Bunker Funk by Damaged BugRelease date: February 24, 2017
Label: CastleFace Records
Itchy and urgent, incessant and nervy, John Dwyer’s Damaged Bug project is Prince reincarnated through the post punk drive of PIL. All throbbing funk and lo-fi beats, it’s a bleached out sound derived straight from a cheap Casio keyboard, all squeals and squelches defining an intriguing and tricksy album from the Thee Oh Sees frontman.
After a screeching opening track, real proceedings start with ‘Bog Dash’ which squirms its way through distorted synths, all waylaid by Dwyers wonderfully upbeat vocals. Taking some of the direction from the last Thee Oh Sees album, An Odd Entrances (although this was recorded prior), the stretched out synthesized music is a much more personal affair, unlikely to appeal to a broader section of his fan base.
There is a great pop feeling throughout though as the bouncy ‘The Cryptologist’ descends into a barrage of flutes. ‘Slay The Priest’, in the meantime, takes on a meaner edge as its hypnotic rush conjures up Beck circa Odelay. When Dwyer starts singing you can be forgiven for thinking that this is the most vital song he has ever written. Completely disarming, the lo-fi sounds building into a crescendo of noise.
Much of this album descends into one though and you soon find yourself struggling to work out which track you are on. At 14 songs long and only 40 minutes this is a bit of a kiss of death and its only through the natural exuberance that you find yourself staying the course.
‘No One Notice The Fly’ brings about some 70’s funk to proceedings to liven up a rather dull middle section. It brings to mind that 90’s lost act Bentley Rhythm Ace which is amusing for about ten seconds before you lose interest once again, the problem lying with the feeling that the songs need fleshing out into something more substantial. For only brief moments do we feel like a song fulfills its actual creative impulse to become something more than the sum of its parts.
One gets the image of Dwyer hunkered over his synths almost like a mad scientist. Synths bubble and boil whilst Dwyer throws the knobs and switches to create ever more mysterious magic. That this magic misfires is no cause for complaint, it’s the increasing urge to find that moment, that groove that we so often miss. The underlying song-writing genius does show its head on occasion though like on the cool breeze of ‘Mood Slime’ or the ragged ‘Unmanned Scanner’ but the onus is very much on the experimental. This is no bad thing, it just takes some keeping in tune with and for every great moment there are a couple of humdrum ones that simply do not grab.
This album is an intriguing prospect for those who want to delve deeper into the mind of John Dwyer. There’s no mistaking that familiar urge to create which is ever present on Oh Sees albums, and when this album takes flight you find yourself wishing he would stay the course and produce a funk epic. This does remain an album for the hardcore fans though and a curious addition to Dwyers ever expanding music. That he finds time to create something as offbeat as this is remarkable in itself and we should appreciate it for what it is. Damaged Bug may not match up to the might of Dwyers main band but as a side project it produces enough excitement and interest to keep both him and us happy.