At the outset of their career, Pere Ubu
released some of the very first independent-label American punk singles on their own Hearthan (later Hearpen) label, which constitute some of their most celebrated and legendary work. Terminal Tower: An Archival Collection gathers 11 tracks, mostly from the crucial Hearthan/Hearpen period (including the entire Datapanik in the Year Zero
EP), plus a couple of later U.K. singles. This music's historical importance is undeniable -- not only because of the band's pioneeringly independent status in an area not as celebrated for its punk scene, but also because Pere Ubu
was one of the first bands to push their art punk sound into territory later classified as alternative, a testament to their forward-looking approach. None of that would matter if Terminal Tower
didn't hold up so well as a listening experience, but Pere Ubu
still sounds utterly original. David Thomas
' unearthly voice mumbles and sobs the angular melodies over a backdrop of garagey guitars, startling sound effects (from both guitar and synth), and odd dissonances. Moments of jarring, apocalyptic terror ("Heart of Darkness," the creeping, crawling "30 Seconds Over Tokyo") sit next to oddly beautiful introspection, sometimes on the same song (the aching angst and evocative guitar solo of "Final Solution"). Meanwhile, poppier tracks incorporate those avant-garde textures into a gleeful dada bounce. The two tracks unavailable anywhere else, "Not Happy" and "Lonesome Cowboy Dave," are slices of poppy dementia that may make the collection worthwhile for devotees who already own the box, especially since this is such a strong, coherent listen. Terminal Tower
stands as the best introduction to the band not only because of its stellar material and relative accessibility, but also because it largely lacks the arty indulgences that popped up even on the group's most consistent albums. Now that it's back in print, it's essential, groundbreaking listening.