Pere Ubu singer David Thomas and his wild guitar and trumpet splinter group, two pale boys, generate strange, beautiful new shapes, rolling stories and sonic panoramas out of spontaneous deconstructions. The simple see-sawing of a melodeon gives way to cascading electronica and expressionistic soundscapes - sometimes pulsating and abrasive, sometimes mysterious and exploratory. Through it all runs the mordant wit of one of the most distinctive and charismatic singers in modern music.
Among the highlights from 'Surf's Up!' is the thrilling Runaway, which loops electric banjo around growling guitars and phone-box-in-hell vocals. River swells and subsides before bursting its banks in a glorious technicolour deluge of noise. The Beach Boys daunting epic Surf's Up begins sumptuous and gilded, then seems to unwind and unravel in a sonic sleight-of-hand that will leave you breathless. Thomas delivers a vocal so powerfully direct it is quite devastating.
(The cover of Surf's Up, one of the most "feared" of Brian Wilson's compositions for would be coverists, is based on versions from bootlegs of the lost Smile album.)
Surf's Up! is the second studio album from David Thomas and two pale boys but it's the group's fourth release overall. Mirror Man (1999), a live recording featuring the group expanded into David Thomas and pale orchestra, was praised widely and enthusiastically. Mojo called it a "tour de force." 'Meadville,' a live bonus disk included in the David Thomas, Monster (1997) box set, was selected by preeminent rock critic Greil Marcus as his favorite record of the year. The first studio album, Erewhon (1996), is "red-blooded, haunted and literally fantastic," according to a rave in The Wire.
David Thomas and two pale boys
David Thomas - vocals, melodeon
Keith Moliné - guitar, electronics
Andy Diagram - trumpet, electronics
Paul Hamann - bass guitar on some tracks
Andy Diagram (trumpet and electronics) is a member of James. He has played in a number of influential groups, including Dislocation Dance, The Diagram Brothers and The Honkies. Currently he leads his own group, Spaceheads.
Keith Moliné (guitar and electronics).refuses to play in rock (or jazz) bands. His approach to music derives from "a careful diet of high-art electronica and low-art prog." He has played in Infidel and as Mesmerist. He is especially enthusiastic about Yes bootlegs. He writes regularly for The Wire.
Produced, mixed & mastered by David Thomas.
Mix & re-amping engineered by Paul Hamann at Suma.
Recorded by David Thomas and Andy Diagram in Hove & Hackney.
Package design by John Thompson/idrome. (He found the photos in a thrift store.)
Glitterhouse GRCD 519 (UK & Europe) Mar 5 2001 cd.
Time Out, Feb 28 2001, Ross Fortune
Among a heady batch of releases bearing his name in recent years, this is probably the best. Puttering, stuttering, squealy and brooding, it is emotive and intense, moody and sublime. Songs loom and swell and slow and fade and rise and fall and kick and catch. It is harrowing and haunting, beautiful and haunted stuff in which to both lose and find yourself.
The Guardian, Feb 16 2001, John Aizlewood
CD of The Week
[Thomas' voice] bears comparison with no other voice: child-like, full of guilt, pitched somewhere around, although not at, falsetto, but - and this is the fulcrum of his appeal, around which his whole oeuvre pivots - it has a serene, mournful quality. Nick Drake and Ian Curtis had that quality too, but Thomas's palette is broader, his inclination more avant-garde.
The Independent, Feb 16 2001, Andy Gill
The trio's musical range confounds the apparent restrictions of their line-up, with both Moliné and Diagram employing batteries of effects to build up banks of different instrumental voices. So inventive is their approach that in some cases, it's virtually impossible to tell which of them is producing a particular sound. An object lesson in the art of balancing methods and means, from a modern master.