Unless you’re a fan of Channel 4’s No Angels, for which they provided the theme music, it’s likely that the most you’ll know of Noonday Underground is that their singer was in Morcheeba for a brief, ill-fated, period. Daisy Martey took over from Skye Edwards when the latter was fired, lasted one album, and then was unceremoniously sacked herself by the Godfrey brothers.
Martey is still officially a member of Noonday Underground, but you won’t find her dulcet tones gracing this album. Instead, founder member Simon Dine has created a strange, eerie soundscape, consisting of odd samples, lush strings, and vocals cut, pasted and layered together to form some sort of choir (hence the album title). It’s an intriguing listen, although not that successful, alas.
The main problem is the vocals. While the melodies are lush and often soaked in a pleasantly narcotic haze, the choral voices really don’t work at all. While most choirs sound joyous and uplifting, the effect here is more creepy and unsettling. Obviously, that could well be the effect that Dine is striving for, but it makes for uncomfortable listening.
Then there’s the fact that the songs aren’t strong enough. All too often, large chunks of the album sound hurriedly thrown together – the result of some noodling in a studio rather than fully formed melodies. Technically, it’s a fine achievement – in some parts comparable to The Avalanches – but it’s one of those albums you’ll find easier to admire than to enjoy.
There are some good moments, mind. The horn-filled blast of Your Forever is terrific, especially coupled with the ecstatic vocal chants of “how I love you, how I love you”. In My Arms is a lovely, languid, string-filled marvel, while Kiss Me has a nice ’60s soul feel to it, with a muted trumpet that recalls Groove Armada‘s At The River.
Yet it never seems to get going. With many tracks lasting less than two minutes, there’s too many sketchy, half-formed ideas – nice moments, rather than songs. The effect of the choral vocals becomes disorientating and irritating too – at one point a Gregorian chorus seems to compete for attention with a massed choir of female vocals. It’s all a bit too much.
Too many tracks drag the album down. Heaven’s Close To You has woozy strings and some infuriatingly irritating vocals, and although there’s a lovely piano riff to One Love, the choral effect again only succeeds in raising the listener’s hackles. It’s a shame, for underneath all the studio trickery, there’s not a bad album lurking here.
p<>Despite the album’s relatively short running time, it comes as a bit of a relief when it’s all over. Although Noonday Underground could never be accused of playing it safe and pumping out ‘coffee-table’ music for the masses, perhaps it may be an idea to bring Daisy Martey back on board and get back to what they do best.