In the latter part of the 1990s, electronica was supposedly the next big thing in America. Artists such as The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, The Crystal Method and The Prodigy infiltrated modern-rock radio and TV (largely via MTV’s late-night trippy video show Amp). Of course, this wave never totally caught on, even if Messrs. Punk and the Chem. Bros. remain viable recording artists and live draws today.
One hasn’t been able to call Underworld—another integral part of that scene, mainly thanks to appearances on the Trainspotting soundtracks—a relevant album artist for quite a while; in fact, it’s been five years since A Hundred Days Off, its last studio disc. But the new, intriguing Oblivion With Bells builds on momentum gained from recent live albums, although not perhaps how one would expect.
Bells largely shies away from Underworld’s previous stomping dance-floor jams, in favor of more nuanced productions. First single “Crocodile” brings back a crisp hi-hat (à la “Born Slippy”) and an insistent, slinky pulse (think “Dark and Long”) that’s matched in urgency by rave-tastic synths and Karl Hyde’s yearning vocals. “Beautiful Burnout” is a burbling, inky down-tempo gem, while the seedy “Holding the Moth” pairs geometric EKG-monitor rhythms with some martini-bar piano chill.
Weirdly enough, though, it’s Bells’ quiet moments that resonate most. “To Heal” is a sweeping, cinematic number that registers like a faint ripple in a lake, “Good Morning Cockerel” is a melancholic piano-driven ballad that sounds like a New Order outtake, and “Best Mamgu Ever” is nine minutes of lazy trip-hop bliss.
In a year that saw dance music became cool again (!!!, Justice and Simian Mobile Disco, kudos to you), it’s heartening to hear Underworld rejoin the electronic-music fray, completely on its own terms.
Oblivion With Bells