Destined to end up on all of those “Best Records You Missed in 2016” lists.
Few modern bands have perfected Ambien indie quite like the U.K.’s Ultimate Painting. The duo sculpts unabashedly low stakes DIY tunes that are rarely anything less than endearingly freeform. Dusk, their third LP in as many years, continues to lower the stakes with a knowing wink, but also incorporates some new quirks including a few impressive ballads that recall nostalgic singer-songwriters like Tobias Jesso Jr. or Andy Shauf.
Opener “Bills” has as much thrust as anything on the record. The track takes its shape from punchy, crisp snares and a pointillist bass line that becomes nearly indistinguishable from the lower register harmonies of Jack Cooper and James Hoare, both of whom smartly share lead vocal duty. The ensuing “Song for Brian Jones” is more somber and contemplative, with a pair of intertwining guitar melodies engaging in a gentle push-pull over restrained vocals from Cooper and Hoare.
“Lead the Way” begins with joyfully musty piano chords that sound like they’re emanating from the dust-covered Baldwin upright in your grandparents’ house. A shimmery electric piano line gives the track a British Invasion quality, while the mumblecore melody recalls Chicago’s Twin Peaks at their most sedate. “Monday Morning, Somewhere Central” refurbishes the electric piano, with a bass line reminiscent of “Bills” albeit more staccato. It’s a sweet, serene track that quietly deals with frustration over life’s moments of stagnation. It’s the kind of song that Car Seat Headrest would write and play up the intellectual stakes, but Cooper and Hoare opt for more of a “¯\_(ツ)_/¯” attitude.
Album closer “I Can’t Run Anymore” is a burst of bluesy balladry that points towards an intriguing new direction for the band. With splashy cymbals and a pair of captivating guitar lines – one a set of drawn out glimmering chords, the other a thick, tangible melody featuring some of the heaviest distortion they’ve ever used – it’s a captivating track that showcases the pair’s songwriting acumen.
Predictably, an entire Ultimate Painting record does have its share of moments where your mind is quite far from the music itself. Cooper and Hoare know how to construct pretty tracks, but they don’t experiment much with tempo or pace. Moments where you feel like you’re hearing anything quicker than a quarter note are scarce. This is the kind of record that exists in the space between background fodder and front-and-center fare where your mind uses the music as inspiration to wander freely and fill in the gaps.
Dusk is an album that seems destined to end up on all of those “Best Records You Missed in 2016” lists due to its straight-forward appeal and lack of easily associated storylines for publications and blogs to push. But it’s hard to imagine Cooper or Hoare being too stirred by any sort of attention like that. In all likelihood, the boys of Ultimate Painting are somewhere right now noodling on guitars and plotting a fourth record for 2017 without a care in the world.