Saturday, September 26, 2009

#96. Tom Herman - Wait For It (Return to Sender, 2004)

For a band I'd easily rank among my favorites of all time it sometimes amazes me how few proper Pere Ubu albums I truly enjoy. Outside of their first pair of releases in 1978 their career has been exceptionally uneven, where every peak is nowhere near the level of the previous one and usually indicates a further dip in quality thereafter. Yet they'd still be among the first artists to come to mind when anyone asked me who my all time favorites were, because not only are those first two albums truly exceptional documents of demented post-punk attitude, but because the band's extended family tree contains far more gems than it does duds. I love Dave Thomas' solo output from the 80s more than any Pere Ubu album released in that decade, and looking into the back catalogue of any of the newest additions tends to reveal some incredibly obscure additions to my post-punk collection, plenty of which are as good or better than what Pere Ubu was doing at the time. In short, they're one of my favorite bands because the talent in their ranks runs deep enough into other projects that the band proper's lack of consistency isn't as much of a bother as it should be.

Tom Herman was Ubu's initial guitarist, playing on the first three albums and briefly returning for 1998's Pennsylvania, but outside of that he didn't have much else to his credit. He played on Red Krayola's under-rated late 70s release Soldier Talk and formed Tripod Jimmie after his separation from Ubu but in the intervening years he all but disappeared. That's part of why 2004's Wait For It is such a joy of an album, the fact that despite that seeming inactivity since the 80s Herman's still got a lot of creative, unique ideas floating around in his head even if they were fairly far removed from those of his old band in any of their incarnations. Initially released in a limited run of 2,000 albums, though it was properly reissued in 2007 by Ubu's own Hearpen label, it may be the most under the radar thing I get to wax lyrical about in this project. Hell, if it weren't for the inclusion of "Your Street" on one of the mixes I received in a swap through RYM I don't think it would have ever come to my attention at all (the guy who made that mix later hooked me up with a burned copy, for which I am truly thankful, so props to you, Lars.) When it did though, it quickly placed itself among my favorite Ubu-related releases.

That's an odd distinction for an album as far removed from the overall Pere Ubu sound as this one is. Of the twelve tracks only two have any overt ties to Herman's old band sonically, and while there are elements of the Ubu sound scattered around the whole release it's never the primary influence. Most of the album, outside the two most Ubu-like moments - "I'm Drowning" and "Veil of Separation" - and the near blaxploitation funk badassery of "Your Street," is pretty firmly rooted in folk and blues above everything else. Sure there's jazzy saxophone squalls and fiery soloing from Herman, who plays everything on the album save for the some guitar and vocals on "Veil of Separation" and drums on a pair of tracks, that point more towards first generation post punk and garage rock than old bluesmen, but there is a heavy lean towards the blues, especially on the latter half of the album. The whole stretch from "Slim" through to "It's Not the Way It Seems" uses old school blues as its jumping off point, with each track using that as a springboard into different sounds, from the paranoid, quasi-indutrial production on "Slim" to the almost straight up country rock of "I Do Now." Herman even closes things out with a pretty faithful cover of the old blues standard "Jesus," not the best cut on the album but a powerful ender nonetheless. And don't get me started on "Red Haired Girl"'s dueling guitar licks that combine to enhance the creepiness of what sounds like an old school murder song. It's not a strict blues album by any means, but it's got more of that in its DNA than it does post punk.

Of course it's the most atypical songs in the set that stand out as the particular highlights. Having "Your Street" act as my introduction to the album was a bit misleading, but that doesn't change the fact that it's as close as you'll find to a distillation of genuine badassery in song form. It's impossible to listen to the song without developing a large degree of swagger in your step, mostly doe to the huge walking bass line that anchors the majority of the track. It's also a great example of Herman's arrangement skills as he makes excellent use of multiple sax tracks to propel the track at key points alongside some rather understated guitar shards that pierce the track in its intro. "I'm Drowning" sound like it could easily be folded into any recent Pere Ubu album if Dave Thomas were singing it, and "Veil of Separation" features guest vocalist Lenny Bove doing what might well be a Dave Thomas impression over some hazy guitar squalls. Penultimate track "When I'm Gone" kicks off with a borderline metal assault of programmed(?) drums and the most distorted guitar tone Herman may have ever utilized before settling in to a heavy blues lick and more human sounding drumming. It's not a 'something for everyone' level of diversity but Herman's sonic palette here is far beyond what I'd have anticipated from any Ubu member.

Coming up tomorrow: Paranoia can be fun, at least to listen to.

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