ULTIMATE PAINTING – ” Dusk ” Best Albums Of 2016

Posted: October 23, 2016 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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jls_4613_by_john_sturdy

Drop City created wildly psychedelic paintings on acrylic, one of which, ‘Ultimate Painting’, inspired the London duo of James Hoare and Jack Cooper. It’s telling that “Lead The Way”, from Ultimate Painting’s third album, Dusk, features the lyric, ‘turn your back on society’ – they seem driven by a similar impulse to reduce and simplify. Both Cooper and Hoare have prior form in indie groups: the former with Mazes, and the latter with Proper Ornaments and Veronica Falls. If some of those groups access the creative energy of the ’60s through the refracting prism of ’60s independent music, Ultimate Painting return to the source direct, but they avoid the slavish copyism of any number of romanticising nostalgia acts, from Mod revivalists to limp psych-rockers, by tightening the focus, sketching the mise-en-scène with just the bare necessities.

Initial listens to Dusk, the duo’s third album, are similar to encounters with their other two (the self-titled 2014 debut, and last year’s Green Lanes); first impressions, of a muted slightness, give way to increasing wonder at the evocative qualities of the songs’ mindful minimalism. It’s uncluttered, spare, and open, and the production and arrangement has the feel of a group breathing together in the same room, capturing the recording space’s acoustic qualities, and playing only the essential notes, the better to let the room sing in tandem with the interactions between buzzing strings and humming valve amplifiers.

It kicks off with deceptive diffidence  “Bills” comes across, at first, like a paper-cut version of the crystalline excellence of Television’s third, oft-underrated comeback album from 1992; it’s a nudge away from the latter’s “1880 Or So”. But it soon blossoms, finding its own community of sound, and quietly ascending into a mantric chorus, as a huffing organ buzzes out the back of the studio. The guitar playing is particularly seductive – one guitar trebly and warbled by tremolo, the other lightly distorted but still pin-sharp, their relationship is one of mutual fascination, tiptoeing around each other and respectfully finding ways to weave around each other’s tonal spectrum. The jangling charm of the following “Song For Brian Jones” hymns the titular character via guitars that toll in consort with the gentle psych-folk of The Byrds circa Fifth Dimension; “Lead The Day”’s chiming piano positions the gracefully understated melody on an early solo McCartney album.

Cooper and Hoare have no qualms about drawing from some of pop and rock’s most distinguished as Cooper once said, “We accepted the fact that we’re influenced by the biggest bands that have ever been, because a lot of them are really good.” That kind of comfort with the canon is writ across Dusk, but it also risks games of spot-the-reference: it’d be pretty easy to draw a Venn diagram of, say, the gentler climes of psychedelic pop from the ’60s, the click and fizz of the quieter end of ’70s power-pop, and the pastoral lilt of the Flying Nun label in the ’80s, and locate Ultimate Painting at their intersection.

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