ULTRA VIVID SCENE – ” Joy 1967-1990 “

Posted: January 22, 2023 in MUSIC

Former Nothing But Happiness and Crash who were very much part of the mid 80s indie scene, indebted to the 60s but with a dark heart, songs like “Don’t Look Now” and “Almost” hid secret desires within a hushed strum of minor key jangling guitars. guitarist Ralske started Ultra Vivid Scene in 1987, was signed to 4AD Records in 1988, and released his first UVS EP, “She Screamed”, in 1988. The debut album Ultra Vivid Scene released October 1988, was written, produced and performed entirely by Ralske, whose influences include The Velvet Underground and The Jesus and Mary Chain. The first album a native New Yorker who spent stretches in Boston and London before signing to 4AD, is musically an intriguing and eclectic record that mixes pure pop and noise experiments better than any album since the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy. (My Bloody Valentine was working similar territory at the same time, but Ralske’s fondness for the pop hook, best heard on the first single “She Screamed” was far more obvious.)

The difficulties come when one pays attention to the lyrics, which are laughably pretentious in a way rarely seen since Jim Morrison’s Lizard King heyday. The single, “Mercy Seat” The video and the song felt like they were moving in slow motion, a primal drum beat, a distorted bass line urging the song forward, some lightly psychedelic guitars and a curiously fey vocal full of religious references to mercy, release and fire. The Nick Cave-meets-Rimbaud pastiche “The Whore of God,” and that fave of pretentious gits everywhere, J.G. Ballard, gets a going-over in “Crash”. Ultra Vivid Scene is a pretty interesting record with much to offer.

The second album, “Joy 1967-1990”, was released in April 1990. The same month they played their first tour dates in the United Kingdom. Kurt Ralske claimed that the title of Ultra Vivid Scene’s second album was meant to be the inscription on a 23-year-old woman’s tombstone. “Joy 1967-1990” is a much more varied and even more pop-oriented album than 1988’s Ultra Vivid Scene. Hugh Jones’ ultra-glossy production, rather surprisingly, actually suits the narcotic haze of Ralske’s songs quite nicely and has the added benefit of leaving Ralske’s musings well behind the album’s real selling points, the gossamer web of acoustic and electronic instruments and Ralske’s knack for melodies that simultaneously sound exceptionally catchy and just a little off. Mention must be made, however, of the fact that “Special One” (which features vocals by Kim Deal) sounds so much like Big Star’s “September Gurls” that Alex Chilton could have sued for royalties.

 “The Kindest Cut” mixes real viola with mellotrons and twinkling guitars. It’s a very consistent, highly enjoyable album as long as you don’t take the lyrics to heart.

On the surface the album is a precise compact selection of guitar pop, but scratch underneath and the songs deal with a similar set of ideas as the debut – more suicide, dependency, control, submission, despair. The single “Staring At The Sun” was a glorious slice of tunefulness; guitars shimmer and shine and Ralske sings in his distinctive half whisper of “an accident in progress, the smell of burning hair…”

The last album, “Rev”, was released in October 1992, and was performed by a band comprising Julius Klepacz (drums) and Jack Daley (bass) with Ralske on vocals and guitar. This album was picked up by the Chaos imprint of Columbia Records (Sony Music Distribution) during the time rival Warner Bros. was having some success with its imprints’ 4AD relationships (4AD/Sire, 4AD/Elektra, 4AD/Reprise).

Ultra Vivid Scene drenches a listener with charged psychedelic folk-rock on “Rev”. With jangling, wailing guitars, deep basslines, and shuffling drums transport a listener to Ralske’s passionate dreamy realm. Evoking heady, dark imagery in his lyrics, Ralske thankfully varies his pace and tone throughout the album. One doesn’t know whether to expect a screaming guitar solo or dreamy female background vocals at any given moment. It’s quite a feat that Ralske is able to stretch his catchy hooks and melodies into songs that hover and go well past the five-minute mark. That Ralske also maintains a somewhat dour vocal style, but still manages to hold a listener’s rapt attention, expresses that fine songwriting and arrangements are on display.

“Rev” is loaded with compelling songs. “Rev” exudes timeless tunes and shows dream pop at its symbolic, aggressive zenith.

As a live act, Ultra Vivid Scene performed only a handful of US dates in support of the first album in 1989. The second album in 1990 was supported by one month of touring in Europe and two months in the US. 1993 saw one month of US tour dates for the third and final album.

Albums:

  • Ultra Vivid Scene (1988) 4AD/Columbia (UK Indie #10)
  • Joy 1967-1990 (1990) 4AD/Columbia
  • Rev (1992) 4AD/Columbia

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