ALBUM REVIEW: Underground Lovers – A Left Turn

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Underground Lovers
A Left Turn
Rubber Records
★★★★

Underground Lovers are back with their ninth studio album, their third since they reactivated after a hiatus through the first decade of the 21st century. That return showed they were still in fine form with their blend of psychedelic indie rock and electronica and they’ve again produced a strong album that brings those elements together in perfect hypnotic harmony.

Their last album Staring At You Staring At Me focused on the guitar sound of the band, giving it more of a rock feel. This time around they’ve ushered their electronic explorations back into the fold, placing the album close to the work they produced on Cold Feeling at the end of the ‘90s. 

Early on, Bells sets the psych controls for the heart of the mind and just as viably, the dance floor, with its droning Krautrock sprawling across more than six wonderful minutes. They have the ability – like Spiritualized and Wooden Shjips, to find the sweet spot of a groove and ride it endlessly. Hooky ups the rock ante yet still in a warm embrace with the melodies of Glenn Bennie’s guitar and Vincent Giarrusso’s vocal incantations.

Shoegaze has always been another mainstay of the band’s sound and on Dunes and Lusher, Philippa Nihill sounds like a dream sister to My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins as the music shimmers, glows and gently shudders behind her. The single Seven Day Weekend is anthemic in its drum machine-powered rhythm and distorted see-saw guitars as Giarrusso trips out in full Shaun Ryder mode on the ode to carefree socialising. 

By the time we reach the conclusion of the epic nine minute closer Rocky Endings, there’s a sense of post-rollercoaster exhilaration in the wake of the album’s propulsive peaks and floating valleys. The song winds its wistful way for four minutes before taking off into the stratosphere on an interstellar space-rock mission of chiming guitars, pulsing bass and metronomic drumming that billows and expands gorgeously. A Left Turn is another sonic gem from one of Australia’s psychedelic finest.

Chris Familton

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Underground Lovers – Staring at You Staring At Me

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Still one of the leading lights of the Australian strand of guitar strummed, literate indie pop/rock songs, Underground Lovers have influenced the sound of many a local band over the years from The Sleepy Jackson to Blank Realm and on to Shining Bird. They’ll no doubt continue to hold that sphere of influence with their latest and one of their best albums.

Staring At You Staring At Me is a multi-dimensional collection of songs, stretching from the experimental clatter and propulsive dirge of ‘Glamnesia’ to the alt-rock swagger of ‘Every Sign’, ‘The Rerun”s cold synth, reminiscent of their exceptional 1998 single ‘Cold Feeling’ and on to the glorious indie-rock melancholia of ‘Conde Nast Trap’.

They don’t put a foot wrong and they continue to produce effortless sounding and richly melodic music.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Underground Lovers

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Underground Lovers, Simon Holmes @ Leadbelly, Newtown, May 18th, 2017

With an excellent new album in tow, Underground Lovers finally made it back up the highway to Sydney after a few years absence. They’ve clearly retained and widened their audience too, with two sold out shows to celebrate the release of the new record.

Simon Holmes of The Hummingbirds had to battle the restless and chatty punters but he did so by virtue of some fine vocal melodies and the late-set addition of Adam (vocals) and Simon Gibson (drums) of the Ark-Ark Birds for a trio of their songs. A nice inclusion was a stripped back but still effortless and catchy version of the 1989 Hummingbirds single Blush.

Complete with a cache of psychedelic video projections, Underground Lovers put on a consummate, almost celebratory set. There was a false start with a miscued drum machine on the new song Unbearable but they laughed it off, with frontman Vincent Giarusso blaming nerves. From then on they never put a foot wrong, playing a big chunk of the new album Staring At You Staring At Me, intermingled with highlights from their back catalogue.

They’re a more muscular and propulsive band on stage than on record, the rhythm section locking into fluid and repetitive grooves that strayed into motorik Krautrock territory and down psych rock sonic rabbit holes. Melancholy permeates their music but the shared lead vocals between Giarusso and Philippa Nihill, the blend of Glenn Bennie’s guitar and the electronic elements ensured an all-encompassing sound that filled the room and was much dance-inducing as it was forlorn. Every Sign and The Rerun were two highlights from the new record – dark dance music akin to Primal Scream at their most rewarding junction of electronic and rock music. The biggest crowd response came with Dream It Down’s Las Vegas. A chanted sing-along ensued and when Giarusso hit the line “Lots of feathers, fluffy and pink, and cigarettes” an audience member responded with one. It was a weird sight seeing a cigarette inside a venue in 2017 but it was a fine moment at a gig where the mood of re-lived youth and fresh musical discovery was in the air.

Chris Familton

INTERVIEW: Underground Lovers

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THE JOY OF HUMAN IMPERFECTION

Underground Lovers return with their second post-hiatus album Staring At You Staring At Me and a run of live shows. The band’s Vincent Giarrusso talks with Chris Familton about the theme of the album and harnessing the human element in machines.

As is their trademark, Underground Lovers have created a new album that draws from a wide range of styles – acoustic songwriter, electronica, shoegaze, psychedelia and indie rock. They marry those sounds together with seamless synchronicity but never lose their grasp on the art of songwriting. “At the end of the day it’s about songs and songwriting and we’re really interested in the emotion of songs and how they can evoke feeling,” reflects Giarrusso.

“The initial idea for this album was just a bunch of songs about Melbourne – St Kilda, Richmond, Warrandyte. As we started structuring the album we realised it was about the things we always write about which is male/female relationships within a chaotic and unbalanced world. Those ideas drove it. There are lots of ideas and themes that recur in our music over the years. That’s just how it works,” Giarusso reveals. “Having a few years between albums gets you thinking more and thinking deeper about what you want to do. I think that comes across on the album. It’s quite complex at times even though we’re always striving for simplicity.”

The album title refers to a world where human contact is diminishing and as well as exploring that subject lyrically, it’s also reflected sonically in their songs. “Instead of people looking and staring at each other they’re looking at screens. We tried to get that idea across in the technology we used. We all come from the school where we think that computers are dumb instruments and just tools to use and that they have to suit your needs instead of you following what they do. Whenever we use loops we try to make them as manual as possible so we are in control and it still has some human imperfection.”

The realities of life, full-time jobs, having to organise six people and waiting times for German-pressed vinyl meant Staring At You Staring At Me has has a long gestation process, explains Giarrusso. “It was hard to get six people together when everyone is busy. We recorded it over six months and we didn’t know how it would turn out until the end. We pushed ourselves and found a new sort of structure for the long-play which was surprising for us. That kept it fresh.”

The great story behind Underground Lovers is that after a nine year hiatus, which Giarrusso puts down to the “twists and turns of human life” and describes personally as a tough time, the band are still creatively as strong as they ever have been.

“When we came back together it was brilliant. It just the same as it ever way which was fantastic. It was worth the wait. We’re getting a lot of young people coming to shows which is exciting. They’re saying they like our new stuff better than the old stuff which is great and surprising!”

LIVE REVIEW: Mark Gardener, Underground Lovers, Sky Parade @ Factory Theatre, Sydney (04/08/12)

by C. Familton

Touring as backing band for Mark Gardener has its benefits when you can also open the show with your own set as did Los Angeles’ Sky Parade. Their set didn’t start well with a bad mix and a sparse early crowd but as the sound improved and the room filled they found their way with some dark psychedelic guitar rock in the vein of Spiritualized and Brian Jonestown Massacre. When they upped the intensity of the music they were a much more interesting band and by set end they no doubt left mental notes in some punters heads to investigate them further.

Underground Lovers reformed a few years ago but activity since then has been sporadic. Their absence from the stage hasn’t dulled their chops though as they set about playing a cross section of songs from their 90s career plus a new one that was one of the best of the night. It featured a watertight krautrock groove and a contrasting untethered chorus. Your Eyes betrayed some Madchester influences while the epic Eastside Stories was a churning psych trip that sounded like a Sonic Youth/The Clean soundclash and featured some great guitar playing from Glen Bennie.

Mark Gardener’s tour was touted as a celebration of twenty years since the release of Ride’s seminal album Going Blank Again but as some hoped he didn’t play the album in its entirety. Instead we got a selection of tracks from it and its predecessor Nowhere plus some of Gardener’s solo work. Sky Parade admirably filled the role of backing band but there was no way they could conjure up that euphoric sonic rush that Ride mastered so well. Too often they felt like restrained onlookers, only given the chance to really shine on tracks like Chrome Waves, Vapour Trail and the sway and shimmer of In A Different Place. For Gardener’s newer material that included his recently released collaboration with Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins there was polite applause but everyone was there to hear the Ride songs and none of his recent material touched that band’s brilliance. He left us with the epic Leave Them All Behind that came the closest to connecting 1992 nostalgia and the present moment with its rolling bass and woozy effect-laden guitars pushing the song into the aether. Sure it was great to hear Ride songs played again but the spectre of a covers band permeated the performance making it had to really lose oneself in the music.

 this review was first published in Drum Media and on theMusic.com.au