Considering all the guitar jams he’s knocked out over the years as the head of Thee Oh Sees, it’s no wonder John Dwyer might want to venture into other territory. So while Thee Oh Sees are headed for hiatus (after dropping another record), Dwyer stretches into bedroom synth-pop as Damaged Bug. The cover of his first record for this project, Hubba Bubba, centers around a picture of Brian Eno, but despite all the synths and keys, this is not tribute. The songs are all Dywer’s, often swapping guitars out for synths and indulging his pop sensibilities over his rock zeal.
Opener “Gloves for Garbage” rings out in jangle-pop bliss, an easy transition number from Thee Oh Sees to this new sound. From there, things get a bit weirder, on the bizarre-disco of “Eggs at Night” or the moody, bittersweet march of synthesizers on the title track. The album, despite strange flourishes—check the cascading notes on “Rope Burn”—is still full of tight songcraft, and if the instrumentation is playful, Dwyer seems deep in thought here. Singing in a low register, he wonders early on, “What kind of man am I?” Then, Dwyer spends the record stretching our idea of him as a musician to perhaps find out. There are moments, like “Catastrophobia” or the overly hazy “Hot Swells”, that feel overly indulgent, expanding on textures already fully formed in other songs. Overall, though, Hubba Bubba is a solid record, reminiscent in ways of early Oh Sees records. It’s scrappy, scuffed, and full of promise.