The Quietus OCTOBER 20, 2009 - by John Doran


Underworld are taking it back to their art-school roots on their new compilation album, Athens (named after a painting by Karl Hyde which is also featured as the artwork) which also features a collaboration with Brian Eno called Beebop Hurry.

The album is the first in a series with a second volume to follow early 2010, this rich musical mix is packed with gems from the outer limits of dance music, jazz-rock, fusion and progressive pop. (The album is actually credited to Underworld Vs The Misterons, a collective alter-ego which includes the group's core members Karl Hyde and Rick Smith, their regular studio and live collaborator Darren Price, plus creative mastermind Steven Hall.)

"The overall mood is jazz and improvisation," Underworld explain. "There is very little playing in a lot of people's records in the dance and DJ world these days, but one thing Underworld have always liked is musicianship. It doesn't stop us loving machine music and house music and everything that goes with it, but the idea with this album was to highlight records we liked that we thought had great live playing on them."

From the immersive, cosmic tone poems of Alice Coltrane's Journey In Satchidananda to the seductive, snaking groove of Space Odyssey by techno titan Carl Craig's orchestral jazz offshoot Detroit Experiment. From the mystical psychedelic blues of Mahavishnu Orchestra's You Know, You Know to the spicy Afro-funk of Laurent Garnier's Gnaumankoudji. And from the avant-garde mellowness of Squarepusher's Theme From Sprite to the bustling disco-funk crosstown traffic of New York City by Miroslav Vitous. The musical agenda is limitless, the rhythms infectious, the mood hypnotic.

Underworld themselves appear twice on the album, in slightly different guises. The first is their jazz-textured instrumental Oh, originally heard on the soundtrack to Danny Boyle's 1997 film A Life Less Ordinary. "We are often painted as a techno act," the band explain, "but we like to think we've been much broader than that musically. You do become stereotyped, so for us it is nice to get pieces like this out and show that we can recontextualise our sound. We've never tried to make current, trendy techno records. We've always tried to make something more adventurous and timeless than that."

Karl also delivers one of his signature stream-of-consciousness raps on the album's climactic cut, Beebop Hurry which, as The Quietus previously reported, is a collaboration with the legendary polymath producer Brian Eno conceived during sessions for Eno's Luminous Festival of experimental music, which was held at the Sydney Opera House in May and June 2009. A vivid blast of liquid beats and jazzy electronica, this fantastic new work has never been released before.

"This was part of an exploration period of Karl and Brian trying some idea together," the band explain, "before they went off to Sydney, Underworld and Brian got together to do some pieces in the studio. This was a track from those sessions that we thought fitted the concept we had anyway. We've got a very broad definition of jazz."

Eno also appears on the Roxy Music track 2 H.B..

TRACKS: Alice Coltrane - Journey in Satchidananda / Mahavishnu Orchestra - You Know, You Know / Squarepusher - Theme From Sprite / Soft Machine - Penny Hitch / Roxy Music - 2 H.B. / The Detroit Experiment - Space Odyssey / Moodymann - Rectify / Osunlade - The Promise / Underworld - Oh / Laurent Garnier - Gnaumankoudji (Broken Afro Mix) / Miroslav Vitous - New York City / Brian Eno & Karl Hyde - Beebop Hurry