Underhill: Prologue
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According to the press release, Underhill mates Dean Rodell and Ivan Shopov have fashioned Prologue so as to reflect “what they listen to and write when the time comes for calm moments and beauty.” Such words might lead one to think that the group's sequel to 2012's Silent Siren would be a restrained ambient-styled set designed for soul-soothing as opposed to something heavier and beat-driven. As it turns out, Prologue is a combustible affair that feels perpetually on the verge of giving way to the barely controlled fury within its its nine tracks. But that won't come as too great a surprise to anyone familiar with the dubstep and drum'n'bass tunes the two have issued under their respective aliases: Shopov as Balkansky and Cooh, and Rodell as a Machinecode member. It would be more accurate, then, to describe Prologue in relative terms as an intimate, home listening-styled release of introverted character that appears so when considered in the context of their otherwise high-energy productions.

All such clarifications aside, the forty-six-minute album is a fantastic set of dub-heavy electronic music. The level of craft is striking, and Rodell and Shopov impress as sound designers of superior ability. Representative of the release are tracks such as “Happier,” which mesmerizes with a low-slung bass pulse and grinding rhythms, and “Your Mind,” a punchy, tripped-out take on electronic funk. Oozing lethal fire, the album's tracks lurch at mid- to slow tempos, their grime-covered beats monstrous in scale and strength. One exception to that rule is the beatless title track, a dark ambient collaboration with Bulgarian producer Mytrip that sees the trio plunging into a black hole from which treated guitar shadings, choral voices, and convulsions break free.

Though Prologue might have been conceived as a respite from the club and dancefloor, many tracks are infectious body-movers of the first rank, and even those that emphasize an atmospheric presentation contain more than their fair share of hard-hitting episodes. While “Folded,” for example, does focus some of its eight minutes on ambient-styled soundsculpting, there are beat-based passages of an aggressive nature. And while “The Land of Grey” might open with a proggy episode that even includes flute playing, it takes a markedly heavier turn when a lethal dub groove enters, one powered by a dub bass line Robbie Shakespeare would be proud to call his own. Prologue is admittedly a bit of a side-trip for Underhill as a group, given that the outfit is identified on the packaging as a collective that includes Martina Astner, MC Coppa, and Tim Elliot in addition to Rodell and Shopov, but it's no less satisfying for featuring the work of the latter two only (the Mytrip collab notwithstanding).

June 2014