Undergrünnen ‘Ein revnande likegyldighet’ LP (Jansen) 4/5

Perhaps I’m too young, cynical or jaded to enjoy psychedelic rock generally. The more contained freneticism of Roky Erickson is about as much as I can stomach, usually. There is a generational disconnect that perhaps I cannot ford, especially with the seeming never-ending fetishizing of the subculture. From Ken Kesey to the modern cliché of “(insert banality here) … on acid” makes me cringe. I cannot seem to separate the pointless murder of Meredith Hunter from the narcissism of much of the music. But, nevertheless, the music was a chaotic melange and a counter-cultural revolution that spreads its gaudily coloured wings into the present day.

Reading the press notes on this record by Norwegian psy-rockers Undergrünnen, I had my reservations. The saving grace was the mention of The Monks, who I admire as a slight antidote to more earnest, self-important bands of that era. Lo and behold, “Ein revnande likegyldighet” delivers a refreshing take on what I see as a bit of an over-flogged horse.

With gusto, this six-tracked pulls a quick, thrilling stunt and then gets on its way, presumably to play another damp bar. Crucially, for my pleasure, there is a careful balance on display. The production is taut and clear, rather than sagging and washy. There are enough instrumental elements to create the dizzy atmosphere, but not so many that it feels like a come-one-come-all jam session. Only two of the six tracks scale over the four-minute mark, creating two pitons of sonic crag. The rest are digestible morsels. Cramming in as much punk as there is psychedelic grunge, the drumming is relentless, the bass riveting the whole lot together and the organ hissing, slurring and spluttering in the background. Pål Jackman’s vocals are drawn out, open-throated and conservative in range, and his guitar somewhere between Nile Rodgers and Marc Ribot.

It’s sprawling chase music, sounding like an aural interpretation of Vanishing Point conducted by Bo Hansson. I listened to the record and am writing this review with no understanding of any of the lyrical content, but the chorus of backing singers and arrangements give ample texture for it not to bother me. There is tension, frustration, defiance and solidarity in every track, performed crisply, without pretension and with superb energy. Some might suggest this is ersatz psychedelia, but I disagree. Taking the route of a shot-in-the-arm rather than a miasma of reverb and idealism, “Ein revnande likegyldighet” manages to surprise, excite and entertain in a shorter run-time than the sleeve notes to most “classic” albums, and I applaud them for it. It’s Ennio Morricone on acid.

Thomas Pooley-Tolkien-Sharpe