On their early albums, including 2010’s Mademoiselle, Manchester band The Underground Youth blended the atmospherics of 60s lo-fi, the pacing of late-80s slowcore, and an indie elegance reminiscent of Jason Molina’s work as Songs: Ohia. Mid-oeuvre albums such as 2013’s Perfect Enemy for God and 2014’s Sadovaya, saw them segue into post-punk and harder-edged templates, hinting at the Morrison-esque, Nick Cave-inspired, and Bauhaus-inflected tones that they explored to a fuller extent on their last album, 2019’s Montage Images of Lust & Fear. On that record, founder, singer, and chief songwriter Craig Dyer occasionally adopted a satirical lens while reveling in self-loathing and auto-mythification.
The Falling, the now-Berlin-based band’s 10th full-length album, sustains Montage’s timbre while merging refined orchestration and folkish overtones, including an ubiquitous acoustic guitar. Dyer’s lyrics on the opening title track might’ve been penned by Queen of the Damned’s Lestat: “I crave this poison every day / well, it gives me wings but takes the sky away,” he sings, effusing a Broadway-esque mock-epic tone that brings to mind Prequelle, Swedish band Ghost’s 2018 dramatization of The Black Death, as well last year’s glam-y landmark, Sex, Death, & the Infinite Void by Creeper. Each is built around an ill-fated figure, a fallen angel, or, in Dyer’s case, “the poet I think, the failed writer”; the artist striving to find sustenance in a vapid world.
“Vergiss Mich Nicht”, with its prominent harmonica and acoustic guitar, shows Dyer riffing on Dylan’s “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, though his immediate inspiration is more likely The Tallest Man on Earth. Doom vs. innocence, brokenness vs. wholeness, and damnation vs. redemption are further explored: “Don’t forgive me, all of my sins / … it’s too late to repent now / oh here take my wings.” The following “Egyptian Queen” benefits from a dramatic violin courtesy of Astrid Porzig and a spry drum part by Olya Dyer. Next track “And I…”, a garage-y tip of the hat to Leonard Cohen, serves as a Petrarchan serenade to the singer’s idealized beloved, a manifesto on past mistakes, or his expression of hope that he will in time meet his soulmate: “I have no desire to swim in you until I’m fully able to.”
“A Sorrowful Race” plumbs a gloomily folkish template: “I’m lying in a foreign bed / with a broken chest / a broken rib, a broken heart.” Dyer’s voice, doubled and layered, wafts across Leonard Kaage’s synth-y drones and minimal piano. On “For You Are the One”, the twangy violin hints at country-tinged Americana, while the post-verse progressions are some of the more compelling segments on the album, and the simple chorus – the title repeated four times – offers a punkishly catchy and memorable hook. The sequence ends with the drawling “Letter from a Young Lover”, where Dyer name-drops Marlon Brando and Faye Dunaway, invoking the history of cinema, including the glamorized debauchery and luxuriant sadness associated with Hollywood’s Golden Age; the luminaries of the past, as well as Dyer’s battered “speaker,” drifting into ineluctable oblivion.
The Falling is, paradoxically, The Underground Youth’s most sublime album and Dyer’s most singer-songwriter-oriented project to date. Thematically and poetically, Dyer is alternately an irresistible MC of the Tragic Romantic variety and a high-strung aesthete. This stance is particularly notable given the political or didactic tone of so many projects these days, a plethora of voices offering earnest reflection, wry commentary, or progressive encouragement during a time characterized by a global pandemic and resurgent nationalism. While many artists unabashedly strive to ‘relate’, Dyer hunkers down in his resplendently melancholic trench. But in that, he strikes an authentic and charismatic pose, ironically forging a meaningful connection.