Damaged Bug Cold Hot Plumbs

[Castle Face; 2015]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: synth pop, psych, Krautrock
Others: Thee Oh Sees, early Eno, Silver Apples

The newest, pretty wild album from Thee Oh Sees has only just hot-rodded red-eyed and bulging over the horizon, and there’s already more scuttling John Dwyer depravity to make all your scratches itch: a second album from his rickety & ramshackle synth-pop side project (I think that’s the official designation), Damaged Bug. Even better, Cold Hot Plumbs cobbles the weird mechanical detritus from last year’s dank and gloomy Hubba Bubba into something capable of using its spindly appendages to pry open your eyelids and shine shafts of colorful light directly through to your brain’s misfiring synapses. Sometimes it even goes down smooth and sweet (you’ll develop any complications with time).

Cold Hot Plumbs makes nifty use of the onomatopoeic synth vocabulary of burbles, whooshes, and bloops, while Dwyer (one of the few people who can more or less do the same thing each time and make it feel better and better) sings neat harmonies with fuzzy, gummy leads, chitinous arpeggiations, and oily washes. Odd little carnivalesque vignettes give way to songs that rouse themselves to a jerky malfunctioning funkiness (“Grape Basement”); sometimes the propulsive throbbing careens out of control with unexpected (and almost Thee Oh Sees-esque) many-legged abandon (“Cone”); still other times a surveillance drone’s fractured compound-eye view on love and melancholy coalesces into something peculiarly affecting (“Transmute”).

Cold Hot Plumbs comes doubly degenerate/evolved, a throwback to when the future for humanity was something no longer human and the future for robotics meant being coated in sticky fleshy resin. The use of live drums drafts living organic tissue onto the electronics, a grotesque hybrid-creature whose two natures are still struggling unpredictably to point its twitching carapace in the right direction. Likewise, Dwyer’s anomalously humanoid voice is often doubled with a vocoder or the like, elevated to a higher plane of automation uncannily entwined with its own bio-mechanical irregularities. It’s a triumph of primitive enhancement.

Perhaps even more so this time around, Eno’s early “pop” albums remain the most obvious reference — his picture was on the cover of the last Damaged Bug album, after all. But as Damaged Bug, Dwyer slips in a vital new ingredient that Eno didn’t tend to make much use of, a kind of garage-ready primitive uninhibitedness1 — not to be confused with incompetence, of course. Still, the synths seem to be employed as melodic tools in service of the songs rather than for exploring sound design as an end unto itself, so the sonic arsenal, though used well, doesn’t deviate too far from something you might have heard before. Although Damaged Bug’s origins might mean that attention is focused on the fact that this is a synth-led album by a dude who mainly plays guitar, Cold Hot Plumbs doesn’t succeed just because it’s a synth album. The first album was supposed to have been “a cure to the ailment of too much guitar too long,” but in the meantime, Dwyer relapsed spectacularly; the cure became a new malady, and Damaged Bug’s trembling mandibles might just pass it on.

1. I might be tempted to speculate that this puts this project, along with K. Leimer, in an American (broad strokes, I know) micro-tradition of homemade, explicitly Eno-referencing synth-based primitivism.?

Links: Damaged Bug - Castle Face

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