With last year’s Going Home full-length, UK heavy rockers Trippy Wicked and the Cosmic Children of the Knight began to show growth in a heavier direction tonally. Their second album (review here), it kept some of the riffier elements of 2009’s Movin’ On (review here), but was clearly headed someplace else stylistically — a burlier and more metal vibe persisted. The new Underground EP stands as the follow-up to Going Home, and as it was also recorded by drummer Chris West and guitarist/vocalist Pete Holland — also mixed and mastered by West; the three-piece is completed by Dicky King on bass — it’s not so much a surprise that it is likewise loud, meaty and weighted. Where Underground really makes itself separate from the trio’s work up to this point is in its overarching thematic. True to its artwork by Dan Schooler, the five-track collection clocks in at 30 minutes of science fiction-minded lyrics that seem to frame a loose narrative. This happens over the course of the opening title-track and closer “New Beginnings,” while between them, “Echoes Return” gives a personal angle to the story and “Enlightenment” and “Discoveries” provide instrumental continuity. At the same time, Underground is more dynamic stylistically than Going Home, and particularly in “Enlightenment” and “Discoveries,” embellishes a touch of heavy psychedelia that feels like a definite departure from the last album. In terms of approach and storyline, then, Trippy Wicked are trying something new, and whatever sonic similarities the EP has to the LP before it, that’s not the whole tale. In the interest of clarity, I consider myself a fan of Trippy Wicked both as a band and as people, so while my observations on Underground may be and I hope they’re found to be considered, I won’t exactly call them impartial. With that said, Underground strikes as the most complex and accomplished outing Trippy Wicked have crafted yet, and feels more complete as a whole work than its EP tag can properly convey. Released on the band-affiliated Superhot Records, it could just as easily have been dubbed a short album and I’d find no argument.
Holland, whose confidence and range have grown in kind over the band’s five years of releases, is at his most melodically adept here. Whether he’s following his guitar on “Echoes Return” and “Underground” or subtly branching out in the verses of “New Beginnings,” he sounds comfortable in the more relaxed spaces and able to convey a depth of emotionality that wasn’t attempted even on Going Home, which had a narrative thread of its own, mostly about drinking and the resulting raucousness. Maybe it’s the more nuanced thematic bringing out the performance, but it makes more sense to me to think of the evolution as coinciding rather than sparked by one or the other. An all-around growth, in other words. Likewise, the band’s songwriting, while it has long since “clicked” in terms of creating memorable hooks across a variety of moods, seems to have stepped up as well, and Holland, King and West are a tight and fluid trio, each bringing out the best from the compatriot two. Repetition in the choruses of the three tracks with vocals also provides a consistency across the release, giving it even more of a sense of being one whole work, as “Underground” features a series of lines starting with “World slows down/Sun’s burnt out,” and ends with an almost nursery rhyme made of “Down, down, round and round/We’re lost until we’re found,” while “Echoes Return” plays homophones with “I find it hard to believe in you today/I find it hard to be leaving you this way” as a secondary chorus and “New Beginnings” moves into a first-person-plural in starting more of its chorus lines with “We had” or “We can” as it winds down the storyline. All this feeds into the overarching cohesion of Underground, making it a compelling listen that satisfies in more than just its actual audio, but it’s important to remember that although Trippy Wicked are engaging these new methods (or at very least developing past ideas to new levels of refinement), Underground is still very much a heavy rock record. Pretense is nil, and while the production is crisp and full and professional, it’s not so overblown as to take away from the natural feel of the songs themselves.