'18 Monkeys On A Dead Man's Chest,' their third studio album, takes the group's extraordinary sonic lexicon, the trademark soundscaping of electronic trumpeter Andy Diagram and guitar/synthesist Keith Molinè, and injects it with a furious rock urgency. Check the zigzagging riffs and knife-edge angularity of the blistering "Numbers Man." Look, ma, no drums!
As with its predecessors, '18 Monkeys...' is a sonic novel stretched across a non-linear, non-narrative compendium of hieroglyphs. The sense of a drama unfolding is a product of the improvisatory nature of the band's approach to recording. At the end of a Chinese-whispers-like chain and a process that reflects the seat-of-the-pants theatricality of their concerts, the songs of "18 Monkeys On A Dead Man's Chest" were compiled in the studio from extemporised performances which are, subsequently, deconstructed, reconstructed, re-amped, and reconfigured. The left hand never knows the business of the right hand.
Habeas Corpus is a terrifying, coiled mystery, while the explosive New Orleans Fuzz rides a groove so oozing and swollen it seems on the point of haemorrhage. Sad Eyed Lowlands recasts the "thin, wild mercury sound" that Dylan was chasing on "Blonde on Blonde" with results every bit as mesmeric and compelling.
Elsewhere the group fashion mesmerizing ghost-worlds of shifting perspectives with the splintered micro-drama of Nebraska Alcohol Abuse, the epochal Prepare For The End," and the noir-ish tandem of Little Sister and Golden Surf. Everywhere are surprising details and unique textures-- Mr Diagram's shivery brass-vocalese, Mr Molinè's feral violin embellishments, Mr Thomas's wheezing, fragile melodeon.
Mr Thomas himself is perhaps more lyrically reflective and revealing on "18 Mnkeys...", exploring the twin psychologies of personal loss and collective myth, rooting his findings in the specifics of a very personal American geography. Time and again he eschews the obvious in his vocal delivery, adopting an incredible range of unexpected approaches and radical voicings over the course of the album's nine songs. The sparse, yearning highlight, Brunswick Parking Lot, whose bitter nostalgia manages to be both heart-rending and hilarious, is the still point at the heart of this ravaged and ravaging album.
Surf's Up!" (2001) was the group's second studio album. The Wire said of it, "Recalls and then surpasses Swordfishtrombones period Tom Waits. Indeed, he shares with the film maker David Lynch the ability to parody a genre while simultaneously unlocking its forgotten power... Amazing" The Wire also raved about EREWHON (1996), the group's debut, describing it as "red-blooded, haunted and literally fantastic." "Mirror Man" (1999), a live recording featuring the group expanded to be David Thomas and The Pale Orchestra, was praised widely and enthusiastically. Mojo called it a "tour de force." It is the soundtrack of Mr Thomas' rogue opera that toured in the UK with Linda Thompson, Jackie Leven, Robert Kidney and others. In 2003 it had its US premiere in Los Angeles featuring Syd Straw, Van Dyke Parks, Robert Kidney, Frank Black, George Wendt and others.
David Thomas is the founder of avant-rock legends Pere Ubu. The two pale boys (2pbs) are Andy Diagram (trumpets & electronics) and Keith Molinèe; (guitars, violin & electronics). Andy, a member of James in the early 90s, has played in a number of influential groups, including Dislocation Dance, The Diagram Brothers and The Honkies. Currently he plays with the 2pbs and his own group, Spaceheads. Keith refuses to play in rock (or jazz) bands. His approach to music derives from "a careful diet of high-art electronica and low-art Goth." He is currently playing with They Came From The Stars I Saw Them and has also worked with Infidel and Mesmerist.
The design of the '18 Monkeys...' package is the work of John Thompson/idrome. Mr Thompson has designed all but two of the Pere Ubu albums since 1977 and all of the David Thomas albums.
David Thomas - vocals, melodeon, musette
Keith Molinè - guitar, electronics, bass, violin
Andy Diagram - trumpet, electronics