Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October 19: Pere Ubu, "Non-Alignment Pact"

Artist: Pere Ubu
Song: "Non-Alignment Pact"
Album: The Modern Dance
Year: 1978

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While they are extremely few and far between, the handful of bands that have proven to make music that fits into no previously established category seem to go one of only two ways within the eyes of the general public.  They are either quickly hailed as geniuses and visionaries of the "new sound," or they are written off as "noise" and forced to fly under the radar most of their career.  Regardless of which direction they end up in, the reality is that the impact and significance of their musical efforts are clearly equal, and there are few bands that have pushed forward music as a whole as forcefully as one can find in the catalog of Pere Ubu.  In many ways responsible for the entire "underground" music scene of the past three decades, Pere Ubu brought a sharp, completely unique sound that pulled from a wide variety of influences.  Within their songs, one can hear everything from Jimi Hendrix to Can to Howlin' Wolf, and it is the way that the group was able to blend these examples that makes their music so significant.  It is also the powerful, perhaps even harsh musical arrangements that the band created which makes Pere Ubu so unique from their peers, and one can hear everything that makes the band so great all across their 1978 debut, The Modern Dance.  Filled with a controlled musical chaos that is unlike anything else, and some of the most unforgettable vocals in history, there are few recordings more important to the progression of music than Pere Ubu's brilliant song, "Non-Alignment Pact."

From the moment that "Non-Alignment Pact" begins, it is clear that Pere Ubu are a band playing by their own rules, and the fact that this song serves as the introduction to the album (and by that placement, to the band as well for many) makes the sound of the track even more startling.  The song begins with high-pitched feedback, and the fact that Pere Ubu seem to be trying to make the listener uncomfortable is not only indicative of their overall sound, but also of their general ethos in their songs.  However, as this note fades, the entire band jumps in with full power, and it is led by the fantastic guitar work of Tom Herman.  The tone with which he plays is as true to the punk rock spirit as one can find anywhere, and yet there is a tinge of psychedelic sound that runs along with it, and the combination is nothing short of perfect.  Bassist Tony Maimone is noticeably far forward in the mix, and it is the almost dizzying progression that he plays which gives "Non-Alignment Pact" a wonderfully unique groove and presence.  It is due to Maimone's performance that there is a dark, almost menacing feel to the song, and it is also his playing that makes the musical arrangement a bit unsettling.  Drummer Scott Krauss brings a uniquely "pop" sound to the song, as his drumming seems to bounce perfectly around the other instruments, and it is this sound, combined with a handful of "random" instruments that make "Non-Alignment Pact" sound absolutely nothing like anything else ever recorded.

However, while the musical all across "Non-Alignment Pact" is clearly revolutionary, one would also be hard pressed to find another voice in the history of music that sounds even remotely like that of David Thomas.  In both the pitch of his voice, as well as the way that he sings, Thomas clearly innovated a completely new vocal approach, and one can find his influence all across a wide range of bands that followed Pere Ubu.  In many ways, there there are simply no words that can accurately describe the actual tone of Thomas' voice, as it is one of the few in history that must be heard firsthand to be properly understood and appreciated.  Yet the way that he sings all across "Non-Alignment Pact" can easily be seen as one of the key elements in the development of the "post punk" and hardcore vocal sounds.  While Thomas' performance is not as loud or forceful as one might typically associate with such styles, it is the attitude and almost detached sound with which he sings that clearly makes this a pivotal vocal recording.  There is also a rather blunt, straightforward tone within his vocals, and it is this sharp, almost "in your face" sound that makes the track unforgettable.  Along with this brilliant vocal performance, the lyrics to "Non-Alignment Pact" stand as some of the sharpest and most clever ever penned, and one can actually read the words in two completely contrasting ways, and this serves as the ideal finishing touch to a perfectly crafted song.

As the decades have passed, countless bands have cited Pere Ubu as a massive influence on their sound, and yet the band remains tragically underrepresented all across the world of music.  In so many ways, it was the efforts of Pere Ubu that allowed both the post-punk and hardcore scenes to develop, as both their musical and vocal approaches were a far cry from the "standard" punk sound that was being over-done all across the globe at the time.  It is the almost stark musical nature that one can experience all across The Modern Dance that makes the record so unique, and yet the album also puts many of the more "flashy" punk bands into perspective, as one can argue this record as the punk form at its most pure.  The fact that Pere Ubu seem to care very little for any modern musical norm or convention is in itself the ideal representation of the punk ethos, and it is largely due to this reality that so many of the "second wave" punk bands took their cues from Pere Ubu as opposed to more commercially successful acts.  However, while there is no question that the record is based in the punk style, "Non-Alignment Pact" serves as a reminder that Pere Ubu were capable of writing some of the finest and most direct rock and roll songs the world has ever heard, as the track has a massive amount of crossover appeal.  From the superb, yet simple guitar progressions to the unforgettable vocal performance, there are few recordings that can even remotely compare to the sheer musical brilliance found on Pere Ubu's 1978 song, "Non-Alignment Pact."

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