Album Review: Underworld – Drift Series 1

By Live4ever - Posted on 07 Nov 2019 at 7:55am

Well, this was ambitious.

For reasons unknown, last year electronic pioneers Underworld put themselves to work on a new project – to create, record and release a new piece of music every week for a calendar year.

Sometimes they would also release short accompanying films so the tracks could be regarded as quasi-soundtracks. It’s not an especially new idea, the duo following suit from The Wedding Present and Ash in regularly releasing new singles over twelve months, but the scale is unprecedented. Underworld are a different beast entirely to those two indie bands, and not renowned for their succinctness in song.

The first phase (see the collection’s title) is now complete and available for commercial release as a seven-CD box-set. For the sake of your sanity, Live4ever can relay first-hand experience of listening to it in one sitting, and that approach does not come recommended. Not because of a lack of quality, more because the sheer volume of music is difficult to digest, some gems can fall through the cracks.

And it is a treasure trove of eclecticism. From the oriental, desolate Altitude Dub to the driven jazz of Poet Cat, most musical bases are covered. Low Between Zebras is a monologue against eerie synthesizers and Moth At The Door is operatic. Life-affirming pop music, not normally a genre one would associate with Underworld, is flirted with on the wonderful Molehill. Boundaries are now a thing of the past.

The huge variations in pace are sometimes a bit discombobulating; the gorgeous screeching soundscape of Brilliant Yes That Would Be sounds like an offcut from Vangelis’ Blade Runner score. At ten minutes it’s a bit unwieldy, but following the rave drone of Universe Of Can When Go Back it’s cleansing. Nor is it unique in its length; several of the tracks exceed the ten-minute mark and it does become a bit draining at points. Closer Appleshine Continuum clocks in at 36 minutes and, while an impressive piece of work full of emotive moments, it would work better as a separate piece on its own.

Yet nothing on the 52 tracks is frivolous. For all the experimentation, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith are ravers at heart and there’s plenty of that here. Drift rips through the speakers like a demon, Soniamode (Aditya Game) is as all party trumpets and is as bullish as they’ve ever been, while Listen To Their No could be plucked from any point of their career. The same can’t be said of S T A R (Rebel Tech), which essentially is a list of famous and contemporary names (David Bowie, Danny Boyle) which seems meaningless but feels vital.

Yet it’s the slower tracks that stand out. Best of all are Custard Speedtalk, a military drumming backed by piano while Hyde is reflective and melancholy, and the sparse, Kraftwerk-indebted Doris. Elsewhere the woozy, laconic Dune pushes them close as standout track from the collection.

Best of all, there’s seemingly more to come (Series 1 being a giveaway) so the project has obviously revitalised the duo. The ‘sample’ disc, a distillation of their chosen tracks (and viewed as one album, one of their best) is undoubtedly more palatable and is a fair reflection of the best bits of this project but doesn’t tell half the story.

A nice problem to have.


Richard Bowes

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1 comment

  1. Joe Estevez

    cool review but this deserves a 12/10 and you know it!!!!!