Somehow, in-between putting Thee Oh Sees on hiatus, relocating to Southern California, and preparing to release another Thee Oh Sees album, John Dwyer has found time for another solo project. Hubba Bubba, his debut album as Damaged Bug, has Dwyer abandoning his fuzzy guitars for an even fuzzier synthesizer. But this foray into electronica isn’t Dwyer’s attempt at making a Depeche Mode album. Hubba Bubba sounds much more like a marijuana influenced Suicide album than an 80’s new wave rehash like so many artist are doing right now. The emphasis is placed on minimalist synth riffs behind Dwyer’s robotic vocals.
If there were any concerns, or god-forbid hopes, that Dwyer would lose his psychedelic ways along with his guitar they are quickly assuaged as album opener, “Gloves for Garbage,” opens with its pulsing synthesizers and the rare appearance of a guitar. This isn’t a Thee Oh Sees album though. Damaged Bug has a persona of its own, like maybe an android that has gained consciousness, a bunch of weed, and the space ship equivalent of a Volkswagen bus. This android then goes around space, in an alternate, analog future, and learns about humanity. This is purely speculative, but it’s exactly what Damaged Bug sounds like.
At times the album can get lost in its more psychedelic moments. “Rope Burn” is an example of a song that it’s mostly just fuzzy filler between “Gloves for Garbage” and “Eggs at Night,” and “Catastrophopbia” is just 2 minutes of hisses and buzzes. Fortunately, these self-indulgent moments are rare enough because Hubba Bubba has some classic Dwyer tunes.
“Gloves for Garbage,” “Sic Bay Surprise” and “SS Cassidinea” are vintage John Dwyer, but singles “Eggs at Night” and “Photograph” are the true highlights of Hubba Bubba . “Eggs at Night” is as close to danceable as Dwyer gets with its propulsive bass and almost melodic vocals. “Photograph,” on the other hand, is dark and sinister, with its droning, whole note chord changes and minimalist melody over which Dwyer sings, “Anyone can see/ it’s all been a lie.” While the rest of Hubba Bubba could conceivably be from a Thee Oh Sees album, “Eggs at Night” and “Photograph” are the two outliers, sounding both different and exciting.
While it has its ups and downs, Hubba Bubba is still an excellent addition into Dwyer’s oeuvre and help all of us Thee Oh Sees fans out there cope with their fuzzy absence…until April at least.