Thursday, January 6, 2022

CD Odyssey Disc 1530: The Underground Youth

When picking a record to review, I usually alternate between music in my “new to me” section (usually around 80-100 albums bought within the last year) and music filed away in the stacks (thousands more). The “new to me” section is organized from newest to the collection to oldest, but I just roll randomly out of the pile. This next review happened to be the newest of the new – literally purchased just last week. So hot from the store to you, here’s some music.

Disc 1530 is….  The Falling

Artist: The Underground Youth

Year of Release: 2021

What’s up with the Cover? A field of tulips, which could be beautiful but here we have them under the influence of a red filter because DRAMA. Also the album title in dozens of languages because “the falling” can happen ANYWHERE!

How I Came To Know It: I only discovered these guys last March, but I already can’t remember how. I dimly remember seeing a video for their song “Vergiss Mich Nicht” so maybe it was from a “best songs of the week” type of article. If so, I couldn’t find it. In terms of the actual purchase, I only found digital options on-line and assumed they didn’t release the CD. Then last week I found it in the stacks of my local record store. Where I gobbled it up with some Christmas money. Huzzah!

How It Stacks Up: This is my only Underground Youth album so it can’t stack up.

Ratings: 3 stars

Is it ever OK to be overwrought? I would say yes if you over-wring it just right and are unapologetic about doing so. This thought (and just what constitutes the right amount of pale and wan) were on my mind often as I listened to Underground Youth’s “The Falling”.

The band is solidly Euro-Goth (if that’s not a thing, it should be), influenced by Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen. And when I say influenced, I mean a lot of influence. So much so that at times they sound like a Nick Cave cover band. It tempted me to label them derivative, but that would not be fair to the quality of the music, and besides, no one should be blamed for their musical influences. Except Creed. They should be blamed.

On “The Falling” Underground Youth capture that creepy confessional quality of Nick Cave songs, with the steady rhyme and measure you’ll find in mid-career Leonard Cohen. They are not as good as either of those artists, but they do a good job of putting their own spin on the sound.

The guitars tend to be basic strums, and there are hints of strings here and there but don’t expect a lot of musical innovation. The music is the backdrop for lead singer Craig Dyer to deliver lyrics in his deep baritone, as he hints that something of great import is being shared.

Both the music and vocals are very theatrical, like an ancient Greek orator delivering prose in a stone-stepped theatre. It inclines you to believe some great tragedy is unfolding, or possibly observations on a dystopian future. However closer examination usually reveals something much more personal revolving around self-doubt and a fair bit of alcoholism. Examples of the latter abound, from the beginning of the title track:

“I crave this poison every day
Well, it gives me wings
But takes the sky away

To “A Sorrowful Race” with:

“I curse first the empty bottle
That lies by my side
For the one job that I gave it
Well, it failed as it tried”

Incidentally, the race in the sorrowful race is a reference comparing raindrops falling and tears rolling down our narrator’s cheeks. It is very much on the wrong side of maudlin. “A Sorrowful Race” is one of the record’s better songs and possesses a genuine and profound melancholy. But imagery like that – a bit too on the nose - holds the record back.

Cohen and Cave might have made you feel the same way, but they would have used better language. Admittedly, that is a hell of a high bar, but if a band is going to sound that similar, then those are the comparisons they’re going to invite.

Despite its shortcomings, “the Falling” works well as a mood piece, particularly when listened to sequentially from beginning to end. The songs tend to blend into one another with a pleasant hypnotic quality and a rising tension. It is good for a wallow, and it feels honest despite moments where it needs to be just a little bit less verklempt.

Best tracks: The Falling, Vergiss Mich Nicht, A Sorrowful Race

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