Experimental noise rock is a hit-or-miss genre. If a band can manage to venture past the confines of traditional rock with unyielding originality and accessibility, it can work. On the other hand, if a band writes the equivalent of musical gibberish, lacking both direction and song quality, it’s bound to be a disaster.
Unfortunately, the young L.A. duo of singer/guitarist Matt Pulos and drummer Evan Laffer, writing under the name Dub Thompson, falls more under the second category (though not entirely) on the ironically named 9 Songs. A few great moments shine through, but you have to wade through too much shit to find them.
The 19-year-olds try out a lot of trippy, shoegaze sounds and structures, but for the most part, that leads to indistinguishable, jumbled tracks with no real form. Many of the riffs are too dissonant to be in any way enjoyable, and a majority of the lyrics are mumbled, which, when paired with the overwhelmingly distorted vocals, makes for a rough listen.
Opening track “Hayward!” sets the tone of the album with a stuffy, disjunct medley of a few short songs. Poor recording quality downgrades the already subpar tracks, but that’s not easy to help on a debut. Still, Pulos’ lyrics are completely undecipherable aside from a few stints here or there, making “Hayward!” a complete mess in every aspect.
Continuing through 9 Songs, which actually includes only eight songs, the tracks uphold the befuddled feel of the intro, but some fall flat in other ways as well. “Epicondyles” has a similarly off-putting melody and unclear lyrics, while “Mono,” though it has some cool shrieking guitar sections, is unbearably repetitive.
9 Songs is blatantly experimental, with both members trying to take their instruments as far as they can go.
It’s not that they have no clue what they’re doing or are plucking irrational chords and nonsensically beating on drums—rather, they’re clearly talented musicians. Dub Thompson went out on a limb with 9 Songs, but unfortunately, it crumbled under the weight of excessive distortion and irksome harmonies.
And yet, there are a few songs that hit the mark, sticking with the same strange flair that drives the others, but actually pulling off the experimental style. The title track is an instrumental interlude that feels much more on-point than much of the record. Pulos gets weird with effects and spastic guitar solos while Laffer backs him up with equally deranged drums. “9 Songs” is primal and intricate, counteracting anarchic convulsions with an organized refrain. The opposing sides put on a thrilling fight, making for an album-defining song that proves the duo is both original and talented.
The next song reinforces that realization, sounding more polished and thought-out than the rest of the LP. “Ash Wednesday” still masks Pulos’ voice with a combination of echo and distortion, but it works well with the ferocity of his delivery and the eerie groove of his bass and squealing guitar parts. With well-defined verses and a catchy chorus, “Ash Wednesday” is easily the most accessible track on 9 Songs.
Dub Thompson’s debut is an experimental plight that’s often difficult to listen to, but it does have its moments. 9 Songs is filled with thrilling, schizophrenic guitar, chaotic drums, and a shitload of effects, which bring brief snippets of brilliance to the heaping pile of unlistenable noise.
Dub Thompson – 9 Songs tracklist:
- “No Time”
- “9 Songs”
- “Ash Wednesday”