Experimentalism and good song writing are not easy bed fellows. It takes a band with something special to pull off a balance between the two – many lesser bands who have tried to create a ‘new sound’ have ended up, after many months of studio expense, with a bloated, self-indulgent, wax turd.

A few bands do pull it off, however, and when they do, the results are often pretty breathtaking. Most of the Beatles best work, for example, were born out of musical experiments which still clung to their effortless pop sensibilities and if they hadn’t experimented with different sounds, they probably would not be as revered as they are today.

They may never have reached the popularity of the Fab Four, but in many ways, Cleveland post-punk band Pere Ubu struck a similar balance on 'The Modern Dance',their debut album. Of course, they’re hardly what you would call a pop band, but from the beginning of their career they made music that stimulated your brain and kicked you in the guts at the same time.

'The Modern Dance' took the garage rock blueprint defined by the Stooges and their ilk and stretched, twisted and re-shaped it into something new, an aural surrealist painting. Opener Non-alignment Pact is a prime example of this, starting with a piercing electronic pulse and an avant-jazz bassline before letting rip with a stomping garage rock riff. The title track is similar – not as obviously rockin’, but with a simple driving bassline and staccato organ chords, the song’s basic structure is reasonably standard.
Of course, there are songs that are a little more out there than others. ‘Laughing’, for example, is largely instrumental and musically quite abstract. ‘Chinese Radiation’ pre-dates post-rock by ten years, while ‘Life Stinks’ would be right at home on an early Fugazi record.

A key element in Pere Ubu’s distinctive sound (avant-garage, as they called it) is Allen Ravenstine’s unique synth playing. Rather than playing it conventionally, Ravenstine experimented with all sorts of unsettling sounds, many not particularly musical. Even on their most conventional songs, Ravenstine will create unusual textures that remove it from the standard rock song.

It sold poorly on its release, but ‘The Modern Dance’ has become a very influential record. Elements of the record can be heard in both post-rock and post-punk bands, and US punks looked back to them after they’d tired of super fast hardcore punk. With the re-issue of the 'Modern Dance 'this year, it’s likely that a whole new generation of music fans will find themselves indebted to Pere Ubu’s avant-garage sound.

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