Ultramarine are Paul Hammond and Ian Cooper and their new album, Send and Return, is a collection of electronic meditations influenced by the Blackwater Estuary the location of the barge on which it was recorded. Paul Hammond explains “There’s a very distinctive feel to the Blackwater Estuary, it’s almost Dickensian. It’s a very quiet, rural area with these mud flats everywhere – I think the river ended up seeping into our music.” Both members of the band grew up in the area, going to school in Maldon, and have been making music together since the 1980s. They have toured with Orbital and Björk, collaborated with Robert Wyatt and recorded two Peel Sessions.
While the band might be moored on the estuary the music is free to drift off, floating on gentle tides. The tracks all feel like they could go on forever as if broadcasting out into space ready to soothe a distant civilisation in a few million years’ time.
The sense of water flows throughout, from the ebbing tide on ‘Mirosa’ or the allusion of lapping of water and bird calls on the river on ‘Xylonite’. ‘Decima’ has the feel of a celestial music box through Ric Elsworth’s sensitive vibraphone playing and it conjures up the way light plays on the water. ‘Hydrogen’ captures bubbles and frothing water in its use of percussion and swirling loops, and ‘Reminder’ uses effects on the guitar which create a dreamlike eternity over the track, and the beauty of Greg Heath’s saxophone near the end is glorious. The album’s final track is ‘Dawn’ which starts as a soothing meditation with keyboard ripples radiating out under ethereal flute, and ends with warm arpeggios and drums that give the sense that it’s time to cast off and float away to new adventures.
Send and Return uses its mix of electronic and acoustic instruments wonderfully to evoke the most pleasant river journey you have ever been on. The sense of restraint allows tracks to unfold and not rush to give up their secrets too soon. It may be that Paul Hammond and Ian Cooper are paddling hard under the water to get everything together but on the surface all is serene.
Send and Return is released through Blackford Hill
Review by Paul F Cook