Languishing for two decades in the rare original Dark & Long single, Underworld’s Thing In A Book is finally seeing the light of modern day this month. Courtesy of the 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe edition of legendary dance album, Dubnobasswithmyheadman, the wider world can appreciate what has been one of my favorite hidden gems for years now. It’s a 20 minute minimal techno monster, an otherworldly take on Dark &Long that jettisons our solar system, hitting light speed on the way to stars beyond.
There’s a methodical build to the spare insistent percussion, slowly accumulating layers of analog synth and interstellar static. Bits of guitar and monosyllabic snippets whisper by. The sound floats closer to Philip Glass and the pop ambient of Kompakt than Underworld ever dared before or after. I’m warmly reminded of legendary Detroit techno project Deepchord presents Echospace, an act assembled over a decade past this song.
My headphones access a maglev train, pinging sonar over glowing dot-matrix mountainsides. My brain locks directly into its groove on a primal level. Simply put: it’s a perfect long-form chillout techno piece.
This is the best youtube version of the song. We’ve got a high quality stream of the music itself combined with a strangely hypnotic fan created video. The footage moves like a weirdly banal camcorder take on the time lapse photography of Godfrey Reggio, the subway tracking, sidewalk rushing connective tissue of Koyaanisqatsi. Watch it, or leave it in the background and enjoy the song purely on its own terms.
Despite its minimalist nature, the song still packs a number of Underworld’s more populist traits. More than anything, this one feels as refined as a Swiss watch, cranking up the tension through its lengthy run. There’s a certain appeal to something so unabashedly epic, yet restrained and introverted, that tears into my heart. If you haven’t heard this, you may be surprised.
I should mention the 20th anniversary reissue of Dubnobasswithmyheadman. This is a rare example of an album from the burgeoning CD era being remastered with care and delicacy. Subtle details I’d never noticed in my nearly two decades of listening were revealed. The drums are punchier, bass lines snappier. Yet the loudness war remains in distant lands, allowing the full dynamic range to stand intact. The two disc edition contains some essential early singles, but the five disc edition (seriously) holds nearly everything produced in that era, including Thing In A Book.
If you don’t have the money or patience for that massive slab of music, the whole set is streaming free on Spotify.