n my brief browse through the available material on the Australian quartet Plankton, there have been far too many jokes about whales liking the band. Their name is what whales eat, see, and the music occasionally sounds like whale song, and the title of the album is a horrible (i.e. quite good) pun about music and water, and there are songs titled things like “Where The Sea Meets The Sky” and “Clouds Condensing” and “Tsunami” and and and so it’s funny, you see?
Well, obvious clues aside, the jokes are mildly annoying because they’re so apt. If the whales like their graceful, gliding songs garnished with a little distortion, a little improv, and some nice production, then yes, The Undertone is probably just up their alley. Even on a track like the nine-minute-plus “Fascinated Mouse”, with its lengthy guitar excursion, Leigh Hegg’s restrained hi-hats give the whole thing a submarine feel.
The problem: my overriding impression of the album isn’t watery. Maybe it’s because I happened to notice that Plankton are from down under before putting this on for the first time, but fairly large swathes of the record have a desert feel. And ultimately the feel for me is not the ocean. Instead it’s the unique collision of Australia between the ocean and desert that permeates the continent.
It shouldn’t be surprising then that the music often reminds of the Necks and Four Tet’s recent work, albeit with more guitars. It sounds more improvised than most post-rock, but definitely shares a sound with the more fluid end of that spectrum (a more active Labradford, maybe), and the production by Danny Jumpertz (a band member that usually doesn’t play any instruments) is finely tuned, giving clarity and focus to the sounds here.
The Undertone isn’t perfect, of course–as with most 65-minute albums, all twelve tracks here aren’t necessary–but it’s a solid album from start to finish. Far too many bands taking a similar approach to Plankton’s peter out four or five tracks in, but The Undertone retains its shape and appeal throughout. The highlights, whether the almost-funky “There Is More Than One Way” or the beautifully tranquil “Where The Sea Meets The Sky”, are some of the more appealing songs in this vein I’ve heard recently, and for fans of the wordless quasi-abstract branch of post-rock, this fine debut is definitely worth checking out.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2004-07-01