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)

Underworld MySpace Page


Vinyl Life: Vinyl Life

RIYL: Kraftwerk, Afrika Bambaata, Jungle Brothers

New York trio Vinyl Life is about to make a bunch of former DJs very happy. Their self-titled debut is the most authentic tribute to ’80s dance music that we’ve heard, well, since the ’80s. “Hi Tops” is a miniature Name That Riff, using the keyboard lines from Inner City’s “Big Fun” and Maurice’s “This Is Acid” and merging them into a freestyle freak-out. “Electric Symphony” sounds like a sunnier Dubnobasswithmyheadman-era Underworld, and “Like This” will have Mantronik fans popping in their seats. The rapping is old-school in both delivery (it’s actually on the beat) and subject matter (sex, sex, sex), and most refreshingly, it’s almost entirely profanity-free. The guest rappers on the album’s final two tracks are not as accomodating, but just try not to laugh when one of them pulls an “Instant Club Hit”-type rant at the end of the don’t-be-a-douchebag smackdown “Take It Off.” Bonus points for “Future Beat,” which takes the signature Stock, Aitken & Waterman drum sound – think the opening to Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” – and restores its inherent coolness.

The album is even available for download on a donate-what-you-want basis (but unlike Radiohead, you have to pay at least a dollar) at Tape Theory Records’ site. Best dollar you’ll ever spend. (Tape Theory Records 2009)

Vinyl Life MySpace page


Del Marquis: Litter to Society EP

Anyone seriously jonesing for new Scissor Sisters material would be wise to check out Litter to Society, the new EP from SS guitarist Del Marquis. Sporting five new tracks and “shadow” versions (think dub mixes) of three of those songs, Marquis unleashes his inner Shriekback – or is it Underneath the Radar-era Underworld? – on the title track, which merges a lyric not far removed from Diana Ross’ “Upside Down” with a bubbly but sinister electro beat. Fans of Marquis’ day job, meanwhile, will gobble up the day-glo “Any Kind of Love,” which could pass for a lost Belouis Some track. Shriekback? Belouis Some? Those are some seriously dated and specific ’80s references, yes, but it’s hard to argue with where Marquis finds his muse when the results are this entertaining. (self-released 2009)

Del Marquis MySpace page