John Dwyer is the primary songwriter for punk outfit the Oh Sees. In between studio albums and managing a recording label, he also has a synth-heavy side project under the moniker Damaged Bug, where he releases his own solo material.
His latest release is Bug on Yonkers. A tribute album dedicated to Michael Yonkers, who is one of the most obscure yet leading figures of art-pop and garage rock in the 60’s. Yonkers is a pioneer, and has been pushing the extremes of noise rock and guitar techniques further than most artists during that era. He isn’t one to follow conventions, and was known to constantly modify or create new instruments in a quest for new sounds. The result is a stripped-down psychedelic rock that’s raw and scintillating in its MacGuyver-esque level of experimentation. A blend of rock that would be a waste to fall into obscurity.
Dwyer considers Yonkers as one of his heroes and greatest inspirations. After running into writer’s block while working on a new album for Damaged Bug, Dwyer decided to cover an albums worth of Yonkers tunes. He scoured all of Yonkers’ discography, ranging from the most-well known to the unreleased tracks provided by the man himself. With an initial selection of 40 songs, he finally zoomed it down to 9.
The result is an album that manages to shine light on the genius that it’s paying homage to, while adding in new elements and flavors that enhance each tune. While Yonker’s “I Tried” was a stripped down 60’s rock and roll tune, Dwyers fills it to the brim with synth sounds and electronics to replace the guitars, creating a dazzling and fuzzy ride that blends the old with the new. In Yonkers cult classic “Microminiature Love”, Dwyer adds a more sinister flair with his vocals and guitar fills. Adding a more creepy and whimsical note compared to the original.
In the midst of all the abrasive noise rock are a few slow-tempo cuts that showcases Yonkers range. “Sunflower” is a poetic singer-songwriter style tune in the likes of Leonard Cohen. Damaged Bug’s version finds Brigid Dawson on vocals, accompanied by natural sounds of bird chimes along with fluttering sax lines. It’s calm and relaxing, a rose among the thorns. The album ends with “In My Heart” a soft and tender folk ballad with ambient synths and celestial violins. An as-of-yet unreleased Michael Yonkers song with equal parts of beauty and heartache.
Bug on Yonkers might be a fun side-project for Dwyer, but the level of care in its production elevates it as a transformative piece of art with plenty of depth and enjoyment to get out of. It’s a great entryway into one of rock’s most underrated gems and hopefully gives fans more exposure and attention to Michael Yonkers amazing work.