Ultra Material: Double Date

The new album brings more of the shoegaze roar, but is it as distinctive as before?

- Ultra Material  are shy and retiring folks, even by the introverted standards of shoegaze. They much prefer to let their guitars do the talking and hide behind an intimidating sheet of distortion. Diffident or not their little offering, simply and self-effacingly titled EP was one of my favourite shoegaze offerings of 2015, a year that wasn’t short on sound. Ironically it was because of all its engaging qualities -perky, upbeat and outgoing- just a whole lot of things that usually have nothing to do with shoegaze.  

It really set the band apart and in the endless waves of the shoegaze revival it’s all too easy to file each new act under whichever of the original pantheon the new entry most closely copy: MBV, Ride, Jesus & Mary Chain, Lush and  so on. It’s a bit of a pleasure to come across one that isn’t edging a little too close to the sincerest form of flattery.

Ultra Material’s refreshing qualities stem from a couple of sources, the first of which is their synth-pop heritage. Sarah & Matt Deasy have a strong pedigree for the sound thanks to their previous band, Do The Robot. It allowed them to put speedily-paced synth-pop together with shoegaze and it was like lashing a rainbow-berry slushy to the front of a semi-trailer and driving it at your mouth. No really, good times guaranteed.

It was made even better by a production job from Donovan Miller (bringing a ready knowledge of ‘gaze from his own bands Forevr and Roku Music). He brought everything up in the mix and made each element ping. Shoegaze is already maximalist, but usually in a blurry, fuzzy way. Miller turned up the resolution, brought every single thing into an absurdly high focus and...goodness, that’s quite an effect.

Ultra Material’s new eight-tracker Double Date won’t let you forget that, if just because a couple of the first EP’s cuts are slipped like razors into this larger ball of fuzz. This release is again produced by Miller, but mastering comes courtesy of Brisbane’s ambient supremo Lawrence English. If you listen closely you’ll hear a little bit of the edge has come off tracks like Pleased To Meet You and the band’s first ever single, Crash, although they remain by any standard pretty up in your face.

The reduction in intensity is felt more across the new material, from the slower lope of opener Eraser onwards. Sarah Deasy’s poppy vocal rejoinder halfway through doesn’t lift the gothic pall that falls across the sound. Artshow is more upbeat with some of Matt Deasy’s signature snare rolls, although the spoken word vocal gives me strange echoes of King Missile if you can believe that. It heads into a huge, psychedelic whirl of a climax.

None of the new songs come in at less than four minutes and some, like Drop, nudge the seven minute mark. Its steady roll has a repetitive and hypnotic quality; I’ve a feeling that if you turned the distortion down it’d sound a lot like krautrock.

Nothing Is Lost is one of the most instantly appealing cuts. The warm harmony of guitar and Sarah’s backing vox are grounded by Nick Skepper’s gravelly bass voice, again amping the goth-rock feel of the record.

Double Date expands the range of Ultra Material as a band, but even as it does, it removes a little of what made them so distinctive: the unbridled synth-pop energy and the impossibly bright production job. Long, mind-bending vistas of psych, kraut, goth just seem less original. Traditionalists may well thrill to the monochromatic, goth paint job that these new sounds apply, but I just can’t help looking around for the neon sparkle of the old ‘material.

- Chris Cobcroft.

Album Details

Album Title: Double Date
Artist: Ultra Material
Record Label: (Blackwire)