I’m starting my review on Ummagma’s self-titled debut album, Ummagma, from a natural perspective: just allowing myself to react organically to what comes out of the speakers, you know, old school style: kick out your sneakers, fall flat on the couch accompanied by your favorite intoxicant, and wait for the music to come and take you away… sigh, I just wish I were doing this while carefully tearing open the plastic wrapper of a proper white vinyl record, and typing on a proper typewriter, the kind that knows where you are going and points you towards the next phrase like a dusty Ouija board.
Why the vinyl nostalgia? It could be that Ummagma (a musical love child born to Shauna McLarnon and Alexander Kretov) bring to mind the flavor of an era in which you actually had to be a bit self-critical and somewhat creative to make music, not just come up with a twist on The Next Best Gimmick, as many a band seem to be perfectly satisfied with these days (uh oh, that’s what old people used to say when I was not one of them!)But end of rant, this music is a reason to celebrate, despite the fact that bands like Ummagma always make me think: “THIS, THIS is what should top the charts!“I mean, it sure did take more than one spin to actually wrap my head around this album, but it’s because of all the sonic Easter eggs that this Ukranian-Canadian duo offer: the confidence Ummagma place on their listeners by challenging them to a close listen is well rewarded when everything clicks into place and you just go: ahhhh… this is why we CAN have and deserve to have nice things! (I just love internet kitties, don’t you?)
And by “challenging”, I’m not saying math-rock, either. On the surface, one could even perceive Ummagma as an easy listen, for their sound is never intrusive, even at their most spectacular. All instruments and beats are crafted perfectly and carefully equalized in their private frequency range. There is no Velvet-Underground-cringe-inducing-guitar-solo moment here, and it’s all for the best, for Ummagma seem intent on keeping you afloat. Heck, they even throw at you a couple of beautiful small-electronic lullabies as to kiss you goodnight (though naming one of them J. S. Bach seemed a bit of a stretch to me, to be honest.)
This album immediately creates a sort of self-contained universe where everything is connected by a thread of humanity behind each and every sound. You can find the jazzy drums and proggy riffs of ‘BFD’ right next to the building guitar sequence of ‘Upsurd’, or the ethereal ambience of Orion rubbing elbows with standoutrocker ‘Outside’, where multi-instrumentalist Alex Kretov shows us his true finesse as a guitar player, but just for a little while. Another definite standout tune is ‘Risky’, with its turntable hip-hop beat introduction taking a left turn into a magnificently uplifting dreampop tune that makes you feel like you are driving home after kissing somebody’s lips for the first time (real nice, by the way, for those who haven’t tried it). Throughout the album, you find an Euclidian web of samples and beats that hold together the structure of the sonic building, while blasts of alt rock come and go, weaving a sort of emotional arc that starts in the chaos of modern life and ends in a vast, open sky.
Last act opens on a high note with ‘NIMBY’, possibly the most experimental tune here, with its endless drift of half-remembered better days and delightful key changes, leading right into the loving arms of ‘River Town’, a song where Ummagma pour their world-music feel in the mix just to get it off their chests with remarkably credible results. This music seems made by people in love, so everything is surrounded by an aura of expansive creativity and unbridled dreaminess. Call them shoe-gaze, if you like, but I’d rather call them star-gazers.
One thing, though. Bands THIS good always get me craving for a definite document, a master stroke, that elusive perfect album which comes your way if it’s meant to. This duo is incredibly talented, and I’m hoping we are yet to see the full beast of their sound unleashed. But for the time being, Ummagma, and its twin and probably more heralded brother album Antigravity, will have to do, and that sure is more than we’d expected.