The Underground Youth - What Kind Of Dystopian Hellhole Is This?

by Steve Rhodes Rating:8 Release Date:2017-02-15

Seven albums down in as many years and numerous EPs to boot, Manchester's The Underground Youth cannot be accused of being workshy. Intrinsically linked with the always-great Fuzz Club recordings, the band have been ploughing a murky and claustrophobic furrow throughout their career, with Joy Division's Twenty Four Hours the inspiration for a lot of material. However, their latest album What Kind Of Dystopian Hellhole Is This? Is a focused and positive record that waivers quite distinctly from their usually linear path, with ten numbers that while still often weigh down heavy on the soul, offer far more than dense and dark guitar dynamics coupled with vocals that verge on the desperate.

'Half Poison/Half God' is an unhurried opener, with a mix of neatly strummed Nick Cave guitars and a glacial guitar over the top, a spacious atmosphere in the vein of Codeine or The XX. Craig Dyer's deep and echoed vocals, like O. Children's Tobi O'Kandi or Chapel Club sit deep in the mix, as a warm soaking of fuzz interrupts proceedings for a short while, before returning to the start position. An uncomplicated and solemn but deeply melodic opener.

'Alice' speeds up proceedings but minor key remains king, like a contemporary The Chameleons, or The Cure's Disintegration, with spectral tones driven from guitars rather than keys. Lyrics remain downbeat “oh baby I never want to see your pretty little face again”, but lighter drums and nice guitar loops lift the mood A strong parallel to the lost but brilliant early 90s moodists Chicane (not the chart-friendly dance act).

There is more of an earnest swagger with 'You Made It Baby', as dirty but playful guitar riffs lead the way in the style of The Cramps or Depeche Mode's I Feel You. The vocals are denser and darker, as the repetition is invaded by a temporary wall of guitar squall, like a stripped-back Ministry passing the baton to Spectres.

Gloominess still remains a default setting for a number of tracks, hardly surprising perhaps judging by the album title. The fuzzed up guitars of 'Beast (Anti War Song)' are propelled into darkness by the deepest of vocal, drawn from the bleakest underbelly of a post-apocalyptic city. 'Outsider' maintains the morbid tone, with fuller drums and a repetitive rolling bass pattern, squalls of guitar noise and an almost-spoken Peter Murphy vocals, with perhaps only a deeply-echoed and delayed guitar offering a chink of light. The politically suggestive 'Amerika' is more optimistic, as moody, chiming guitars and distortion compete along with throbbing electronic drums, the guitars swirl more and feel lighter, akin to Redjetson or early Interpol.

The best of the darker numbers though is the outstanding 'Persistent Stable Hell'. Distorted guitars whirl ominously in the background as a two-note guitar pushes into the foreground, as the guitars become more expansive and hypnotic. But it's the two-way vocal exchange, that borders Prolapse-style on the antagonistic, that's centre stage. Craig's “here you are now, a new face in hell.... welcome home” is neatly riposted by drummer Olya Dyer's response “don't call me babe, I'm in control now, see how you are, the old face in hell”, with “welcome home” repeated more in a state of resigned, maligned defeat rather than Peters & Lee. As great spectral guitar riffs, similar in trajectory to Preoccupations tower over the track, it feels like a Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazelwood tribute to the displaced masses.

'Your Sweet Love' highlights there's more to the record than despondency and gloomy guitars with descending looped samples and guitar chords, that nods to Krautrock or Ganger's deliriously beautiful BlauCraig's booming vocals are echoed as they were sung in a cavernous cathedral, with a collection of musical elements that feel far more optimistic, which could sit nicely as the theme music at the end of 28 Days Later.

Even more surprising are the inclusion of 'acoustic' numbers in the centre and the end of the record, as if they were closing each side of the vinyl. 'A Dirty Piece Of Love For Us to Share' is a total contrast, with strummed acoustic guitars, hitting major keys with regular abandon, a barely-audible organ and a tambourine are sole partners for Craig's vocals, the latter of which are the only real connection from much of the album, more in tune with The The.

'Incapable Of Love' is even better, with the subtlest buried electric guitar the wing-man to an acoustic guitar, both of which allow a descending piano to lead the way. Craig's spoken-word vocal offers a new direction to a beautiful and haunting track that neatly closes a great album,

With a potentially prophetic title such as What Kind Of Dystopian Hellhole Is This? emerging during a backdrop of recent, unsettling political upheaval throughout the world, it could be easy for The Underground Youth to produce a wallowing album as if to almost soundtrack the current times. Instead The Underground Youth have composed their strongest and most consistent record, which while it doesn't stray from the forte they have mastered over their career suggests new directions and hints that optimism can be regularly found in even the darkest places.

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