You Asked for It: Underwater Getdown
By Niki D'Andrea
Last week, I posted a challenge of sorts to local music artists, specifically, the disgruntled bands who complain that we don’t give press to them. I vowed to review local CDs in the order in which they were received, and to be completely honest about my impressions of the music. I’m still waiting for more Valley bands to send me their CDs for review – particularly the Video Nasties (no, not the British group of the same name, nor the band of the same name from Pennsylvania, but a Mesa band), whose “Dally Dirtnap” sent an e-mail to our editor-in-chief, Rick Barrs, complaining about our recent cover story on Digital Summer He said DS wasn’t cover material, and his band was “much better,” “without even trying.”
So, uh, Dally Dirtnap – send your “much better” band’s CD to me at the address below. Mark the envelope YAFI so I can find it quickly in my mountains of mail. I guarantee I’ll review it, right here in “You Asked for It.”
c/o Phoenix New Times
1201 E. Jefferson Street
Phoenix, AZ 85034
The first CD I’m going to review is from Tempe-based coed quintet Underwater Getdown. They categorize their music as “CONCRETE/CONCRETE/CONCRETE” on their MySpace page. Not sure what that means, but here’s my two cents.
Underwater Getdown’s not real big on linear arrangement, with various instruments intruding on the choruses and bridges and taking the songs for wild swings around the meter. There’s some good, moody songwriting here, and some nice melodies (the keys on “Patterns” are lovely), but stylistically, UG is all over the place. Some songs, like “Monrovia,” have a granola jam-band vibe similar to Oakley Hall; some songs, like “Slingshot” and “The New Asthma,” are a strange mixture of spacey goth and haunted freak-folk; other songs, like the 1:11 track “Grasshopper,” open with squalls of feedback and end up sounding like diluted Pixies tunes; while still other songs, like the standout “Electric Lights,” straddle indefinable lines – it sounds like the B-52s singing in front of a band that’s half ‘70s UK punk outfit X-Ray Spex and half disco queen Donna Summer’s 1978 backing band. It’s schizo boogie that ends with a cacophonous explosion of horns and distortion.
The instrumentation throughout the album – particularly the alternating melancholy and malignant saxophone – is startling in its unconventional flow and layers, but 80% of the time, it works in some strange way. The other 20% of the time? Well, that’s where horribly discordant and off-key songs like “Empire” fall. Vocals are not one of UG multi-instrumentalist Bryan’s strong points (but keyboardist/vocalist Audra has a pleasing mezzo soprano), and songs like the stripped-down, ghost-folk number “The New Asthma” crumble a bit under his shaky, tortured tenor (though this song’s revived by a galloping snare rhythm that pops in 2:30 into the tune). The self-production throughout is solid (though the mix could be better), and there are clear indications that this band’s got some serious songwriting chops. The songs might be too eclectic – there’s no “vibe” or “mood” throughout the album, and there are sometimes several sonic and polar shifts within a single song, but one gets the feeling Underwater Getdown can nail it. As soon as they decide what “it” is.