Ummagma are launching themselves onto the scene with a simultaneous dual release; Andre LaFosse did the same thing recently, but where his two albums showcased radically different approaches, these are actually pretty similar. Quite gentle songs, that are generally inviting, although they have their moments of cold and darkness, are arranged and produced with creativity and imagination. The melodies are of a pleasing, somewhat wistful bent, and are decorated at tasteful intervals with compelling hooks, which sometimes serve simply as the vocal equivalent to a riff, and occasionally erupt with anthemic intensity. A combination of intelligent processing on the instrumental sounds and carefully crafted synth patches keeps the textural interest high, with a wide variety of sounds giving each track an individual character. The overall mood is pretty floaty, and we are kept at an anaesthetic remove from the action by a warm reverberant ambience; the aesthetic is clearly indebted to shoegaze and dreampop, but the textures are far less ‘all over’ than is usually the case in those styles. If shoegaze resembles abstract expressionist painting, then Ummagma resembles some form of figuration, albeit one in which form is obscured by an overriding concern with colour and tone. The overall effect is one of nostalgic longing, paradoxically perhaps, as the soundscapes are so warm and comfortable at the same time. A sense of loss pervades the album, but it seems more a source of celebration than anguish; it revels in a certain gentle pain, the sort of dull ache that reminds a slightly detached subject of their own capacity for feeling. Unlike much of the ‘hypnagogic’ music that travels similar affective territory this album is just as concerned with the business of its own construction however, with some very imaginative playing, some of it quite upbeat, and a constantly transforming set of textures that give the nerdier listener plenty of food for thought. A very accomplished and enjoyable work.
On the cover of Antigravity three sylph-like young bodies, clad in swimming gear, float languidly above a hazy scene, that could be a cityscape, but which has the ambiguity of a distant lake bed glimpsed through clear water on a bright day. That’s a great metaphor for a modern, urban subjectivity, and it’s one that seems to be borne out in the music. Is it antigravity that keeps them afloat, or the medium in which their world is drowned? What keeps these songs afloat is, again, a combination of musicianship and a liquid, ambiguous aesthetic. The hard-edged rhythmic synth sound of ‘Micro-Macro’ is exchanged for the restrained acoustic guitar curlicues of ‘Back To You’, but in both cases they anchor the music to a certainty, an emphatic musical statement that is reinforced rather than undercut by the pelagic and expansive sense of the soundscapes within which they are situated. There’s a good deal of groove in this album, whether it comes from an insistent rhythm guitar, as in ‘Live and Let Die’ or a driving, acid-rock influenced bass-and-drums motor as in ‘Lama’ and ‘Kiev’, and combined with the more assertive elements in the textures, it serves to add deep structure to the floaty and dream-like atmospheres. There’s a complexity to Antigravity that emerges whenever the listener settles down to what seems a simple set of premises; a variety of different sets of pop and rock assumptions are invoked simultaneously, and none of them unequivocally endorsed. I think the real creative core of Ummagma’s approach here is to be found in the production, which unifies a disparate set of elements into a seamless whole, without smoothing off all the corners; the songs are great, but they sound a lot more remarkable like this than they would if they were simply bashed out on an acoustic guitar. Like Ummagma this is an accomplished record, but it ramps up the musicianship another notch, and takes more of an eclectic, magpie approach to its arrangements. Superb stuff.