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"Equatorial Ultravox"

Chad Valley – Equatorial Ultravox
20 June 2011, 09:00 Written by Sam Lee

Whenever there’s something good coming out of Oxford, you can bet your life (well, a couple of quid at least) that Hugo Manuel is involved somewhere along the way. Whether it’s as Chad Valley, or as one quarter of Jonquil, he’s comfortably established himself as one of the most innovative artists around at the moment.

But if you think that Equatorial Ultravox might see him resting on his laurels, you can think again. Hugo Manuel has never been ashamed to admit that his influences include artists such as Kylie and Aqua, and his unabashed love of pop is pretty clear to see here. This seven-track EP is packed with expansive, ambitious pop songs. Take ‘Shell Suite’, which sees Manuel edging away from chillwave elements towards more conventional electronic pop sounds. The vocals are more distinct, the melodies are more infectious, occasionally even sounding a bit like Rihanna’s ‘Umbrella’, and the drums are more uptempo and not as distant. The gorgeous ‘Acker Bilk’ again sees Manuel’s vocals taking a more prominent role, this time auto-tuned to within an inch of their life, while ‘Reach Lines’ is smooth, and so strangely seductive that you can almost make out the ethereal baritone vocals of Barry White’s spirit in the background.

But that’s not to say that Equatorial Ultravox is a complete departure from Manuel’s previous works. Opening track (and lead single) ‘Now That I’m Real’ is just the sort of spacious Balearic pop that we’ve come to expect from our ol’ pal Hugo. ‘Fast Challenges’ and ‘I Want Your Love’ both see more of the same, with reverb-soaked falsetto vocals and a four-to-the-floor kick drum surrounded by ambient, chiming synths and airy electronic drums.

It’s hardly a surprise that Hugo Manuel’s latest release is a little bit special, but with Equatorial Ultravox he’s upped his game immeasurably. He’s embraced a multitude of pop influences here; the same influences that many of his peers would almost certainly reject in their quests to reach new levels of ‘cool’. With its infectious R’n’B pop inspired melodies and its swelling, stratospheric arrangements, this record moves away from the clinical feel and lack of personality that blights so many chillwave records. Breathtaking, life-affirming, and constantly original, Hugo Manuel has gone for the jugular with this EP – and it has definitely paid off. Take that, chillwave!


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