Damaged Bug Hubba Bubba(Castle Face Records) Buy it from Insound
There’s a crude portrait of Brian Eno resting atop a console in a spaceship and a modest pot leaf hanging in the black sky like an air freshener. A visual horde of buttons and lights compose each wall, suggesting some purpose. As the first pulsars of sound whir at the start of Hubba Bubba, the song Gloves For Garbage artful and dry in its observations and tonality, it’s difficult not to apply this scene as some visual component to John Dwyer’s synthesizer experiment known as Damaged Bug, its close quarters a modernized home away from home.
A recent transplant to Los Angeles after being a fixture in San Francisco for many years, the ever prolific head of Castle Face Records and creative drive behind Thee Oh Sees, Dwyer’s Damaged Bug follows a proposed halt with touring (though Thee Oh Sees will be releasing a new album in April). Simply motivated by a want to explore the possibilities of electronic music, Dwyer’s twelve-song opus is an odd and often loose attempt at creating something other than his usual guitar-intensive output. With a sound propagated by a Realistic MG-1, (a small factoid I’d gleaned from Dwyer’s recent appearance on Henry Rollins’s radio show on KCRW), he dares to outline his own Eno’ish plot within an unfamiliar framework. Ultimately, he succeeds.
Though mostly removed from his Oh Sees work, live instruments occasionally make appearances throughout Hubba Bubba. The aforementioned Gloves For Garbage almost betrays the album’s intentions, suggesting a mere modification to Dwyer’s sound than an actual creative leap. The same could also be said about SS Cassidinea, psychedelic embellishments arbitrarily applied though the song moves with a persistence similar to Neu!’s Negativland. And then the fluctuating low end that shifts like a mouthful of water rushing from one check to the other throughout the naturally percussive Sic Bay Surprise is as familiar vocally as it is instrumentally, guitar sounds aplenty and a rock n’ roll pulse that contradicts any notion of electronic-centric composition.
Rope Burn, however, with its factorial cycle crunching beneath some playful threads from his right hand, establishes a better understanding of how Damaged Bug functions. There’s an inconsistency that sounds purposeful and an overt lack of polish that could be taken as charmingly quaint or 80s modern. The high-tempo Eggs At Night, with disco taps on the hi-hat and Dwyer’s defeated delivery (“What kind of fool am I?”), is tightly wound next to the free form spasms of sound in Catastrophobia and the rhythmic looseness of the album’s title track. And then Photograph brings funk into the dynamic, an electrified moan dragging behind the groove, which seems to change its speed in subtle enthusiastic bursts.
Following the vocally minimal and tepid Hot Swells, 1-2 An Airplane is an industrialized trudge that sounds too big next to the rest of the album. While Damaged Bug seems to revel in its quirks, flaws and the continual analysis of humanity and mortality, 1-2 An Airplane is noticeably serious and relatively smooth, so much so that it doesn’t really fit. The oddity of Metal Hand, which seemed curated stylistically from the likes of DEVO or The Normal, thankfully lightens the tone before Wasteland, a heavy handed drum sound and a pee-pee dance of synthesizer gibberish, closes the album.
While lyrically ponderous and sometimes grim, (“Am I a waste of life?/I ask the night”), Hubba Bubba satisfies an impulse pleasantly. As a side project, Damaged Bug has/had the potential to only be an exercise in self-indulgence, a resultant whim based in curiosity that fans of Dwyer’s would happily consume only to be disappointed later. To some extent, Dwyer’s endeavor takes a turn or two that sound incomplete but, as he tests the waters, Dwyer has fun with it. Hubba Bubba is playful, engaging. It’s easy enough to trace this work to artists that inspired Dwyer, but not so far removed from his comfort zone that he’s given himself up completely. Modernized home away from home or not, he still checks in from time to time.28 February, 2014 - 04:32 — Sean Caldwell