What is swagger? Swagger is rough-edged charm, arrogance rescued by style. Remember the first time you saw ‘Trainspotting’ and Renton running to the sound of Iggy Pop’s loose skinned drums and Neanderthal bass? Remember the buzz, the absolute Yes of it? Well, ‘8mm’, the opening track on Underground Railroad’s new album, creates the same rush with similar sounds only at a much slower pace. In short, it has swagger.
Underground Railroad, those Parisian exiles are running loose in London these days and this album, created with the help of Paul Walton (Massive Attack, Bjork) is a dark, writhing piece of pop-noir that has a really gritty charm about it. While there is a touch of Radiohead to tracks like the nine and half minute Seagull Attack and We Were Slumbering with its ethereal, rock-plainsong vocals, the majority of the album has a more spikier, New Wave quality to it.
The album is shot through with monochrome and minor chords, Ginko Biloba for example is punk-ballet for gauche indie kids who can only dance in right angles and Orchid’s Curse is alive with the warp and weft of picked guitar notes and echoes that lace the arrangement like the trailing lights of sparklers.
Lucky Duck has a swinging gate screech of guitar, simultaneously industrial and hypnotic and accompanied by a riff played by an instrument so deeply embedded in distortion I cannot tell what it is. Traces to Nowhere in contrast, is gothic cabaret.
The album as a whole is coloured by the vocals of drummer Raphael Mura and guitarist Marion Andrau both of whose thick, throaty French accents grip loosely around notes – yelping and singing with a charismatic blend of savage musicality and charisma. There are gorgeous melodies here, but they are wreathed in smoke.
Underground Railroad have produced a dark, twilit album that’s as seedy and invigorating as a one night stand and too in love with shadows to care much for the spotlights of the mainstream. And it has about it a natural swagger.