U.F.O. Pon Di Gully Side
At first blush a dub collaboration between cEvin Key and ex-Pink Dot Ryan Moore seems like a no-brainer. Moore’s dedicated himself almost exclusively to the genre since the turn of the millennium, and Key’s solo work has always carried some dub rhythms and tics (not to mention the man’s legendary taste for a substance not unconnected to the genre). That said, the styles of dub each have explored, and the ends to which they press then into service are rather distinct. While I’d argue that one of those styles steps to the fore of U.F.O. Pon Di Gully Side, there’s more than enough creative frisson here to make this an enjoyable new side project.
Serious S’Puppy fans have long noted a mutant strain of dub in Key’s work (namely Music For Cats), as well as in the more rubbery and bass-heavy works of Download and Plateau. Those motifs have always been thoroughly blended with and informed by Key’s broader interests and history, though: dub is tossed in alongside electro-industrial and techno to produce the heady stew which has made Key the legend he is. Ryan Moore’s invocation of dub as Twilight Circus Dub Sound System is of a more traditional stripe: all high-end rattling percussion and brighter (if not perpetually sunny) sounds than Key’s. It’s worth nothing that this aesthetic is one very consciously cultivated by Moore: even in eras in which dub pioneers like Mad Professor had moved on to embrace new synths and digital sounds, Twilight Circus remained resolutely orthodox.
From the opening moments of “Outerspace”, with its almost frantic sequencing and snaky bass programming, U.F.O. starts out sounding not dissimilar to the spacey techno Key released in The Dragon Experience. Indeed, it’s not until the second track, “Light It Up” (surely a reference to either the sky or the love within us all), that anything resembling the sort of sound I associate with Moore’s brand of dub crops up, and only on the next track, “First Contact”, does it take the spotlight.
U.F.O. starts dark and as a rule only gets darker. After a pair of relatively mellow respites in “First Contact” and “Green Fire” (A Grace Kelly reference? Weird!), the knob-twiddling is amplified, beats become more frantic, and tracks in general move ever deeper into the realms of mindfuckery. “Dubbrain” has the sort of pained lope that brings both Key’s darker work with The Tear Garden to mind, as well as that tweaky collab from the other side of the Puppy equation, Rx. Anchored by almost industrial mid-tempo percussion, “Project Sign” gets into some squelchy acid territory.
I should caution that I’m presuming a lot when it comes to Dubcon’s division of labour as well as its aesthetic. I’ve no idea if Moore changed up his pitch a bit for the sake of this project, and moreover given the discrepancy between what I’m (somewhat arbitrarily) identifying as Key’s sonic markers and traditional dub, when the former appear in the latter they’re all the more apparent for that distinction. (To make a beer analogy, no matter how subtle a smoked ale is, the smoke’s going to be what your brain gravitates to if only because of its juxtaposition to “normal” beer flavours.) Regardless, even if it isn’t the mellow trip I’d anticipated, U.F.O. merits listening by dub and Key fans alike.