Punk’s not dead. It’s been twisted, contorted, rolled up, flatten, warped, smashed, deconstructed, reconstructed, de-reconstructed, and bent into a variety of forms – from UK82 to post-punk – but it’s certainly not dead. Dub Thompson is one of those bands whose debut release topically resembles little of the punk aesthetic, but it’s all there in the rhyme and the reason.
Now don’t be fooled: 9 Songs only contains eight tracks. Those bastards. But, it is eight tracks of ripping noise rock/post-hardcore that positively mutilates Dub Thompson’s SoCal punk pedigree. Take obvious inspiration from the likes of ’80s alternative classics such as Sonic Youth and Fugazi, Dub Thompson aptly synthesizes an enjoyably uneven half hour window into the noisy underground. And that’s not bad when you consider that the duo of Matt Pulos and Evan Laffer are barely out of their teens.
There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of conventional structure here – but then again, did that ever stop Sonic Youth? Each track does, however, seem to have some type of theme, whether it’s the Slint-like meandering acoustic progression of Epicondyles or the Public Image Ltd. bass line in No Time. It’s a nice way to keep interest up through the whole album. Too many post-punk/post-hardcore bands try to fuzz everything out, and what ends up is a 30-40 minute album of the same track. 9 Songs does fairly well at keeping a relative through-line of intensity while allowing each track to meander off on its own for a bit.
Dub Thompson is, quite frankly, weird. Songs like Dograces have a distinct krautrock feel mixed in with the punk-ishness that permeates the rest of the album like a schizophrenic and paranoid Can. Dograces shifts between a crushing, repetitive bass-heavy chorus to what sounds like a sound clip from a deranged carnival for the last minute of the track. It’s jarring, but it’s successful in capturing the ear.
However, this approach does make for some weaker moments. The surf-like canter of the titular 9 Songs is disappointing and comes off as extremely forced and just off in comparison to the previous bump-and-dance industrial rhythm of Mono. For so short an album, it greatly decreases Dub Thompson’s status as post-hardcore experimenters by recycling what they’ve already been playing with for the past five songs.
9 Songs is certainly a case of the side two slump; the first four songs are more powerful and hook-laden without the pretense of punk goes pop. Ash Wednesday’s hi-hat percussive metronome is a nice feature, but the distorted vocals just don’t have the paunch nor the wit of John Dwyer. It’s certainly more accessible, but for an album that’s grounded in experimentation and pushing the limits, the attempt at a sardonic take on religious imagery feels immature. Perhaps it’s a flaw that comes with youth; Dub Thompson doesn’t care one bit about your world, and they’re out to take it down, but maybe they haven’t experienced enough of that world to really know exactly what they’re teasing.
This is an angular and highly dissonant album that will absolutely appeal to those fans of experimental, artsy anything that’s prefixed by a “post-”. There’s certainly a bit of The Fall and This Heat thrown in the mix; the eclectic songs, therefore, are much stronger. Tracks like Hayward! and Pterodactyls (which thankfully saves the latter half of the record from being too droll) are just ridiculous and jam-crazy enough to be provokingly fun. The noisy production doesn’t fall into the trappings of obfuscation, and with more adventures in the world, Dub Thompson should iron out the flaws of their debut into a more conceptually realised sound.