Lucid Culture


CD Review: Joe Pug – Nation of Heat

Chicago-based singer-songwriter Joe Pug has been riding the wave of a lot of buzz recently, and for once it’s justified. Brash and ambitious as this debut is, we need those qualities in times like these. Pug’s not afraid of the mic like those legions of wimpy, strung-out Conor Oberst wannabes, and for once the material here lives up to its author’s stance. With more than a mere nod to early Dylan, this cd is just Pug and his acoustic guitar with occasional harmonica. His myspace lists John Prine as a big influence, which comes across mostly in his casually smart, metaphorical lyricism; there also seems to be some Richard Buckner and maybe a little Billy Bragg in there somewhere too. Pug’s songs can be self-referential, some might say bordering on self-mythologizing (he calls a couple of them hymns), and selfconscious, but not in a pretentious way. Resolute, defiant, tuneful and often really funny, Pug loves images, and he’s very, very good at them. And perhaps true to his name, Pug is pugnacious.


The cd opens with a shot across the bow called Hymn 101, a more apt title than it might seem, especially in the wake of the election. It’s a hymn to the hope of throwing out the old to make way for the new, the triumph of youthful yet knowing optimism over smug complacency:


The more I buy the more I’m bought

And the more I’m bought the less I’ve caught


The cd’s second track Call It What You Will is a breakup song, a tongue-in-cheek study in semantics:


I called today disaster, she calls it December the third…

Some call an end a beginning, this time they’ll go unheard

Call it what you will

Words are just words


Pub returns to defiant mode with the vivid Nobody’s Man (as in, “I’d rather be nobody’s man than somebody’s child.”). Hymn 35 seems to be a stab at personifying some timeless quality – justice, truth? – what it might be is never clear. I Do My Father’s Drugs, by contrast, is a bristling, wickedly lyrical slap upside the head at clueless, irresponsible, knowitall baby boomers, a spot-on illustration of history repeating itself:


If you see me with a rifle don’t ask me what it’s for

I fight my father’s war…

All the streets in Cleveland are named for Martin Luther King…

When the party starts on Monday and Christmas comes in June…

I’ll be leaving soon


The most traditional of the songs here, Speak Plainly Diana is an optimistic Obama-generation anthem:


There’s a wrecking ball in the front yard but there’s blueprints on the couch…

Steal from the tallest cabinet and make your favorite sound


The cd closes with the title track, and it’s arguably Pug’s strongest, heat taking on as many meanings here as he can squeeze into a tight couple of lines:


So swift and so vicious are the carnival rides

And the carnival barker’ll yell your name for a price

We’ve got billboards for love and Japanese cars

…all the streetlights call themselves stars

The more that I learn the more that I cheat

I come from the nation of heat


In other words, this guy gets it. And if the way he beats on his guitar is any indication, he sounds like he could be great live. Watch this space for NYC dates; Pug kicks off a Texas/Colorado/Midwest December tour on Dec 5 at at 10:30 PM at Stubb’s BBQ, 801 Red River in Austin.

November 28, 2008 - Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , ,


  1. you speak the truth. pug is a poet extraordinairre. his songs are so fucking good…he’s gonna be huge

    Comment by art | November 30, 2008 | Reply

  2. //The more I buy the more I’m bought

    And the more I’m bought the less I’ve caught//
    You heard these lyrics wrong… It’s “the more I’m bought the less I cost”….
    but how many times most you mention Obama in this review?

    Comment by Suzanne | May 28, 2009 | Reply

  3. saw Cibo Matto once and was underwhelmed, to say the least. But if this is any indication, she’s grown, always nice to see. Thanks for the heads-up!

    Comment by lc | May 29, 2009 | Reply

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