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On Second Listen: Underworld vs. the Misterons – Athens

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    Jazz and techno are very similar. This is strange to say, but both involve very specific elements in composition and improvisation. The only major difference is the audience. Jazz is heard by laid-back intellectuals who wear thick clothing and lounge in smoky rooms, while techno is listened to by ravers with glow-sticks and a tendency to take uppers in order to dance all night. But the music is too similar to draw comparisons by audiences, and Underworld seems to understand this. On their new album Athens, which they are billed as Underworld vs. The Misterons, the duo that is Karl Hyde and Rick Smith have put together a collection of groovy tunes that span the sounds that loom in Gatsby’s lakeside mansion all the way to the electronic beats that kids pop ecstasy to in the desert. It’s a truly surreal trip of an effort.

    The opener is Alice Coltrane’s “Journey in Satchidananda”, a piece where the bass line take’s Ron Burgundy’s advice and goes for a walk, on top of a Middle Eastern drone and a horn line that takes you to your “peaceful place.” This song belongs in a yoga class more than it does on an Underworld record, but this is the type of notion that makes a listener feel like an arrogant douchebag. This is talent, whether it’s your style or not, and that pretty much sums it up for everything else on this album. The Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “You Know You Know” follows with an opening that reminds one more of Modest Mouse than it would a jazz ensemble.  Eventually, though, a jazzy keyboard accompanies the Marr-esque riff and keeps the tune splashy and classy.

    “2HB” by Roxy Music is a gem of a tune, with beautiful vocals over a very congested sounding keyboard. “Oh I was moved by your screen dream/Celluloid pictures of living,” the lyrics croon at the beginning. And then lyrical imagery of the jazz scene as one can truly (and stereotypically) imagine it, “Take two people romantic/Smoky nightclub situation.” The bass gets even groovier on Moodymann’s “Rectify”, a seductive number with a voice whispering the title of the song and a smooth talking set of lyrics accompanying this funky bass and drum piece.

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    Underworld’s track “Oh”, from the A Life Less Ordinary soundtrack, brings you back to the thumping techno that you are used to hearing from the band. The clicking drums and adrenaline pumping synthesizers weave together with a jazzy saxophone riff to keep the cross-genre theme intact. Truly, Underworld has created something far more unique and exciting than just another dance record. Miroslav Vitous’s “New York City” is a porno-style groove that makes me think Shaft is going to save the day at any second. The bass sounds so funky and freshly retro that it could get anyone to start grooving to the beat. This music isn’t just well composed, it’s fucking exciting. The final number is “Beebop Hurry”, a duet between Underworld member Karl Hyde and Brian Eno, with a creepy synthesizer riff accompanied by dire sounding lyrics that make my hair stand on end as this collective jazz experiment comes to a close.

    This album is certainly very unique. The fact that Underworld wanted to show the world they’re made of something more than space age electronicore and that they understand the meaning of truly complex composition is refreshing. We’re in an age of music where influences bleed together like chemicals within the atmosphere, and Underworld are only further proving that on this record. If you have an appreciation for grooving under the stars to DJs, you might enjoy this record. And if you have an appreciation for Blue Note and intelligence, you might also enjoy this record.

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