Where do I even begin with this?
"Dubnobasswithmyheadman" by Underworld is one of the most acclaimed and well-respected techno albums of all-time, and for good reason. It was only natural for me to come across this album due to my recent obsession with electronic music, specifically early and influential works. My understanding of this record's influence is limited, though I can easily respect how it set a base for future techno music and helped develop the band's own unique sound.
Something I've noticed very quickly about techno is its unusual use of repetition for the creation of a psychedelic effect. Usually, "psychedelicness" and immersion are created through texture and other conscious sonic choices that are made during the development of a song. However, in much of techno, most of this feeling arises from the repetitive nature of the instrumentals, vocals, and more. I am aware that this is seen as a big turn-off for many who try out techno and its many subgenres. Many people, mostly those who are not into the genre itself, see it as a negative aspect that causes songs to become boring and annoying. There are no tips or advice I can give to get over this, as it seems like a pre-determined personal feeling. And, I completely understand it. As I mentioned in my SAW 75-82 review, techno is sort of a grower genre. It takes a while to get used to.
I became so interested in it because the sound naturally came to me. I've never felt a techno song has been too repetitive or boring, but I know that may be difficult to understand for newcomers.
Okay. Now that I've gotten that part out of the way, let's talk more specifically about this album.
The year is 1994. It had been 5 years since Underworld's last release, and since then they had changed an incredible amount. The band had completely changed genres, from synthpop to techno/house. They had also added a new band member: Darren Emerson. The choice for this band to change their genre and style drastically would prove to be one of the best choices of their lives, as they would go on to influence and change electronic music as a whole.
So, what's so unique about Underworld?
Well, one of the most important things about the band "Underworld" is just that. They are a band.
When discussing electronic genres, especially techno, most artists are... artists. It is difficult to find a true band in this genre, often because there is no need for it.
Underworld (at the time of this album) had 3 members. Two of these members had prominent experience in the genre of Rock, which is very prevalent in their music. This is one of the reasons why Underworld stands out so much. Beautiful bass grooves, melodies, and even the rare guitar are gems that this record utilizes wonderfully. Three amazing musicians, with vastly different backgrounds, different interests, different styles, all pushing together to form something perfect. You can observe Dubnobasswithmyheadman from many different angles and still finalize the same outcome, that it is one of the greatest techno albums ever made.
I'm just now realizing that it has been a very long time since I've done a track-by-track review. Why not try it here?
Here are my track-by-track thoughts for Dubnobasswithmyheadman:
-Dark & Long:
Dark & Long is a fantastic opener for this record. It immediately introduces you to the style of Underworld. You will become quickly familiar with their instrumental uniqueness, vocal delivery, and strange (but admirable and entertaining) lyrical content.
This track keeps the listener's interest with an incredibly immersive instrumental, slowly pulling them along with it. Personally, I also find this to be one of the catchiest songs in the record.
-Mmm... Skyscraper I Love You:
If the title of this track hasn't already piqued your interest, the intro to the song will surely do just that. Within the first two minutes, the song changes drastically and introduces heavily affected and psychedelic vocals and drums. This is the longest song on the album, and it absolutely has the right to be. Though I do believe other tracks may have fit this length better, I appreciate the confidence this song strides with.
Also, let's not forget the complete switch-up near the end. Truly perfect stuff.
As with every song on this record, I really love the sound that is displayed here. It's quite different from the first couple tracks and shows a more spacey and psychedelic sound. It is the first song to have female vocals, which are used very effectively as a sort of robotic/machine speak. I appreciate the muffled yelling that gives the song a softer and calmer feel, when they could have instead used it for fear or harshness. Though I'd argue this song isn't as perfect as the first two, it shows a slightly different side and for that, I can give it nothing but respect.
The slowed vocals on this song are something I've never heard done before (at least in this sort of context), and it helps show how unique and interesting Underworld really is. Pushing the norms and testing strange effects like this is what makes albums acclaimed. I believe it works perfectly here, to make one of the most interesting and unique songs on the record.
On my first listen of this album, I was absolutely blown away by this song (and still am). I never could have expected to hear something like this on a predominantly techno-based record, especially not done this well. What we have here is a sort of experimental psychedelic rock-inspired interlude/middle section.
This song is done perfectly, though I will admit it took multiple listens to fully understand that. The level of ambience in this track is something I've rarely seen done in even AMBIENT albums.
The guitars, the drums, the vocals, everything comes together to form this incredibly unique and psychedelic sound that is impossible to escape from. This is easily one of my favorite tracks on the record.
How the hell could you follow up an track as amazing as Tongue?
Well, with a song that is even better.
This may just be my favorite song on the record, though that does change quite often. This really is just a perfect techno song. It's got perfect vocals, extremely interesting lyrics, and a beautiful psychedelic and textured instrumental. At this point, I do believe I'm likely starting to get repetitive with my descriptions, but this is due to how incredibly consistent and cohesive this entire record is. Everything fits together and matches perfectly with just the right amount of uniqueness and differences.
It's got the perfect amount of switch-ups, the perfect choices of sounds, everything is absolutely insane.
"I get my kicks on Channel 6"
Yes, another sexual reference in this record. Sure, it can get a bit repetitive, but I'll let it slide.
"As is often with Underworld, the name suggests sexual imagery of no clear relation to the lyrics of the song."
Cowgirl is the most popular song off this record, though I personally have trouble understanding why. Don't get me wrong, it is a great track, I just think it is one of the weaker ones on the album. I find the instrumental to be great but a bit more repetitive and uninteresting than others, though it does make up for this with its incredibly entertaining vocals.
-Rivers Of Bass:
One of the less techno-inspired songs on the album, "Rivers Of Bass" has... well... rivers of bass. It's got incredible bass instrumentation with whispering vocals, creating a sort of sensual feel. This may just be the easiest song to digest on this album, as it is quite standard and understandable. Though it houses nothing incredible, I still think it's a fantastic track that pushes the band into new territory.
Very robotic and future sounding, M.E. follows what "Rivers Of Bass" set up. It's easy to understand and acts as a pretty simple outro to the album. The song is about leaving planet Earth and venturing into space, and features some very interesting Japanese vocals. Though I'd argue this track and "Rivers Of Bass" are likely the least interesting songs on the album, they still feature incredible instrumentals, vocals, and lyrics.
"Anatano yume ni watashi wo tamoteru: Hold me in your dream"
Cover Art: (90/100)
It took me a while to develop the respect that this album cover actually deserves, as at first, I viewed it as being a bit too messy for my liking.
It has grown on me much over time, and learning about its influence definitely helped:
The cover "set a new standard of presentation for subsequent Dance albums". In Graphic Design: A New History, Stephen Eskilson cites the cover as a notable example of the "expressive, chaotic graphics" that developed in the 1990s, a design style he calls "grunge".
I see Underworld being a very heavy influence in my future musical endeavors, and this album specifically is one of their greatest. If you are interested in listening to more techno, I'd recommend this as a pretty good place to start. It's mostly easy to digest, thanks to the catchiness of the vocals, but it also contains some more experimental elements.
Also, this was my pick for The Collective! :)