US - Ohio - Full Moon 222 - 10/08/14
Carnival Of Souls
According to Wikipedia Carnival Of Souls is 'a 1962 independent horror film starring Candace Hilligoss. Produced and directed by Herk Harvey for an estimated $33,000, the film did not gain widespread attention when originally released, as a B-movie. Today, however, it is a cult classic.' According to the sticker on the new Pere Ubu album of the same name it's 'not about the movie. The album is "about" a complex sensual response to living in a world overrun by monkeys and strippers who tickle your ears, cajole you to join in with their cavorting and then become vindicative when you decline. I got rid of my TV because I don't want them in my house. I got rid of my phone because I don't want them calling me.' Now we know.
Yet another slab of the avant-garage from old Pa Ubu. It's the band's 18th studio album. Well then, have they anything new on offer? The answer is a definite yes. Here are some old, of course, some new, not much borrowed from others than themselves and some that draws on the blues. The vocal and lyrical efforts of steady focal point since the very start David Thomas are mainly of the known kind. The main new input since the previous album Lady From Shanghai back in January 2013 is the inclusion of a new member of the band, clarinetist Darryl Boon, that adds a more organic dimension to several songs. He participates on ten of the eleven songs. On The Shanghai Lady he only guested on two.
Now the band includes seven members.
On about three and a half of the tracks you might hear that Ubu stems from the wild world of post punk, in fact starting out before the first wave of punk grew high. Especially the opening "Golden Surf II" is a fast and punky little rocker dominated by Keith Moliné's distorted guitars. The guitars, bass and drums are also dominant on "Bus Station" and "Drag The River", though the latter is a lot weirder and more twisted than the first. Apart from some noisy endings or starts the rest of the album is quieter with more keyboards and electronic gadgets and the clarinet as a solo instrument in between. Although these songs are quieter this doesn't mean calm and relaxed. On the contrary. Something is disturbing in the kingdom of Ubu and there are outbursts of chaos, not least from electronic noise-master Robert Wheeler. Also there is something scary underneath the surface throughout. "Carnival" seems to be a key track of the album, eerie both over and under ground. David Thomas talk-sings in a hoarse and possessed way that I can't remember I've ever heard from him before:
You say you love me
I say, "What will you do for me?"
You say you love me
I say, "OK, what will you do?"
Will you feed the monkey?
We visited "Irene" three full moons ago, the first single release off the album. It's still about the calmest song of the entire Ubu cannon. I guess the song that ends the CD version of the album "Brother Ray" might be related to Velvet Undergrounds "Sister Ray", off the White Light/White Heat album. He's certainly not as noisy as his big sister, and shorter, only 12 minutes long. Built up in a similar manner with a noisy start, though more cohesive and less distorted when it really gets going. But was is this about 'Soda Mountain in the Moonlight.'? Another favourite is the hypnotic "Road To Utah". "Dr Faustus" stands out in quite a different way, with spoken words and improvised sound collage background. Hardly any melody at all and quite scary:
'There's a man, an old man,
he sits out on the porch on his shotgun shack
out on Route 322,
south of Meadville.
He sees you but you don't see him
May be speeding past, sixty miles an hour
He can see you,
and he can see your hopes, and dreams, and fears
trailing behind you like scraps of paper that have been torn from a map.
He sees you.'
Apart from the monkeys and strippers some of the songs seems obsessed with the moon, not least "Visions Of The Moon" with pretty clarinet and keyboards until a very disturbing synth solo. Also in "Drag The River":
'Moon is where the dead people go All my friends, everyone I know
Time is a river
and, honey, I am your diving duck
The LP version of the album includes five one minute short instrumental "Strychnine" interludes by Keith Moliné not present on the CD version whereas "Brother Ray" was too long to fit on the LP. Instead the LP contains a card with a free download code for acquiring the "Brother Ray" track. Those who buy the CD directly from Fire
Records will get a free download code for all tracks, including the "Strychnine" interludes. There's also a 100 pages booklet available with "liner notes" about the album called Cogs, The Making of Carnival of Souls. The Ubu Projex pages also includes lots of background information about the album, lyrics, videos, demos and anything else you might need concerning Pere Ubu.
After listening quite intensively to Carnival Of Souls the last few days, it's not easy to say if the album is any better or worse than its predecessor, or all 17 predecessors for that matter. The songs of Pere Ubu is not suitable for that kind of categorization. They go beyond the good, the bad and the ugly. All I know is that the band is still a vital force and an important corrective to life. It feels satisfying to be shaken a bit inside out the Pere Ubu way weather it's because of the music, lyrics, moods or a combination of the three.
'Where shall we go?
Into Dark Light.'
Copyright © 2014 JP