What Kind Of Dystopian Hellhole Is This? by The Underground YouthRelease date: February 15, 2017
Label: Fuzz Club
For their eighth album, The Underground Youth have upgraded their at times murky sound to something a bit more upbeat and palatable to a wider public. Whether this works is down to the individual fan but for the band, by opening up to a more melodic and open sound, they channel in similarities with bands such as Interpol and Editors, albeit at a much more political level. Did you run away at the mention of those two bands? Well come back, there’s more to hear!
Perhaps the mainstream reaching ‘Alice’ may indulge in some requisite 80’s goth sound which seems to be all the rage now amongst the new psychedelic underground but outside of this song there is much darker fare. The opener of ‘Half Poison, Half God’ should have fired some warning shots as its laconic beat draws you into a dark nether region. It’s not until the ‘Personal Jesus’ aping twang of ‘You Made It Baby’ that you feel that old insidious curl around your soul that this band do so well.
Although they may have opened up their sound, the clarity that is offered gives more focus on what these songs are about. Gone are the distorted echoes, replaced by an acoustically toned sound which allows you to ease yourself in before they deliver their sermon. The bleak vocals take on a meaner perspective, especially on a song such as ‘Beast (Anti War Song)’ which takes an industrial backdrop and melds it with an incessant guitar riff. Before you know it, the band have taken you into a crescendo of sound, all the time drumming out an infectious pattern.
That acoustic sound comes to the fore on the excellent ‘A Dirty Piece Of Love For Us To Share’, and it is here you really need to start paying attention. Whilst the first half of the album is good enough, it does sound a little disjointed. From now on in The Underground Youth up the ante and with this disturbing ballad built on the simplest of riffs, they completely put you off guard.
‘Amerika’ may sound rather fortuitous given the recent developments on the political scale over there, but whilst this does buy into the dystopian view being peddled about, and we must remember the album is called What Kind Of Dystopian Hellhole Is This, it is just as easy to place the song within the context of anywhere in the world. It’s de-constructed view of a world power gone wrong is highly pertinent. The stabbed drums of ‘The Outsider’ build on this alienation and fear as a submarine echo of a keyboard signals a warning sound.
‘Persistent Stable Hell’ takes things even further down the rabbit hole, thriving on its dual vocal, throbbing bass and siren of a guitar. It’s incessant chant of “welcome home” unsettles yet you dare not leave their side. You are too far in now. It is down to The Underground Youth to show you a path out of this nightmare. First you must succumb to the debauched darkness of ‘Your Sweet Love’ which updates ‘Venus In Furs’ for the new century. It’s almost a little too much VU but you give them leave as its done so well.
The best is saved for last though, as the acoustic thrum and melancholic piano of ‘Incapable Of Love’ leads into a monologue of atrocities whose breadth and simplicity simply hits you right in the stomach. Its a moment of reflection where you stand with the band and look at the world thinking just what the fuck is going on, it’s passionate music, and doesn’t outstay its welcome with that last piano key drop leaving you in a void of no music. Wondering where and how you got here.
The Underground Youth have never shied away from making music that hits you in the gut and the heart. By broadening their sound they have become that much more powerful and whilst this album is not perfect, it has a second half which stands head and shoulders with anything else they have done. There are moments when they over-reach themselves with their ambition and some of the more poppy songs could take some pruning. These are small quibbles though and for a world that is as fucked up as now, they offer some respite, albeit not with answers. At least you know you can stand alongside this band and say that you tried.