REVIEW: V/A - "Notes From Thee Real Underground"

By Marcus Pan

Chain Border

Notes From Thee Real UndergroundHere's a monster of a compilation for you. Though it was kicked out by Invisible Records, I received it from the gang in Detroit - the DEC(1). I haven't received a bad compilation from the DEC yet, and this is no exception to that longstanding rule. This is a CD box set that runs amock from darkwave gothic rock through industrial to trance, drum n' bass and then slides right back into trip-hop, industrial and EBM without hesitation. A whopping 3-CD collection of artists from across the USA. There's over FIFTY TRACKS here. That's a lot of music.

You'll see some fairly knowns, some unknowns and some up and comers. Favorites right off the proverbial bat include the Preston Klik entourage (Scarlet Life, Pointy Teeth, Karma Sutra), Sounds of Mass Production, The Strand. Some surprising new guys show up as well like Louie Fontaine, Voodou for you old-skoolers and Vodka9. Sure theer's a few duds - but how can you expect me to have something grandiose to say about everything in this massive collection?

Overall it's a high caliber release. Some gripes would be the liner notes - cutesy but minimal with nothing on the bands themselves other than the track listing. The jewel case is rather nice though, fold out of course, with a spot to drop the admittedly skimpy CD booklet (with over fifty songs in the confines of this pressing I'd like more than 4 pages of mostly art). But musically it's quite good with few blunders and a whole lot of danceable doodads, mopity moroseness and slammin synthwork. So overall I give it a high B.

So let's get on with this, considering that a massive various artists compilation is going to force me to blather out an equally massive review.

Disc 1:

Scarlet Life - Take Me
The CD opens with the trip-hop favorites of Scarlet Life. This slide-rule computed masterpiece is a mixture of drum 'n bass, diva-esque vocals. Take Me is from Sugar, Spice and Cyanide(2) - their debut release on DivaNation records.

Louie Fontaine - Evil Force In My Pants
Groovy, minimal yet surprisingly interesting, Louie Fontaine regales us with a spoken word storyline that, and not being the only track on this collection to garner this association, reminds me of a short-time popular hit in the states called Detachable Penis. Fontaine's bluesy, bassy vocal babblings are something to hear.

The Narcissus Pool - Alien Nation
Now we step into a bass-laden, low treble track from fairly popular artists The Narcissus Pool. Vocals retain a kind of new wave style while the melodies and backing music keeping it modern and industrial laced. A damn fine dance tune.

The Follow - Drive
For the mopey goths, here's some good old fashion styled darkwave rock. Some electro elements infused within, sure, but it's well hidden and the keywork takes a background seat through this tune. The guitar whines, the bass pulls and the drums smack out an easy-to-follow mopey-beat. The vocals are smooth and mellow, in a high baritone or low tenor. Drive from beginning to end is mopily fulfilling.

Jakob - Defense Mechanism
"How many times do I have to fuck this song up?" you can hear them ask when this one kicks off. Well...quite frankly, while probably a bit fucked up, I dig this garage-induced electro-industrial stomp. The song is chaotically appealing, dirty and raw. It lacks finnesse - but who needs finesse when it's time to yell shit anyway?

Bozo Porno Circus - Monsters Are Real
And now we come to one of the Disc 1's highlight tracks. Gritty - but I mean this purely in sound and not make-up. Monsters Are Real takes a near-trance approach to its creation, with progressive loops and scratchy rhythms played over eachother. Vocals aren't constant - thrown in only when necessary in metallic-tinged screams or bass-rumbling bubbles.

Tub Ring - Panic the Digital
Hold on to your boots - Tub Ring blasts in with siren-like machine wails and up-front vocals. Not quite screaming, but he's right in your face. The lyrics are the stand-out parameter to this diddy - the music made to live up to the "panic" in the song title and doing so admirably. But the lyrics are simplistic yet witty, and will run the gamut of paranoia.

Vodka9 - I Kissed a Killer
I just simply love my vodka. The world is brighter with that clear liquidic joy. And Vodka9's contribution to Notes is no exception to that rule. Very good, very interesting. Another Detachable Penis style spoken word, chick-based this time. Espouses the dangers of the Internet - just who the hell are you really talking to on that instant messenger, hey?

Kill Pop - Bow
The band name alone is something to cry yay about. The song, however, is a little lax. They go for the gritty garage post-punk part-rock type thing and I'm not sure what it is, but Bow seems overshadowed by some of the other things on Notes From Thee Real Underground.

The Strand - Cleanse
If you've been even a short-time reader of Legends you know I think this Arizona band is kick ass. This track, Cleanse, also appeared on Nilaihah's Resistor(3) compilation as well as on here. Be sure to check out their In The Trench debut as well, also on Nilaihah. I already reviewed this track though, so let me plagierize myself from my Resistor review: "Scream/breathy vocals and well-placed monologue samples, ambient-style keyboards and heavy-riff guitar-like keyboards..." Now I can go sue myself!

Mistle Thrush - Heavy Set John
A little bit of blues rhythm guitars, a few doo-dooing chicks and heavy handed bass, and we have the story of Heavy Set John. Not a highlight, but it's kind of catchy.

Livesexact - Up to Get Down
Where the hell did this come from? Drum and bass, MC-like stylings, DJ manipulations, slap-rapping chicks - I must see these guys live! Refreshing, simple yet somehow rocketing to my "favorites of the compilation" list. A funky and fun break from the rest of the compilation sound that makes you want to shake your ass. They're freaky-freaky-freaks!

TV Jesus - Fistfucker (radio edit)
Just because you name a song after a sex act does not mean you're cool. Using the fact that you named your song after a sex act so you can have a continuously monotonous robot voice scream it from beginning to end doesn't mean you're cool, either. High decibel with all the electro-doodads turned way up so that you can't hear what else TV Jesus is saying - I'm thinking that they're probably performing this sex act on the music equipment. Kinda boring. The fact that this is a radio edit either shows them to be extremely misguided or just plain dumb, unless they were joking. Radio edits don't scream "fistfucker!" Ever.

SMP - Acid Drop
Sounds of Mass Production crash in and throw out their brand of cyberpunk rap stylings into the mix. As always, Acid Drop is flawlessly arranged. These guys are so fucking cool, I want to be them(4).

Karma Sutra - Prana
From the debut album from a My Scarlet Life splinter group, Preston Klik shows his prowess with Prana, from their debut album with the same name(5). And since I plagierized myself earlier, I'll plagierize fellow reviewer Dan Century now: " this sensual and seductive will set the stage for love so intense you might not be prepared for it..." Now he can sue me too.

Bamboo Crisis - DNA
Starts up kind of monotonous and boring with predictable chords and beat tracks. Pretty much stays that way. It's not bad, per-se - it just lacks kick. Standard fare and kind of blah.

Krell - Ready For Love
Krell's Ready For Love is an example of a good song - but nothing quite new. It's surely a decent track, but it's just nothing beyond typical industrial. Ready For Love maybe, but it's strictly missionary.

d.A. Sebastian - Isabella Rossellini
A good close to disc 1 of what's so far turning out to be a very decent compilation. I like this track - it's ominous-overtone keyboard melodies thrown up against fat-back drums - throw in a little sax and you got some funky grooves. Well-done vocals, not quite singing but not quite speaking either.

Disc 2:

Parrallax1 - Regenerate
Invisible opened up disc 1 with the trip-hop grooves of Scarlet Life, but choose this time to woo the industrial fanatics with some bass-backed Parallax1. The fat-back, funky-rhythm drum styles spills over from disc 1's final track into the opener of disc 2, and this is another shake-your-toosh tune to bop to. Kind of obnoxious - but not necessarily in a bad way.

The Lack - Cereasin
Opens sounding kind of like someone swallowing a mic. It's all downhill from there, though it makes a valiant attempt at being music after it farts around a bit. But the mic's now lodged in the poor guy's throat.

Lorin Richards - The Escape
Tink tink tonk? Gets real funky after that, mixing up tinks, tonks, heavy beats, bubbly-bass synths and, wow, great vocals. Has a new-wave feel to it and remains surreal from the interesting musical makeup. It doesn't change much, but with all the mixyness it doesn't become boring.

Caligari - Grinfucker
More TV Jesus-style adolescence? No! Darkwave rock-style Caligari defies us all by not saying the word "fucker" as far as I can tell. And it confused the hell out of me too, because the chorus says "I'm sorry too much," and this track is followed with Sorry by Pointy Teeth. Really messed with my head for a while - why is it called Grinfucker? I have no idea.

Pointy Teeth - Sorry
See above - I could still be wrong about this. In which case swap this paragraph with the one above and vice versa - but hell, I'm going for it because I'd like to think I know a Preston Klik song when I hear one. A good artist has his signature after all. Mixing up progressive and goa style trance with trip-hop and even some industrial guitar infusions, this is a very yummy track.

The Follow - Standing On the Edge
The Follow keep the beat-laced energy built in the preceding track and throw in some really good straight guitar. A tribal rhythm permeates the track with brilliant male vocals. Standing On the Edge is one of the more accessible tunes on the compilation - why this one can't be heard on radio I don't know (or maybe it is and I'm just not listening?), but I'm guessing it's because it has a morbidity about it without becoming overly "dark." The Follow, while keeping their song easy to follow, infuse it with a live-band style energy that's hard to come by in a studio track.

d.A. Sebastian - Monster Monster
d.A. Sebastian again, thanks very much! While this track isn't as good as what we heard last disc, it's still a decent song. Very obnoxious, blaring and crunchy.

Flowers & Machines - Levitation
We slide into something a bit more chill out now. Smoothe and well played. Brooding male vocals highlight this track, surrounded by bright melodies and driven by a pronounced beat.

Louie Fontaine - Showbizz
Rock and roll, dirty and unpolished. Not bad, not bad at all. Louie has a knack for talking with a rhythmic style all his own. It's a real jumpy tune, so bop away. I won't tell. Hard to find it fitting with the rest of this compilation's theme - but hey wait, the theme is "underground" without a specific clutch so rock on baybee! Fontaine should stop by Meteor City on their next label shopping trip.

Voodou - Kill the World For You
Siouxsie fans take note on Voodou! So similar to Siouxsie that it would not surprise me in the least if it really was her. Good, old-style darkwave with floaty keyboards and minimal composition. Not new - but very well done.

The Narcissus Pool - For Porno Use Only
Decent industrial here. Might be a bit overshadowed by some of the more finer tracks throughout this 3-CD monstrosity of a compilation. But it's good.

Kill Pop - Breath
A better showing by Kill Pop than the last on the previous disc. It's still a bit standard though, like it's missing something. Vocals are really well done, I'd like to have heard more done with the arrangement though. It's pretty straight-forward and tends to lose steam.

Tub Ring - Living with Rene's Head
These guys again! A rather interesting bunch of folks must be in Tub Ring. Living with Rene's Head is very difficult to explain. While some bands are content with beat and rhythm switch-ups, in this track Tub Ring have this tendency to completely change personalities. One minute you're skanking, the next moshing, the next skipping through a field of daisies. Metal with doo-wop with funkadelica with - my head hurts. Oh wait, I think that was their point, even if I'm not Rene. Oh, just in case you don't get the point - I LOVE it. It's kind of like a great acid trip without the illicit usage.

Jakob - Gaggers
Raw and powerful, scrapingly boorish. Vocals sound like Thor's standing on his neck or he smoked six packs of cloves before recording - but it fits the musical make-up. Somehow Jakob manages to pull it off again in their dirty grit-boy gutterpunk style. Hard to keep still.

Bamboo Crisis - Let's Play God
Far and above any other song on disc 2 with the possible exception of the acid trip two tracks back, Let's Play God may be a new song but comes off sounding like a classic EBM track. Perfectly arranged bass and rhythm, excellent and sparingly used samples and utilizing the absolutely right-on vocal treatments for every uttered syllable, if I ever finish my basement renovations I'm building a dance floor just for this song. I will put it on repeat and see you in a few hours.

Karma Sutra - March Together
Smoothe as always, Karma Sutra spins out a nice coming-down chill break following Bamboo. There isn't much one can say about the beauty of lead vocalist Mona that hasn't already been said. A lovely way to slide smoothely out of previous harder tracks as we come to a close on the second disc.

CEOXiME - Subsume
The trip-hop, smoothe and mellow lovely-woman vocals continue to bring us down to a comfortable ending of Notes From thee Real Underground's second CD. CEOXiME's been around a bit , members of the DEC. Tatiana sounds sounds a lovely as ever when wrapped in the loving embrace of hEADaCHE's musical manipulations.

Disc 3:

Voodou - Nobody
The old-skool goth flair is still heavily prevalent in Voodou's second contribution to this collection. This time a bit of other-worldly synths give the song an interesting taste.

Pointy Teeth - Afraid
From what I understand, Pointy Teeth is an amazing group to see live. Their work, and this track as much as the others, retains a live jam session style flair. Check them out.

TV Jesus - No Object
Much MUCH better than their previous adolescent attempt, Fistfucker, earlier in the album. Much cleaner, decent breakdowns with poppy bass and over-stretched guitar riffs. A little typical, but quite good nonetheless.

Livesexact - Nine if You're Lucky
These mixmaster freaky freaks kick it up again with Nine if You're Lucky. It's ok, but their previous Up to Get Down track on this compilation completely pees on this one. Must be a B side.

Vodka9 - Rock n' Rolls Gone
Making it a bit more dreamy this time, and I'm guessing it's later in the day and there's more empty bottles of Smirnoff under the keyboard, Vodka9 steps up again. Rock n' Rolls Gone is pretty truthful - while the basic assimilation of steady rock n' roll remains, most prevalently in the drums, this track has crossed the line into a darker field of vision than the good 'ol r'n'r that the popular folks drink up.

The Lack - Infidelity
Unimaginative, boring, rather slow on the uptake. An ambient noise thing behind a droning voice. Lack. Yes indeed.

Bozo Porno Circus - Happy House
It kicks in with a decent groove, but I think they should have switched it up a bit more often. It gets draggy and, well, yawny by the end of the song. I enjoy the samples though, and the vocals came out real nice in a rap-atcha kinda way.

SMP - Analogue Assassins
Aww yeah, it's the coolest thing to hit the industrial scene since stageborne dry ice. SMP always manage to keep their lyrics original yet easy to follow, and they spit it and mix it with attitude. You must check these guys out(7) - they are the James Deans of industrial.

Mistle Thrush - Indy Stone
Still staying a bit bluesy and rock-centric, Indy Stone is a good song. Accessible, radio-ready with a rock-based yet alternative-for-today sound.

Parallax1 - Sweaty Love
Strangely enough, Parallax1 chills out. And yet remain sweaty - you figure it out. It's trancey groovy mixed up with some industrial rhythms and guitars. A bit slow and moody, not as sweaty as you'd think.

Scarlet Life - Becoming
Preston Klik is ALL OVER this compilation. And why not? The bass line in this one will groove you up and down while Chandra croons her melodies. The track has a quirky nature about it - bouncy yet grounded by the bass line.

Caligari - What's In a Name?
Similar to their previous track on Notes, Caligari is really starting to remind me of Gene Loves Jezebel(8) by this time. A good track with a morosity permeating it. Sparing guitar playing used to punctuate with commas instead of exclamation points.

Krell - Black Death Wish
I like this one better than Ready For Love. It's pretty straightforward, but the vocals are touched with an interesting vibrato that reverberates across. The music that makes up most of the song is somewhat standard fare, but I like it. It's crunchy, Cheerios without the milk.

CEOXiME - Beg & Plead
An eccentric bubbleness throughout, especially bubbly on the vocals. An underwater feel. Up-sliding chord lines add a trying-to-come-up-for-air effect.

The Strand - Chicks Suck
A Strand favorite. I covered this particular song rather in depth in my review of their In The Trench(9) release, so check that out for more. Tied with Analogue Assassins as the best song on this disc. If you haven't thrown this one down on your dancefloor yet, wasup with that Mr. DJ?

Lorin Richards - Hanging by a Thread
A completely different turn of events moving from The Strand into Lorin Richards. Very moody, so much so almost flat sounding. Brooding, made by the depressed for the depressed.

Flowers & Machines - Sail Away
A lovely way to end a very good compilation of music. The vocalist is strong yet not overpowering. Wonderfully arranged with toy piano style chord melodies and joining bright synths. A highlight to Notes - the vocalist reminds me of David Bowie in this one. Splendid ending!

Buy The Album
Buy Notes From Thee Real Underground

(1) Detroit Electronica Coalition, of course - who else?
(2) Reviewed in Legends #112.
(3) Reviewed in Legends #101.
(4) SMP's latest (at the time of this writing), Terminal, was reviewed in Legends #104.
(5) Also reviewed in this issue of Legends!
(6) See the review of their demo release in Legends #98.
(7) SMP were exclusively interviewed in Legends #104.
(8) Michael Aston of Gene Loves Jezebel was exclusively intereviewed in Legends #99.
(9) Reviewed in Legends #109.

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