Press Clippings for Pere Ubu's Lady From Shanghai

"One of the reasons that Pere Ubu remains important and relevant ("dangerous," in the parlance of Videodrome ) nearly four decades after their inception, is because they have a philosophy. You have to have your feet firmly placed on a standpoint. Nothing of significance gets done without that... This is an astonishing assemblage of musicians, and perhaps the band's most powerful lineup in their history. A blasphemous notion for many long-time listeners, but I think it's true. The core of this group has been together for approaching twenty years... Bassist Michele Temple and drummer Steve Mehlman play with a synchrony that is actually frightening. Moliné and synth player Robert Wheeler deliver chaotic, complex and intricate textures, soundman Gagarin dances in the digital, and David Thomas's voice remains one of the most peculiar and evocative instruments in all of music... My friend Jay Batzner just tweeted on an unrelated matter, about striving to "sit with discomfort" rather than respond in a reflexive and unthoughtful manner. This is hard to do. And I think this is actually a neat summation of Pere Ubu's discipline. They've learned to sit with discomfort, and embrace that action. In describing the evolution of the track "Lampshade Man," Thomas was clearly not enthused with the germinal musical idea presented by Keith Moliné: "Working with the demo recording, which is the basis of what appears on the album, drained away my will to live as I listened to it over and over at Suma in the early stages of figuring out what to do with it." But Thomas remained unflinchingly present with the discomfort, and forged an astonishing track. The entire album works this way. And Lady From Shanghai is that nearly-extinct creature, an honest-to-goodness ALBUM. I really find it hard to discuss individual tracks easily. I've been listening to it from beginning to end, and I really hear it as a single musical statement."
- David McIntire, Words About Music.

"'Black music is dead,' David Thomas informed a journalist in 2009. 'It's a rotten, stinking corpse.' The remarks by the frontman and sole original member of Pere Ubu, which were part of a more sweeping condemnation of contemporary pop's lack of spine, may well have laid the foundation for Lady of Shanghai, the group's 15th studio album since The Modern Dance industrialized punk rock in 1978. This time around, though, modern dance is the problem, rather than the solution: 'It's past time somebody puts an end to this abomination,' announces the band's website with a barely stifled giggle. 'Lady of Shanghai is an album of dance music fixed.' If so, Thomas and Co. have repaired it with all the electroconvulsive finesse and violent pleasure of a Tarantino revenge fantasy... Pere Ubu's mostly nonironic fidelity to the revolutionary intent of rock'n'roll at its most fundamentally caustic (and erotic) paints the band into a corner from which it has no intention of escaping, even while critiquing that corner's existence. Not only does Thomas channel a loathsome aging rock lothario in 'Musicians Are Scum,' he adds a self-referential exclamation point by quoting the Chamber Brothers' 'Time Has Come Today,' the tick-tocking cuckoo clock at the root of all subsequent electronic rock. Like the film from which it borrows its title, Lady From Shanghai is an artfully awkward study in malaise. If pop music in general and dance music in particular is a nightmare from which David Thomas is trying to awaken, he's reproduced that ambivalent dream state with remarkable accuracy.
- Richard Gehr, Spin.

"This record is a good deal more vibrant than most groups in their early twenties could manage, never mind a collective led by an eccentric man approaching sixty... Pere Ubu are still capable of bringing fresh ideas to the table. Take the mid-song 'breakdown' of "And Then Nothing Happened", which then takes over and continues for the rest of the track. Ludicrous on paper though the idea may seem Pere Ubu make the track's gradual disintegration sound like the most natural thing on earth. In fact, you would be hard pressed to notice that the actual song completely disappeared three minutes before its conclusion. How a band that has been around almost twice as long as this listener can accomplish things so wilfully ridiculous in such a wonderfully inexplicable way beggars belief, especially when half of today's experimental acts can barely get through a change in time signature without pausing for breath... Perhaps most importantly however, "Lady from Shanghai" showcases a unique way of working, even for a band as ridiculously unconcerned with traditional methodology as Pere Ubu. With each musician having recorded their parts in isolation yet under their frontman's direction, Thomas has shot for a midpoint between the workings of the individual and the group in a way that makes no sense whatsoever. Yet, in typical Pere Ubu fashion, it works bizarrely well. A track like "Another One (Oh Maybellene)" exists less as a song and more a seemingly random collation of instrumentation headed in totally contradictory yet incomprehensibly cohesive directions. It's a bit like dropping a box of hundreds and thousands on the floor and, after a moment's cursed disarray, realising that they have arranged themselves into a perfect sugar-based replica of the Mona Lisa... Nothing on this album makes sense, and yet everything is entirely straightforward. Like all the best experimental music, "Lady from Shanghai" is the sort of record that not even its creators can fully understand. From a group that has been confusing everybody for nearly four decades, there is little more one could have wished for. A delightfully understated, yet overblown, triumph."
- Ben Bland, Subba-Cultcha.

"It's as curious a reply as their initial efforts ever sounded. It is rock music - sort of - but devoid of so many of its defining characteristics that the label only applies because it fits them slightly better than any other. Its gentle musical cacophony is tipped over into truly scary territory by the lyrics of sole constant member David Thomas - all delivered in murderous mumbles and frustrated, elongated moans - transforming Lady From Shanghai from a run of the mill quirky rock album into a thrillingly worrying piece of art... Everything here that appears normal on the surface reveals itself to be deeply disturbed with only minimal investigation.... The monolithic groove to epic standout 'Mandy' - my first favourite song of 2013 - might have feet tapping from the outset, but by now you're very wary of the motives behind a track that speaks at such length about being on a bus on the "outskirts of nowhere" before imploring you to "come out to play" so relentlessly that it becomes more of a threat than an invitation... Pere Ubu thrive on being the last guys standing. For some, having contemporaries goes hand in hand with having competition, which drives many forward to make greater art. Pere Ubu's enemies are more abstract than other bands - they're complacency, obviousness, repeating the past. In defeating them, they seemingly need no competition other than themselves."
- Thomas Hannan, The Line of Best Fit.

"There's something admirable, even heroic, in the dogged persistence with which David Thomas continues to try and bend rock music to his own idea of avant-rock purity. He displays an almost monkish devotion to his art, but perhaps that is what it takes to keep chipping away at the coalface of experimental rock for nearly four decades, rewarded every now and then with an album as gripping and persuasive as Lady from Shanghai. This is Pere Ubu's idea of dance music, which is to say it has a grimly satisfying momentum that becomes oddly addictive despite its spikier, more alienating tendencies... It's dance music, but not as we know it, and more importantly, not performed as if dancing is a particularly admirable pastime... The classic Ubu forces of abstract synth noise, spiky guitar riffs and propulsive swagger-riffs are ably wielded throughout, while the few sampled elements are used judiciously, with a cut-up of Thomas Edison warbling "Mary Had a Little Lamb" through "Feuksley Ma'am, The Hearing", and the Chambers Brothers' classic cowbell riff from "Time Has Come Today" percolating through the astringent guitar chords of "Musicians Are Scum"...It's an absorbing, sometimes harrowing ride that concludes, in "The Carpenter Sun", with an abstract computer/synth piece reflecting the hall of mirrors finale to the Orson Welles film after which the album's named, supporting a suitably mysterious, noirish narrative.
- Andy Gill, The Independent, 1/5/13.

"Even as a young man, Pere Ubu's David Thomas seemed positively Wellesian. He had the determined look, the singular vision. Now this, the first Ubu album proper since 2006 appears to acknowledge that, 'Lady From Shanghai' being the title of one of the actor/director's most significant films. It rises to the occasion, too, being a convincing and often quite brilliant restatement of Ubu's early noir-meets-B-movie-sci-fi inclinations. That's most apparent on Lady From Shanghai's penultimate song, 414 Seconds, where out-of-sorts narrator Thomas asks, "What part of the truth is a dream?", against terrific interlocking instrumentation. Better still, the first half-dozen songs - which kick off with a hellish homage to Anita Ward's Ring My Bell - have a risk-taking freshness about them not heard since Dub Housing, perhaps even The Modern Dance. Thomas's production is extraordinary - as befits a genuine auteur."
- Mark Paytress, Mojo.

"Formed in the industrial backwater of Cleveland, Ohio, far adrift from mid-`70s cultural hotbeds like New York, LA and London, Pere Ubu were post-punk-sounding before punk had even happened. Their 15th album to date follows much the same blueprint as their early output, but still manages to sound groundbreaking. It ends with six minutes of free-form interference (The Carpenter Sun), which chillingly resembles a mental collapse. Mercifully, though, they're preceded by some fabulous vintage-Ubu grooves such as Lampshade Man, which grinds away moronically on a genius twisted riff. Ubu, as ever, are hardly easy-going. Lady From Shanghai laughs in the face of chart pop, but the listener can't help cackling along, too."
- Andrew Perry, Q.

"Near-mythical US indie mavericks Pere Ubu have been powering away since the mid-1970s and in that time they've been linked with post-punk, krautrock, goth and garage blues without fitting squarely anywhere. Throughout these years, their driving force has remained the larger-than-life renaissance man David Thomas and it's his creative vision - and urgent yelps and grizzled drawl - that breathes raucous life into Lady From Shanghai. He's described it as a dance record and long-time followers won't be surprised that this is a 'concept' rather than a conventional album whose making-of is documented in Thomas's new book, Chinese Whispers. It's a deliberately deadpan manifesto: rules include 'don't rehearse' and 'anything that can be explained isn't worth doing.' The music, meanwhile, consists of weirdly exhilarating grooves, all strung-out, bluesy lines, impulsive rhythms and spiralling electronics. Pere Ubu have repeatedly been lauded for their power to provoke; what's crucial here is that they haven't lost their power to sharply entertain. Thomas still chews up pop culture with great gusto; on opener Thanks, he appears to be crooning 'You can go to hell' to the tune of Anita Ward's disco classic Ring My Bell. There's an insistent thrust but also an ominous tone to his twisted serenade on Musicians Are Scum, his exhortations to 'come out to play' on Mandy, and his murky reveries on 414 Seconds. Pere Ubu remain movers and shakers for old followers and new generations."
- Arwa Haider, The Metro, 1/4/13.

"There's a lot to love about this record. It is simultaneously mainstream sounding and yet doesn't abstain from the band's artier leanings. I don't think you can quite dance to this record, and, yet, if you're weird enough, you might just be able to find a way to. Lady from Shanghai finds Pere Ubu bopping to the beat of their own drum, while making inroads and concessions to the world of pop culture, without ever "selling out" or sounding something unlike they are. If, 35 years ago, they were exploring "the modern dance", Lady from Shanghai is a retelling of that sound. There's a real groove to be found here for those up for a slight challenge, and there are moments that are almost commercial in ambition. The Modern Dance marked just how important Pere Ubu was as a new wave, post punk band. Lady from Shanghai simply continues that grand tradition - making it modern dance music for the year 2013."
- Zachary Houle, Pop Matters.

"It's 35 years since "avant garage" pioneers Pere Ubu released their debut album, The Modern Dance - one of the first and still greatest art-rock records - but bandleader David Thomas hasn't stopped messing with the settings of rock'n'roll since. The 17th Pere Ubu studio album, Lady from Shanghai, is accompanied by a lengthy primer on the album's conception and making, which employed a kind of musical "Chinese whispers": members recorded their parts in isolation, unrehearsed but according to Thomas's quite particular and faintly perverse rules, aiming for some magical, paradoxical midpoint between the written song and pure improvisation. So... does all this make for an enjoyable record? In large part, yes: Another One (Oh Maybelline) is a terrifically moody, swooping electro-rocker; Lampshade Man's jerky, churning riff is a real earworm; and on the whole, given its strange, fragmentary creation, it sounds remarkably cogent and coherent. That's relatively speaking, of course - this is no pop album, and the more freeform passages can be difficult to get a grip on. But go with the high concept and there's plenty to appreciate in Thomas's doggedly peculiar methods."
- Tom Hughes, The Guardian, 1/4/13.

"It encapsulates the sheer otherness of the David Thomas and co. and provides a fine entry point into them if you've never heard them before... There's a dark mood that's compelling, like a 1950's B-movie at times, yet never schlocky. And it's an album that you want to play again and again. Or you should do, if you like your music to take you some place. 'Musicians Are Scum' may sound like a confrontational title but it somehow sums up so well what Pere Ubu are about... Bizarrely, my first introduction to the band, aged eleven, was courtesy of Roland Rat but that's a whole other story."
- Ed Jupp, God is in the TV.

"Pere Ubu remain at the very peak of experimental avant rock... It's perversely their most coherent and lucid collection of songs in decades. They all have recognisable forms and structures but there is a distended abstract quality present throughout that startles and enthrals... The one thing you can be certain with on any Pere Ubu album is a fluidity of sound. 'And Then Nothing Happened' is a standout track, showing how the band switch between styles. Its jerky stop-start rhythm comes to a juddering halt as the whole song seizes up like an electrical malfunction before static discordant noise bubbles away until it finishes. It is a striking and brilliant juxtaposition... Anyone unfamiliar with Pere Ubu's oeuvre may find 'Lady From Shanghai' uncompromising and impenetrable. For them to release an album that's not slightly difficult though would be extremely dull. You expect to be shocked and challenged. In that respect, this is a resounding success.
- Martyn Young, DIY.

"The 17th album from legendary art-rockers Pere Ubu has been widely hailed as their best since since early masterpieces The Modern Dance and Dub Housing... Main-man David Thomas remains almost evangelical about the importance of pushing sonic and compositional boundaries in the name of art, and the likes of 'And the Nothing Happened', which unravels from jerky but melodic post-punk into a musique concrete muddle of sirens, bells and scrapes, mean Lady From Shanghai is as challenging a record as Pere Ubu have ever crafted... This is not a band which has mellowed one iota since their late-70s conception but it is, you sense, a band still enjoying its own perverse sense of fun. Throughout the album, spidery post-punk guitar and dogged bass and drums are mixed expertly with electronica. Sometimes, as on the lurching 'Free White', it almost sounds like two different pieces of music overlaid, but that doesn't mean it doesn't work. It's just makes for a bloody difficult listen and, as with David Bowie's 1. Outside or Scott Walker's recent Bish Bosch, you'll either want to put the work in or you won't... Like The Fall, it's always best for new listeners to go back to the band's early classics, but each new record presents a reasonable jumping on point in that 'always different, always the same' way... If you've yet to discover Pere Ubu, get this album and The Modern Dance. You'll have a blast."
- Rich Morris, Soundblab.

"Thirty-five years on from their debut, post-punk oddballs Pere Ubu are still enraptured by the off kilter. Granted, no-one was ever expecting collaborations with Donny Osmond, but it is generally a given for people to mellow somewhat with age. Lady From Shanghai is by no means mellow; a cacophonous, eerie and uncompromising record, it is nonetheless a rewarding one - even if the rewards are on occasion slightly disturbing. The album, composed through largely improvisational and experimental techniques, has its inspiration drawn from the game of Chinese Whispers according to the album's accompanying book; as such, the tracks featured are distorted and manipulated, musical ideas and phrases toyed with until they twist firmly out of the ordinary and into Pere Ubu's bizarre field... It is records like this that cement Pere Ubu's reputation as one of the leading innovators of the post-punk genre and one of the finest underground bands out there. Although this is a far cry from the standard of their late Seventies heyday, the band have continued down their obscure path with little deviation, creating a sound which, although challenging and on occasion elitist, is their own. In a similar way to such cult bands as The Fall (with whom they share a similarly ludicrous amount of lineup changes), Pere Ubu have earned themselves almost unshakeable credibility."
- Jon Clark, Drowned in Sound, 1/4/13.

"Few bands can claim the sort of hard-earned respect accorded to Pere Ubu. The Fall are one example that spring to mind; and as with that outfit, a new LP from David Thomas' art-rock pioneers always feels simultaneously familiar and strange. Lady From Shanghai, coming thirty-five years after their seminal debut The Modern Dance, evinces the continuing robustness and relevance of the brooding, deconstructed garage sound first unleashed on that LP. The group's defining elements are still present: Thomas' cryptic lyrics and playful-yet-threatening delivery; the hard-edged rock grooves, overlaid with caustic, spiky guitar lines, syncopated rhythms and unpredictable descents into freeform noise. In fact, much of Lady From Shanghai could pass for material from the group's early days, yet it still sounds fresh, testifying to Pere Ubu's unique sound. They may have spawned plenty of imitators, but thirty-five years on, there's still no other outfit that sounds quite like them."
- Sam Wiseman, The Skinny, 1/4/13.

"It straddles the line between almost normal and completely off-the-wall bizarre. I'm not sure if it's normal music that collapses into total weirdness, or weird music that threatens to coalesce into something normal. In any event, it constantly subverts our expectations; we rarely get what we anticipate... Pere Ubu produce some of the most asexual rock music around. But, if you're going to produce dance music for standing still, why not rock music for not f***ing?... Pere Ubu want to scare you off. This is not just not easy listening music, it is anti-easy listening."
- G. Murray Thomas, Ground Control.

"This is a release to ponder at length; its construction is surrealist without seeming arbitrary, it follows an odd dream-logic that sees it all hang together coherently... 'Lady From Shanghai' is an album of depth; repeated listens only invite further exploration, its truth is artfully obscured or perhaps entirely absent. This is art-rock at its best. Conventions and clichés are either exploded or distorted into incomprehensible shapes."
- Michael H, SoundsXP.