Tuesday, 28 August 2012

REVIEW: Ultrasound - Play For Today

Ultrasound are certainly not your average indie band. They are in fact a one-off. You may remember them from the front covers of music papers in the late 90's, when the music press were hailing them as the next British rock phenomenon. After a string of immaculate singles the NME and Melody Maker hoped for more epic pop anthems, but what they got instead was 1999's sprawling debut album 'Everything Picture'. It was a vast, prog-heavy record that caused much confusion, and its over-ambition probably played a part in the band's break-up. Before too long it seemed that their dreams had faded, and the members of Ultrasound once again found themselves having to earn themselves a living through ordinary jobs and state benefits. 

A decade after they imploded, the group surprised many when they reunited and immediately found their old magic again, a magic that it seems was never lost, just temporarily misplaced. A new album arrives 13 years after the debut, and make no mistake, they still have the power to win over many hearts. There is sadness, anger, love, defiance and joy in their music and no other band can serve it all up in such a unique way as these five people do. They make some sort of psychedelic glam prog punk with tendencies for epic explosions of emotion. This time round it's certainly a case of quality over quantity. It's half as long as 'Everything Picture', yet somehow it is even more epic. It packs more into its 51 glorious minutes than its 13 year old predecessor did in its sprawling 102, and as a result of its superior consistency, 'Play For Today' has a far greater impact. After a few plays of this superb album, resistance is not an option.

'Welfare State' is the sound of the beast roaring back to life, the thumping drums and jagged guitar heralding a most spectacular return. While their time is often spent in day jobs and dole queues, their music gives them the power to take on the world again, and if the world isn't fortunate enough to listen, then it's mankind's loss. Grubby elegance, tattered pride and rock 'n roll thrills give way to a cosmic interlude that soon leads into a gutsy build up to one final verse and chorus. 'Beautiful Sadness' is more gritty than its title may suggest, catchy post punk yielding classic rock riffs, organ psyche-outs and plenty of anthemic power. The astounding 'Twins' flows beautifully and sounds effortlessly huge, the verse's spacey ambience exploding into a joyous surging chorus that leaves you in no doubt that their musical horizons as broad as ever.  

With its charming Byrds-esque guitar and superb keys from Bob Birch, the lovely and infectious 'Nonsense' is an enticing reminder that what we see in the mirror isn't always the same as what the rest of the world sees, while the resplendent 'Between Two Rivers' is truly classic songwriting. With its wearily epic tone and rueful brass band sonority, there are hints of Pink Floyd's 'Atom Heart Mother', but as I said before, only Ultrasound could have created this song, perhaps the centrepiece of the album and a moment that embeds itself deeper and deeper into your head every time you hear it. 'Goodbye Baby, Amen' is where the record shows its teeth, relentless rock n roll snarling with abrasive punk riffs and Tiny once again properly letting rip on vocals. 

'Deux Ex Natura' is splendidly produced and wonderfully arranged, the soaring melody and chiming grace of a lovely verse launching into a dramatic chorus packed with sweeping tragedy and powerful grandeur, rather like their own 'Design For Life'. The addictively breezy 'Long Way Home' is another stunning moment, delivered with every ounce of the band's heart and soul, a beautifully reflective verse bursting into a Motown-like chorus. The intense and darkly soulful 'Glitter Box' is a real surprise, where bassist Vanessa Best delivers a sensational lead vocal performance before 'Sovereign' provides a magnificent closer, heaving with emotion during its skyscraping chorus and ending the dying seconds of the album on an endearingly sincere note. 

If 'Play For Today' takes a couple of listens for these excellent songs to make their impact, then you will be truly rewarded for your patience. We've waited well over a decade for another Ultrasound record, so living with these songs for a while and waiting for them to imprint themselves into your heart is time well spent. And when they do gain your affections, you will be thankful that you gave them the chance they deserve. 

After such a long time how have they not lost their touch one bit? Even more startlingly, how have they managed to actually improve on that magic in such a big way? Maybe that fire has been burning inside them for all these years, waiting to rise high once again when these remarkable musicians reunited. This time we can think ourselves lucky that we've been given another chance to experience their magic, and only hope that they don't desert us again. 9.5

Pre-order the album HERE.

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