It’s rare to release two new albums on the same day and rarer still when these are your first and second records. After a presumably high amount of productivity, this prospect is presented by Ummagma, a collaborative project between Canadian Shauna McLarnon and Alexander Kretov from the Ukraine. As an intriguing subtext they are both partners life and music too. Fear not, though, for there’s little in the way of soppy ballads on this highly inventive couple of albums.
The self-titled record is arguably the most experimental of the two. The first track alone has enough ideas for a full album’s worth of material, with African rhythms merging with jangly guitars and samples whilst Kretov’s half-spoken/half-sung contributions counter McLarnon’s more soulful performance. The excellent ‘Upsurd’ and ‘Outside’ ride in on surging guitars and hip-hop beats, ‘NIMBY’ is infectious and beat heavy whilst ‘Human Factor’ combines beats with country twanging. At these times, Ummagma resemble the style and cool of Luscious Jackson. On the debit side, there is a sense that they try too hard to be different and unfortunately the last three tracks are ponderous, tentative attempts to merge styles, with neither of the couple doing quite enough to make the song memorable.
If ‘Antigravity’ can be viewed as their second album, it is a marked progression from the first. Here, there’s a consistency and new-found conviction as the hitherto blurred visions of experimental music are given more focus by an emphasis on production and arrangement. As an instant example, ‘Lama’ begins unassumingly enough but soon the song gravitates into multi-layered dreampop. Four tracks in comes the brilliant ‘Kiev’ where McLarnon’s haunting tones weave in and out of a glistening guitar hook; it’s a bona fide ambient pop classic. It’s swiftly followed by ‘Live And Let Die’, which is not a cover of a Bond soundtrack although it’s just as dramatic and glorious in its own ethereal, My Bloody Valentine-esque kind of way. Full marks too for blissful, acoustic number ‘Photographer’ and even the instrumental track ‘Autumnmania’ has a drive and an urgency to make it stand out. Once again, though, the album ends is disappointingly subdued fashion as the ideas run out.
There’s an argument to say that the best of the two albums could have been combined to form a superb hour-long album. However, thematically it is easy to see the logic in separating ‘Ummagma’ and ‘Antigravity’. Put it simply, the former is recommended for fans of beat-heavy experimental pop whilst the latter is a shoe-in for dreampop followers but either display admirable levels of creativity and talent.