Todd Underwood – Reflectings Acustico – Album Review
It’s been a highly creative year for artist Todd Underwood – he sent 2019 a message that he was here to stay and had his head fully in the game with the release of two official albums this year. Dude did an incredible job with his album Color And Contrast, which we reviewed back in May – like it wasn’t just a good record, it was a great one – an achievement so strong that just about anyone else out there would likely take a minute or two to rest & reflect…but not Todd. Nope…from what it would seem, Todd did a lap around the revolving-door on the studio; after finishing up an extraordinary set of his material for Color And Contrast, he walked right back into the recording booth and sat right back down, at home, where he clearly belongs. The official story on the creation of these tunes may or may-not be anything close to what I’ve theorized here…but you get the point – two full albums in one year is a true accomplishment.
The immediate difference between what we heard from Underwood last time around and this set of mesmerizing acoustic-based gems makes itself known instantly through the delicate sound of “Back To You” at the start of Reflectings Acustico. It’s got a mix of things from a bold folk sound formed from acoustic guitar, violin, and percussion, to the arguably theatrical element it has at its core; you can hear a song like “Back To You” could easily be a part of a musical and no one out there would question it. I dig it as an opener…I think “Back To You” has a subtle-but-legendary sound to it that feels like the journey Todd’s referencing in the lyrics of this first tune. With its combination of high-art/folk-driven style, I have no doubt that this track will likely serve as an introduction to this dimension of Underwood’s sound…as to whether or not it’ll catch on as quickly as many of the other songs will, that’s harder to say. Best I’ve come up with, is that there’s a really involved & compelling song at the core of “Back To You” that has us genuinely wanting to hear where this tale of love will take him; it’s a good gateway into the record without giving away all of his secrets in one shot. Do I think he’ll reveal more accessible tunes further into the lineup? No doubt about it – and I think that starts immediately after.
It did cross my mind that the progressive inclinations and directions of Todd’s writing can at times make what appears to be a smooth & easy experience into quite a complex beauty – as in, I’d be interested to know what the people out there think of a song like “I Forgot To Worry.” I know how I hear it personally – and I love the main hook – but I’d be the first to admit, there’s not really all that much that’s easy about any of this song when you examine it up close. Which is fine, not all art & music should be easy anyhow – I’m just saying it’s like a track that’s designed perfectly to pull one over on the mainstream and have them enjoy something with a little more meat on the bone. Acoustically-speaking, of course. Bottom line is, for all its complexities, I doubt that listening ears would get to hung up on the intricate nature of its structure, and instead favor the amount of sweet & smooth sound flowing out of the speakers. The main hook on “I Forgot To Worry” is highly effective…Todd gets the subtle intensity and emotion required to make the chorus fully believable. Hard to argue with a song that endlessly keeps the sound as dreamy and chill as “I Forgot To Worry” – really well sung…there’s a lot of heart at the core of this song, and the accenting strings that come in to join in are the heroes of the tunes final ending. All of what I’ve said is a comment on the same thing ultimately – “I Forgot To Worry” is an insightfully inventive melody that gives you so much more than the average Pop song ever could…I 100% love this. To me, this track is as intriguing as it is entertaining, and a shining example of smart songwriting at work.
I remember running into the issue last time trying to parse out which part of Todd’s music grabbed my attention the most, and realizing he’s simply one of the most well-rounded and balanced talents out there. Between the music, the vocals, the songwriting, and production – the man makes it extremely tough to consider one aspect of his sound better than the others…and that kind of equal caliber quality in what Todd creates makes him an artist that should be on your radar and on your playlists. “You Mean Everything To Me,” is just one of a ton of examples where you’ll hear how well the sweetness in the music complements the vocals, harmonies, and effects as spot-on as you could ever hope to hear it. Loved the violin in the mix here…this is a great example of Todd making what seems simple so spectacular…the attention to detail is remarkable, and the way the vocals interact with the music is freakin’ magnificent on this tune. You COULD get a cavity from the sweetness you’ll find in this song though, so consider yourselves warned…but this sound is undoubtedly a suit that fits Todd really well. “You Mean Everything To Me” is an audible breath of fresh air and uplifting spirit – you could search long & hard and it’s gonna take you a while before you stumble upon a song with as much sweet sentiment…this is the loveliest love song you’re bound to hear for some time. I’ve always maintained that writing ‘happy’ is one of the toughest things to pull off in comparison to just about every other mood I can think of – but this is a shining example of what it sounds like when things come out right.
I’m a sucker for melody to begin with…add in a bit of a downtrodden vibe and I’ll sit and listen all day long – so a track like “Wishing You The Best” was a track I connected with quickly. Underwood proves that he can captivate every bit as much in an acoustic environment as he did throughout the electrified songs on Color And Contrast – “Wishing You The Best” is that perfect storm in a teacup type of song that can break your heart just as easily as it could potentially repair it. Very gentle percussion, an acoustic guitar, a powerful vocal performance, and a really strong idea running through the main melody-line – “Wishing You The Best” gives you a ton to appreciate with a minimalistic approach that gives you only what you need. As a result, it’s the songwriting that stands out on “Wishing You The Best” probably more than anything else; the execution is certainly flawless, and the vocals you’ll find on this song are a genuine highlight in the set of tracks lining Reflectings Acustico. Awesome mix on the guitars, great pace, excellent hooks…fantastic song structure and true composure when performing “Wishing You The Best” all add up to one emotionally powerful experience that’ll bury itself deep into your heart. Every time this cut came up in the rotation I was convinced it’s among the album’s best tracks for sure. What I loved about listening to “Wishing You The Best” after the sweetness we experienced in “You Mean Everything To Me,” is that…well…I kinda think we’re all bound to highly identify with one or the other. There are “Wishing You The Best” people, and there are “You Mean Everything To Me” people – you get what I’m saying? How I know I’m part of the “Wishing You The Best” crowd, is that feeling I got every time I just finished enjoying listening to “You Mean Everything To Me” in the lineup, and how when “Wishing You The Best” came on, I always knew I was in for one of my favorite moments on the album & a song that’s truly special.
Todd’s always been an impressive singer to me…of all the things he does so well that I’ve already highlighted, when he gets it right on the mic, I think he’s amongst the best out there. Listening to the extra bit of soul and spark he put into his performance on “Raindrop Falling” felt like the perfect touch to bring to this particular song and a reminder of how Underwood occasionally reminds me of Incubus. Best support I can give you in the comparison that can be made in “Raindrop Falling” is that you could put this right onto an acoustic EP from Incubus and damn near no one out there would question it. What’s not to love about this cut though? Sure maybe it’s not quite as hook-laden as the previous tracks have been in some ways – but what it might not have as much of in that department, it completely makes up for in all-out fascinating sound. There’s an extraordinary combination of Jazz, Soul, Acoustic, Rock…it’s all in there, and with every element stacking up to a gentle-but-bold tune that has a malleable versatility ears will appreciate, I’d say “Raindrop Falling” stands a good chance of being a favorite for many people out there listening. The acoustic guitar gets a real moment in the spotlight on “Raindrop Falling” as well…which is well deserved – the mix on this record is top-shelf, and it’s the more artistically designed tracks like this particular hybrid that give you a chance to appreciate how good it all sounds. We don’t always need hooks that are going to punch us in the face for our attention – crossover songs like “Raindrop Falling” go beyond that to make the entire experience a captivating one.
“One Lovely Day” shows you the Color And Contrast in the attitude between the music & lyrics you’ll find here on Reflectings Acustico. First of all, the main riff fueling the melody is freakin’ exceptional – but second, appreciate how it’s got a generally sunny disposition, while the words tend to dive into heavier thoughts, emotions, and descriptions of pain. Sounds like what you’d expect to find on a track called “One Lovely Day,” doesn’t it? Call it whatever you like as far as I’m concerned – just keep doing amazing things like what’s happening around the 2:30 mark of this tune and you’ll never hear a complaint out of me. There’s much more to it than that of course…ultimately, the hooks start flowing immediately on a song like “One Lovely Day” – part of that’s the sound, part of that’s the movement – but there’s no doubt about the fact that everything we hear is interesting and engaging…and last I checked, that’s what ya want in the music you give your time to. A lot of the magic occurs through the way Todd sings in & around the music with such precision and clever staging of his words inside the music’s structure – it leads to a version of the call & answer effect in many ways, only in this sense, shared between the vocals & instrumentation. In any event, we’re all hearing how well this song worked out right? Chorus-wise, I think Underwood’s got one of his strongest hooks on display and gives this tune a great performance, but I’ll be damned if I ain’t sayin’ that every moment along the way is just as incredible – “One Lovely Day” stacks up quickly to a master-class on subtle intensity…really rad song.
“Come Home” immediately hangs low under the cloud of heavy emotion, before finding a radiating chorus that beams audible sunshine into the atmosphere. It does have a little of that…like…what is that?…it’s almost like the haunting vibes of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” are in there, without being in there at all…”Come Home” seems to show a respect for classic storytelling tunes from Led Zeppelin on-forward, but through the vocals and twists of true audio harmony, gives the entire combination of sound the update it would need to resonate today. Like, listen to the shift in the melody just past the forty-five second mark will ya? “Come Home” has the benefit of Underwood’s multi-dimensional songwriting & style…I think there are at least three or four powerful aspects of this song that could easily be the way into this track for listeners. That being said, of all the tracks we’ve heard on Reflectings Acustico so far, it’s weary spirit does put a noticeable drain on the energy in the lineup as we listen to the album…it’s arguable that it might have worked better at the end of the record than where it sits as track seven, but it’s still an undeniably good tune. Where “Come Home” finds its greatest strengths are in deep emotional textures, an unbreakably hopeful attitude, and powerful shifts in sound from the louder & vibrant to the quaint & quiet. Plus, I mean, if we’re talking about finales, then you gotta dig the way Todd lifts up this tune to a huge ending with his vocals as well. Perhaps the best way I can put it is that “Come Home” is built of several parts I really like, even if it didn’t all combine into as much of a natural fit as the other tunes do by comparison. Case in-point, the next song, “Drift Away.”
I dig it when a title represents the core meaning or feeling a song will give you…I’m strange that way maybe, but that’s how I feel. Just makes things make sense when you listen; but beyond that, or before that I should say, a title can be like a visual clue as to what you might hear. And assuming any of this makes sense and you’re all still with me – then I’m saying give “Drift Away” the award for most realized title in sound. The cello (or violin?) is more than extraordinary – that’s straight-up exquisite…you float along with this track blissfully lost within the beautiful depths of sound you couldn’t possibly take your ears off of. Cleverly layering his vocals, getting brilliant doses of melody into both the verse & chorus, “Drift Away” has a gorgeously curious and wondering sound that floats and hangs in the atmosphere, surrounding you warmly like it’s actually been a part of you all along and you’re now reconnecting to it. As the core of this tune, “Drift Away” is a fairly standard Alternative/Pop song…something you could almost imagine Oasis might have created back in the day when it comes to the melody. What makes a track like this extraordinary and come to life in its own incredibly beautiful way, is the ever-present smoothness in the vocals, the breathtaking way the strings support the guitars and fill the atmosphere, the way the percussion livens-up to make the most of the all-encompassing & comforting vibes that “Drift Away” creates – there’s not much more you can ask for, Todd’s nailed this track. The craft is completely noticeable here; “Drift Away” could have fundamentally come out as a much more ordinary tune, were it in the hands of a different artist – it’s through the perspective of Underwood, his innocent & introspective lyricism and vocal-tones to match, and the absolutely stellar sound & heart in his music that turns what could have been a good moment on Reflectings Acustico into one of its greatest.
I’m always going to dig that mix of vocals that Todd uses…there’s so much appeal to his voice, both from the organic power & expression he’s capable of, and from the digital enhancements as well. Not that all the tracks don’t contain proof of this, but a song like “The Moment” goes a long way in highlighting the warm & comforting glow that Underwood’s vocals can provide ya with. Another extremely strong chorus hook, more killer harmonies, gorgeous mix on the music and perfect combination of sounds – by the time “The Moment” comes along, you realize that Todd can do what he does all damn day – music just flows, glows, radiates out of this man. As the title implies, Underwood digs deep into the theme of “The Moment” and examines its importance…how quite often we’re busy living life and “The Moment” goes flying by…how you wanna go back and re-live your favorite memories, but never really know how monumental those same memories are when you’re makin’em. It’s in looking back that we realize just how much of an impact “The Moment” has on us…whatever that ‘moment’ may be for Todd, whatever it is for you, whatever it is for me – and hopefully there are lots of ‘moments’ for all of us – but there is no question that these ‘moments’ are what define our lives in so many ways. He gets pretty personal in the lyrics of this song, but definitely makes the content highly relatable…he’s vulnerable and human on “The Moment” and reaching out to connect with what’s important along the journey of life. Listen to the words on this tune…it’s very much like a full life-cycle in the storyline that Todd crafts, punctuated with an insightful ending packed perfectly into the final lines of the verse before the hooks come round.
The instrumentation, while gentle and quite often delicate, has really managed to stand out strongly throughout this record – listen to the gorgeous sound of the verses on “Where I Sail From” for proof. And then listen to the raw power on display in the chorus as Todd puts in an emotionally-charged performance that gets the most out of the promise in his lyricism and he delivers the main line of the song with the extraordinary confidence it needed to become real. As a result, “Where I Sail From” ends up with a line that’ll stick with you for days on end…Todd’s piercing souls that can relate to his words when he sings “I won’t make the same mistakes” – it’s like a personalized battle-cry declaring the war on self. For myself personally, I think Todd’s created another extremely compelling song to listen to from beginning to end, but I’d be lying to ya by omission if I didn’t say that the real fuel to this fire is found in the burning chorus. For those of you out there that don’t think an acoustically-based tune can reach an intensity you’re looking for, I’m tellin’ ya – listen to the way “Where I Sail From” builds and pays off with its explosive hooks…it’s quite a formidable beast at maximum strength I tells ya. Underwood is one truly incredible singer when it comes right down to it – songs like “Where I Sail From” are simply more confirmation of what our ears already know – he’s a force of nature at full strength, and a smart performer in knowing when to give a song his maximum energy, or dial it back to suit the vibe. “Where I Said From” shows you he’s got a firm grip on knowing when to take a song to the next level it deserves – he’s put an extremely bold moment into the lighter side of his sound and come out with a real win here.
“Reflectings” is like a meditation in audio form…or like regression therapy, with Todd introducing the nostalgic memories and imagery that drive the themes of this final song. The vocals are so powerful throughout this whole lineup of songs on Reflectings Acustico, confirming that this is a major signature aspect of Underwood’s music from what we’ve learned about him and listened to over this past year. Mesmerizing performance from Todd’s execution on the harmonies…but facts are facts, he’s crushing it here from beginning to end and making sure that this record ends on a serious string of unforgettable highlights. With its nostalgia-induced lyricism and delicately gentle sound, “Reflectings” plays as sweetly as a modern-day lullaby, beautifully poetic in the imagery of the words and containing an exceptional mix of acoustic-meets-space-rock in the music – and as a final track, with its ambient atmosphere and distant rumbles of thunder, makes for a perfect ending to what’s been a seriously adventurous and ambitious record from Todd Underwood. Quite honestly, I think he’s ended this album on one of the easiest songs to love – “Reflectings” is a gorgeous compilation of memories and heartfelt imagery. I challenge you to find me a more beautiful song in the lineup…”You Mean Everything To Me” wins the award for sweetness, sure, but I’m talking all-around mystifying and time-stopping beauty here – that’s what you get in “Reflectings” and of all the great cuts on this record, this one could very well demand your attention the most…Todd’s got a fully captivating finale in-store for ya with “Reflectings” for sure.
There’s no reason to doubt this man or question his ability to write music that makes an impact. He’s proven it before, he’s proven it again now – and I highly suspect he’ll continue to put everything he’s got into everything he does in the future, just like he clearly did here on Reflectings Acustico and Color And Contrast from earlier this year. 2019’s been an outstanding year for Todd Underwood…it’s gonna be a hard one to top truthfully…but I have zero doubt about whether or not he’ll try – he’s probably already working on a new set of songs for 2020 and I bet he’ll be back with another quality set in no time at all.
Find music from Todd Underwood at Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/6s0HaFwLwAh5e2BgTYLaaj
Join the thousands of bands & artists reviewed at sleepingbagstudios by clicking here!