Vocalist Shauna McLarnon and multi-instrumentalist Alexander Kretov could not have hit upon a more apposite title for their third album.
Compass sees the Ummagma duo extending their range across multiple genres and influences to make a record which sounds both otherworldly and yet curiously familiar.
The surprises come right from the outset, opener Rolling strutting in like the soundtrack to a ’70s cop show.
With drums and funk guitars straight out of the Starsky and Hutch and Shaft playbook, it’s like Talking Heads‘ Blind, minus the political paranoia.
Hardly what you’d expect from a band usually associated with the Shoegaze, Dreampop and ambient scene.
Caravan takes us into Afrobeat territory, with Kretov contributing some dazzling space-rock guitar.
Dub reggae meets ’60s girl group sounds on Otherwise – a combination which really shouldn’t work, but is surprisingly effective.
Blown blends McLarnon’s soaring vocals with acoustic guitar and oriental-style keys, with what sounds like a Middle Eastern call to prayer thrown in.
There’s post-pop, reminiscent of the late Mark Hollis‘ seminal Talk Talk on Lotus, while Elizabeth 44 has a haunting post-punk/indie vibe.
LCD is more typical Shoegaze fare, electronic bleeps and whooshes, floating above elegant washes of guitar.
F-Talking and Galacticon see the Canadian-Ukrainian two-piece taking us beyond the final frontier.
The former sounds like Kubrick’s 2001 colliding with the electronic soundscapes of Tangerine Dream, while Galacticon’s portentous melancholy puts you in mind of a lost astronaut, wandering the surface of some distant alien planet.
There’s more gauzy ambience on Cretu and digital-only bonus track Bouquet, but the real highlight of the album is High Day (see below video).
The perfect showcase for McLarnon’s crystal clear vocals, it’s an uplifting waltz, with an unashamedly pop sensibility.
Charming and eclectic, Compass is an album that defies easy comparisons, but the band I keep coming back to are The Flaming Lips.
There’s the same disregard for fashion and flair for the surreal and eccentric.
Kretov even sounds a bit like Wayne Coyne when he takes over lead vocals on Colors II.
Much like The Lips, Ummagma create their own world and Compass‘ clever genre-mashing arrangements should send plenty of new followers in their direction.
- Compass is available via iTunes, Amazon and Spotify. It can also be purchased directly from the artist on CD, on vinyl or digitally via Bandcamp.
- In the UK, the album is available through Leonard Skully Records and Norman Records on vinyl.