Jay Watson is a busy man. Not only is he a member of Aussie superstars Tame Impala (initially drums, now synths and guitar) and Pond (seemingly every instrument available), he also manages to find the time to record his own music as GUM. Latest album The Underdog is his fourth release.
With a background in those two bands it’s no surprise that GUM is pretty psychedelic, with synths throughout and grooving basslines that sometimes wander off to die in a happy little musical corner. Watson describes the album as “starting before going out at night, full of spirit and euphoria and feeling like it’s me against the world, before crashing and waking up riddled with anxiety and panic, only to build myself up to do it all again.”
The Underdog sometimes feels like an album from the 22nd century. Indeed, scenesetter ‘Introduction’ sounds remarkably similar to the background music on a space-based video game I used to play. There are little whirrs and fizzes flashing throughout the album, and the synths have a metallic twang to them that almost makes you feel like you’re living in some hulking space behemoth – have a listen to ‘Trying My Best’ if Virgin Galactic is too expensive for you. Adding to it, Watson’s vocals can sometimes be so effects-laden that it sounds like he’s being beamed down from the International Space Station.
At times it can be a little gratuitous but there’s more to it than pulling out a bunch of synths and banging them until a tune comes out. ‘S.I.A.’ could be something that James Murphy would put out, driving beats under repetitive, blurted vocals, while ‘Serotonin’ is intriguing in the way it drops the energy and ‘Couldn’t See Past My Ego’ showcases a more psych-folk sound. The title track, with its triumphant start and swirling jam, feels destined to be used in a highlights montage for an FA Cup fourth round tie next year. ‘The Fear’ is an excellent closer, the hypnotic refrain getting stuck in my head for ages afterwards.
It’s not going to win any album of the year awards, but The Underdog is an interesting album that offers something different on each listen. If you liked Tame Impala’s Currents, or even if you’re a fan of artists like LCD Soundsystem or Caribou, give The Underdog a whirl and you’ll find something to enjoy.