Ultramarine – Signals Into Space
CD/Double Vinyl + Digital Copy
Released 11th January 2019
New album by Ultramarine – the electronica duo of Ian Cooper and Paul Hammond. Their seventh LP, 29 years after their debut on Crepuscule, has contributions from labelmate Anna Domino, saxophonist Iain Ballamy (Loose Tubes) and vibes player Ric Elsworth. LTW’s Ian Canty drifts off into the stratosphere.
It’s been a near thirty-year-long and quite strange trip for the electronic pairing of Paul Hammond and Ian Cooper, aka Ultramarine. Over that time, the two have recorded for many different labels and worked alongside such “Canterbury Scene” luminaries as Robert Wyatt, Elton Dean, Kevin Ayers and Lol Coxhill. This in turn gently teased out underlying be-bop and psychedelic motifs buried deep in their base of electronic and dance music.
Taking in such outré influences helped to set them apart from other low-key synth practitioners and also has given their music a jazz cool and sometimes otherworldly touch. Their laidback, eclectic take on electronica has seen them release six long players to date, and now they are back at Les Disques du Crepuscule where it started for their seventh collection, Signals Into Space. This LP is as ethereal and mysterious as the title might suggest, but it is an enigma that is easy to enjoy.
The three-year gestation period for this record has left them with 12 tracks that flutter by, totally comfortable in their own time and space. Ultramarine constructed the album in a windowless industrial unit, but instead of opting for a bleak musical landscape, used it as a blank canvas on which to let their imaginations run free. The LP begins with the electro-bossanova of Elsewhere which helps sets the tone, ticking and tweeting away in a calm but purposeful manner. Guest, Anna Domino contributes vocals to following track Spark From Flint To Clay. It has a beautiful, slowly-emerging musical vista, topped off by Domino’s cool voice, the occasional clatter of percussion sounds providing contrast to the peaceful, gentle but constant movement of the backing track.
Iain Ballamy’s appealing sax line is set off by the low-key groove Ultramarine put in progress on Breathing and Anna Domino and Ballamy come together on the wonderful $10 Heel, probably my favourite piece of the whole album. Anna’s voice is a spectral echo, observing “this coffee’s gone cold” in the most heart-breaking manner imaginable, signalling the end of an affair, an era or even life itself. Touching and beautiful, I could bluster on about it being an early frontrunner for “song of the year 2019”, but really I would merely suggest you give it a listen, if just to improve the troublesome month of January for you.
Du Sud flows in after this one, a necessary rest with sustained guitar notes and Sleight Of Hand’s mournful feel is both beautiful and strange. The clip-clop of Framework goes into serene but driving dance on Cross Reference, with the album ending with the superior comedown of the title track, bringing things to a curiously hopeful climax.
Signals Into Space is very much a mood piece, in places relaxing, meditative and a bit introspective at times. But it is never dull and contains some great weird pop – witness $10 Heel. At other points, it takes you to another place entirely and sends you on a journey to the stars, or at least far away from the daily grind. I think we all probably need that once in a while and Ultramarine, through utilising their dreams, have come up with an album that may help you re-energise at the start of the new year and certainly contains many delights for the discerning listener. As cool as a cucumber in an icebox.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here.