The Underground Youth, a Manchester-born, Berlin-based group, led by Craig Dyer, release their tenth LP The Falling this week via Fuzz Club Records.
The new album sees Craig and the band trade their acerbic post-punk melancholy for a more refined and stripped-back sound which enters the world of romantic, shadowy folk-noir. A marked departure from the primal intensity often heard on the band’s previous work, The Falling showcases a softer, more cinematic musical landscape shaped by acoustic guitars, piano, accordion and a heavy presence of violin and string arrangements. It’s not just the instrumentation and atmospherics that have undergone a transformation on this record, it is also Craig’s most sincere and introspective work to date. “Lyrically this album finds me at my most honest and autobiographical. I still shroud the reality of what I have written within something of a fictional setting, but the honesty and the romance that shines throughout the record is more sincere than it has been in my previous work. The idea was to strip back the band to allow for lyrical breathing space”, Craig reflects on the album’s titular opening track, which sets the tone for what follows on the eight-track collection.
With nine full-lengths behind them since their formation in 2008, the band has acquired a dedicated, cult-like global following (the Mademoiselle album, which reached 7million views on YouTube). Off the back of their last album, Montage Images of Lust & Fear, The Underground Youth set off on a 50+ date European tour, their first run of shows around Asia and were also in the middle of their first USA/Canada tour when Covid-19 hit, sadly cutting it short. With the original plans of heading into the studio upon their return from their US tour grinding to a halt – the tour cancelled midway through and followed by months of isolation in their Berlin apartments – the album is very much a product of the distressing and unfamiliar world we now find ourselves in.
As a result of the pandemic, The Falling was recorded between Craig and guitarist/producer Leo Kaage’s apartments-turned-home-studios (also in the band is Craig’s wife, the artist Olya Dyer, and Max James, who formerly played in Johnny Marr’s live band): “The album sees me going back to my writing approach from our earliest records, writing the demos as stripped back acoustic tracks at home. What started out as a set of romantic and deeply personal songs also took on the surrounding frustrations and feelings towards the situation we found ourselves in. Born from the heartbreak of how the worldwide pandemic has changed the industry we were thriving within; this album also functions as a love letter to the past.”
Opening with the title track, they waste no time in asserting that this album is going to be different to the preceding ones, returning more to the Mademoiselle sound that obtained such critical acclaim; you can almost hear the bands torment at tours cancelled before completion seeping through the speakers. ‘Vergiss Mich Nicht’ offers stark acoustic guitars and harmonica setting the scene as Craig looks inward and reflects on ego; “I think there is always a fear as an artist that the work you produce will go unappreciated and forgotten, just as you long to be remembered by lovers and acquaintances, it’s this feeling, bordering on narcissism, that I wanted to write about.” ‘Egyptian Queen’ feels like a waltz between worlds and enchants as it progresses, invoking imagery of grand ballrooms and nobility; also very Nick Cave esq that fans will certainly appreciate. ‘And I’ seems to provide a bridge from their early albums and those in between which were distinctly post-punk, showcasing a soft, mellow core which runs through the heart of TUY.
‘A Sorrowful Race’ is hauntingly provocative, with Craig explaining that the lyrics “could be perceived as egoistic, but the idea with this record was to be as honest as possible lyrically and that included addressing the feelings that were maybe harder to face.” ‘For You Are The One’ takes a page straight from The Levellers or The Pogues book, with Craig explaining that he “wanted this bouncing, drunken, upbeat track for the record, something unlike anything I’d written before”; mission successful we’d say! ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’, features Magnus Westergaard of Danish neo-folk group Dune Messiah and is a piece of neo-folk beauty that is incredibly powerful due to its simplicity and innocence. Concluding with ‘Letter From A Young Lover’, a cinematic piano-led piece that mesmerises from start to finish. Craig explains; “It’s rare I sit at a piano to write a song but this one came out in that way. Lyrically the idea is quite light, the idea of writing a letter to a young version of myself, naive and yet to understand or appreciate love. The music is the complete opposite, dark and dramatic, the clash of mood and context seems to make the song even more powerful.”
Simply put, there is no other band like The Underground Youth. In The Falling they have gone full circle, returning to their roots in a statement poignant to the current times. Lo-fi psychedelic beauty at its finest.