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Underworld

It's been three years since we last heard from Underworld, the popular British group that successfully combines elements of techno and house with vocals and melody. Having the human element of a singer (Karl Hyde) up at the front of the stage undoubtedly helped them gain a foothold in the United States in the mid-'90s, when the first go-round of "electronica" hype took place. After the release of Beaucoup Fish in 1999, golden boy Darren Emerson left to nurture his burgeoning DJ and solo production career, which many at the time believed would signal the end of Underworld. Emerson was viewed as the guy who brought in the dance element. So what did the group do? It released a live CD and DVD, which seemed more like an afterthought than a next step.

So now they're back with a new album, A Hundred Days Off. And while the disc is not a classic, it's certainly not a failure. If anything, Hundred proves that Underworld is still relevant in an increasingly crowded and fragmented electronic music scene. The album is more moody and subdued than Fish, but it also has its share of barn-burners. "Two Months Off," the first single, is a bumping, blistering track that sets the tone for much of the album. "Dinosaur Adventure 3D" is a tight-fisted builder that quivers and shakes nervously before Hyde's eerie moans filter through the mayhem. But what really sets Hundred apart is its cohesiveness. It's not simply several individual tracks ready-made for the dance floor. In fact, there's a real sense of melancholy and sadness throughout. "Trim" is cool and graceful, almost mournful, while the next track, "Ess Gee," is a soothing little interlude composed of just a guitar and some carefully placed keyboards. Hyde's usual nonstop stream-of-consciousness, nonsensical lyrics are there, but they seem more controlled. In short, Emerson or no Emerson, this time around, it's a darker and mellower ride, with plenty of satisfying hooks and beats.

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Tim Pratt

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