underworld

Showing 16 posts tagged underworld

Introductions

Hi everyone, thanks again to Hendrik for running this wonderful thing and for letting me play around with it. As previously mentioned, I’m Ian and this week I’m going to be talking about Underworld.

Given that most of us could write about a band we really love for a lot longer than a week, I want to set up some parameters, so we’re all on the same page here. As Hendrik said, I’m writing about the second phase of the band, which to most people is the only one; Underworld existed as a rock band (which I’ve never really heard) at first, one that contained Karl Hyde and Rick Smith, but that didn’t really get anywhere. It’s not exactly Ministry’s-first-album levels of embarrassing, but it’s fairly irrelevant to where the band would go. Technically the second phase of the band encompasses when Hyde and Smith got into electronic music, recruited Darren Emerson, and started putting out singles and remixes (sometimes as Underworld, sometimes as Lemon Interrupt or Steppin’ Razor; I’m pretty happy with their eventual choice of name, really), and so ends when he left after 2000’s live album Everything, Everything. There was then a third phase of Hyde and Smith alone, which continues to this day and has produced at this point as many albums as Underworld mk II did; I’ll be covering those albums as well.

However, in an effort to safeguard my sanity/time, as well as to make a point (I suppose), I’m only going to be covering the commercially released, non-soundtrack albums. Or at least, that’s all I’m promising I’ll cover; my very next post will be about a non-album single. So no RiverRun Project, no Live in Tokyo (although if anyone knows where I can get a copy, I’d be indebted), no Sunshine, and so on. Just the albums, dubnosbasswithmyheadman through to Barking, plus Everything, Everything and whatever else I can fit in.

I’ll also be doing things out of order; because I only became a fan of Underworld partway through their career, writing about those releases in chronological order would quickly become a tangle of “so when I first heard this song it was after/before x.” Not that the week is going to be just or even primarily personal reminiscence; but any of us deep enough into a band to do a OWOB on them is going to have some sort of personal connection to the music, and quite frankly I think that avoiding it is both futile and, in some obscure way, cheating. So the order of albums is going to be largely autobiographical.

So, Underworld. For the past three or four months, I don’t seem to be able to get through a week without listening to at least one Underworld album. Shall we talk about why that might be?

driveboy dogboy dirtynumbangelboy

So; like a lot of people of my age/general demographic, I can tell you with great certainty what the first Underworld song I ever heard was. I was 15 when Trainspotting came out, and I don’t know if the theatre in Kincardine ever showed it, but I do recall renting it on VHS shortly after it was available (my mom had a subscription to Rolling Stone at the time, and as much as I’ve grown to hate Peter Travers’ writing style, boy was he good at getting you excited to see something).

Like many things that wind up having a major impact on you, I can’t tell you whether my reaction to ‘Born Slippy” (technically “Born Slippy .NUXX,” I believe; like many other electronic/dance acts, the malleability of Underworld’s tracks and track titling was and maybe still is a little stressful for someone raised on rock and comfortable with the notion that when you buy the album you get the ‘real’ version of the song) was that extreme at the time. I know that I liked it; I’m not sure I was conscious of its role as a gateway drug.

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tiny wires in her ears, slide into the city

I don’t know whether I can say that “Jumbo” is my favourite Underworld song. I suspect that if you aggregated all sources it’s my most-played Underworld song,and if I was trying to pick the “best” one, it’d be high (but probably not #1, for obscure reasons). It’s probably my favourite, even if I’d play you “Pearls Girl” or “Two Months Off” or something else first. We got Beaucoup Fish first, because it was the follow-up to a huge single (even if, like many UK bands, it didn’t contain said single), and it was very long and ‘challenging’ and some of the old fans didn’t think much of it at the time and it was all we had to listen to at the time and we didn’t know any ‘better.’

I am your tourist

This isn’t the Beaucoup Fish post, though; I don’t know if I’ll pull out individual songs for every record, but I feel strongly enough about “Jumbo” that it gets special treatment. The odd thing is, I can remember very precisely the listen where “Jumbo” clicked for me, can remember how that felt. Listening to the album, “Push Upstairs” finishes, what’s the next song?, “Jumbo,” don’t remember that one, I bet it’s one of the boring ones, oh there’s a sample of Karl Hyde talking about vests, I would later figure out that it’s not him at all, not sure why I thought that, but I still think they sound very alike, oh there’s some ambient wibbling, I like ambient wibbling, and that keyboard part that’s going in tandem with the beat, it’s kind of… granular, but also bouncy and, uh, chewy at the same time, I could probably listen to this for a long time, it’s very pleasant, oh, he just said “click” and it sounded like an actual click, oh, wow, the track just fell away beneath the beat and the synth, it’s like you’re riding a rollercoaster to the top of the first hill, but you don’t fall, you just go up into the sky, it’s a bright blue sky, brighter than the cover of the album, did he just say “we’ll be dead in the morning,”* why do I find that oddly comforting, if I didn’t know better I’d say I’m a little high, but I’m not, after that intro the track never came back down, it’s all just very gentle and bright and loving, even when they start talking about fishing places, Hyde is actually singing, you could dance to this, but it would be a different kind of dancing, I want to live in this place forever, now he’s saying “click” again (years from now when I hear the National channeling Tennessee Williams and talking about waiting for the click, this is what I will think of), it’s fading out now, slowly, how did I not know that song, how did seven minutes just pass, that is my favourite song, I need to hear it again.**

Anyway, the funny thing is, I remember listening to it, remember that time very intensely, but I couldn’t tell you what age I was or how many times I’d heard Beaucoup Fish at that point, or even what town I was in. It feels like it has been with me always.

*(he did, he said “expected early in the morning,” but I still hear the other now)
**(most of this paragraph should probably be read out loud by Robert Ashley circa Private Parts (The Album) for full effect)

and the night it wants me like a little lost child

Since that almost synesthesic listen, I’ve delved pretty deeply into “Jumbo.” It’s kind of an odd duck in Underworld’s body of work, even if it was a single (the single has a video, but the video is for a single edit and I didn’t see it until years after I already bonded with the song, so I don’t care about it even a little). It’s not as ambient as their ambient songs, and not quite as energetic as most of their other material. That beat and the granular synth keep going throughout the track, but that just makes me think of the way Parmenides ‘proved’ that all motion is an illusion before Socrates ever got started. If I sometimes want to compare Underworld to motorik, or place them in that lineage, this must be the most gentle, soothing motorik track ever made.

I haven’t even talked about the lyrics, which is another post in itself (which I’ll spare you). At their best, I think Underworld’s work is tremendously emotionally dense, partly because of Hyde’s imagistic, poetic use of language, and this is no exception. “Jumbo” is a love song, I think, but it’s a song about the end of love, or from someone who loves to someone, who, well, he says “you disconnect from me.” But doesn’t sound angry or hurt or even that sad (how could you, in these surroundings?); just at peace with it.

Beaucoup Fish

So, the album proper. As I’ve mentioned, at the time we didn’t really have access to anything else (even when Napster hit, bandwidth/time meant that you might get the odd track, but not whole discographies). At the time, we had very clear ideas about which tracks were worthwhile and which aren’t, but Beaucoup Fish (named by one of the samples in “Jumbo” now seems pretty solid to me. It did, and does, seem very long, though.

With some more context, I can now say that it probably shouldn’t seem that long. Yes, it’s 73 minutes. But Underworld’s previous two records were 73 and 72 minutes long, so it’s not like this was a scale they were unused to working on. The answer seems to me to be both pretty obvious and, err, completely subjective.

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Everything, Everything

I have never seen Underworld live. I can honestly say it’s my only major live music gap (not counting stuff it’s impossible for me to see in 2011). It shouldn’t be true; I should have been here.

Should have, that is, if I’d had any idea that Underworld were playing Toronto in August 2009. On my birthday. And they played “Two Months Off”! I found out almost exactly a year later, and I kicked myself pretty hard. After all, despite the idea of seeing them live never quite intruding on my thoughts, their live album had for years been their most immediately pleasurable album, if not quite a best-of (more on that in a minute), certainly a fine introduction, even if it seemed a bit like a waste of money when I bought it in our town’s Radio Shack (slim pickings, you know?)

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you bring light in you bring light in you bring light in you bring light in you bring light in you bring light in you bring light in you bring light in you bring light in you bring light in you bring light in you bring light in you bring light in you bring light in you bring light in you bring light in you bring light in

In some ways, this track/album really marks the beginning of my love for Underworld. While I liked Underworld since high school, thought highly of them, adored some songs (*cough*”Jumbo”*cough*), I wouldn’t have called them a favourite. I was working in the Beat Goes On, and if nothing else was constantly listening to a stream of new records just to have something to occupy me while I stocked, purchased, logged, and manned the register. I don’t know what made me put on A Hundred Days Off; I know I’d heard Emerson had left the band, and like a lot of people I kind of assumed that Hyde and Smith would have a hard go of it on their own (which seems ridiculous now). Maybe I  had that transformative listen of “Jumbo.” But one day I put it on. And, second track, ran smack into “Two Months Off.”

I don’t think I’d seen the official video yet, because I would have already loved the song (the single edit is one of the few in Underworld’s career that I unreservedly endorse, and the video is gorgeous). In some ways, it’s probably better that I didn’t run into the song in younger, more cynical/guarded days, because it’s just glowingly optimistic and loving:

As a casual observer, I’d be tempted to say, Have you fallen in love?

I stopped drinking. Four and a half years ago. And it’s had a massive effect on my life. And the lives of those people that come in close proximity to me, not least of all Rick.

That’s what the optimism is down to?

Without question. The thing for me is I spent 25 years using that stuff to run away, and all of a sudden you’re clear of that and you’ve got your day back, and there’s all this stuff going on during the day that’s really exciting and interesting… It was like when I was a teenager and went to art college for the first time, like ‘oh my god there’s all this stuff’ and it was great! You have to calm down sometimes so you don’t get too euphoric.

And it is, the whole thing; the opening dialogue sample about some “silly crap” warming your heart, that endless refrain that is the track, the cowbell, the breakdowns with their Legend of Zelda twinkles, even the slightly squelchy beat. But most of all those giant synths, pushing gradually but inexorably upwards; one time I was walking around town listening to the album on my iPod and as they surged over me I actually got a head rush. I am awfully big fan of music that’s capable of making me feel like I’m on drugs, and the build of “Two Months Off” mirrors the feeling of coming up more than most electronic dance music.

But the sonics and the emotions alone, neither would endear the song (my second favourite Underworld song, really) to me so totally. It’s the combination of the two, and the way they meld, completely harmonious, that really elevates “Two Months Off” for me. You could think it was mawkish or too broad, but you’re really only cheating yourself.

there was a little drawing of a heart next to that,
followed by an exclamation mark
the back of his was covered in stuff… stuff like:
Brandon is not a very nice guy, but Alex is sooo nice
and that had the exclamation thing too
it was just silly crap that hit the spot
and he let himself be drawn in

A Hundred Days Off

So Darren Emerson has left (because he was tired of the band? because Rick Smith was sick of him getting most of the praise in the press? for totally amicable and sensible other reasons I don’t know? who cares?), and I think that a lot of people were expecting Underworld to fall flat on their face. The most surprising or impressive thing about 2002’s A Hundred Days Off, then, is just that the band neither sounds that different nor that they’re struggling to sound like themselves. I’m not trying to retroactively discount Emerson’s contribution to the band (and quite frankly, I’m not sure how any of us would know how important any of the trio were to those first three albums, Hyde’s voice aside), but this album at least showed that Hyde and Smith would be fine without them.

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And then there’s this. There are two minor things that annoy me about/around A Hundred Days Off; first that it has the only cover art for an Underworld release that I actually dislike (if pressed: Second Toughest > dubnobass > Oblivion > Everything, Everything > Beaucoup Fish > Barking »> this one), and second that there’s an alternate version out there that I can’t seem to get to listen to. Ansum was going to be the next Underworld album, and while it lacks “Little Speaker,” it does have an extended drum outro for “Twist,” and a version of “Mo Move” that’s almost twice as long and, from what little I can find about it, apparently awesome.
I don’t know what the status of it is, whether Hyde and Smith care if people hear it. All I know is that I can’t find a torrent or mediafire or anything else of it. There’s only one possible source for it that I can find, and I kind of doubt I’ll get access to it. So if anyone who has it is reading these and enjoying them at all and would like to take pity on me, well: imathers@gmail.com

And then there’s this. There are two minor things that annoy me about/around A Hundred Days Off; first that it has the only cover art for an Underworld release that I actually dislike (if pressed: Second Toughest > dubnobass > Oblivion > Everything, Everything > Beaucoup Fish > Barking »> this one), and second that there’s an alternate version out there that I can’t seem to get to listen to. Ansum was going to be the next Underworld album, and while it lacks “Little Speaker,” it does have an extended drum outro for “Twist,” and a version of “Mo Move” that’s almost twice as long and, from what little I can find about it, apparently awesome.

I don’t know what the status of it is, whether Hyde and Smith care if people hear it. All I know is that I can’t find a torrent or mediafire or anything else of it. There’s only one possible source for it that I can find, and I kind of doubt I’ll get access to it. So if anyone who has it is reading these and enjoying them at all and would like to take pity on me, well: imathers@gmail.com