Occasionally something completely unexpected appears in the Real Gone review pile.  This debut EP by Brooklyn performer (The) Underground Man is such a release.  It appeared with little information attached and even a visit to the official website drew a near blank – just a splash page featuring a hat-adorning silhouette, plus Bandcamp stream to the EP.

So, what is it about? Just who is the Underground Man?  What does he want?

The EP is comprised of five acoustic-based songs, played a twangy, late ’50s style, replete with underplayed harmonies.  There’s something about this release that sounds like it could’ve had roots in a side project from The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt.  Maybe it’s the cheeky New York edge; maybe it’s the blatant disregard for popular musical whims and fashions. It’s in the attitude as opposed to the end result: it’s not the work of Merritt of course (to begin with, this performer lacks Merritt’s rich baritone) but, just maybe, the amiable retro qualities present here may appeal to his devoted fan base.  Then again, they can be a demanding bunch, so maybe not.

The songs themselves are enjoyable in an old-fashioned (or rather post-modern take on old-fashioned) way, with the harmony-driven ‘Goodbye Look’ being the pick of the bunch.  The one-two shuffle and simple vocal suggest a love for the iconic Buddy Holly, while the recording really highlights the hard sound of guitar strings.  Just as charming, ‘It’s Not True’ mines a similar musical past as the best works of She & Him. In fact, after a couple of spins, it’s near impossible not to imagine Zooey Deschanel singing alongside whoever this unnamed man may be.

The remaining three cuts are enjoyable and represent more retro fun – suitable for either late night listening or wandering the streets with your portable device.  ‘Hey Love’ is upbeat, almost early Beatles in its execution, with some pleasing live-in-the-studio elements and ‘Trouble Follows Me’ wins through with a busy guitar break and lackadaisical mood, despite not being as strong overall.  Interestingly, the slow title cut – and lead track – is perhaps the weakest, never really tapping into Underground Man’s full potential.  After a wobbly start it never quite recovers, but doesn’t lessen the impact of the release too much.

Hear this mystery man’s take on fifties pop and pop-culture for yourselves: the EP is available as a free download via the Bandcamp widget below.

June 2012