More than twenty years ago, way back in 1992, I first picked up one of my desert island discs – Ultramarine’s Every Man & Woman Is A Star – from Red Eye Records, then located under the American Express tower in the Tank Stream Arcade in Sydney. A bucolic, balearic album, the languid grooves, burbling 303 acid lines, cheery 70s soft pop samples, wove an unexpected magic. It quickly became a favourite accompaniment to many early morning adventures and was one of those chill out classics. Its follow up in 1993, United Kingdoms explored a very British folk tradition with Robert Wyatt providing guest vocals replete with guitars and 303s, predating ‘folktronica’ by at least ten years. Two other albums followed including, the last of which, A User’s Guide is a lost gem of British techno, jettisoning the folk influences and embracing angular melodies and crystalline electronics.
I was more than surprised, then, to see two years ago, a new two-track EP pop up in the ‘new releases’ from Ultramarine on the West Norwood Cassette Library label. Was it really them? The two tracks, Acid and Butch, were spiky minimalist affairs but full of those warm analogue acid lines that made their first two albums so distinctive. Then nothing more – except a 7″ vinyl only release for Real Soon, an eclectic house label run by one half of Ultramarine, Paul Hammond.
But here it is, a new album titled This Time Last Year. And this many years after A User’s Guide, it is truly welcome. And although it isn’t groundbreaking it is a solid collection of rubbery analogue synths, Fripp-y guitars, dub delays, and, at its best, some wistful melancholia atmospheres. A few tracks fade into the background a little too easily but its nice to hear more from Ultramarine.