As Ultimate Painting, UK duo Jack Cooper and James Hoare dive into influences and pursue whims they aren’t able to in their other bands. Cooper’s work in Mazes draws upon ’90s American indie rock, referencing acts like Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, and Yo La Tengo in the their latest album, Wooden Aquarium. On the other hand, Hoare and his partner Roxanne Clifford explore wistful C86-jangle as Veronica Falls, while his other project The Proper Ornaments examine the breezy textures of Paisley Underground. Together, Cooper and Hoare, who met while on tour with their respective bands, have decided to look back to the ’60s with their reverent, self-titled debut.
For most of its 10 tracks, Ultimate Painting occupies a stoned, jangly mid-tempo territory — lackadaisical chord progressions and hazy atmospheres filled with hushed, sometimes monotonous vocals. Songs like the gripping “Ten Street” take on the bluesy grime of Lou Reed’s solo career, while “Can’t You See” recalls indie rock bands like Pinback with its interlocking composition and slow-building structures. Sometimes, offerings like “Riverside”, which features a simple, woozy arpeggio and wobbling synths, never seem to go further than their rudimentary parts. While the songs feel ramshackle but not lazy, disaffected but not apathetic, these loving tributes rarely surpass pastiche. When a voice talks about visiting John Lennon’s house in Central Park at the end of “Jane”, it’s laid on a little thick.
On “Talking Central Park Blues”, both the tempo and songwriting pick up. Beginning with a briskly strummed series of clean-toned guitars, the song’s New York-referencing lyrics and sardonic vocal delivery make it feel like a close cousin of the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On”. While it obviously touches on signifiers from that era, it’s expertly put together in a way that makes it exciting. Here, Ultimate Painting take their record collections and transcend their influences. As the album progresses, a distinct vision emerges from the duo; closer “Winter in Your Heart” boasts impeccable harmonies and an effortless groove. One of the album’s best songs, it’s another welcome instance of songwriting overpowering style.
Ultimate Painting is professionally executed, but at times underwhelming. Still, Cooper and Hoare have undeniable chemistry, and the album seems to be the start of a promising partnership.
Essential Tracks: “Winter In Your Heart”, “Talking Central Park Blues”, and “Ten Street”