A new Ultramarine album feels like somewhat of a big deal to those <ahem> of ‘a certain vintage’. ‘Every Man and Woman is a Star’ is, after all, indeliby imprinted on the fuzzy, after-party, acid house hive mind. A thing of quiet yet majestic beauty that soundtracked so many bitter sweet sunrises. But the world has turned and, especially in the last few years, ambient music both present and past has undergone a massive renaissance. Even in the relatively short time since they dropped ‘This Time Last Year’, a lot has changed. So should we still be getting excited about Ultramarine?
In a word, yes,
‘Signals in Space’ was, according to Ian Cooper, conceived in a ‘small windowless room in an industrial estate in Essex’ but it is anything but cramped, claustrophobic and insular. I’d be tempted to go for the obvious contrast and describe it as wide open vista but whilst it is redolent of natural beauty, the joys are less of awe and more of quiet moments of uplift and contemplation.
Anna Domino appears on 4 tracks and she contributes to one of the album’s weirder moments in ‘$10 Heel’ – a slightly edgy, dub / jazz poetry number. Elsewhere however the mood is more bucolic and positive although not without a psychedelic uncanniness. Ian Ballamy lends an ECM / Windham Hill edge to proceedings with his playing, gentle, fluid and emotive.
Make no mistake, there is nothing here that will surprise those familiar with Ultramarine’s work. We don’t get a new direction or reinvention, more a massively enjoyable, supremely accomplished revisitation of past themes. I very much struggle to see how anyone, long time fan or not, wouldn’t enjoy this very beautiful record.
‘Signals into Space’ is out on 11th January 2019 on Les Disques du Crépuscule