('Compass' is) creative, innovative and bold - an art pop composition of beauty and expression, diverse and intelligent songwriting. By far, this is one of the most intriguing and enigmatically exciting releases of the year thus far.
Any preconception about Ummagma being easily slotted into a dream/pop shoegaze label was put on notice with the release of their single ‘Caravan’ earlier this year and has certainly been dispelled for good with their new album ‘Compass’ being released on 26 July.
Opening track, ‘Rolling’ has the wide-eyed exuberance of anything released by Pharrel Williams – a joyous flinging song bursting with an abandoned danceability. I’ve already described single ‘Caravan’ as a thumpingly percussive missile
‘Otherwise’ has a ska-inflected beat that is threaded with a dream-like reverie as Alexander Kretov and Shauna McLarnon’s voice interweave. ‘LCD’ reverts to a dream pop-infused haze with it almost arabic motifs, bubbling with synth pops and bursts, bleeping and bobbing down a stream of unconsciousness.
And it’s not all about synth-soaked reverb either. ‘Blown’ with its ringing acoustic guitar spine creates a variety in the layered soundscapes.
‘F-Talking’ is haunting and mysterious with its muttering breathy vocal sounds and an eighties-inflected synth, augmented by Ummagma’s hugely inventive percussion sound.
‘Lotus’ is a brightly bubbling song that has a Peter Gabriel-like tone with Kretov’s grainy voice over a washy guitar and McLarnon’s dreamy backing and a pulse quickening chorus.
Ummagma have an incredibly large arsenal in their pockets – ‘High Day’, sung by McLarnan is a gorgeous pop song that recalls The Cocteau Twins at their very best. McLarnon’s voice is breathtaking and the song is filled with a fairground bubble and dreamy reverie:
‘Colors II’, sung by Kretov, is pure classic indie guitar rock with its jangly guitars and earnest melancholic vocals. And yet, as with all Ummagma songs, it is turned on its head by divergent sounds and layers – in this case a wild flute that flutters in the background.
“Galicticon’ and its accompanying video is a ‘Blade Runner’ evoking instrumental accompanied by a haunting and foreboding tone:
Final track, ‘Bouquet’ perfectly encapsulates Ummagma’s versatility and creativity. A track that would fit perfectly in anything by Sigur Ros: it has a haunting and beautiful wash that is all-enveloping – putting a vibrantly exciting album to rest in a dreamy blanket.
While Kretov and McLarnon share vocal duties, it is McLarnon’s mesmerising voice that soars above the songs in this album, layered, harmonising, sometimes way back in the mix but always chiming and ringing like a bell.
This is no easy-listening simplistic conventional pop album by any account – it is creative, innovative and bold – an art pop composition of beauty and expression, with diverse and intelligent songwriting. By far, this is one of the most enigmatic, intriguing and exciting releases of the year thus far.