Simplicity is often times misleading. Just ask James Hoare and Jack Cooper of Ultimate Painting, a duo that writes muted, soft pop songs with such effortless ease that it ultimately turns against their favor. There’s not a moment on their second effort, Green Lanes, that makes the complicated appear simple or easily implemented; what you hear is what you get, essentially, with a breezy, functional approach that denies the idea that short attention spans mandate today’s pop landscape. Now, that doesn’t necessarily define how the Londoners actually write songs, but as far as first impressions go, their trouble-free compositions don’t always invite a second look.
Both Cooper and Hoare developed Ultimate Painting as an extension of their two main projects, Mazes and Veronica Falls, two modestly successful bands that emphasize palatable guitar playing with an impressionable taste. So they’re not creatively venturesome, but their assured relationship with their influences is so complete that their songs are seldom deficient in form and substance. At first glance, their debut effort made them worthy Velvet Underground disciples whose unadorned arrangements made for a brisk, pleasant listen sans its distinctive Loud Reed-ims. But they don’t see this as a lack of progression, and as tunes like “(I’ve Got the) Sanctioned Blues)” and “Two from the Vault” prove, they intend to bow to their maker with hackneyed blues licks, and proudly so.
Through repetition and ringing hooks, Ultimate Painting follow a steady course by achieving a clarity in production that is free of clutter. Gone is that lo-fi fuzz of their debut, and though the backbone of their arrangements are not liable to variation they do find ways to mingle with the small grains. Although it’s a small detail, the descending chord progression of “The Ocean” does elicit a feeling of wistful rumination with surprisingly affecting guitar passages, while the freestyle poetry of “Woken by Noises” lets one inside the mind of a neurotic worrier as a ramshackle riff circles his head with astute wit. Small changes aside, catchy, memorable choruses continue to be their forte, “Sweet Chris” is set-up with such classic economical construction as if to not overshadow its delightfully bubbly, mop top-evoking infatuation, and the patient pace of “I Was Lost” languishes along before Cooper and Hoare harmonize on their tough luck with slouching grace.
Ultimate Painting are releasing Green Lanes less than a year after their debut effort came out, the result of two songwriters capturing their brightest moments on tape without contemplating whether or not the songs are any good. And yet their prolific creative output comes across as unhurried and casual, going forth leisurely seeking various ways to perfect their syncopated jangle melodies. There’s a sense that Cooper and Hoare never go through any personal constraints or contractual obligations when they decide to work together, as if the two take a few days off in between their main projects to meet up and sift through their crates full of classic records. Their guiding tenet is simplicity, sure, but with a shared understanding that solely doing what needs to be done does take a lot of work.