My personal conversion to a fan of electronic music stemmed from artists' ability to wrench the human elements and emotions from the music that issues from their racks and racks of equipment. Some are not as concerned as others with this ability -- they pursue different challenges. But the ones who accomplish this feat, who build a fascinating link between their real feelings and the synthesized tones and beats, are the ones who have created my favorite albums of the past few years.
Such an album is Underworld's latest, and eagerly awaited as it was, it succeeds in filling the large gap we Underworld fans have felt in the dearth of new material between the release of Second Toughest In The Infants and now. The tracks place a layer of beautiful, melodic ambience over what seems to be a brewing storm ("Cups," "Jumbo," "Winjer"). Occasionally, the storm takes control ("Shudder/King of Snake," "Kittens"). And the album does its best to lose sight (temporarily) of all this with the random gibberish of "Bruce Lee." But release is necessary after the emotions and the quiet (yet simple and intense) melodies of the album's most powerful track, "Skym," fade off in ominous fashion. On this track, Karl Hyde croons "Quiet calm provider, I couldn't go through this again" and sounds like he means it, like this is the last time he would ever want to sing this song again. The fact that "Skym" sticks in your head and demands repeat listens makes for wonderful irony.
Hyde's voice, alternately relaxing and urgent, blends perfectly with the throbbing dance beats in every instance. Darren Emerson places layer after layer of gorgeous sound, from sharp piano riffs to soothing, ambient synthesizers, over everything. Together, they are nothing short of miracle workers, creating raw emotion out of nonsense lyrics and bringing the nonsense out from within simple, logical melodies and beats. It may be both the most human and the most perfect face anyone has put on electronic music. (JD/Fall 1999)
(TVT Records -- 23 East Fourth Street, New York, NY. 10003; http://www.tvtrecords.com/)