Ultimate Painting – Dusk
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After releasing two very fine albums of relaxed guitar pop in a two-year span and touring incessantly, one might expect the duo of James Hoare and Jack Cooper to kick back and take a break. It appears they don't operate that way, and Dusk, the third Ultimate Painting album in as many years, hit the stores in late 2016. By this time, Hoare and Cooper had perfected their writing and recording techniques, melding their two styles into a blend that makes it hard to tell when one guy stops and the other starts. Their voices and guitars twine together in perfect harmony and the richness of this fusion helps make the sound they get on Dusk to be the warmest and most welcoming of their short, busy career. Adding new drummer Melissa Rigby to the mix means a few more cymbals here and there, maybe a couple more fills too, but she's a sympathetic collaborator and never overshadows the guitar jangle or the wispily quiet vocals. Unlike the group's other albums, there aren't any talking blues rambles or uptempo rockers; the mood is steady, melancholy, and quite autumnal in nature. Tracks like the slowly unwinding "Song for Brian Jones," the calmly rollicking "Who Is Your Next Target?," or the lush "Set Me Free" could be triggering for those who are brought to tears by the smell of burning leaves. The addition of the occasional acoustic guitar and electric piano only adds to the sepia-toned, lost-in-thought, wrapped-in-sweaters mood. With the Clientele mostly out of operation, Ultimate Painting are making a bid here to take over their place as "the band most likely to drink mulled cider and glumly kick leaves as they walk the chilly streets." Most bands with such a brisk work rate run the risk of burning themselves out too soon or simply repeating themselves until their record deals dry up. Unlike those sad souls, Hoare and Cooper just keep getting better while giving their proven formula a little tweak here and there, just enough to make it feel like a progression. Ultimate Painting have quickly proven themselves to be masters of understated emotion and restrained production, and Dusk is another tiny work of quiet brilliance.