As it is, Danish post-art-whatever-rock band Under Byen have a pretty expansive and magical sound. While their songs aren’t always loud or overblown (they rarely overdo it, as a matter of fact), there is always quite a bit going on in each tune, which is to be expected with a seven-piece band. Their outstanding 2006 album Samme Stof Som Stof is such a broad and overwhelming listen, it would be hard to imagine what else they could do to their avant garde pop sound.
They could add a 42-piece orchestra, that’s what. On the group’s new EP Siamesisk, Under Byen teams up with the Danish Radio Sinfonietta for an enthralling live performance, one that will evoke memories of Portishead’s symphonic Live: Roseland NYC album, but even more haunting and mysterious. Four out of the EP’s five tracks come straight from Samme Stof Som Stof, given an orchestrated and atmospheric boost that clearly set them apart from their studio counterparts.
In a live setting, typically songs sound a bit rougher, more urgent, even, and that’s not entirely untrue in this case, either. “Af Samme Stof Som Stof” has a rawness about it that makes it seem even creepier in this setting than in its studio incarnation. One shouldn’t confuse this with sounding unprofessional, however, as this version has nary a note out of place. And yet, bolstered by horns and strings, seems even bigger and more intense than before. Likewise, the title track explodes into a dynamic and fearsome climax with searing violin screeches and a burst of distortion that would make Mogwai proud. One of my personal favorites from their most recent album is “Den Her Sang Handler Om At Få Det Bedste Ud Af Det” (deep breath), which even made it to our Best Songs of 2006. Here, the strings don’t sound quite as omnipresent, but that isn’t to say that their presence isn’t felt. In subtler ways, the Sinfonietta delicately lends the song a certain eeriness (not that it wasn’t eerie to begin with) before ascending to the song’s awe-inspiring, heart-racing climax, which is, without a doubt, one of the most adrenaline surging moments ever captured on tape.
While I still patiently await new material from Under Byen, I’m more than pleased with the material they’ve offered up in the meantime. Siamesisk may not consist of new songs, but rather already great songs presented in entirely new ways, and, in this instance, that’s just as good.
Portishead – Live: Roseland NYC
Mogwai – Government Commissions: BBC Sessions 1996-2004
Múm – The Peel Sessions