Album review: Underworld – Drift Series 1

Album cover for Underworld - Drift Series 1. Picture: Supplied.

Album cover for Underworld - Drift Series 1. Picture: Supplied. - Credit: Archant

A highlights package from an incredible year for the electronica legends.

At the close of October 2018, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith prepared to embark on Drift. One of the most challenging creative journeys for a musician, it involved them committing to write, record and mix one song or piece of film each week, every week, for a year, released in five 'episodes'.

While the premise isn't new (rockers Ash published a song a fortnight for a year in 2009-10, for example), the pair's sheer output is impressive, with a seven-disc box set also available containing everything they recorded, plus films that range from the Moroccan desert to rural Essex via the inside of a computer, and an 80-page book chronicling this ambitious, pressurised creative endeavour.

Collaborators reflected the pair's experimental intent - from Japanese noise band Melt-Banana to economics commentator Aditya Chakrabortty, to members of Black Country, New Road - but don't expect any spit'n'sawdust country and western, or power-ballad pop.

The Drift Series 1 Sampler picks 10 of the project's best tunes. Largely based in ambient electronica, it hangs together well as an album, with each peak and trough accentuating the other's finer traits.

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The gentle undulations and oscillations of Appleshine open the record, segueing into the chugging beat that underlies This Must Be Drum Street, in which Hyde and Smith gently harmonise, making the line 'Do you wanna buy my car?' sound more serene and dreamlike than it ever has before.

It's the quirks that keep things interesting - S T A R (Rebel Tech) is a smile-raising lyrical game of Celebrity I Spy, played over a precision-machined, brittle synth chassis, while the whoops and hollers dropped into Imagine A Box give it a welcome 'recorded live' immediacy.

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Yes That Would Be is lean and gorgeous, just a couple of synths stretching out a barely-there soundbed while what sounds like a sinewy, coruscating electric guitar evokes an African savannah sunset.

The denouement of Border Country, their collaboration with techno producer Phase, and the insistent 95-second banger Mile Bush Pride that follows, is the album's only foray into more intense, basement-club depths, all the more brilliantly brutal for their rarity value.

Wrapping up the record, at almost 10 minutes long, is the heavy-lidded Custard Speedtalk, with vocals drawn out beneath a blanket of twinkling synth stars and jazz drums - a divinely soporific bookend.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

Underworld play the Wembley Arena on December 7.

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