Norway’s Undergrünnen are messing with my mind. They could be singing about the sex life of a duck-billed platypus for all I know, me not being anything approaching fluent in their Nordic tongue, so I’ve logged on to Google Translate to try and at least get some kind of handle on what the titles actually mean. Picking various tracks at random, I came back having deciphered rather unlikely monikers such as ‘Teeth In No Large’ (‘Tennene i no stort’), ‘Beatitude Said Stings’ (‘Salighet sa svir’) and ‘Black-Bluish’ (‘Svartbakk‘).
I suspect I’ve not been overly successful in my findings here, but the LAST one I tried, ‘Skjonne du Ingenting’), do you know what that, rather more plausibly, came back as? ‘You Understand Nothing‘, ironically.
As I said, Undergrünnen are messing with my mind. It’s a good job then, that their eponymously titled debut album is such a delight. It’s big, brash and exciting, the hypnotic thrum of tracks like the brilliant ‘Blokkunge‘ rattling along like an express train that’s high on speed and brimming with narcotics. That compulsive, propulsive rhythm section is at the core of this thrilling nine-song set and weds the coarse, hard-hitting nature of sixties garage bands with some shimmering Afrobeat. It’s as though Paul Simon had eschewed Ladysmith Black Mambazo for ‘Graceland‘ and asked, say, The Monks or MC5 to be his backing band instead.
Looking at the backstory here just makes it all the more extraordinary. It runs that Haugesund Prison in Norway needed a band to play for the inmates at very short notice, so they called Per Steinar Lie of The Low Frequency In Stereo to assist. Only one of his band were around at the time, so he called Wunderkammer‘s Pål Jackman, who had just moved back to the area. The three of them set up their equipment at the prison and performed on stage in front of said inmates without a single rehearsal! Such a ramshackle arrangement would have flummoxed lesser mortals but the show was a success and the juggernaut ploughed on.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a non-stop jaunt aboard the Trans-Global Express, though. Undergrünnen, after all, are more than capable of surprising us all with the kind of proggy psychedelia that the likes of Can popularised, most notably on the 11-minute aural assault of ‘Garpeskjær Zulujive‘, relentless and sprawling in nature, yet still as vital as anything else on the album. This is prog for people who don’t like prog, as well as for people who do.
Most of the time, Undergrünnen is an absolute riot, and it’s difficult not to be entranced by it all. They’ve definitely become my favourite Norwegian band in a very short space of time indeed. I suspect they’re soon to be yours too.