Tag Archives: underground river

[Review: Underground River, ‘Endless Air; the Other Side of Happenings’]

Underground River is a two-piece band from Binghamton that specializes in music that combines one of the most perennially traditional genres, folk, with fringe-sounding music and production techniques, a la groups like Flaming Lips. Their new LP, Endless Air; the Other Side of Happenings, out on Oneonta-based Owl Records/Blood Dirt Cassettes, epitomizes a strand of quiet, nightmarish Americana.

Opener “Modern Man” takes the premise of alt-country to a much darker place than the genre usually occupies, with the more traditional elements being mixed with newer ideas. The gentle finger picking and almost pastoral lyrics are dour to begin with and only get more so as the song progresses. Then comes touches of static and feedback and ethereal background vocals that sound like they’re being broadcast from a radio signal that has been bouncing around in space since the early 1900s. The song gets more and more claustrophobic and tense, but its greatest trick is hanging a noose around the listener’s neck without ever tightening it; the cliché eleventh-hour eruption that so often comes with a song like this never arrives, thankfully.

Other songs continue this trend of inverting country/Southern rock stereotypes: “In the Sand” prominently features a string of jarring feedback laid across what would be a typical country groove (replete with twangy guitar fills) were it not slowed down to a stoner-metal tempo. The song proceeds to disintegrate at a gravely pace until finally disappearing. “Angel in the Snow (Chalkboard Blues),” a track in 3/4 time, falls somewhere between a shuffle and a waltz. The song features guest vocals from Jade Soto of Summer People (also out of the Binghamton region), with her voice dancing wistfully around the steadier lead vocals of singer Hunter Davidsohn. “Cure Me Slowly” is a lament on life of fraught, lost potential with a chorus of spirits beckoning a protagonist onward to further misery and solitude.

Perhaps the creepiest parts of the album are when the darkness is stripped away and the band plays it a bit straighter, such as with “Dandelions,” a single chord gospel-tinged track that is a portrait of what the Carter family would sound like if they were all strung out on junk. Midway through the song a backwards loop is introduced that sounds like a fading heartbeat as someone ODs into a blissful afterlife.

Although the album is predominantly dark (and even the brighter moments are still rather bleak), there are occasional rays of light; “Precious Stone” is as close as it gets to a straightforward, heartfelt ballad, complete with a plaintive cello. The song would easily find a home as a song with more mainstream like-minded artists were it not for one simple subversion; the muted, garbled vocals hiding beneath the mix that pull the song apart like gremlins attacking a well-oiled piece of machinery. The vocals slow down into an eerie, possessed voice that emits waves of unease.

Other songs delve much deeper into the feedback and noise that is used as mere confection on other tracks; “Golden Spinach” is built around a droning mishmash of synthetic sounds and modal harmony punctuated by bits of electric guitar that resemble a dull knife (which can be far more terrifying than a sharp one, mind you).

The most fully realized song on the album is “We Are Not Friends,” a song that marries the conventional verse-chorus structure with foreign-sounding elements; a modal harmonic structure, tom-heavy percussion that recalls Africa, or ancient India, or any tribal civilization, and an understated vocal that sounds not unlike a monk slipping into a trance and being unable to purge a mantra no matter how much it is repeated.

“And the Rest Goes on Forever” is perhaps the most subdued track on the album, closing the album out with a final weary declamation. A bubbly synth rises to the surface only to be pulled back down to the depths. Splashes of keyboard and vocals arrive and are shown the door, and beyond the final droning note, the last sound heard is of someone shifting in a seat, as if to signal that the story is over and it’s time to go.

This album is full of great moments. But it certainly isn’t party music, unless you and your friends are into sitting in a circle pondering desolate existentialism. This is more “dark night of the soul” kind of music. And it is very dark. But very good.

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Review by Liam McManus


[Archive 05.23.12]

1) War on Drugs, “Coast Reprise,” Wagonwheel Blues (Secretly Canadian)
2) Dog Lady (Island), “Folk of the Old Flood and Loud Doom Part 2,” Folk of the old flood and loud doom (Alien Passengers)
3) Medumpolis, “Dumpster”
4) Polar Envy, “Sixteen”
5) Parashi, “White Powder Man”
6) SlowPitch, “”Another Other Space,” Biosphere Stargaze (Bah Doom Recordings)
7) No UFOs,  “Flood III” Mind Controls the Flood EP (Public Information)
8) Shackleton, “Music For the Quiet Hour part 2” Music for the Quiet Hour (Honest Jon’s)
9) Ursula Bogner, “Liner Notes” Sonne=Blackbox (Faitiche)
10)  Keith Fullerton Whitman, “Rythemes Naturels”
11) Leboeuf et Laviolette, “Crystale”
12) Tim Hecker, “Analog Paralysis, 1978,” Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky)
*Note: The below songs were played at top of the show, but did not make the recording due to technical error.
1) Underground River, “In The Sand,” Endless Air; The Other Side of Happenings (Owl Records)
2) Clay Cantrell, “Late Aster Girl,” The Tree Farmer (House of Alchemy)
3) Ducktails, “Sun Out My Window,” Welcome Home: Diggin the Universe (Woodsist)
4) White Fence, “It’s Confusing When You Wake Up,” Family Perfume Vol. 2 (Woodsist)
5) Six Organs of Admittance, “Black Wall,” The Sun Awakens (Drag City)

[Archive 04.25.12]

1) Ches Smith, “Pressed On,” Congs for Brums II: Noise to Men 
2) Machinefabriek, “Brown,” Colour Tones (Fang Bomb)
3) SlowPitch, “Brain Test Mantra,” Biosphere Stargraze (Bah Doom Recordings)
4) Nastro, “25” 300mq (Upside Down Recordings)
5) Giant Claw, “Righteous-Injustice-Hellearth,” Giant Claw/The Cat’s Orchestra Split (cae-sur-a)
6) Ghost Father, “Tangential”
7) Tomutonttu, “Rattus (Live),” The Noise from Ridgewood, A Benefit Compilation for the Silent Barn (Obsolete Units)
8) Skeleton Zoo, “More Various Flavors of Chip”
9) Lord Tang, “Thang,” Lord Thang (Gigante)
10) Buildings and Mountains, “Epidemic Magnificent,” SummerGut String (Blood Dirt)
11) Chapels, “No Graves,” The Noise from Ridgewood, A Benefit Compilation for the Silent Barn (Obsolete Units)
12) Baczkowski Sack Duo, “Keet Seel,” Baczkowski Sack Duo/Butcher, Breyer, Khoury Trio Split (House of Alchemy)
13) Jeffery Star, “Sound Opera,” Out of Nowhere: Electro-Acoustic Music from the Upstate Fringe (Big Orbit)
14) Underground River, “In The Sand,” Endless Air; The Other Side of Happenings (Owl)
15) Future by Now, “This Is Not,” Blood Dirt Companion, Vol. 1 (Blood Dirt)
16) Squanto, “Like Chlorine,” On Being Lumpy 
17) Off the International Radar, “A Cold Mirror,” Hot Lips 
18) M. Mucci, “The Days Blur Together” Tall House Recordings


[Preview 04.25.12: Ches Smith, Silent Barn Comp, SlowPitch]

Tonight’s show is gonna be all over the map. We got stuff from Oneonta’s Buildings and Mountains, Binghamton’s Underground River, some songs from the Silent Barn benefit album, some new SlowPitch…..and all kinds of other stuff that we will hopefully get to.

The Noise from Ridgewood: A Benefit Compilation for the Silent Barn

We’ll also hear a song by percussionist Ches Smith–performing at the Vault this Monday–from his new album Congo for Bums II: Noise to Men. 

Ches Smith

Show starts at 10pm on 91.3FM WBNY. Stream at WBNY.org.