A collaboration between Veronica Falls’ James Hoare and Mazes’ Jack Cooper, Ultimate Painting took their name from a beautifully colourful piece of art that emerged from the unusual, mid-1960s American avant-garde collective Drop City (check it out).
“Ultimate Painting is a band from earth”, announces their web presence statement in case anyone’s struggling. The earthlings first knew each other from attending the same gigs, and then became closer when Mazes supported Veronica Falls on a European tour. Deciding to join forces, demos were exchanged and intermittent recording sessions carried out, finally resulting in the band’s eponymous ‘theme song’. With the seed planted, things grew from the initial intention of releasing an EP to the realisation that an album was possible.
Refusing to let their new recording be touched by the digital age (for as long as possible, anyhow), they embrace the era they mine for inspiration: the late ‘60s, early ‘70s American scene with most obvious comparisons being to The Velvet Underground, and that’s where their strength lies. The hypnotic rhythm section that underpins their theme tune and single is classic VU: delicate, spidery guitaring weaving a melody alongside a driving bass and drums whilst much lighter vocal tones than Lou Reed mastered float above.
Talkin’ Central Park Blues is even deeper-rooted in Velvets territory, the repetitive, upbeat chiming guitars are compelling whilst occasional piano tinkering gives the impression that someone is playing the soundtrack to The Beach in the next room at the same time. Lyrics are hit and miss, occasionally turning into something like a boring Twitter account: “comedians try and make me laugh but I’ve never been to see one and I never think I will”, but the music is addictive. Ten Street ploughs the same furrow, this time the lightly laid vocals sounding a little like Tim Burgess next to more noodling guitar lines; Rolling In The Deep End heads off towards The Byrds’ stylings for another highlight, “nowhere left to hide” the lyrics declare. Jane then continues the up-tempo beat, floating vocals planting themselves in the decade of free love once again.
There are a number of slower paced tracks that give the album a sense of balance, the pick of these being the album closer Winter In Your Heart, a mellow effort that sounds uncannily like another of Hoare’s bands, The Proper Ornaments. Riverside is another gem, a slow moving cut reminiscent of a handful of ‘60s flower power brigade, its mesmerising organ melody captivating enough to earn itself its very own, piano only reprise at a later point.
Unfortunately there are some more mundane moments that bring the overall impact of the album down somewhat: Can’t You See is a slow trudge that fails to excite and Three Piers sounds like a drab continuation of the same song. The latter also spawns another pesky reprise, as does Talkin’ Central Park Blues which is in all honesty a pointless spoken word waste of space (who ‘invented’ the bloody reprise anyway? – all they do is break up a record’s flow).
Ultimate Painting is certainly no big hitting, all powerful heavyweight champion of the world, it’s far more of a flower waving pacifist. However, when the duo tune into their love of VU’s enthralling, driving repetitive rhythms they come up fighting like winners; if we could have an album filled with these hypnotic grooves then we may just have an all-conquering knockout on our hands.