David Thomas Leaves Garage for Avant-Jazz

David Thomas and foreigners - Bay City
(Thirsty Ear Records)
2 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

Story by Tony Bonyata

It may sound strange to the uninitiated, but anybody who is even vaguely familiar with Pere Ubu, the underground avant-punk / garage band from Cleveland, will hardly be shocked at their lead singer's latest offshoot entitled David Thomas and foreigners. From the start the Ubus held steady to a creative and spontaneous methodology - "Don't ever audition," "Don't look for someone," "Don't seek success," "Choose the first person you hear about," "Take the first idea you get," "Put unique people together. Unique people will play uniquely whether or not they know how to play," (and my personal favorite) "Delay Centrifugal Destruct Factors for as long as possible then push the button."
Discarding much off the fuzzed-up, eclectic punk from Pere Ubu, who formed in 1975 and 25 years later are still together, vocalist Thomas has recruited three Danish improvisers - Jorgen Teller (guitar, samples and various electronica), Per Buhl Acs (clarinet and guitar) and P. O. Jorgens (drummer and percussionist) for a little side project from his day job. While Thomas and foreigners drastically change the backdrop from punk to something uniquely different, its message still holds true to most of the Ubu credos, even if the music falls short.
While his voice still moans with a guttural urgency that mixes the canned-kipper and nicotine scent of Tom Waits with the herky-jerkiness of Talking Heads' David Byrne, the foreigners that accompany Thomas give his music an ominous jazzy edge. Although their mixed-bag of coffeehouse diatribe, at first, comes off as an inventive form of art-jazz, it quickly becomes swallowed up in a surreal cloak of dankness.
The album opens admirably enough with a primal beat behind Thomas' stoic ramblings on "Clouds Of You" and follows with "Charlotte", with its sleaze-abilly guitar, and "Salt" an avant-garde jazz / rock number with horns and reeds that swirl and squonk around a redundant, yet hypnotic guitar-line. But, unfortunately, it soon sinks into a meandering din as shown on the patchwork insanity of "15 Seconds", the dreary "White Room" and "The Doorbell", as well as "Black Rain" that hobbles like a three-legged dog chasing its tail.
While fans of his full-time band may look forward to what Thomas has up his sleeve on his side projects, with his recent foray into avant-jazz on Bay City, they may just want to save their hard-earned clams for the next Pere Ubu album due later this year.

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