When Pere Ubu roared out of Cleveland in the mid-'70s, it was clear that the band came with neither an agenda nor a peer group. Pere Ubu was antipunk, antirock, and antimusic, yet managed to attract a sizable following among fans of punk, rock, and music -- an intriguing balancing act. After breaking up and reforming almost 20 years later, Pere Ubu began making something akin to conventional music, at least in the context of the band's singular musical diversions. In the face of this kinder, gentler Pere Ubu, maniacally driven frontman David Thomas formed a side project, Two Pale Boys, designed to stretch the parameters as Ubu had done in the early days. And when David Thomas stretches a parameter, as he's done in the past with TPB, it's stretched for good.
On the latest TPB excursion, the anachronistically but aptly titled Surf's Up!, Thomas attempts something akin to a pop album, a strange and compelling blend of Brian Wilson (hence the title), Burt Bacharach, Miles Davis, Tom Waits, and the vibrating sense of Ubuness that Thomas brings to every project. On "Man in the Dark," Thomas envisions the pairing of Ubu and Van Dyke Parks, while "Night Driving" sounds like Robbie Robertson fronting Soul Coughing. The title track is Thomas' magnum opus, transforming the Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks masterpiece into an art/damage/ noise/pop centerpiece, while "Ghosts" is his homage to Miles Davis with a dash of John Cale.
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Amazingly Thomas and Two Pale Boys accomplish this impressive array of sonic invention with guitar, trumpet, vocals, and melodeon. Surf's Up! is a challenging but infinitely worthwhile project, and Thomas proves that he's more than up to the task of bringing all these disparate elements and his range of experiences to bear on an experiment that's truly experimental -- even by his standards.