Tuesday, January 25, 2005

God Lives Underwater - Empty

score: 3.5 out of 5

In the midst of the recent grunge movement that was taking the nation by storm in the early 90's, lesser-noticed groups continued to evolve the medium of electronic, keyboard-infused rock n roll that had built itself up in the 80's with the help of alternative crossover groups like Depeche Mode. Electronic hard rock was beginning to gain more acceptance with groups like Nine Inch Nails releasing albums at the turn of the decade. When
Nirvana broke into the mainstream with their distortion-fed power chords, the music media switched it's focus to grunge. Singing about 'girls, girls, girls' and competing for the biggest hair was being traded away for raw emotion and flannel. Many other groups who had formed years earlier were beginning to gain attention now. Not every kid on the block traded away their keyboards however...
Two such kids were native Pennsylvanian's David Reilly and Jeff Turzo, who after recording a techno song for a party in 1993, decided to form a band, adding guitar to the mix. That band would become known as God Lives Underwater. GLU quickly gained the attention of producer Rick Rubin of American Recordings, who helped them put out a self-titled EP in 1995. Soon thereafter, GLU added a drummer and guitarist for live shows, and proceeded to record their first full-length album before year end. That album was titled Empty. Other groups with similar characteristics to GLU include Gravity Kills and Stabbing Westward, however GLU was the earliest of the three to record an LP for a label, even though GLU was perhaps the most overlooked overall. Despite this lack of attention, GLU has continued to make music in some form or another in the 10 years since their debut. As far as I know, "empty" is now out of print, but I was able to obtain a copy in near mint condition for only $1.50 + shipping on half.com.

And now.... the review of God Lives Underwater - Empty

The beautifully eerie album art focuses on some photography of a submerged statue of Jesus Christ which can be found off the coast of Florida. With arms outstretched, reaching for the surface, the statue beckons the album listener to look deeper into the name God Lives Underwater. When paired with the word "empty", the album cover leaves room for interpretation, while grabbing for your attention.
The opening track introduces the listener to the overall sound of the album - experimental, repeating loops layered with samples and chunky, distorted guitar riffs that repeat themselves. The guitars and drums on the album never reach for soloist awards, but provide a sturdy base for the funky, space-age electronics to balance on. The second track, "All Wrong" was a moderately successful radio single, incorporating relatively simple riffs and multi-level electronic rhythms with Reilly's scratchy vocals. Just as the influence of groups like Depeche Mode are evident here, the vocals take on many characteristics reminiscent of singers such as Alice in Chains' Layne Staley. Reilly stays within a somewhat limited vocal range, but is able to successfully supplement the music with hauntingly pretty melodies that will stick in your head for days. Lyrics such as "Here I am, my anger and me" couple well with the dark atmosphere, but a catchy chorus stops the listener from slipping into the shadows completely. GLU is able to write many songs that drag, but hold the listener's attention.
Other gems, like the title track "empty", and "no more love" are equally intoxicating, and help the pick up the overall pace of the album. "23" is a trippy, less raucous adventure, drawing from a soft, looped guitar effect to create a spatial tonality to add to the feeling of emptiness that the album name suggests. "Tortoise" is a track that relies more on the group's electronic capabilities than their guitars. The more upbeat tracks are sometimes spaced apart by less interesting songs that occasionally may find the listener wanting to skip ahead, but the monotonous nature of the entire album also helps hold it together.
The album concludes with a short acoustic number, called "Scared," which lightens the mood of the album, but may leave the listener with the question of "is that how it ends?" Although "Scared" could be seen as a weak track, pulling away the cohesiveness of the other tracks, its separation from the overall sound does provide a calming conclusion, despite lyrics like "you only make me unhappy." Perhaps this ending intentionally begs for questioning. Perhaps it is meant to evoke the emotions outlined by the album title....emotions of what it feels like to be "empty."

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