Ultimate Painting - Green Lanes
Pitchfork - 7.8
Ultimate Painting is centered on the wiry guitar lines of Jack Cooper (Mazes) and James Hoare (Veronica Falls). Their economical three-minute songs echo the patient melodies of the Velvet Underground's self-titled third album and the workingman's garage-pop of New Zealand bands like the Chills and the Bats.
"(I've Got the) Sanctioned Blues" — Ultimate PaintingVia SoundCloud
"Break the Chain" — Ultimate PaintingVia SoundCloud
Ultimate Painting named their first album Ultimate Painting, and opened it with a song called "Ultimate Painting". Those neutral titles matched the duo's no-frills music. Centered on the wiry guitar lines of Jack Cooper (Mazes) and James Hoare (Veronica Falls), their economical three-minute songs echoed the patient melodies of the Velvet Underground's self-titled third album and the workingman's garage-pop of New Zealand bands like the Chills and the Bats. Ultimate Painting was winningly casual, the sound of two congenial dudes psyched to roll out easygoing melodies. But repeat listens revealed intriguing tensions inside basic templates.
The group's follow-up, Green Lanes, sounds even more casual. It's mellower and more subdued, with most songs ticking along at medium tempo or slower. At first it even seems that Ultimate Painting might have gotten too relaxed, drifting into zoned-out territory (they did recently use a modified Grateful Dead logo as their Twitter avatar). But much like its predecessor, Green Lanes grows more interesting and distinctive with each subsequent rotation. Cooper and Hoare's deceptively simple interplay slowly worms into your synapses, as their seemingly anonymous melodies gain personality.
That's part of what makes Green Lanes so cohesive, since its lyrical themes are as simple as its moods. Many songs focus on the austere pleasures of nature—words such as ocean, beach, fog, and sun recur—as well as the plain details of daily life. One of the catchiest tunes, the lament "(I've Got the) Sanctioned Blues", plays like the song about unemployment benefits VU never wrote.
Songs like that could easily come off as run-of-the-mill, but Ultimate Paining infuse their short, spartan verses with deep contemplation. Just as Real Estate's music gathers meaning in nostalgia, Cooper and Hoare tap into universal experiences that approach profundity rather than mundanity. This gives their songs a vintage hue, most obvious in the Beatles-esque piano of "Break the Chain" and the Beach Boys-like vocal harmonies of "Paying the Price".
Such classic reference points make it tempting to call Green Lanes a low-stakes record. Music this devoid of attention-seeking flash or overt ambition can sometimes appear risk-averse. But truly committing to any style means taking a chance, even if that style is inherently low-key. American Analog Set and Low built a wide palate with an understated approach, and the quietude of that third Velvet Underground album seemed daring at the time. Ultimate Painting are similarly devoted to a calm, subtle cause, and on Green Lanes that humble gamble again pays off handsomely.