I wish, I absolutely wish, Undermess’ first EP, 35 was terrible. At least then, I could have made a wicked pun about “the mess.” Alas, it just wasn’t to be. While this EP isn’t without faults, it’s pretty damn good. This review, should you choose to read it, will detail just what I dug, and didn’t dig, about it.
First, it was recorded in the home studio of their bassist Antoine Gagnon. While it’ll never win any Grammys for best production, it’s DIY and good DIY at that. The individual instruments are interwoven well with no one overpowering the others. When the melodies are the focus, they pop; whether it’s on the guitar or vocals. My final say on the matter is, it’s never too much. Gagnon navigates everything with a deft touch. As for his bass lines? Well, I prefer the funk he brings to songs like “Lead The Way,” opposed to his root note approach in “Do You Mind” and “Horizon.”
Second, the songwriting is good. Actually, better than good. The catchiest of the bunch are “Lead The Way” and “All These Vices,” the latter being the chart climber. The starting riff is astounding. It catches you with bold, clean tones. It’s the most minor riff on the EP, and that automatically makes it my favourite. Vocalist Philippe Ouellette commands your attention with lines that showcase his abilities. My one down note about his vocals are they’re too breathy. It reminds me a bit of Incubus in that Brandon Boyd is not someone else I can listen to for extended periods of time. While I acknowledge the talent of both Boyd and Ouellette, there’s just some hidden thing that grates on my bones after extended listens. (To be fair, I’ve listened to this EP more times than I can count so, maybe chalk it up to oratory fatigue?)
Third, they got that groove. I was told that Ouellette writes the original melody then each member adds their flash of flavour to the songs. This works in their favour. With one primary songwriter, it allows the other members to focus on the chemistry rather than striving to find the “one riff” that’ll set the song off. That all starts with Keith-Philip Barrette thumping the skins. The way he tantalizingly taps the cymbals to end “Do You Mind” is just a small taste of the tale on these tracks. It’s a minor detail, but one he nails.
So, 35 was released this year, and I, for one, am curious to see how this EP translates to a live show. Care to join me? Next year, on the 21st of January, 2017, Undermess is playing a show at Katacombes (my favourite bar in Montreal) with a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band, so it looks like we’ll get our chance. Give this album and listen, and tell me in the comments below if you’ll be joining me.
Written by Aaron Deck
*edited by Danielle Kenedy