Like Luna and Yo La Tengo before them, the members of Ultimate Painting have taken an obvious love of the music of The Velvet Underground and used that affection to help them craft something unique. Over the course of their first 2 albums it seemed as if Ultimate Painting -- Jack Cooper (Mazes) and James Hoare (Veronica Falls) -- were content to let that big influence in their listening lives cast such a huge shadow on their output that there really wasn't anywhere else to go.
Well, this time out, on album 3, Dusk, out Friday on Trouble in Mind Records, Ultimate Painting have added a third player, drummer Melissa Rigby, and the results are noticeably looser. There's a new direction being pursued here. If this doesn't quite signal a The Bends-to-Kid A-kind of leap in style, it at least makes abundantly clear that there are still more places for this act to go. Yeah, the VU vibe is still all over this album but things have progressed in some small-but-important ways. And for a band so expert at perfecting those little moments in indie-pop, the overall effect of Dusk is pleasantly striking and a great example of the skills of this group.
If opener "Bills" makes clear that subtle shift -- all Luke Haines-style whispered vocals -- then "Song for Brian Jones" nods in the direction of Saucerful of Secrets-era Floyd even as its title name-checks the late Stone. The superb "Lead The Way" reveals a slightly Beatlesque melody behind a stately near-march. On some level, this is one of the best songs this band has committed to tape so far and long-time listeners of this band will find the shift in tone a subtle, yet strong, one. "Monday Morning, Somewhere Central" recalls nothing so much as a Blur cut stripped back to its very most basic elements. That's not to say that this act has cast its lot in with the last vestiges of Britpop but, rather, that they've found a way to tap into that same rich vein of English song-craft that helped Albarn crib from Davies. "Who Is Your Next Target?" sounds like Yo La Tengo if only that NJ crew had been born in the U.K., while the nearly-epic closer, "I Can't Run Anymore", uses washes of guitar and near-jazzy drum runs to marvelous effect as the melody unfurls in a dream-like haze.
Sure, there's lots here that will be familiar to fans of the first 2 albums from Ultimate Painting, but for those of us who have been listening carefully, the achievements here are tremendous. For a duo who had been making carefully-crafted indie-pop of the very best kind, the addition of Rigby on drums seems to have subtly but significantly expanded the palette of sounds at the disposal of Hoare and Cooper. Put it another way, it will be a bit more unlikely that a writer like myself will lean so heavily on those Velvet Underground references in descriptions of this act's sound in the future. No, now, the influence list is broader, the sound brighter, and the mood sunnier, even if only by a trifle.