Colorado-born Blaine L Reininger is best known as a member of TUXEDOMOON, a classically trained musician who embraced the European avant-garde and now lives in Greece.
Exponents of “cabaret no-wave”, TUXEDOMOON’s second album ‘Desire’ released in 1981 was co-produced by Gareth Jones after the band were impressed by his engineering skills on John Foxx’s ‘Metamatic’. Blaine L Reininger had a parallel solo career and continuing to work with Gareth Jones, released the acclaimed 1984 album ‘Night Air’ which featured the TB303 driven cinematic synthpop of ‘Mystery & Confusion’.
‘Wounds & Blessings’ is Reininger’s new studio double album featuring 28 new tracks organised into 4 themed suites of Songs, Bricolage, Sourced and Serene. Featuring TUXEDOMOON bandmates Steven Brown, Luc van Lieshout and Paul Zahl as well as Greek guitarist Tile-machos Moussas, Reininger additionally utilises computer plug-ins, samplers and AI-assisted lyrics alongside his trusty violin and guitar. The end result ranges from purely orchestral to entirely electronic compositions with everything in between.
With the world’s current state of flux, the subject of mortality heavily colours ‘Wounds & Blessings’. With an infectious electronic bass squelch, ringing keyboard signatures and a cacophony of swooping guitars, the Bowie-esque ‘100 Sad Fingers’ sees Reininger adopt baritone alongside an across a striking range of backing vocals. The art rock thrust of ‘I Inhabit The Dunes’ sounds like it could have come off ‘The Next Day’ or ‘Lodger’ for that matter while ‘Je Retournerai’ is more reminiscent of Iggy Pop.
Taking the pace down, ‘Chemise Grise’ is sung partly in French and recalls Leonard Cohen but ‘Trials & Tribulations’ springs a surprise at the start with dance beats and vocoder. ‘Roll Off The Edge’ is a crazy combination of tablas, jazz, funk, post-punk, chants and bursts of organ while ‘Occult Simplicities’ though could be best described as art school Lalo Schifrin!
The second half displays more of the considered classical and soundtrack styled compositions as featured on the ‘Commissions’ series with jazz inflections over drum loops as on ‘Newbs Descending A Staircase’ and the moodier instrumental territory of ‘Die Ferne Klang’ where Reininger’s sombre violin moods come to fore alongside percolating electronic vibes. ‘Sun Package’ combines rootsy slide guitar with a widescreen synthetic backdrop while the eerie ‘Unbirthday’ provides some nocturnal reflection. As the album progresses onto its home straight, the more traditional ‘Cahiers Noirs’ rings with the sadness of real and virtual violins before ‘Push’ presents sections of discordant ivory passages to close.
Blaine L Reininger is nothing but diverse and stylistically, he has never been able to be placed in a genre box. Fans will again relish the variation on offer with this ambitious work. Requiring more than a passing listen to be appreciated, casual observers may only find a quarter of the ‘Wounds & Blessings’ immediately appealing but that is already 3 or 4 tracks more than most albums offer on the quality front these days anyway.
Originally released on 20th November 1980, the deluxe cassette compilation ‘From Brussels With Love’ celebrates its 40th Anniversary.
Writing for NME, Paul Morley said at the time: “The arrival of this thin tape from Belgium provides a reminder – without really trying, without being obvious – that pop is the modern poetry, is the sharpest, shiniest collection of experiences, is always something new”.
It was the first proper music release on Les Disques du Crépuscule, a boutique Belgian label that emerged from Factory Benelux.
FBN was the European Low Countries wing of the iconic Manchester label that at the time was the home to JOY DIVISION, A CERTAIN RATIO, THE DURUTTI COLUMN and SECTION 25. It had primarily been set-up as an outlet for spare tracks by Factory Records acts and one of its later notable releases in Autumn 1981 was the 12 inch remix of NEW ORDER’s ‘Everything’s Gone Green’ which featured the non-album songs ‘Mesh’ and ‘Cries & Whispers’ on the B-side.
But from its inception with direction from head office, the Obscure Records influenced Les Disques du Crépuscule was to be a separate entity despite being run by the same Factory Benelux founding team of Michel Duval and Annik Honoré; the pair had established the Plan K venue in Brussels which hosted two JOY DIVISION concerts to establish the Manchester link.
‘From Brussels With Love’ was notable for featuring the first released recording by the three surviving members of JOY DIVISION following the sad passing of Ian Curtis before they adopted the name NEW ORDER; ‘Haystack’ was a collaboration with Leicester-born singer-songwriter Kevin Hewick. Conceived as a concert journal and curated by Duval, Honoré and radio show host / composer Wim Mertens, as well as a range of international avant-garde and new wave music, it contained modern classical work from Gavin Bryars and a then-unknown Michael Nyman.
There were also spoken segments including a poetry reading from THE SKIDS’ Ricard Jobson plus interviews with Brian Eno and Jeanne Moreau; the latter featured a beautiful piano background by Claude Coppens to accompany the words of the notable French actress, thus producing an art piece in its own right.
‘From Brussels With Love’ was diverse, varying from exquisite ivory pieces like ‘Children On The Hill’ by Harold Budd to ‘The Music Room’, a Frippish guitar noise experiment from JOY DIVISION producer Martin Hannett accompanied by a drum machine.
But of interest to electronic music enthusiasts were three exclusive jingles by John Foxx and an early rhythm machine backed take on ‘Airwaves’ by Thomas Dolby. Meanwhile from Europe, there was the doomy synth laden post punk on ‘Cat’ by THE NAMES and the quirky electronic Neue Deutsche Welle of DER PLAN’s ‘Mein Freunde’.
To celebrate its 40th Anniversary, ‘From Brussels With Love’ has been reissued as a lavish 10” x 10” 60 page hardback earbook with rare images, posters, sleeve designs and memorabilia, plus a detailed history of the Crépuscule label between 1979 and 1984. The audio features not only the 21 tracks from on the original cassette in 1980 on one CD, but a bonus collection of 18 related tracks from the period on a second CD including those contributions unable to be included due to space considerations.
For John Foxx completists, this set will be essential as it includes two more jingles from the former ULTRAVOX front man, as well as his superb garage robo-funk instrumental ‘Mr No’.
Among the other musical highlights are Bill Nelson’s ‘Dada Guitare’, a Far Eastern flavoured instrumental of glorious E-bow and THE DURUTTI COLUMN’s beautiful ‘For Belgian Friends’, composed by Vini Reilly in honour of Michel Duval and Annik Honoré. Produced by Martin Hannett, his technologically processed techniques made Reilly’s dominant piano sound like textured synthetic strings, complimenting his sparing melodic guitar and the crisp percussion of Donald Johnson.
Also produced by Martin Hannett and another welcome inclusion in the ‘From Brussels With Love’ appendix is THE NAMES ‘Nightshift’ with its chilling synth embellishing the archetypical arty post-punk miserablism of the period. Another Belgian band POLYPHONIC SIZE make an appearance with ‘Nagasaki Mon Amour’, an intriguing minimal tribute to ULTRAVOX with its detached Gallic delivery over buzzing synths and icy string machines produced by Jean-Jacques Burnel of THE STRANGLERS.
Of interest to PROPAGANDA fans will be JOSEF K’s frenetically paced ‘Sorry For Laughing’ which was covered on ‘A Secret Wish’; their front man Paul Haig went on release a number of EPs and albums via Les Disques du Crépuscule including the acclaimed ‘Rhythm Of Life’ and ‘The Warp Of Pure Fun’.
Over four decades on, the catalogue of Les Disques du Crépuscule included artists like Anna Domino, Isabelle Antena, Alan Rankine, Winston Tong, Blaine L Reininger, John Cale, Helen Marnie and Zeus B Held as well as bands such as TUEXDOMOON, MARINE, CABARET VOLTAIRE, MIKADO, THE PALE FOUNTAINS, ULTRAMARINE, MARSHEAUX and LES PANTIES.
Sophisticated and exhibiting a tasteful visual aesthetic, Les Disques du Crépuscule established itself as a cosmopolitan and culturally significant artistic outlet with a distinct identity that outlasted its parent company Factory Records. ‘From Brussels With Love’ was the start of a story that continues today.
Blaine L Reininger is the noted American singer and multi-instrumentalist who crossed the Atlantic with TUXEDOMOON and eventually settled in Europe.
Initially finding a home in post-punk Brussels, he now happily resides in Athens, an environment that has provided him with the freedom to compose genre-crossing works, both solo and with his iconic band.
Casual music observers may know Blaine L Reininger for the TB303 driven cinematic synthpop of ‘Mystery & Confusion’ from 1984.
But his latest collection ‘Commissions 2’ released by Les Disques du Crépuscule gathers soundtrack music made for theatre and dance productions staged between 2015-2019. It follows-up his previous soundtrack anthology from 2014.
These include ‘Angels’, ‘Caligula’, ‘The Kindly Ones’, ‘Reigen’, ‘Master & Margarita’, ‘Picnic With the Devil’ and ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ with the pieces ultilising a variety of textures including synthesizers, piano, guitar, string bass, cimbalom, ukulele, choirs and Reininger’s ever faithful violin.
The works range from atmospheric and eerie to grand and gothic, but despite their experimental nature, are mostly highly listenable in their own right. Opening the package, ‘Im Eiswind’ from ‘The Kindly Ones’ manages to mix all of the attributes afore mentioned, with the violin working well alongside various Mellotron sounds.
‘Atomium Sunrise’ is more ambient in tone while ‘Cold Song’ is appropriately dominated by an ominous synthbass, as is the dramatic ‘Krakenangriff’ from ‘Master & Margarita’,
Meanwhile ‘Alter Ego’ also off ‘Master & Margarita’ unexpectedly brings in vocoder and apes classic DEPECHE MODE.
But ‘Petao, Petao’ plays with arpeggios and haunting choirs while ‘You People Amaze Me’ uses a lot of reverse treatments over a solemn repeated organ.
Beginning disc two which has a more arthouse approach, the Eno-esque ‘Because It’s Me’ from ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ pulses along with soothing understated electronics and vocoder treatments next to slightly detuned chimes which combine for a fabulously spacey effect.
Both ‘Betweenspace’ and ‘Mauthausen Girls’ offer a more acoustic outlook within a uneasy schizophrenic cocoon, but ‘Novvy Kover’ crosses accordion with synths in a manner that is more like an aural collage.
The accordion-laden Terrible Father’ from ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ springs a surprise with a spirited vocal from Reininger, while the self-explanatory ‘Rilke Elegy’ from Reigen’ sets the tone with thoughtful lyrics.
‘Where Did They Take Him?’ from ‘The Kindly Ones’ is understandably sombre in tone, highlighting the more traditional format that dominates disc two, although ‘Happy New Year, Dorothy’ is a lively rhythmic piece with a most beautiful fiddle hook.
A fine collection of accessible soundtrack works with disc two being of a more avant garde bent, those new to the work of Reininger will find a nice entry point in disc one, while TUXEDOMOON fans will relish what is presented on disc two.
‘Commissions 2’ is thus a win-win for anyone with an interest in quality soundtrack compositions.
Essex duo Paul Hammond and Ian Cooper recently returned as ULTRAMARINE with their ‘Signals into Space’ album.
Initially part of A PRIMARY INDUSTRY, the pair have guided ULTRAMARINE on an eclectic musical pathway taking in along the way folk, acid house, Latin, jazz and techno influences.
Paul Hammond and Ian Cooper kindly spoke about their new album, their musical history together and the experience of working with SOFT MACHINE’s Robert Wyatt.
A PRIMARY INDUSTRY were quite a different musical beast to what would eventually end up as ULTRAMARINE, what made you both move on and explore different musical territories?
Ian: There was a transition rather than any kind of break musically. Some of the first ULTRAMARINE tracks were actually recorded at A PRIMARY INDUSTRY sessions, so it’s a bit muddled.
Paul: I don’t recall any deliberate change in direction between the two groups. I can’t really remember if we had a general game plan at that point, or even how we saw ourselves fitting in to the wider musical world. We were feeling our way, going from project-to-project rather than having an overall concept of what we were doing.
Who were your initial influences when you decided to put together ULTRAMARINE?
Paul: In the late ‘80s, our influences were fairly contemporary I think; we weren’t really digging that far back except for classic ambient music like Brian Eno’s Obscure label which I remember picking up on in the mid-80s. Some of the Factory artists were still an influence; DIF JUZ and the 4AD aesthetic; 23 SKIDOO, CABARET VOLTAIRE, Adrian Sherwood and On-U Sound. And in particular a lot of music on the Crépuscule and Crammed labels from Brussels.
The albums that Steven Brown made with Benjamin Lew were certainly a reference point for ‘Folk’ plus TUXEDOMOON, Wim Mertens and Anna Domino.
Your debut album ‘Folk’ sounds like an act finding its feet, when you listen back to it now, what are your thoughts on it?
Ian: I look back at it fondly. We had some basic songs pulled together in the back room of a village hall in Essex and were then let loose in a Brussels studio to record with the help of a couple of great guest musicians.
Paul: It’s a slightly odd mix of styles but I like some of it a lot; particularly the more acoustic, less groove-based tracks like ‘Lobster’ and ‘Bronze Eye’. ‘Lobster’ has an interesting palette and sounds surprisingly sophisticated to me; live percussion, clarinet, accordion, bass guitar and Sequential Circuits Pro-One synth. It’s intriguing for me listening back to that record; I can’t really recall much of the thinking behind it.
There is a huge jump in progression from ‘Folk’ to ‘Every Man & Woman Is A Star’ in what was quite a short time period… what would you attribute this to?
Ian: Very simply, it was the Akai S900. Having sampling capability at home; to be able to experiment and write loop-based tracks opened new worlds of possibilities for us. We could gather ‘70s west coast musicians for an acoustic backing track and write synth melodies on top whilst never leaving the bedroom in New Cross. Almost all of the tracks on ‘Every Man…’ are based on sampled loops.
The two exceptions are ‘Stella’ and ‘Gravity’; they have earlier origins and use samples but not full bar-long rhythmic loops.
Paul: We’d used a sampler, sequencer and analogue synths in the studio on the later A PRIMARY INDUSTRY records and on ‘Folk’ so we were gradually introducing electronic instruments and treatments. We worked with an excellent engineer and co-producer around that time called Colin James (who was part of the original MEAT BEAT MANIFESTO line-up) and he introduced us to some of the technology.
A PRIMARY INDUSTRY had been a four or five-piece but reduced to just the two of us after ‘Folk’, so I think Ian and I must have made a decision to make it more machine-based then. After ‘Folk’ we released a couple of more House-like 12”s for Crépuscule and Brainiak and that was the bridge into ‘Every Man & Woman Is A Star’.
When samplers did eventually become omnipresent, many UK acts started sampling, using New Age and World Music loops which rapidly became clichéd, what is your approach when looking for loops and sounds?
Ian: In the early ‘90s, we scoured second hand record shops for interesting looking cheap albums to see what loops we could create.
These were then used as starting points for tracks. Sometimes the original samples ended up in the final track, possibly cut-up, disguised or reworked somehow, and sometimes they just got us up and running with a track and were then removed. We haven’t been so reliant on samples since ‘A User’s Guide’. If we use samples nowadays, it’s more as a textural element.
Paul: Our original approach to sampling was to deliberately use music that was very different in style to our own. We were looking for acoustic textures mainly; not so much sampling other electronic music, ambient or new age music.
There has always been large played element to ULTRAMARINE, do you sometimes end up sampling yourselves?
Paul: We don’t really sample the live elements as such but we certainly do a lot of editing and rearranging of recorded live material. On most of our albums, including ‘Signals Into Space’, we’ll record other musicians in the studio, playing in a fairly loose or improvised way, and then edit those recordings and work them into the arrangement. On ‘This Time Last Year’ and ‘Signals Into Space’, Ian and I played a lot of the parts live (synths, guitar, bass etc) and those performances formed the basis of the tracks. On ‘Signals Into Space’, we wrote some of the sax parts for Iain Ballamy and other parts are his improvisation. The approach is quite free and not really bound by any rules as to how we do or don’t treat recordings.
Moving on to the ‘United Kingdoms’ album, how did the link-up with Robert Wyatt come about?
Paul: We approached Robert through Geoff Travis at Rough Trade. We were signed to the Warners sub-label Blanco Y Negro that Geoff A&R’d and Robert was on Rough Trade at the time, so it was a pretty easy connection.
What was it like working with Wyatt?
Paul: It was a fantastic experience. We’d been into Robert’s music since his early ‘80s recordings for Rough Trade but were too young to have been familiar with his earlier work and SOFT MACHINE. We didn’t discover Kevin Ayers and the wider Canterbury Scene until the early ‘90s; a result of sample digging in secondhand shops. We bought Kevin’s album ‘Whatevershebringswesing’ and completely fell in love with it, even to the extent that we went to Majorca to try to track him down and ask him to work with us!
How did the track ‘Happy Land’ come together?
Paul: We started to develop the concept of ‘United Kingdoms’ being a kind of homage to the Canterbury Scene; Kevin Ayers and Robert in particular. While in Majorca, we were listening to the TRAFFIC song ‘John Barleycorn (Must Die)’ and had the idea of doing something similar; reusing the words of a traditional folk song. ‘Happy Land’ and the track ‘Kingdom’ came out of that.
We found the words to both songs (which were political street ballads) in the library of the English Folk Dance & Song Society at Cecil Sharp House and gave Robert the words and instrumental demos to work with. He wrote the vocal melodies and arrangements at his piano at home, playing along to our demos. We then went to a studio with him to record his vocals. He was a joy to work with; very generous and modest.
With the folk elements replaced by jazzier ones, ‘Bel Air’ was another big shift in direction, what prompted this?
Paul: With ‘Bel Air’, we wanted to do something more exotic sounding and were becoming influenced by Latin music. The working method for the two albums was the same. ‘Bel Air’ was more a shift in palette and musical references than being a big change in direction as far as we were concerned. I think ‘Bel Air’ is more adventurous and experimental in terms of production than ‘United Kingdoms’; more fluid and sensuous. We were getting more confident in the studio and ‘Bel Air’ was the first record we recorded completely on our own. It was quite a creative and transitionary period for electronic music I think; the technology was starting to become a little friendlier and programming techniques were getting more sophisticated. We were listening to more contemporary music and picking up little tips from that.
The Roland TB303 remains a reliable constant in your tracks, what made you originally use one and why are you continually inspired by it?
Paul: We originally used it hooked up with a TR808 so it was just born out of messing around with that. Our TB303 isn’t in great shape at the moment and we haven’t actually used it on the last couple of albums, although there are other synths playing those kinds of parts. In retrospect, we used it like a voice on the earlier records – it fulfils that sort of role on some tracks – sitting in the middle of the sound and carrying the main melody in quite a lyrical way.
In true KRAFTWERK style, you took a 15 year hiatus between ‘A User’s Guide’ and ‘This Time Last Year’; what caused this and did you still keep making music individually?
Ian: We’d run out of funds and had to get other work. We were very pleased with ‘A User’s Guide’ but there didn’t seem to be an audience out there for it.
After a while, Paul carried on with some solo work and started the label Real Soon. We were still meeting up and discussing what we’d like to do together musically.
This would turn out to be a way of working that was more open to improvisation and performance. The talking went on for a while before we started messing around with instruments again to see what might happen.
Paul: At the end of the ‘90s we were a bit bruised by the major label experience and weren’t enjoying the business aspect of things. After a couple of years break, I started Real Soon which focussed on the more experimental end of the House music spectrum, putting out my own projects but mainly releasing music by other artists. I did an album and a few other releases on my own but always missed the interaction of working with Ian. The label has been really fun and I’ve learnt a lot from doing that.
How was the experience of making the current album ‘Signals into Space’?
Ian: We started writing the tracks in 2016 in our old basement studio surrounded by fields near to an estuary and completed the remaining writing and recording in the following two years in a rehearsal space on a light industrial estate near a busy A-road.
The new space worked out far better than it sounds. It allowed us to get completely absorbed with the music with no distraction.
Paul: This album has been a very enjoyable experience. We’d started a particular way of writing with the previous album ‘This Time Last Year’ and developed it further for the new record. Our working method is based around us each having a small portable set-up (rather than our own studio) and around performance and improvisation. It’s much more about recording, editing and arranging than programming. It’s totally refreshed our feeling about making music I think. It’s much more instinctive and immediate than any way we’ve worked previously.
The general idea is to capture the essence of the tracks as quickly as possible and, although the arranging, final production and mixing processes are inevitably quite drawn out, the music retains a freshness for us as a result. We’ve also started working with other people again on this album and that’s been a lot of fun. We mixed the album with Andy Ramsay (STEREOLAB) who was great and seems to be on the same wavelength as us!
The vocal based tracks with Factory / Crépuscule artist Anna Domino are superb, particularly ‘Spark from Flint to Clay’; she appears to have been pretty reclusive over the last few years, how did you go about tempting her back into the studio?
Paul: We politely asked her and she said “yes”! Anna has been fantastic on this project; she gave a lot of time to it and really engaged with the tracks. We built up those particular songs with her over quite a long period so the music and vocal ideas have developed together and Anna’s lyrical themes have seeped into the album in general.
What are your favourite tracks from the album and why?
Ian: Anna’s vocal on the title track is wonderful. It’s been a very special experience listening to her vocals work their way into our music. I would also want to single out ‘Du Sud’ and ‘Sleight of Hand’. The parts for both tracks came together very quickly and are very simple. ‘Du Sud’ is one of a few tracks that started life in our old basement studio and is very evocative. I love where the vibraphone runs come in and out. Iain Ballamy’s sax on ‘Sleight of Hand’ is a single take with live effects, grabbed immediately before he had to dash off to catch a train. It’s a great performance.
Paul: I’m very attached to ‘$10 Heel’; one of the songs with Anna. It was a difficult song to put together – really tricky to arrange. One of our reference points for it was the RAINCOATS track ‘Animal Rhapsody’ which was mixed by Dennis Bovell. We wanted ‘$10 Heel’ to have the same kind of pop-dub feel, with woody percussion and delayed piano parts. The final section really gets it I think; just what we were aiming for.
You have toured as support for BJÖRK and ORBITAL, how did you find life on the road and was technology reliable for you back then?
Ian: Our first US tour was with MEAT BEAT MANIFESTO, ORBITAL and Communion DJs from New York. MEAT BEAT MANIFESTO had a great crew and they looked after our sound and set-up really well. We had way too much gear but had nothing go wrong. Well, we had a stuck MIDI-note in San Francisco and just had to reload. The audience were patient. That tour was great fun.
Paul: That tour and the BJÖRK US and European tours were wonderful, unforgettable experiences. We loved playing every night. The technology was remarkably solid actually; probably more so than it would be nowadays!
You did a recent album launch event at Sounds Of The Universe, what kind of set-up did you use for this show?
Ian: That was as stripped down as it gets. Paul had a laptop with Logic music software and a couple of small hardware synths. I had the kalimba, some loops and effects pedals. It left a lot of room for experimenting.
Paul: That wasn’t really what I’d consider to be a live set; more live-lite! When we do a full show nowadays we don’t use a laptop.
Ian and I have separate set-ups; me with a hardware sequencer / sampler, drum machine and a few analogue synths and Ian with a guitar, soft synths and a load of effects pedals and bits and pieces. We want it to be quite loose; free in terms of the arrangements and completely open to improvisation.
Are there any more live performances on the horizon?
Ian: There are a few discussions underway. We would certainly like to play live both as a duo and as part of a fuller line-up with musicians from the album.
If you could select one ULTRAMARINE track to introduce a new listener to the act, which one would you choose?
Paul: That’s difficult as there’s quite a bit of variety in what we’ve done. At this point, I’d choose ‘Breathing’ from the new album. It’s quite a simple, understated track in some ways but I think it captures a mood that we’ve had across quite a few things over the years.
Ian: I’d go for ‘Equatorial Calms’. It has multiple sections to it and is grounded in studio improvisation. It starts with a guitar and bass dream state, followed by drum machine and synths, then ending up with lo-fi soundtrack.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to ULTRAMARINE
Special thanks to James Nice at Les Disques du Crépuscule
Essex duo ULTRAMARINE are probably best known for their 1991 album ‘Every Man & Woman is a Star’.
Arguably Paul Hammond and Ian Cooper pioneered the Folktronica genre including an eventual collaboration with SOFT MACHINE’s Robert Wyatt on their 1993 ‘United Kingdoms’ album. ‘Every Man & Woman Is A Star’ melded a disparate mix of lo-fi drum machines, electric piano, jazz inflections and squelchy Roland 303s. It was a sound that on paper shouldn’t have really worked, but when it hit its peak, comfortably matched acts like THE ORB at their finest, albeit less self-indulgently.
After a fourteen year hiatus, the duo returned with a pair of singles in 2011 and this has led to ULTRAMARINE’s ‘Signals Into Space’, their first full length album since 2013’s ‘This Time Last Year’. This time around there are collaborations with vocalist Anna Domino who contributes to four tracks, plus percussionist Ric Elsworth and sax player Iain Ballamy from LOOSE TUBES.
Album opener ‘Elsewhere’ provides a dark electronic opener with an eclectic mix of twittering bird song, echoed TANGERINE DREAM-influenced sequencer part and retro analogue drum machine which has its lo-fi congas pitched up and down through the track. Ambient guitar and Juno-style synth layers work brilliantly on the piece; the only criticism is that the track ends too soon and could have quite comfortably been extended by another couple of minutes.
‘Spark from Flint to Clay’ is the first song to feature the vocals of Anna Domino and is the kind of piece that fans of AIR’s ‘Moon Safari’ and ZERO 7 will really get excited by; a Kaoss Pad manipulated 303 makes its first appearance alongside another retro 808-style drum machine and echoed guitars and vibes create a beautiful, drifting and luxuriant soundscape.
‘Breathing’ stretches to an epic 7 minutes and is the first track on the album to feature a combination of trademark off-kilter ULTRAMARINE sounds, improvisation and a far jazzier aesthetic.
‘Breathing’ is not a foreground piece, but it would provide a superb ambient accompaniment to drift along to with Ballamy’s sax providing the main musical content.
‘Arithmetic’ ups the tempo and could quite easily have appeared on ‘Every Man & Woman is a Star’; live percussion, electric piano and another 7 minute running time allows it to ebb and flow with a combo of electronics and live elements drifting in and out. Again, Anna Domino provides the main vocal hook for a song that wonderfully conjures images of far-off beaches and tropical climates.
‘If Not Now When?’ indirectly take its cues from JON & VANGELIS’ ‘State of Independence’ with a modulated Yamaha CS80-style bassline whilst ‘Equatorial Calms’ (could there be a more ULTRAMARINE song title?) evokes some distant arid and dusty landscape with heart-rate slowing sounds and cross delayed drum sounds. The album closer and title track finishes with another Anna Domino vocalled-piece; combining found sound ambience and a heartbeat pulse.
The fact that only a third of ‘Signals into Space’ feature vocals means that the album works best as “put on, zone out” work and it accomplishes that exceedingly well; once you become locked into it, it does a superb job of transporting the listener to a variety of sonic-inspired landscapes.
For those that have previously delved into the world of ULTRAMARINE, there are no radical departures, reinventions or surprises here; over 30 years Hammond and Cooper have carefully cultivated their own sound that combines their source material beautifully.
For this reason there appears no motive to deviate too far from a tried tested template and fans of the duo will welcome ‘Signals into Space’ with open arms.