Release Date: Sep 9, 2014
Record label: Fire Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
So far, 2014 has been a banner year for pop satire, as its two greatest proponents, Weird Al Yankovic and Pere Ubu’s David Thomas, released albums within two months of each other. Such an association may seem odd, but consider: both Weird Al and, to a less obvious but no less significant sense, Thomas have made careers out of deconstructing familiar pop songs. Weird Al has done so via parody of pop songs of the moment, the big hits of the now, whereas Thomas, throughout his work with Pere Ubu, his solo work, and that with Two Pale Boys, has consistently returned to a collection of classic songs from the rock and pre-rock canon, such as “Surfer Girl”, “96 Tears”, and “Goodnight Irene”, twisting them to serve his unique vision of American popular music history.
It doesn’t really matter how you find out about Pere Ubu, because once you’ve heard one of their records, you’re unlikely to forget them in any old hurry. Pere Ubu are, quite simply, amongst the very finest of post-punk acts and have the requisite back catalogue and iconic frontman to set them apart from ‘the bunch’ (see also Bauhaus, The Teardrop Explodes. ) Since that handy genre-tag was killed by White Lies not so long ago, we’re left with what remains of a ‘ post-punk band’ that has transcended both their given genre and their chosen style – the Pere Ubu you’ll find on Carnival of Souls isn’t the same band you’ll find on The Modern Dance, Dub Housing, The Tenement Year or even The Lady From Shanghai.
Continuing their trilogy of albums inspired by classic films, Pere Ubu move from the noir ambiance of The Lady from Shanghai to songs based on Carnival of Souls, director Herk Harvey's influential, low-budget horror movie from 1962. Lady from Shanghai revitalized the band's creativity, especially on songs like the equally catchy and unsettling "Mandy," which delivered dance-pop Pere Ubu style. Carnival of Souls goes even further, digging into the band's darkest, most challenging realms as well as surprisingly serene ones.
Carnival of Souls starts like a washing machine choking to death. So far, so Pere Ubu. But after opener 'Golden Surf II', at least ‘Drag the River’ is much more straightforw… Oh wait, no it isn’t. The bass line sounds like it’s being played in a fishtank at midnight. The drums seemingly ….
David Thomas could, of course, simply sit back and bask in the influential glory of his band’s highly acclaimed post-punk platters The Modern Dance and Dub Housing, but to his credit the Pere Ubu frontman still stubbornly spurns the lure of the nostalgia circuit. Consequently, his veteran Cleveland combo’s 15th studio set, Carnival Of Souls, arrives a brisk 18 months after 2012’s Lady From Shanghai. Despite the LP’s title and the brooding Road To Utah, it’s not apparently related to the Salt Lake City-shot 1962 horror flick of the same name, even though the noir-tinged Carnival and the dislocated, Harry Partch-esque Dr Faustus exude a notably cinematic allure.
Very few bands display such dedication to constant self-reinvention as Pere Ubu, whose highly methodological madness always seeks new ways of evolving their sound, whilst paradoxically keeping their DNA essentially unchanged. Perhaps only The Fall (who John Peel once famously described as "always different, always the same") can be said to have walked such a similarly fine line over such a lengthy career arc. Ubu began performing live soundtracks to classic black-and-white cult films starting in 2002 with Jack Arnold's 1953 science-fiction epic It Came From Outer Space and moving on two years later to Roger Corman's X: The Man With The X-ray Eyes.
Pere Ubu — Carnival of Souls (Fire)Carnival of Souls starts in a feedback scree that gives way to the kind of grinding, abrasive, maniacal groove that you might expect from Pere Ubu, particularly after 2013’s rock flavored Lady of Shanghai. Yet it quickly devolves into a more surreal, melancholy experience, a not-quite-right landscape of shifting shapes and elliptical spoken word descriptions. If Lady from Shanghai was a freight train roaring off the tracks, Carnival feels more like wreckage and aftermath.