Underworld: Barking

RIYL: The Chemical Brothers, The Future Sound Of London, everyone on Hospital Records

Barking is the third Underworld album since Darren Emerson left the the duo of Karl Hyde and Mark Smith in 2002, and the first since then that is worth a damn.

A Hundred Days Off was a forgettable mess and the nicest thing that can be said about Oblivion With Bells was that its album title was an apt descriptor of the music. It’s probably no coincidence that this, the first good Underworld album since 1999’s Beaucoup Fish, is a collaborative effort between the group and a series of high-profile and up-and-coming producers.

Drum and bass producer High Contrast contributes the two highlights of the album, the very High Contrast-like sounding “Scribble” and the oddly sedate “Moon in Water,” which features some truly inventive vocal manipulations over a simplistic, but effective beat.

Other tracks are less surprising, but still good. D. Ramirez and Paul Van Dyk both specialize in dance-ready house and trance music, so it’s no surprise that their tracks, especially Ramirez’s “Always Loved a Film,” make Underworld sound like classic Underworld again, with frantic beats and epic synths serving as a perfect backdrop to Hyde’s distorted and manic vocal delivery. Van Dyk’s “Diamond Jigsaw” is so damned uplifting it should be played in rehab centers, and its peaks of Everest proportions pretty much ensures you’ll hear it on every mix by the DJ for the next few years. Minimal techno producer Dubfire is a little off with the slightly-too-slow “Grace” but makes up with it by delivering “Bird 1,” the opener to the album that builds in a way reminiscent of Beacoup Fish‘s “Shudder/King Of Snake.”

The only contributors to seemingly miss the point of the exercise are Appleblim and Al Tourettes, who never rise out of the dubstep doldrums they’re so comfortable in, with “Hamburg Hotel,” a barely-there collection of looping beats and boring bass lines. But hey, it’s dubstep, so you get what you ask for.

Maybe Hyde and Smith need someone else to bounce ideas off of in order to truly be great? Whatever the reason, here’s hoping their collaborative streak doesn’t stop with Barking. They just need to avoid any additional “dubstep” artists. (Om Records 2010)

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