Underworld: DRIFT Series 1 (Caroline International) - Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, December 15th, 2019  

Underworld

DRIFT Series 1

Caroline International

Nov 13, 2019 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Rick Smith and Karl Hyde are back with a dance party to soundtrack the upcoming end of decade—which has a whiff of End of Days doom so it's helpful they've released a box set of seven CDs—enough music to rave, rage, and reflect till the sun comes up again. Underworld's eighth album DRIFT Series 1 is a multi-sensory feast created guerilla-style: A culmination of a year's experiment in creative expression—through poetry, visual art, electronica, and film. In collaboration with design collective Tomato, it also featured painters, playwrights, other DJs—and sought to engage directly with fans every week. Those who signed up on Underworld's website received a free download in their inbox every Thursday.

The last installment was a short film featuring a free-style by Hyde of a random sample of Londoners' answers to question of who, in their opinion, was a star. It was a riff of the album's most standout track "S T A R," which played with the rhyming scheme of the children's story Each Peach Pear Plum, while making space, then giving props to many women of history and popular culture such as Rosa Parks and Betty Grable. It's as infectious as the "shouting lager, lager, lager..." refrain from their 1996 hit "Born Slippy .NUXX."

The usually process-driven duo unlocked this on-the-go modus operandi after setting up a studio at a hotel room in London's Savoy to record Iggy Pop for Danny Boyle's T2 Trainspotting soundtrack, which also led to the Teatime Dub Encounters collaborative EP with Pop. It spurred them to further untether from their usual Pigshed workspace in Essex, and make anywhere a potential studio space.

"Toluca Stars" was written in the City of Toluca, Mexico. It's two-toned, melancholic yet optimistic. Hyde mentioned he wished they had someone filming their experience on the outskirts of Toluca "to show the scenes on the streets outside, things I've never seen in my life—surreal and at the same time, heartbreaking." Given Mexico's worsening border problems it is not difficult to imagine these scenes. Yet, the mesmerizing track is beautiful and evokes hope—thanks to the folks they encountered who despite their lack, were always generous. The track has no drop and no bass, it floats effortlessly with brightening effects like the dancing shapes crystals throw when bathed in sunlight.

The album is also offered as a shorter sampler LP and CD. But the box set is where the gems are, inclusive of an 80-page full color book and Blu-ray. "S T A R" is the jewel and the sampler edition gives you a nice taster but the box set gives you the voodoo-like "Hundred Weight Hammer" with a woozy blues riff that makes your eyes roll back in your head and poetry like "I wish was Bram Stoker/Paddling in the sea/Of Whitby."

Indulge in the olfactory trip "Roof Off" induces with "I am London when it smells like Tokyo." The ambient chill-wave of "Dune" is satisfying. While the jazzy staccato of "Poet Cat" proves their best work comes with experimentation.

Smith and Hyde were present at the nascence of the UK's Summer of Love, when house migrated from its Chicago warehouse-roots to open fields around the English countryside. They helped take house from the underground and into the charts, changing dance culture forever. Underworld remain progenitors and continue to excel at electronica embedded with a human heart—no matter how robotic the vocals, they conjure emotional states, even away from the dance floor. And here continue to carve out new heights in the ever-evolving digital shimmer. (www.underworldlive.com)  

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10



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