Announcing itself with the charming Euro synth-pop ofBFD, this self-titled album is the "pop" album of the twin debut releases from Canadian-Ukranian duo Ummagma. Shauna McLarnon hails from Canada and sings and writes the lyrics, while Ukranian Alexander Kretov twiddles knobs, plays keyboards, guitars and bass and contributes some vocals, taking occasional lead as on the Depeche Mode-goes-post-rock of Upsurd (great title!).
Human Factor has some nice bottleneck guitar and almost rocks in the traditional sense, fretless bass lends Orion a jazzy grounding over which a star-point synth melody plinks and plonks dreamily. The shoegaze influence is apparent on a lot of songs and having a female lead it is inevitable that comparisons to the Cocteau Twins, Slowdive and the like will be made. Ummagma manage to stamp their own modern identity on the classic British sound of years gone by, and Alex's guitar on Outside shows an almost Bill Nelson-like quality, and there are few better influences to have in my 'umble opinion.
I suppose the most snugly fitting description to use for this album is dream pop, especially with a song like NIMBY, restrained electronic percussion to the fore over which Shauna gets all wistful, and it's really quite lovely! But for the heavily reverbed guitar, River Town could almost be folk-rock, with an early Floydian bent.
Antigravity is the slightly wilful experimental twin toUmmagma's pop stance, but it is still infused with the ghosts of shoegaze past, going right back to the proto-gazers Altered Images and their trademark jangly guitars and girl vocals on Live And Let Die, hazily filtered through a fuzzy gauze, giving the song an otherworldly feel. The swampy echoes and reverbs continue on Colors which swirls around mist-like occasionally revealing itself as a building ballad of fairly simple construction; but nothing is quite what it seems on this album, the song soon going under the waves again. More Galaxie 500 than MBV, this is the sound of dreaming.
The usual adjectives tend to get wheeled out when describing this sort of sound but "ethereal" and "gossamer" would certainly apply. Fittingly given the album title "floating" is another one that you wouldn't be wrong in using, as a song like Beautiful Moment slowly swings through the air feather-like to the ground. Things turn post-rock on the following vocal-free Autumnmania, a playful song that dances around your ears.
The next one, Balkanofellini, is for me both the surprise and the highlight of the album. Shauna, sounding as if she is singing through the wrong end of a megaphone is backed by an off-kilter (synthetic?) brass sound not unlike a euphonium, which lends the all too brief song a kind of Tom Waits vibe, overlaid with sundry electronica. More of this please!
Ending with the longest song 1+1=3, all dark ambience and brooding synthscapes, this has been a strange and enjoyable trip, and given the numerous influences present and the briefly hinted at future directions this duo should go far.