The Underground Youth, a Manchester-born, Berlin-based group led by Craig Dyer is releasing its tenth album, The Falling on 12th March 2021 via Fuzz Club Records. The new full-length sees the band trade their acerbic post-punk melancholy for a more refined and stripped-back sound that 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.
‘Vergiss Mich Nicht’ has the air of a macabre alt-country lament, stark acoustic guitars and harmonica setting the scene as Craig looks inward and reflects on ego and narcissism: “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.” The haunting and slow-burning ‘A Sorrowful Race’ is similar in intent. ‘Why he’s achieved so much more than I, in such a short amount of time, well I’ll never understand why, I’ll just keep writing line after line after line after line’, Craig sings on the track: “It 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.”
‘And I…’, a romantic folk-noir ballad narrated by Craig’s baritone vocal, “stands amongst the most honest and pure love songs I have written”. “Musically,” Craig says, “It was one of the first tracks on which this building of strings and instruments we had not previously used began to take shape. From here the sound of the album was formed.” Elsewhere, the triumphant ‘Egyptian Queen’ sees The Underground Youth wear their influences on their sleeve, steeped in the musical storytelling of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Nick Cave: “I’d like to think the influences are quite open and unapologetic, I don’t believe what we have created on this record is in any way derivative, but I wanted the inspiration to stand clear. This song is about a personal obsession, the seemingly unattainable dream.”
It’s not all an exercise in solemn introspection, mind. There are faster, livelier tracks on the album too; songs such as ‘For You Are The One’ (“I wanted this bouncing, drunken, upbeat track for the record, something unlike anything I’d written before”) and ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’, which features Magnus Westergaard of Danish neo-folk group Dune Messiah. Bringing the album to a mesmerising close, however, is the cinematic piano-led piece, ‘Letter From A Young Lover’. Craig says of the song: “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.”
With nine full-lengths behind them since their formation in 2008, the band has acquired a dedicated, cult-like global following (the Mademoiselle album, for example, reaching 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.”