Album Review: Ultimate Painting – Ultimate Painting

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.

Review from .

When we last checked in with the Whigs, a band from Athens, Georgia, that has since relocated to Nashville, the group had issued its fourth album, 2012’s Enjoy the Company, and there were two things that stuck in my mind upon hearing it. First, the horns. Second, the band’s tendency to rely on name-checking previous bands with song titles such as “Thank You” and “Staying Alive”. Thankfully, this band has excised those influences from its professional recording life, and now, on the trio’s fifth album, Modern Creation, the results are a little more spectacular. This is a meaner, leaner, and a little bit darker Whigs than we’ve been used to in the past, even if this album sounds a little bit like Kings of Leon hopped up on a great deal of speed. Modern Creation is the sort of thing that is not going to win any awards any time soon, but it is, at least, highly enjoyable in a “Let’s drive out on the highway and roll those windows down” kind of way. Modern Creation is a fun album—nothing less and nothing more—and your enjoyment of it may vary based on how much pleasure you want to have in your life. Still, it’s a bit of a step up from Enjoy the Company, even if that step up is incremental at best.

This statement of intent is perhaps best summarized on opening cut “You Should Be Able to Feel It”. With its cutting guitars and take-no-prisoners attitude, the song has a swagger to it—not quite in Stones territory maybe, but a swagger nonetheless. It simply rocks and rolls, and is pretty much all you could ask for from a band such as the Whigs. “Asking Strangers for Directions” continues that vein, with its tumbling beat and dirty, Southern rock guitars. There’s a gallop here that works to the band’s favor, and you might find yourself nodding to this, as opposed to, say, nodding off. “The Particular”, on the other hand, might be the band’s singular misstep on the album, which is not to say that it’s a bad song—it’s just that the group’s reliance on a chorus of “hey!” repeated draws to mind, at least in my head, someone goosestepping and shouting “sieg heil!”, which is, um, embarrassing. Probably not the way to be taken, but I just can’t get that image out of my mind.

“Hit Me”, on the other hand, is a jangly piece of power pop that recalls the work of fellow Athens heroes R.E.M. to some, though you will never mistake this as a song by Michael Stipe and company. Still, it’s an endearing gem. “Now you build me up / To break me down / Gently” goes a lyric on the song, and you have to wonder if this is a jab at the outfit’s critics. Despite that, it’s not a bad song. And the title track continues on in this manner, being an infectiously jangly piece of pop. You can’t help but think of the Kinks during this track, which would indicate slavish hero worship, but the song works despite itself with a shimmery guitar line during the chorus that seems resolutely post-punk. Meanwhile, “Friday Night” has a punk energy to it and is absolutely frantic. “She Is Everywhere” starts out very briefly as a stab at sludge rock, before picking up the beat, and it becomes apparent that in, some ways, this is a drummer’s record, especially as the tempo shifts during the chorus. “Too Much in the Morning” seems routinely familiar—there are a few chords that feel nicked from somewhere, but I can’t think of where—but, still, positively affecting. And so it goes.

Basically the entire album’s statement of intent could be summed up with the oft-quoted lyric, “I just wanna run forever / And I want to rock ‘n’ roll.” That’s it, that’s all for the Whigs this time out, but this lack of ambition (or perceived lack of ambition) actually does the music a greater service for once. While the Whigs, in the past, were content to reference the musicians that directly influenced them, they’re now content to more or less ride their own wave—which is quite refreshing to hear. Without other influences directly dropped into their songs in an overt way, Modern Creation is a much stronger, more cohesive and appealing effort. As noted above, it’s not going to take home Grammy Gold, but it does its job well and moves out of the way of its big rock hooks, when it needs to. I found myself enjoying this even more than their previous effort, and while it’s not going to set the world alight on fire, it’s still an entertaining and pleasurable listen. This is the kind of record, if not to take in the car with you, then to listen to on a Friday afternoon, knocking back a few beers after a long week’s worth of work. Modern Creation ups the ante for the Whigs, and it’s good to hear them—while still somewhat referencing the work of others—scaling back the ambition and simply delivering honest to goodness great rock tunes. Who could ask for more?