Todd Underwood – Color And Contrast – Album Review
Todd is a true man of music…it’d be impossible for anyone to miss that. Whether it’s through the sheer amount of songs, performances, and recordings he’s pumped out over the span of his thirty-five year career, or through a picture like he’s got up on his Facebook page right now that shows a studio set-up that’d easily make most of you jealous out there – you can tell this guy is always immersed in his craft.
And you know we love that here.
Incidentally…we love it even more when we can so visibly see that an artist/band is using their talents for an even greater-good beyond their own success…which you can also see in what Todd brings to the music-scene. Not only does he have all the right tools & toys to create virtually any sound under the sun and deliver it with professional quality from the lefts to the rights – but through his work at his lair at Loadfactor Studios, Todd is also all about assisting the talents of tomorrow & helping them find their way too. With the multiple hats this guy has worn and the experience he has with engineering, production, mixing, mastering, composing, writing, recording, singing, playing…this list could go ON & ON folks – the point is that Todd puts EVERYTHING he’s got into the art and I’ve got complete respect for that, as should you; the fact that he uses his time & talents to help others is the audible cherry on top of an already impressive resume of accomplishments & achievements with his career over the years.
Dude’s been releasing material from as far back as 1987 from what I can see online…you know, after FOUR scrolls downward through all the music that Todd has released from that point forward – we’re talking about a serious catalog of tunes & records here people! To think that we’re just climbing aboard the bandwagon now…and how freakin’ rock-solid and fresh the new Color And Contrast album really is…I mean, it definitely confirms that we’re late to the party, but that this party’s still goin’ long & strong. Perhaps the best way I could describe listening to Color And Contrast overall, would be to say that, from a musicianship & writing angle, there’s no doubt at all that a record like this comes from a true veteran of the scene that knows his way around both sides of the studio boards – but if you were to ask me blindfolded if I was listening to a fairly new project on that first spin through this album, I probably would have said yes. Let me explain why that is though…because it’s not what you think – you’re not going to find any rookie mistakes here, or anything at all rough around the edges – Todd’s truly left no stone unturned when it comes to the execution or the ideas on this album…what I’m talking about is the energy & spark you’ll find here…which might be the most amazing thing about EVERYTHING you’ll hear on Color And Contrast. What I’m saying is, while most musicians wouldn’t even get to year thirty-five in the best case scenarios to begin with – it would be even more rare to hear something as inspired, energetic, and involved as this is – it’s a record like this that confirms that Todd still has more than a little in the tank…it confirms that the well of creativity he’s drawing from is theoretically bottomless.
We’re gonna dig into this theme quite a bit over the course of this review – but recognize the amount of Color And Contrast you’ll hear immediately on display through the very first song “Four Words.” Listen to the drums roll into this tune will ya? Awesomeness! Todd actually reminds me quite a bit of the band Lit here in the chorus of this cut…I think the way he plays the verse of this opening tune flashes an even more innovative approach to music, like you’d find in the more melodically-inclined & artistic designs of Incubus. And then like, you factor in these…these absolutely INCREDIBLE and colorful guitar tones heatin’ up this song, the powerfully punchy bass-lines and fully-loaded drum-beats…the superhuman vocals…you get the idea by now – “Four Words” rocks itself to a massively impressive first impression of what Todd’s music will be like on this album. Excellent fusion of Alt 90’s sound and a classic approach to tried, tested, and true songwriting when it comes to “Four Words” – and a short & sweet & killer guitar solo to go along with it all. I know, I know, I know…we’re way late on jumping onto his bandwagon, but we ARE along for the ride now and have secured ourselves a seat…and if you’re just finding his music like we are now, you’ll wanna have a seat right beside us after you hear a first cut like “Four Words,” or the melodic-chops on display of a track like “I Need A Minute” right afterwards.
A calmer chill starts this second tune, focused on enhancing the sincerity & brightness of the melody in the verse of “I Need A Minute” before it bursts into its expressive and crunchier chorus. The guitars are endlessly cool on this cut – and you’ll find that’s true of the entire record at large – but listen to the layers dear readers, dear listeners, dear friends…recognize that the backing layers are often just as essential to the lead, especially in the verse of “I Need A Minute.” I ain’t hatin’ on the final twist with the bridge towards the last minute of the song…Todd delivers on what he sets out to create there in adding in a bit more of a Pop/Punk attitude to his vocal melody & energy there…it’s the other main elements of this song that grab me most, but that moment there is also bound to snag a few more listeners who feel vice-versa. My favorite parts of “I Need A Minute” are the main meat & potatoes of the song’s verse and chorus…I think Todd’s zeroed-in on making sure each second of this song sparkles with sound – a lot of the aura of this track pumps out a refreshing vibe, while lyrically, Todd adds that Color And Contrast by words that dig much deeper than the glossy surface seems to reveal in this track.
The hooks & low-end crunch in the grooves throughout “Lost Planes” featuring Travis McNabb are relentless cool and pack a powerful punch for sure. I am, to say the least, a massive fan of the way the vocal-melody runs through this chorus – I think it’s sung to freakin’ perfection and it’s got that X-factor uniqueness that will absolutely keep you singing this cut for days on end. You can take that to the bank by the way…I’m speaking from experience here. It’s been a welcome invasion – I think the hooks of “Lost Planes” are ridiculously strong and highly-memorable for all the right reasons. Would I have taken a bit more of the aggression you’ll find in like, the final fifteen seconds of this tune, earlier on? You bet. But ultimately, I’m not complaining…it creates a killer finale to what’s been an exceptional highlight early on in the lineup of Color And Contrast…a single-among-singles on a record full of single-worthy sounds & songs decked out throughout the entire set. There’s something seriously magnificent about how subtle so much of the movement through this song is and how intense it is at ALL times – “Lost Planes” is as catchy as it is straight up gripping, edge-of-your-seat audio entertainment. Drums on this cut and the percussive elements that come along with it are straight-up sonic perfection – inventive, innovative, and precision perfect – fueling the heartbeat of this song with a pulse you can feel – and the SOUND of them, is always relentlessly cool – on “Lost Planes,” and on every single one of these tunes for that matter!. This cut absolutely stands out though…no question about it…I think the flashy designer sound and production on this track from the effect & layers to the original roots of the performances that started it all, “Lost Planes” is vibrant & dynamic fun from beginning to end & a cut with undeniably epic strengths I’d be willing to bank on & bet could pull a ton of people into listening to this record.
The main riff of “Stuck In The Middle” that fuels the instrumentation & verses of this tune, is wicked, full-stop…that’s catchiness & texture combined in full-effect right there is what that is. The impressive shifts in sound & direction of “Stuck In The Middle” reveals a bit more of a progressive lay-out to the structure of this song, but ultimately doesn’t wander too far away from what the people will wanna hear from Todd. I don’t wanna say people are gonna be yellin’ ‘get to the chorus’ when it comes to his songs – I’m just sayin’ he writes a damn good one is all…”Stuck In The Middle” is every bit the proof of that. Overall though, structurally, I think he’s giving you a ton for your brain to chew on with the clever construction of the verse and the stomping storm through it leading into the twisted vocal melodies and the eventual beauty & mix of questioning emotions exposed in the chorus. Everything you’ll hear is interesting…it might not necessarily be straight-ahead, but that’s not the way any art or music should be intentionally designed anyhow…sometimes the artistic inclinations and inspirations takes a tune in a new direction, sometimes that creates moments where you like one part more than the other – all that stuff is fair…it’s natural to feel that way. What you WILL notice though, whether it’s “Stuck In The Middle” or any of these other tracks on Color And Contrast, is that there will ALWAYS be something inside of these songs to enjoy, if not be full-on fascinated by.
One of my personal favorites from the set was definitely “Cleaning Up” – the amount of crossover sound contained within this ONE song is absolutely staggering. I could list the several genres and styles he rips through – but you get the picture I’m sure; and as far as choruses go, the dude just crushes this cut with enormous strength & sound savagely pouring melody and a rich thickness into the vibe at all times. Lyrically, it’s a really rad & well-crafted cut as well…on the surface, heck, ya might even think it’s all about gettin’ the gloves on and cleaning up the house…metaphorically, of course it all runs much, much deeper than that. So pay attention people – you’ll get a whole lot more out of “Cleaning Up” than you might expect at first…like a ton of what Todd brings to his music, there are several layers to be enjoyed here. Passion reigns SUPREME on this song…and it hits HARD…making an impact through the gritty chops of the instrumentation on display or the powerful boldness of the melody in the lead vocals. In behind all this, you’ve got a beastly layer of backing vocals that adds wicked contrast and rage to “Cleaning Up” – almost like a split personality, but a perfect fit at the exact same time. Bottom line is, everything packs a punch on “Cleaning Up” from the writing to the execution – the attention to detail from Todd that goes into songs like this in ensuring these transitions between such Color And Contrast come out as accessible, smooth, and stunning as they do…I mean c’mon people, this dude is GIFTED.
Gettin’ his Brandon Boyd on for a moment or two, Todd dips into the realm of sound that Incubus brought to the mainstream years ago…a sound that’s still loved and enjoyed by millions around the world to this very day. I’ll say this…identity-wise, this is a tough call…because I’m tellin’ ya right now, if you want to play a fantastic prank on your friends that love Incubus and tell them they’ve got a new album out…and you played the title-track “Color And Contrast” for them, even most dedicated fans wouldn’t be able to tell you it was Todd you were listening to and not Incubus…that’s how close in style & sound this song is. But here’s the thing…they wouldn’t just be excited – they’d be ecstatic – because the overall depth of sound on “Color And Contrast” is edgier…closer to the best years of the earlier moments in Incubus’ career where the songs had extreme punch and packed in incredible uniqueness that hit hard, as opposed to the way they’d eventually mellow out over the years to follow. Standout bass-lines on this cut…beautiful transitions into the chorus from the amped-up & artistic design of the verses…everything walks this incredible line of edgy-attitude & serenity…really remarkable writing. Poetic in design, flashy and attention-grabbing through the “Color And Contrast” on display through the album’s centerpiece – Todd’s done an excellent job here yet again, flexing a title-track that’s diverse, versatile, and completely echoes the sentiment of his ambitions with the making of this record spot-on.
I was probably the most tossed-up over “Flaunt Your Flaws,” if that’s even a thing here…I mean really, it’s only by comparison to the rest of this record that I’d even question the existence of this song on this album at all…ultimately, it’s still another killer tune when you look at it from the stunning performance & execution you’ll find. So…yeah…honestly, I’m not quite sure what it was about this one song that just sounded maybe a bit…easier for Todd than the rest of what he’s shown us so far upon Color And Contrast I guess – I ain’t sayin’ it’d be easy for any of the rest of us mere mortals out here, but for him almost seemed like “Flaunt Your Flaws” had about ten-percent less of that spark & inspired sound that Underwood’s revealed throughout the majority of this set. I’m NOT turning it off, turning it down, or heading to the next track – it’s still a solid cut on a fantastic record – and admittedly, it’s probably got one of the toughest spots to fill on Color And Contrast nestled in between the awesomeness of the record’s title-track and the powerful impact that “Give To You” makes right after. All that being said, “Flaunt Your Flaws” has a truly smooth atmosphere & structure that glides flawlessly from part to part; it’s still stocked full of the radiant vibes you’ll find soaring throughout the aura of this whole record & fits just enough to warrant its place on the set. Again, it’s only by comparison to the rest of Color And Contrast that you might feel like “Flaunt Your Flaws” needed a bit more creativity or spice in the recipe to fully captivate us like the rest of this set has, but it’s a reliable cut that still pumps out solid energy.
Todd definitely has an Alt-Punk streak that runs through the energy & vibe of a lot of what he creates – you can hear it in the attitude & tone of his voice when he sings songs like “Give To You” and the vibrant spark of stop/start sound that blazes through this tune. A genuine mix of 90’s inspired Alt-Rock sound and a modern-2000’s approach to the Punk/Pop sound are combined expertly into one on this cut – like as in, if you lived through those eras and you love the music from that time, there’s almost no resisting this track from Underwood. From the lead-vocals, to the incredible harmonies and background vocals snarling in the mix – he’s giving you a smorgasbord of sound from the light to the dark, transitioning between them and layering them in the exact design the album promised us from the get-go, with true Color And Contrast. He’s almost got something going on like…like maybe what Vertical Horizon could have been with just a bit more of an aggressive approach while still retaining that powerful melodic sincerity you love…Todd’s done a great job of reaching, expanding, and expressing his sound/style in all kinds of impressive ways on “Give To You” – there’s a ton about this track that I think stands-out big-time for all the right reasons. Definitely another one that I’d be considering in the single-sense. Even with the mix of emotions that are on display throughout this song and the mid-tempo grooves it explores – all things that usually play against a song potentially becoming a single – I’d consider these elements to be massive assets to “Give To You” in the case of this particular song. Todd plays this one perfectly…he’s got all the right punch & emphasis where it needs to be in both the music & vocals to make it all reach the potential & power the writing deserved through his spectacular performance.
Whereas songs like “I Feel Your Pain” will likely take a bit more time to catch on with the everyday listeners out there as it roams through its range of extremes from mellow-grooves to full-on rock-blazin’ – musicians, producers, and creative-types will never stop enjoying this record from one angle or another. Like…listen to the drums on this cut! Wild man! Solid churn & chops from the guitars…vocals that stand out vibrantly from the lead to the background, strengthened brilliantly through the layering & effects applied; the movements Todd makes on the microphone are really cool to listen to here and I fully stand behind the fact that, while it might not be the first cut the people gravitate to from an album that’s basically impossible to pick a favorite from ANYWAY – that there’s a rock-solid chance this is the kind of track that eventually becomes a track people can’t get enough of on Color And Contrast through the stellar repeat value of a tune like this. The EFFORT this guy puts in should drop your jaw in amazement EVERY time, and I mean that, truly. Because you can hear how the performance is certain one mountain of its own to conquer, and how the production would be another altogether – considering how flawlessly this whole album comes out and how dynamic & versatile these ideas and songs seriously ARE – you’ve gotta admire just how much skill and talent Todd brings to both sides of the studio boards.
“Some Things We Can’t Say” continually felt like it’d be a great candidate to become a huge summer tune for a lot of people out there…this is that cut you just wanna turn up to the rafters and lay some rubber down on the road on your way to freedom from your 9-5, school, or whatever keeps you locked away from the sunshine. I’ll say this…verse, chorus – both killer…and it’s the breakdown of this cut that somehow continued to become one of the highlight moments in any song on this record. Like I was saying earlier, Todd has magnificently delivered on his promise of Color And Contrast – not just on this song, but on this entire record…the way he’ll dip into both the smoothest of vibes and the edgiest of sounds within a single experience, then stacked into multiple experiences for this album, is brilliant. LISTEN to the instrumentation will ya people? Give this man some serious credit…because he’s more than earned it with what he’s pulled off on this album – songs like “Some Things We Can’t Say” audibly LEAP from your speakers and pound out high-energy charisma from every possible opportunity. But c’mon – am I right or what? LISTEN to the moment this track transforms into one of the true highlights you’ll find on this record in that exquisite breakdown heading into the two-minute mark – and LISTEN to how much of an impact that allows the main hooks to make when Todd comes surging back into’em! That’s flawless writing and flawless execution folks…like I’ve been tellin’ ya – the man knows his way around his studio that’s for sure…dude plays this record like he’s the king of that castle over there! “Some Things We Can’t Say” is gripping right from the drop and continually shape-shifts from there for your pure audio-enjoyment; high-energy fun, wicked vocals, and a complexity that can be admired.
Todd…I love you brother. Missing Minus The Bear as much as I do right now after they’ve officially retired, I was afraid for a moment I might never hear a band or artist rock their badass & flashy style of sound ever again in my life…yet here we are, and you’ve absolutely nailed it on “Don’t Judge Me.” Love the phrasing of the lyrics, love the pace, love the way that Underwood moves & grooves so confidently through the verses of this song and straight into the melancholy & melodic heart of the chorus…highly effective writing & stunning execution from the main star of the show yet again. There are those people out there that might say some of these tunes do drift too close to one specific influence like Minus The Bear here on “Don’t Judge Me” or Incubus on tunes like the title-track – and I get that to a degree – but I’m firmly on the side of, when it’s done as well as what Todd does is, more of a good thing we love completely becomes a great thing. Like, with the amount of focus & detail he’s applied, these tunes are better than any kind of nostalgia they could deliver – they’re like a completely revitalized take on the sound & style altogether, making it fully relevant for the right here & now all over again…that’s the strength of Todd’s music. On its way into the third-minute, “Don’t Judge Me” gives you a lil’ something that I think we’ve all kind of been craving a bit throughout Color And Contrast…something that he’s hinted at, teased, and flashed at us along the way, yet hasn’t unleashed the full potential of until this very moment, where the instrumentation & musicianship gets its well-deserved time in the spotlight for all to hear. All-in-all, that’s nearly a full two-minutes or so after the last words are sung…and as much as I think we’ve all enjoyed Todd’s vocals throughout this record, taking this moment to let the instrumentation shine as brilliantly as it does created another standout highlight in this set of songs. Certainly one of my own personal favorites – I love this tune – “Don’t Judge Me” too quickly, because I’d imagine that you’ll love it just as much as I do too.
I mean…I get it…if you don’t like Rock-music of any kind, obviously move on – we’re in a land of turned-up guitars and blissful distortion, full of aggressive Alt/Pop/Rock melodies…if you were looking for R&B, you ended up in the wrong place. As for the rest of us out there that dig on those genres – Todd’s got a record that can’t be missed with Color And Contrast…an album stuffed FULL of material you couldn’t possibly resist turning UP…a genuine highlight album of 2019 for the sheer fact that you can hear the passion and dedication in every ticking second of each song from performance to production. Songs like “Someone Really Needs You” at the end of this album really drives all this stuff home…like honestly – nevermind MY opinion – ask yourself what you feel like the main standout element of Todd’s music is and just see if you can even choose! Because I can’t. The balance is impeccable…the writing is strong, the vocals are freakin’ perfect every time, and the music is performed with such tangible passion that you can hear, it’ll practically blow your mind…and then of course, the production remains as slick and professional as it began right to the very end seconds of “Someone Really Needs You” fading out. The longest two cuts of the record are both found at the end of Color And Contrast – and I’d suspect that listeners out there will greatly appreciate the ways that Todd’s gone about using the extra time – it draws out & expands ideas like “Don’t Judge Me” and “Someone Really Needs You” in excellent directions and allows Underwood to make a few more verifiable statements with this album before it’s over. He’s definitely got one of the best rock-anything records of the year with Color And Contrast; at thirty-five years into his career, it’s more than commendable that everything you’ll hear on this album ends up flowing & playing like a greatest hits compilation, Color And Contrast is a true testament to his own remarkable creativity and passion…and a complete confirmation that we could easily get another thirty-five years of incredible music and ideas from this ONE artist and never, ever get bored.
And quite clearly, neither would he.
Find out more about Todd Underwood from the official links & pages below!
Official Studio Website: http://www.loadfactorstudios.com
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