Ultimate Painting are the duo of James Hoare and Jack Cooper. The pair met when touring in their other projects, James being a member of Veronica Falls and Jack being in Mazes. Whilst both James and Jack are guitarists, their sound is fleshed out via a rolling cast of rhythm sections.
On their new album, Dusk, Ultimate Painting have achieved that always wonderful feat of taking seemingly familiar ideas and melding them into something that actually sounds almost unlike anyone we’ve heard before. There’s nods to the motorik rhythms of kraut-rock, the jangling sunshine pop of East Coast acts like The Byrds, and the quintessentially British 1980’s indie sound (that James has produced Pete Astor should surprise no-one). The resulting sound is a sort of sleepy, gently drifting, psychedelic, drone-pop. These are anthems for the open road, only for people who can’t drive and prefer to shuffle gently about the place on foot.
Ultimate Painting are from London, and recorded their album in James’ home studio in what is generally known as East London. The East End’s growth started back in Medieval times when London outgrew its original city walls, and grew along the Roman Roads leading out of Bishopsgate and Aldgate. It initially grew slowly until London’s shipping boom, which led to a huge amount of job creation in ship building and dock work. The docklands remain crucial to East London’s prosperity, although that’s mainly now down to regenerating them into houses and shopping and the like, rather than actually doing much in the way of shipping. East London has become something of a hipster enclave in recent years, with artistic types being priced out of more central areas and into Hackney’s slightly less ludicrous but still very expensively priced houses. With this shifting demographic there’s unsurprisingly loads of bands coming out of East London, including Night Flowers, Fever Dream and Tigercats.
Ultimate Painting formed in 2014, releasing their self-titled debut album that same year via the label they still call home, Trouble In Mind. That record was followed by 2015’s Green Lanes, and the band have recently released their third album, Dusk.
In the press surrounding Dusk’s release, Ultimate Painting have spoken of their new record as the sound of two singular voices coming together, and we’d certainly agree that it’s now, “hard to tell where Cooper ends and Hoare begins.” Not least because they have very similar voices, and nearly always seem to effortlessly, and unflashily harmonising with one another. For a record written by two songwriters, it sounds remarkably coherent, as if Ultimate Painting have ceased to be a collaborative side-project, and become an old fashioned band.
As statements of intent go, they don’t get much better than Dusk’s opening track, Bills. An ode to the difficulty of making ends meet, it’s exactly the sort of anthem these current unsure times deserves, the lyrics repeating the gently crushing lyric, “the older I get, the less I feel comfortable.” There’s a touch of contemporaries The Leaf Library or Hookworms, but it’s also interesting that it in someways recalls the early days of indie, when presented with similarly bleak economic times, people made similarly uncertain, anxious pop songs.
Elsewhere Skippool Creek, a beautiful track perfect for crisp Autumnal mornings, also seems to question just how great life is in the modern world, tongue wedged in cheek as they note, “young people nowadays have it all.” For a record that is so audibly calm, and confident, the lyrics throughout are loaded with doubt and discomfort, whether talking about the state of the nation, relationships, or just being yourself, it seems to revel in a quietly charming discontent. The excellent Lead The Way, which brings to mind the excellent Lionlimb record from earlier this year, even encourages the listener to, “turn your back on society” and you get the feeling Ultimate Painting yearn for a simpler life away from the considerations of the modern world.
There’s plenty of highlights throughout; closing track I Can’t Run Anymore with its superbly short Neil Young-like guitar solo, the running into your-ex and not saying hi anthem Monday Morning and their ode to keeping life simple I’m Set Free. Best of all might be recent single, Song For Brian Jones, their ode to the oft-forgotten Rolling Stones founder; it’s for all essential purposes a classic pop song, just given a typically low-key Ultimate Painting treatment, it’s only on repeat listens to melodies wind in your mind, and refuse to get out.
Ultimate Painting are unlikely to feature on anyone’s running playlist, or feature on any sort of perky playlist, but if you want half an hour of letting the world rush by in a blur of dappled sunlight, and gently browning leaves, then you’ve come to the right record.
Dusk is out now via Trouble In Mind. Ultimate Painting are on tour now, click HERE for details.