This is the sound playing inside a Glastonbury festival-goer’s head when all outside music has stopped: pleasantly buzzing, wide-eyed and happily disorientated. The darkest moments here are merely… cautious, so for the most part, it’s like a half-stoned bear hug from your best friend in a crowded field, which is good, in case you’re unfamiliar with the experience. Hinting at the summer festival concept from the start with a sample (“It was up in the mountains, we had this ceremony every year… and everyone from miles around came in for it”). Ultramarine have delivered an album of warm, rustic and (mostly) lovely downtempo electronica. It’s the more mellowed out moments that provide the highlights. The more energetic moments sound like they’ve been physically forced to get up off the grass and mostly end up being slightly awkward and far less interesting. Still, when it hits, ‘Every Man and Woman’ really hits; and it tends to hit when the drums take a back seat to melody and detail. While the sounds of the instruments have inevitably dated, this being made in 1991, the songs themselves haven’t. If there’s one conspicuous element missing from this record though, it’s vocals. Don’t get me wrong, I own and love lots of instrumental music, but these songs feel like they really need them. Most of the songs are near-perfect instrumental tracks for vocals that aren’t there. The one time a singer makes an appearance is also the pinnacle of the album; ‘Weird Gear’ (spot the drug reference) is where all the best ideas come together, sampling Echo and the Bunnymen’s ‘The Cutter’ among chirpy pipe whistles, bubbling bass and bouncing synths, and while the lyrics only have one chorus and one verse to work with, it makes all the difference.
Ultramarine’s second album has a great concept and often has great ideas, but is ultimately flawed since its flow is broken by botched dance tracks in the middle. It has clear stand-out tracks (tracks 1 – 6 and 12 are all great), but the rest are trying to be something they’re not. This band can’t really do energetic, but when they stop pretending they can, they pull off some great, chilled-out, quirky and distinctly British ambient which goes down a treat during the morning come-down.