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  This Is Not A Film  
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When you get right down to it, i don't know anything about music. I mean, i can't tell what key a song is in to save my life. I have to strain to remember the notes that make up the musical scale. I can't read music at all.

Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. It hasn't stopped me thus far in my calling as a Music Critic.

What i do know, however, is cooking. Not like i am a master Chef or something, but you give me a basket of ingredients and a kitchen and i will create something you will enjoy eating. It's a skill that i have developed over time, i suppose.

One thing that i have discovered in the kitchen is that the secret to good food is balance. Flavors and textures need to blended together in such a way that they compliment each other. There should be no war on the pallate!

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the subject of This Is Not A Film. First, a few facts:

  • Underwater are an electronic band, from Atlanta.
  • They make a slow, somewhat melancholy sort of music, with funky beats, beautiful female vocals, and distorted guitars. I think the Bristish call this type of stuff "trip-hop". Think Portishead, with more emphasis on guitar and less on DJ scratching.
  • This is their second album. It is the follow-up to 1998's I Could Lose.

I really love this album. I have been listening to it almost daily since i got it at the benefit for Underwater's wounded guitarist. It moves me. It is, i think, the best thing i have heard in the past six months or so. I like the album so much that i dragged Tracers and Brillo (neither of whom are exactly fans of electronic music) to see the band perform in a record store.

It's really a well done album. The recording seems just right. Melissa Mileski's voice whispers, wavers, and yelps at the appropraite times. Jeremy Wilkins plays his guitar with layers of fuzz, echo, and chorus. It flows in and out of focus, sometimes blurry, sometimes clear and precise. Beats float around the dueling melodic textures of her voice and his guitar. I can just sit and get lost in this album

"That's all good and well", you say, "but what does this have to do with cooking?"

I have been hard pressed to find something to say about it here under the ever-watchful eye of Brendan. And then, last week, i was blasting the album on my stereo (much to the annoyance of my neighbors i am sure) and cooking a good hearty curry in the kitchen. I was bopping along chopping veggies to the fast dance songs. Swaying back and forth over the wok during the dreamier numbers. You see i had this new jar of Patak's Brand Hot Biryani Paste and.... Well, nevermind about that.

But as i was standing in my kitchen, tweaking spice additives to get my meal just right while This Is Not A Film played, it hit me: in a way, making music is like cooking. You have all kinds of elements, and the secret is to get them balanced just right. A little too much reverb can destry an album. Vocals mixed too high can destroy the beauty of a song. Too much cumin makes a curry inedible. It's all about balance.

Given that, Underwater are like master chefs. In the two years since their last outing, the band have figured out how to get all of their ingredients, voice and guitar and beats, mixed just right.

I really cannot think of any way that this album could be improved. It fulfills the promise of the entrie "trip-hop" genre: music that is passionate yet has a mechanical undertone.

For example, there is a really nicely done (balanced) three song sweep towards the front of the album. Track 3, Canada builds tension through distorted beats and Mileski's relentless chanting of "There is no safety in numbers". This flows into E, a song of mournful keys, swirling guitars with a really nice use of delay, Mileski's voice singing forcefully, and crunchy industrial drum beats. This song builds to a nice drone and then flows seamlessly into Melc, which starts off really mellow and quiet with subdued vocal mutterings and then builds to fuzz once again.

These three songs in combination are full of tension that builds, builds, and explodes. Organic guitars, sultry vocals, and mechanized rhythm combine fully here. It is what i expected Bowery Electric to achieve with their last album. Bowery Electric failed to fulfill their promise, but here, it is fully realized.

In contrast to the complexity of some of the songs, Underwater also offer us I'll Say Your Name, which is the band stripped down to it's bare essentials: Mileski's voice and Wilkins guitar. This song is all slow delayed strumming and layers of Mileski's voice singing soft and slow. Truly Beautiful.

Now with that said, i can make another comparison to cooking: no matter how well a meal is, there is always the subjective element of the end-user's taste involved. That is, many of my curries are too hot for some of my friends. Seeing a band perform when the drum beats are pouring out of a box confuses Brillo. Not too much you can do about it, but there you go.

I have rated this album so highly because i think, within the confines of its genre, it is perfection. Not every song will appeal to everyone, but i think that there is something here for everyone.

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