Ours is the age of the collaboration. Of two mutual appreciators of each other’s work joining forces, knocking their creative heads together and unleashing a fresh new sonic project, informed by their respective idiosyncrasies, into the world. But, in recent times, this type of artistic union has been sullied. In order to enjoy every inspiring partnership - St Vincent’s fruitful liaison with David Byrne but one sterling example - we must suffer through the pain of listening to the latest BBC Sound-endorsed wunderkind wrap their processed vocals around yet more of Calvin Harris’ rent-a-rave chart fodder. When the latter strikes our airwaves, there’s always a stench of marketing agenda. A suspicion of strategic PR exercise, of penny-pinching record execs stumbling upon new ways of milking the paying public, and their hyper-popular charges, for all that they’re worth.
Ultimate Painting, one of this year’s most promising collaborative projects, have joined the side of those who favour principle over PR, crafting an album that scores a solid victory for authentic songwriting partnerships. This venture, which sees Mazes frontman Jack Cooper teaming up with James Hoare (one half of Veronica Falls’ hypnotising male/female vocal and guitar combo) to release an album’s worth of new material, is the consolidation of a four-year acquaintanceship between the two. Forever bumping into each other, they blossomed into friends during a 2013 European tour that saw Mazes support Veronica Falls and, before the continental jaunt came to an end, had christened themselves Ultimate Painting.
As both are part of bands whose music is made in the far-reaching shadow of the past - Cooper's charges currently atop the psych bandwagon, Hoare’s outfit preferring a C86 meets ‘60s girl group darkpop sound - it’s little surprise that their union is indebted to a classic style. But from which decade is the most taken? Out of the myriad possibilities their back catalogues afford them, this time around, the duo have found an unmistakably ‘60s sound. Opener "Ultimate Painting", fitted with melodic chug and giddy woah-oh-ohs, recalls post-avant-garde Velvet Underground’s penchant for bluesy licks and close-miced production values. "Ten Street", ushered in on a cooling lollop, gently builds to an acid-fried wah-wah-wahing solo nabbed from Love’s "Live and Let Live". The gorgeous call-and-response drive of "She’s A Bomb" plucked straight out of a Brian Wilson wet dream. Elsewhere, "Can’t You Tell" and "Jane" breathe the same methodical, pleading air as some of the more downbeat tracks nested inside The Byrds’ wispy 1965 masterpiece, Fifth Dimension.
The lyrics hold true to this ‘60s obsession- songs about falling underneath the spell of a bewitching femme fatale mingle with tales of fighting on the streets, self-discovery and mind-expansion. "Riverside’s" sheepish coo of "thirty miles high" is the most on-the-nose, a bashful and wry self- admittance that, for the most part, Ultimate Painting is a mere love-letter to the partnership’s impressive record collection.
Even when the two try and break away from hazy transatlantic jangle-pop, comparisons continue to stalk their every move. "Talkin’ Central Park Blues", a picaresque dash around New York’s nooks and crannies (featuring obligatory Lennon name check) is a dead ringer for Courtney Barnett’s loose-tongued acid tale "History Eraser". Only, this time around, despite threatening to give the Hugo Boss/The xx scrap a run for its money, the similarities seem to be coincidental.
As replication of the sound that Ultimate Painting strives for is au courant, the band, failing to offer much in the way of invention, often risk being thrown into the same revivalist bracket. After all, can an album that sticks so rigidly to such formulae really be anything more than a pale imitation of a universally-lauded sound?
But, even though everything that Ultimate Painting have to offer has been heard before, the richness of their chosen source material- so utterly packed with hooks- puts them onto a winner. "It’s all instant gratification" they sing through twinkling eyes on "Rolling In The Deep End". And, sometimes, base satisfaction is all that we turn to pop music for. Violently catchy and laden with warmth, Ultimate Painting is one of this year’s standout collaborative efforts.