[8 July 2003]
The Underwolves have carved themselves a nice little niche at the chilled-out, dubbier end of the broken beats phenomenon. There is also, despite the jazz and funk samples, a folkiness and rock song sensibility to their work that appeals to a less dance-oriented following. Therefore, as dance in its mainstream form heads into steep decline, the stock of outfits such as the Underwolves is likely to rise.
And deservingly so, in their case. The original
Under Your Sky album was a downtempo treat and contained two songs, “Under Your Sky” and “So Blue It’s Black”, that rank as among the best neo-trip hop (for that’s what this stuff mostly is) efforts of the last couple of years and not unnaturally they get the most remixes (three each). A third track, “Bird Song”, was as classy a cut as any genre has provided the UK scene with in recent times and (thanks in part to Gilles Peterson) has become an unlikely anthem. Unlikely, because it is the most delicate of creatures (utilising an Andrew Hill sample of all things) and because it has a male-female vocal exchange that is mysterious, wistful and poignant in equal measure.
Thankfully, the Earthbound remix keeps most of the above elements intact, leaving the real reconstruction jobs to the more robust tracks. Wielding scissors, paste and other bits of technological wizardry are the likes of Photek, Spacek, Fauna Flash, Phil Asher, and Intega. All are in good form and the result is something of an instant explanatory lesson in the various styles, from drum ‘n’ bass to jazzy house, that can be heard at the more self-consciously esoteric nights. It’s all a bit complacent and self-satisfied and some of us are getting a little bored with the whole broken beats/leftfield phenomenon (it’s gone a bit Glastonbury, if you know what I mean), but if you want to taste the waters while they are still reasonably fresh this is a useful and enjoyable introduction.
Your favourite tracks will probably depend on your own sub-generic preferences. Restless Soul’s Phil Asher is a hero of mine and houses up “So Blue It’s Black” with the right mixture of dancefloor oomph and soulful subtlety. Conversely the Peshay/Photek mix of the same track seems already dated—in an early Roni Size fashion. If neither of those appeal, get past the long-winded title of “The Juryman Aberasch To Addis Voice Mix” and enjoy that interpretation’s African rhythms and looser feel.
Spacek do interesting things to “Under Your Sky” and the inclusion of “In the Picture” in its original form (I think) is charmingly perverse (both the idea and the song). The whole affair comes with the Jazzanova-Compost aesthetic wrapped firmly round it so you know its going to be competent and clever—if a little short on jollity. I think the talents of Jeb Loy Nichols, Madeleine Edgehill, et al shone through more brightly on the pre-mixed project, but this set will suit anyone fond of the more cerebral end of club culture.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/underwolves-under/