Picks and Pans Review: Cloudland
Wait a minute. That sounds an awful lot like a pop song, and those arrangements sound extremely disciplined and rehearsed. This can't be Pere Ubu, the band that shook Cleveland in the late '70s with its ground-breaking style of free-form electronic jamming.
Oh yes it can. On this, the band's seventh release, Pere Ubu stamps its typical weirdness onto conventional music and in doing so takes its greatest risk so far.
On a first try, most people won't like this record. Pop fans will find it too harsh; avant-garde types will find it too easy. Those with the patience to hear it more than once, however, will be rewarded because the contradiction of styles only gets more alluring with repetition.
Lead singer David Thomas still sounds like an insane version of David Byrne; Thomas whines and quavers as if his voice were an instrument too unwieldy for a mere human to master. Yet careful listening reveals expressive nuances in his delivery, and his 16 songs (14 on the LP) begin to fit together into an American travelogue, depicting a real-life and psychological voyage from Thomas's home in Cloudland, Ga., to L.A. The background arrangements reveal similar richness over time. A complex texture of whistles, clangs and other unexpected noises has been subtly woven into the mix too. The crosscurrents in Cloudland make it far more enjoyable than The Tenement Year, the maximally bizarre album that the band released last year after a six-year hiatus. This new work is the aural equivalent of finding chutney in a peanut butter jar: It starts off surprising and becomes an acquired taste. (Fontana/Polygram)