There's a certain fringe of rock 'n' roll's eternal wellspring of youth that always believes, generation after generation, they're doing something dangerous. They're the enemy and a threat to the state. The music they make and the subculture they identify with is just gonna knock down the pillars of society and cause some kind of yet to be determined revolution with an equally ambiguous outcome, but usually one in which the musician was right about everything. And this year's Public Image Ltd. is Dub Thompson. Evan Laffer, drummer and one half of the creative core of Dub Thompson, explains, "We're from Agoura Hills, near where the Kardashians live. It's just your very normal, boring, hot California suburb.
"It was Matt (Pulos) and I; we met in middle school," he continues, talking about the formation of Dub Thompson, an event probably that took place maybe five years ago. "In high school, we had P.E. together and we had similar tastes. I was just kind of, like, a musical weirdo."
Pulos and Laffer are both 19, write and play the kind of assaultive postpunk that really began when an awkward young man named Steve Albini decided that Gang of Four would sound better with a meat grinder as a creative contributor and started Big Black, way back in the mid-'80s. On Dub Thompson's excellent and startling debut, 9 Songs (Dead Oceans Records), Pulos and Laffer take the meat grinder and the music — including all of its permutations over the last 30 years — and revel in the primordial teenage male need to just destroy something and the hubris to think they're doing it first. And they pull it off effortlessly.
Pulos wasn't present when I was speaking with Laffer. Judging by a handful of interviews that the band has done together, things get a little more combative when the two are in the same room. But he wasn't and Laffer spoke like any other creative kid who has a thousand big things to say but isn't exactly sure how to say it. He talked about an incident where a 14-year old Pulos ended up buying the same record Laffer was going to pick up at the Borders in Agoura Hills but didn't (Green Day's Dookie), while Laffer bought a They Might Be Giants compilation that Pulos had his eye on. And he seems to place great importance on this seemingly insignificant event, like it was the big bang or something. But when decoded from the perennially misunderstood language of the teenage rock band, maybe it means everything, I don't know.
What is certain is that the music Dub Thompson is making is stellar, exciting, and surprising. Laffer says, "We didn't even anticipate making a record and we didn't think a label would put it out. All of the songs on it were written when we were back in high school up until the week we recorded them."
9 Songs was recorded by Foxygen's Jonathon Rado in his Bloomington, Indiana house in a little over a week. Laffer explains that "a lot of the sound came from the production. It gave the record its character. And the record was really rushed — we recorded the songs in nine days." Tracks like "Mono" and "Dograces" hit like mischievous pranks that ended up in violence; even when the music quiets down, it's unsettling. Dub Thompson thrives on deception, both in the dizzying, throbbing grooves of its music and the lyrics' stream of consciousness ramblings that owe as much to television commercial slogans as it does to music or literature.
Laffer understands that Dub Thompson is evolving. "We see this one as a sort of sampler," he says about 9 Songs. "Even when we were writing our own bio for our website we had to come up with some comparisons to throw in there. So, yeah, we really love The Fall and Big Black, but they're not necessarily that similar to what we do. We'd like to do the next (record) with more foresight, knowing beforehand that we're actually making a record."
Laffer may be selling himself a little short — if this is just a phase for Dub Thompson, it's one that shouldn't be missed.