[23 February 2011]
Underminers might be the best Australian band you’ve never heard. Masters of loose, melancholy songs built around the vocals of Justin Hayward and the guitar and keyboards of Chris Morris, the band manages to do a great deal with simple ingredients. Much of the time, Hayward’s voice operates a few notches above hushed whisper, and the instrumentation is equally low-key. There is a danger to this, of course—low-key can quickly become lifeless—but for the most part the band avoids such pitfalls.
Album opener “Slow Dancing” is built of little more than Hayward’s trembly voice and a gently descending piano line, but the song is genuinely wistful and compelling. In fact, “wistful” sums up many of the most successful songs here. “Nothing Guy” and “Audacious” are slightly more uptempo, but the prevailing tone remains unchanged. Appropriately for a record entitled Heart Part of Your Mind, the subject matter remains squarely focused on romance, or rather, its loss, its memory, its inadequacy.
The news isn’t all good; some of the tracks do fall on the wrong side of lethargy (I’m looking at you, “TV Song”), but such missteps are few. The back half of the record is nearly as strong as the first, with tasteful violin touches showing up in “So Kind” and a bit of a rocking vibe in “Self Locking” to prevent the proceedings from degenerating into staleness. And has there ever been a better song title than “I’m Using You Too Much For My Songs”? (Hint: no.)