Tubelord have been described as math/pop-punk, but that classification doesn’t quite fit. Sure, the math part is accurate enough – many of their grooves seem derived by complex equation rather than musical meter – but the pop-punk moniker seems far to simplistic to fit this broad-minded, rhythmically deft Kingston-upon-Thames trio.
Tubelord’s debut album, Our First American Friends, opens and closes with the whispered falsetto refrain, “Sleep, it’s over,” but everything in between is chaotic and unexpected, ranging from jovial, sing-along pop choruses and whispered melancholy to power-chord explosions and angular, blippy guitar riffs over the most stuttering and complex of drum-and-bass grooves.
The music sounds at turns like a slightly kinder At The Drive-In, or like a pithier Sunny Day Real Estate. Certain moments recall the brainier side of groups like We Are Scientists, and lead singer Jo Prendergrast often sounds like a younger, new-century interpretation of Ian Brown, or perhaps little brother to Jawbreaker‘s Blake Schwarzenbach. David Catmur (drums) and Sean Bamberger (bass) make up one of the most challenging and intrepid rhythm sections to make a debut album since the days of the Atari 2600.
No hook is ever expanded upon too thoroughly, or even played long enough for it to become familiar. Tubelord, it seems, suffer – though perhaps to our benefit – from a sort of musical attention deficit disorder. This keeps the listening experience fresh, if not a bit exhausting, throughout the length of this stunning debut album.
Our First American Friends opens with the bizarre two-pronged attack of Your Bed Is Kind Of Frightening and Somewhere Out There A Dog Is On Fire. Here, the grooves sound like the sort of musical conclusion one might reach after staring down some deadly virus under a microscope. Everything is angular and twitchy – and constantly mutating. Somewhere Out There… especially features sudden, violent shifts between sweetness and mayhem, once collapsing into a pocket symphony round of “bada bleeps,” emulating perhaps the eight-bit sound of Mario running across a two-dimensional landscape of toadstools and goombas.
On the stellar Night Of The Pencils, Prendergrast escalates his hoarse tenor to fever pitch, screaming: ” You bought those pills they sell / a fucking joke / Forget those / monsters floating under your skin / Go wash your hands in skink filled with glass / and feel the cuts / laugh ha, ha, ha, ha / Oh, fuck it all.” This angry outburst is not typical of Tubelord’s approach, but it serves as a reminder that nothing here is typical, really.
He Awoke On A Bench In Abergavenny opens with angry gang-vocal shouting and machine-gun drums, and suddenly gives way to a stuttering staccato falsetto vocal over sunny guitar: “I jumped out of a plane/ to clear my mind.” �This sort of logic makes plenty of sense in Tubelord’s musical vocabulary.
The band demonstrates their full range of emotional resonance on the melancholy acoustic track, Cows To The East, Cities To The West. This one is sung in complete earnest, and is constructed on an achingly fragile architecture of guitar and xylophone, but seems to be about the accidental destruction of library books, and attempts to find replacement copies for cheap at rubbish sales.
In short, Tubelord’s debut album is a triumph, bringing a refreshing amount of energy and mayhem to what may be accurately described as alternately pop-rock, post-punk, or math-core. Tying together this aural assault is a deft and inventive rhythm section, and Prendergrast’s vocal, rife with lyrics ranging from intelligent to unintelligible. Our First American Friends may be at times confusing and difficult to follow, but underneath the mayhem it’s exactly what a good pop album should be: catchy as hell.