubu's classic 1978 album The Modern Dance is a record very close to my heart. So it's hard for me to be objective about Ubu's frontman David Thomas's solo work since then. Sometimes, compared to the epic, urgent roar of Pere Ubu at their best, his own music has seemed superficial and whimsical.
But there's nothing whimsical about this. It begins with a very loud electric guitar being brutally clanged. Then the aptly named ''New Orleans Fuzz'' lurches into a grinding stew of stop start riffs and yawing bass.Thomas yowls about 'monsters in the rain' and the stage is set for an ominous musical journey into the twilight zone.
Thomas and his collaborators Andy Diagram and Keith Moline create a full sound out of a few elements: guitar, trumpet, keyboards, violin. There are no drums, but it hardly matters on the likes of ''Numbers Man'', powered by driving runaway train keyboard squelches. There are dubby effects on ''Sad Eyed Lowlands'' and quieter atmospheric tracks like the strange story of the ''Golden Surf'', but all share a tense, claustrophobic feel.
Thomas' lyrical themes remain the same, simple yet strange folk tales and Americana. But this time he has put a lot more effort into the lyrics, and indeed the song titles: ''Nebraska Alcohol Abuse'' and ''Brunswick Parking Lot'' are among the best.
''Prepare For The End'' finishes the album on a thoroughly bracing note. A twisted tale of Thomas going to Soda Mountain builds to a brutal climax: a trumpet screams while its guts are ripped out.
So, not for those for a nervous disposition. But I found it strange, compelling, terrifying and great.