A Hundred Days Off Revisited

This evening on a late night drive back to the city, I queued up one of my favorite Underworld albums that I hadn’t spun in some time. I wanted to share it with various music communities online but felt an obligatory responsibility to defend the album, as it received a lot of undeserved heat upon its release.

underworld-a-hundred-days-off

A Hundred Days Off (2002) was Underworld’s first full-length LP after the departure of Darren Emerson. Darren was a critical contributor to the trademark sound of Underworld Mk2, which spanned the album trilogy of Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Second Toughest in the Infants, and Beaucoup Fish. This chapter of the band concluded with the release of their live concert DVD, Everything Everything Live in 2000.

What followed with A Hundred Days Off and Rick and Karl’s subsequent LPs was a markedly more cerebral incarnation of the duo’s sound. AHDO traded in the floor-stomping anthems and “lager lager lager…” lyricism for more artful explorations of electronic music. Rejected by some of the clubbing community as weak or lifeless, these listeners were too quick to reject the ambient soundscapes, natural percussion, and polyrhythmic intricacies that make A Hundred Days Off such an enjoyable and enduring record.

Call it what you like – “album-oriented techno”, “progressive downtempo”, or “music for aging ravers”… just know that the best of the band’s recordings lie deep in the grooves beyond the club tracks of the late 1990s. And with The RiverRun Project, an array of web-only releases, and their music for both stage and screen, Underworld had an incredible wealth of music to offer after the dance floor had cleared at sunup.

At It Again – New Works from Brian Eno and Underworld’s Karl Hyde

Friday saw the debut of Brian Eno’s latest album – The Ship following the release of ts epic 21-minute self-titled single.

DSC06858.JPGThe Ship accompanied by an official postcard from Eno • Hyde

Like so many of Eno’s albums, this record serves more to inspire thoughtful consideration and reflection than it does casual enjoyment. Unlike Discreet Music or Airports, this is not sonic wallpaper or furniture music, though it resonates a similar ethereal sonic quality. The Ship has a somber and harrowing essence, serving as a dire reflection on the Titanic disaster and the horrors of WWI. But the record maintains a meditative and cerebral tone rewarding to any listener who’ll give the album their full attention.

The double LP includes more of Eno’s art prints. The works are semblant of the visualizations from his 77 Million Paintings generative software. Not particularly inspiring, they function better conceptually rather than visually.

Also this week, Eno’s recent collaborator Karl Hyde released a short art film of an installation he produced for Underworld’s latest album, Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future. I found the fervent and tactile quality of Hyde’s work more engaging than the static nature of Eno’s prints.

Hyde’s Tokyo Street Poem features Soundscape by Underworld’s other half, Rick Smith and was exhibited at Parco, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan in March 2016 as part of the Tomato 25th Anniversary Exhibition.

Underworld also recently premiered a choreographed dance film for the album’s track, “If Rah”, but once again, I believe the concept was better executed by other artists in years prior.

Amelia: A Film by Edouard Lock With La La La Human Steps (2002) features David Lang’s cover of “I’m Waiting For My Man” with choreographed dancers Mistaya Hemmingway and Jason Shipley-Holmes. The film is striking and visually captivating.

Sigur Ros produced an equally effective film piece for their valtari film experiment – a collection of 16 short films made for the valtari album. The 2012 film features Ekki múkk, Valtari, Rembihnútur and Varúð. It is a passionate and emotive work.

If you missed my feature on Underworld’s latest album, check it out!  And I’ll be back next Saturday with my latest culturally-inspired creative and research projects.

Stay tuned!

Barbara, Barbara We Face a Shining Future

underworld in studioUnderworld portrait © Perou / Courtesy of the artist

For thirty-seven years, Rick Smith and Karl Hyde have been creating their own unique flavor of music, ranging from New Wave (with their first effort, a one-off single sold from the boot of Karl’s car as the Screen Gemz), to synth pop as Freur and Underworld Mk1, to progressive house experimentalism with their breakthrough self-reinvention on the album, Dubnobasswithmyheadman. From there Underworld’s sound grew infinitely richer and more adventurous, with everything from dancefloor anthems to ambient scores for film and the stage, to providing a soundtrack for the London 2012 Olympic Games.  

By the present day, their catalog boasts an impressive tally of 510 albums, EPs, live releases, collaborations, solo efforts, and singles. At 56 and 58 years old, the duo has been producing music longer than many of their listeners have been alive.  Releasing a new LP, the band’s first new recordings in six years would be a daunting task for any artist. But instead, as Ian Mathers notes in his review for PopMatters, “this might be the most relaxed, subtly confident record they’ve put out in Underworld Mk II’s history.”

True veterans of electronic music, Barbara is artful and inventive and easily the freshest-sounding album I’ve heard all year thus far.

Casual listeners hoping for an album of “Born Slippy”s be warned – this is instead an intimate and reflective album capturing the emotive spirit the band has past-exemplified in their more meditative and mid-tempo tracks and, as Mathers notes, “is more of a slow burn, a ‘Banstyle/Sappys Curry’ instead of a ‘Pearl’s Girl’.”

Slant Magazine revealed that “the album’s title came from the mouth of Smith’s dying father, being among the final words he uttered to his wife.” And Spin Magazine adds that the album’s “stirring background vocals over ever-turning arpeggiated synths are provided by Smith’s daughter, Esme, and Hyde’s daughter, Tyler, carrying the torch (almost literally) for future ravers.” This is what four-decade veterans of electronic music sound like in their most intimate and thoughtful moments.

The opener, “I Exhale” sets the pace for the record – steady and patient, with a subtle energy harkening back to the halcyon days of their electrifying floor-stomping live performances. Karl’s familiar spoken-word vocals are welcome here, a signature sound of the band’s indelibility.

The melodic hook that picks up and builds at the three-minute mark of “If Rah” and returns to close the track is elemental to the structure of countless progressive house classics. And the abstract and sometimes stream-of-consciousness lyrics which accompany it fuse the formula into that which is unmistakably Underworld.

The instrumental, “Santiago Cuatro” is an intimately organic and fragile departure from the tracks which preceded it, and it serves as the perfect transition to the magnificently radiant “Motorhome.” Relinquishing bass-heavy electronic percussion, the listener is left with a simple lyrical phrase accompanied by a curiously active meandering melody and delicately placed traditional piano tones. Brian Eno’s influence from their recent collaboration certainly shines here.

And true to form, the album closer, “Nylon Strung” is an empyrean ascent to unabashed bliss. With its recurring lyrical plea, “Carry me… open me up… I want to hold you… laughing…”, the duo invites us to share in their resounding joy.

The theme of the record approaches the shimmery, reflective territory Karl explored with an early edit of “Always Loved a Film”, (then dubbed “Silver Boots”) broadcast only once – on May 19th 2006 from the band’s Lemonworld Studio.  The track has long been a stand-out favorite with its four on the floor beats delicately balanced by more complex and thoughtful elements which reveal themselves over the eleven minutes of the song.  

And ever-present are Karl’s trademark vocals – stripped bare of effects and showcasing curious conversational fragments expertly-described by Jon Dennis (of the Guardian) as “affecting, fractured evocations of the disorientations of modern urban life.” Karl speaks, “Maggie’s a doll and I’m a big sister / She’s a little girl and I’m a little princess / These are the weeds that live in the cracks / and these are the rails at the edge of the world.” The phrases are puzzling and disconnected but function beautifully in an abstract sort of elegance. This is what Underworld does best – and precisely what they’ve achieved with their wonderful new record.

Inspiration or Obsession? Underworld, Freur, Karl Hyde, and Tomato

A theme was introduced for the day’s posts in a vinyl community today which led me to take a few updated snapshots of my collection.

The theme was 90s Techno and Dance Music, and it seemed as good a time as any to share my ever-growing collection of the Underworld family of albums and singles.

As many of my readers know, Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman is perhaps my all-time most beloved LP.  For those not familiar with its significance in my life, it was the very first record I ever heard which wasn’t top 40 radio rock and it blew my mind.

The progressive-house rhythms of Rick Smith and stream-of-consciousness lyricism of front-man Karl Hyde were the catalyst for my exploration into the history of electronic sound and pursuit of the avant-garde. I would certainly not be who I am today without that record.

The stunning album art of Dubnobass was also the work of Hyde’s own graphic design company – Tomato, which counts among their many clientele Nike, Levi, Adidas and many other big names looking for fresh, exciting design in the 90s.  Tomato was the direct inspiration for me to pursue a degree in graphic design and visual communication – a decision which set me on a path to meet many of the most important people in my life. 

Below is my collection to-date.  This includes the albums and singles by their first band (not counting their brief one-off as Screen Gemz) – a synth pop group called Freur.  Freur was originally named with an unpronounceable squiggle depicted on the clear 7″ picture disc below.  Freur is best-known for the hit, “Doot Doot.”  Also featured below are Karl’s more-recent solo effort and collaborative project with Brian Eno.

Brilliant stuff!

Underworld 1of4

Underworld 2of4

Underworld 3of4

Underworld 4of4

Underworld has explored a wide-range of sonic styles from their early synth-pop days to the present.  Perhaps their best-known trademark sound is that of the hit single, “Born Slippy.Nuxx” – a b-side which gained significant exposure with its appearance on the Trainspotting soundtrack.

But the tracks which first-grabbed my attention were those from the Dubnobass years.  From the album’s opening stead-paced club track, “Dark and Long” to the high-energy pairing of “Rez/Cowgirl.”

Here is the anthem performed live on the Everything Everything tour.

And check out the strikingly-different ambient soundscape, “To Heal” from the Sunshine soundtrack.

And finally, if you fancy a more-worldly mesh of Fela Kuti and Steve Reich, here’s the latest single – an instrumental collaboration with Brian Eno.

I have some exciting original material in the month ahead that you won’t want to miss, so stay tuned!

Calling all aging ravers and bedroom rockers… listen up.

Fellow Dirts,
Riders of the sainted rhythms,
disappearing down the tube hole on Farringdon Street,
with Whiplash Willy the motor psycho.

I’m looking at YOU.

Underworld header
To celebrate its twentieth anniversary, Underworld’s Dubnobasswithmyheadman has been meticulously remastered at Abbey Road for a deluxe reissue by Rick Smith. Revisiting the original MIDI files, Rick uncovered a wealth of previously unreleased material and rare alternate mixes that sit alongside the record”s original companion singles and remixes and offer a fascinating insight into the creation of the record. The resultant release is the definitive version of one of those rare records that truly deserves to be described as a classic.

Thunder thunder lightning ahead
To coincide with the re-release of Dubnobasswithmyheadman, Underworld will play the album in full at a one-off show at London’s Royal Festival Hall on Saturday 11th October 2014. This show will offer fans a unique chance to see Underworld in one of the capital’s most iconic venues playing this classic album in its entirety for the first time. Tickets cost £35/£30 and are on general sale from 4th July.

Pre-order dubnobasswithmyheadman on underworldlive.com before 2nd July and get access to tickets to the Royal Festival Hall show 24 hours before they go on general sale. 
(Tickets are available to Southbank members on 2nd July, underworldlive.com pre-orders on 3rd July and general sale from 4th July)

When you pre-order you will also get the remastered version of Cowgirl straight into your inbox.

KarlNME
Formats include a limited Super Deluxe 5-CD Box Set with book containing memorabilia and newly created artwork by design collective tomato; a 2-CD Deluxe Edition; remastered single CD; 2LP on 180 GM vinyl; Blu-ray Audio and Digital Equivalents.

Dubnobasswithmyheadman is the first remastered work to be released, there are plans in place to remaster and reissue all of the Underworld’s studio albums in the next few years.

In all its glory

Here is the track listing for the Super Deluxe 5 CD boxset which also includes a 50 page book of memorabilia and new artwork by tomato;

CD1 Dubnobasswithmyheadman

1. Dark & Long
2. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You
3. Surfboy
4. Spoonman
5. Tongue
6. Dirty Epic
7. Cowgirl
8. River Of Bass
9.M.E

CD2 Singles 1991 – 1994

1. The Hump (Wild Beast)
2. Eclipse (Released As Lemon Interrupt)
3. Rez
4. Dirty (Released As Lemon Interrupt)
5. Dirtyguitar
6. Dark & Long (Hall’s Edit)
7. Dark & Long (Dark Train)
8. Spikee Cd3 Remixes 1992 – 1994
1. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (Jam Scraper)
2. Cowgirl (Irish Pub In Kyoto Mix)
3. Dark & Long (Most ‘Ospitable Mix)
4. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (Telegraph 16.11.92)
5. Dark & Long (Burts Mix)
6. Dogman Go Woof
7. Dark & Long (Thing In A Book Mix)

CD3 Remixes 1992 – 1994

1.Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (Jam scraper)
2.Cowgirl (Irish Pub in Kyoto mix)
3.Dark & Long (Most ‘ospitable mix)
4. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (Telegraph 16.11.92)
5. Dark & Long (Burts mix)
6.Dogman Go Woof
7. Dark & Long (Thing in a Book mix)

CD4 PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED RECORDINGS 1991 – 1993

1. Concord (3 Comp75 id9 A1771 Aug 93A)
2. Dark & Long(1struffid3A15512)
3. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (A1765 Sky Version id4. Harmone6 COMP43)
4. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You (After sky id6 1551 2)
5. Can You Feel Me? (from A4796)
6. Birdstar (A1558 Nov 92B.1)
7. Dirty Epic (Dirty Ambi Piano A1764 Oct 91)
8. Spoonman (version1 A1559 Nov92)
9. Organ (Eclipse version from A4796)
10. Cowgirl(AltCowgirlC69MixfromA1564)

CD5 LIVE JAM KYME RD (PREVIOUSLY UNRELEASED LIVE REHEARSAL RECORDED IN THE BAND’S HOME STUDIO IN 1993)

1.Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You
2.Improv 1
3.Bigmouth
4.Improv 2
5.Big Meat Show
6.Improv 3
7.Spoonman

uwl-live-6
This release is a milestone for the Dirties.  We’ve all shared our copies of  “Thing in a Book,” “‘Ospitable,” the Dubno rehearsal cassette, and every one of the other glorious rarities that appear on the Super Deluxe set over these past 20 years.  These tracks circulated privately among the Dirty forum members for ages while other odds and ends appeared only briefly a decade ago on the retired Underworld website.  Dedicated fans from the corners of the web have compiled well over 2,600 tracks between studio outtakes, official and unofficial live releases, Karl’s web diaries and Tomato ANTI-ROM and other multimedia.  But this release will be the first time these recordings will be available (as raw .WAVs, no less) on an official release.

John Bush of Allmusic.com called it “music for aging-raver activities like driving cars, pushing swings, or jogging on treadmills.”

Regardless, Rick and Karl have been making incredible music for over thirty-five years, and the two latest collaborations with “senior citizen soundscape artist” Brian Eno are no exception.

Tomorrow High Life will arrive on my doorstep, and I look forward to perusing the new Tomato publication when it follows.

…and the light it blinds my eyes.