Release Date: Feb 25, 2014
Record label: Castle Face
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Indie Electronic
It’s time to enter the strange world of John Dwyer’s brain from yet another avenue. The San Francisco noise staple, and mastermind behind frantic guitar driven bands Coachwhips and Thee Oh Sees, has prophetically released new music in some format at least once a year for over a decade. Not one to break tradition, Dwyer has a new moniker (Damaged Bug) and sound.
Imagining a world where This Heat and Can developed their sound in the Bay Area rather than Europe, John Dwyer puts down the guitar in favor of an arsenal of synthesizers on Hubba Bubba, the debut album of his Damaged Bug solo project. While the sound is more electronic, with churning synths weaving their way around ramshackle beats, the album has an analog, handmade feeling that places it far from the lockstep polish of dance music. Free from the shackles of digital sequencing, with elements moving in and out of time with one another, the album feels distinctly broken.
As a guest DJ on Henry Rollins' KCRW show, John Dwyer recently offered a glimpse into where his record collector inclinations have taken him lately: into the world of early electronic experimentation. He shared a playlist of material featuring musicians fascinated by the capabilities of synthesizers—Paul McCartney's "Temporary Secretary", Wendy Carlos' Switched on Bach, Chrome, Eno, Kraftwerk (from Ralf & Florian), early Depeche Mode, Les Rallizes Dénudés, and a handful of compilation-based oddities. Some of the artists in his playlist couldn't easily perform those songs live due to technical complications.
Considering all the guitar jams he’s knocked out over the years as the head of Thee Oh Sees, it’s no wonder John Dwyer might want to venture into other territory. So while Thee Oh Sees are headed for hiatus (after dropping another record), Dwyer stretches into bedroom synth-pop as Damaged Bug. The cover of his first record for this project, Hubba Bubba, centers around a picture of Brian Eno, but despite all the synths and keys, this is not tribute.
There’s a crude portrait of Brian Eno resting atop a console in a spaceship and a modest pot leaf hanging in the black sky like an air freshener. A visual horde of buttons and lights compose each wall, suggesting some purpose. As the first pulsars of sound whir at the start of Hubba Bubba, the song Gloves For Garbage artful and dry in its observations and tonality, it’s difficult not to apply this scene as some visual component to John Dwyer’s synthesizer experiment known as Damaged Bug, its close quarters a modernized home away from home.
Are we still alive, or are we transforming? I’ve heard John Dwyer’s penchant for horror on plenty of songs by Thee Oh Sees. Dismantled skeletons used as tools. Bits of death littering the living room of an anonymous home. Coffins that nearly burst, perhaps from pressure produced by a steaming body, or perhaps from the banging of an angry ghost.
Thee Oh Sees have a new record called Drop coming out in April, but John Dwyer has insisted that its release will be followed by a hiatus for the band. It’s ostensibly so Dwyer can get situated in his new home in Los Angeles, as he left the hyper-gentrified San Francisco just as friend and contemporary Ty Segall did months prior. But even with Thee Oh Sees on hold, Dwyer isn’t one to rest his musical chops; rather, he installed a Tascam 388 in his house, picked up some drum sticks, plugged in some analog synths, and made something.