Friday, January 20, 2006

Music: Underworld goes underground

One of my fave bands is back in action, but you wouldn't necessarily know if you follow music release dates. That's because Underworld have opted out of the regular music industry channels and have decided to release music exclusively online for the forseable future. Not that this is new (most recently, Roisin Murphy released 3 EP's online in advance of the proper release of her latest and glorious solo album, Ruby Blue) and i-Tunes has a plethora of music only available otherwise on vynil but not on CD's.

Underworld were supposed to be the darlings of the dance music revolution when V2 - a subdivision of Virgin - signed them up in the 1990's, probably hoping that they would keep releasing singles in the vein of "Born Slippy" (which graced the soundtrack of the popular British film Trainspotting and was a pub favorite with its "Lager, Lager" chorus). Alas, Underworld chose instead to produce more intricatelly complex fare with a beauty in songcraft unmatched by any of their peers. "Shudder / King of Snake" with it's magnificent use of the relentless Giorgio Moroder synth-line from Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" set to an ominous yet erotic throb, the elegaic "Sola Sistim", and the urgency of "Push Upstairs" - all from V2 relseases Beucoup Fish and A Hundred Days Off are just stunning tracks and yet...

...they were dropped by V2 (I guess V2 are now concentrating on trendier stuff such as the White Stripes), band members Karl Hyde & Rick Smith tell DJ magazine in their January 2006 issue "We've planning this download stuff for years." What 'this' means is that, according to the magazine, they have amassed more than 180 tracks in the 2 years since they last realeased a proper album and will be releasing them peridocially over time on their site. Currently online are the first 2 releases: The 28-minute Lovely Broken Thing, released on November 9th, and the 25-minute Pizza for Eggs, which was released on December 7th. Each is a seamless mix of different new tracks, the first is the harder one, with the vocoder-influenced "Jal to Tokyo" being the standout of both mixes; while the second is a more contemplative dubbier affair which greatly complements the first mix (click on the above titles to listen to track samples). For $10 pounds (about $18 bucks) you get both mixes, PDF files for the CD-covers, should you want to burn them onto a CD-rom, and a collection of some of the photo art by Tomato (sampled above).

Most striking about the band is Karl Hyde's stream of conciousness lyrics and vocal performances, quick to capture a tonal change, a hidden meaning here and there, in truly poetic ways. For an amazing look at their past work, try the Everything, Everything DVD, released in 2000. If you want more, keep checking the Underworld website for updates.

UPDATE: "Lager Lager Meta Meta" (Los Angeles City Beat, December 8,2005)

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