by JEAN-LUC MARSH
To call Ultramarine a simple dream pop confection would be a disservice. Astral and poetic though it may be, the restrictive labels of genre serve more to pigeonhole than categorize an album of this magnitude and thought. A heavenly amalgam of disco nouvelle, ethereal synthesizers, and the ceremonial voice of now sole vocalist, Catherine McCandless, Ultramarine contains all of the necessary elements to send it beyond the stratosphere, into the celestial realm that Young Galaxy’s name lays claim to.
“Pretty Boy” forms the first and most integral step of this otherworldly odyssey. The cordial clatter of estival drum machines embraces the listener in the clement grasp of a hypnagogic summer. “When we were lost / we found each other / and headed sightless for the city,” sings McCandless in a voice saturated with longing. Violins emerge from the ether en masse like fireflies, filling the air with phosphorescent flecks of alternating melancholy and joy. The moment flickers and fails in a kaleidoscope of conflicting emotions. “You’re my pretty boy, always” she warbles, holding on to the melody for one moment more before it disintegrates into the dusk, initiating the dream.
The anthemic zenith and magnum opus of Ultramarine comes in the form of third track “New Summer.” What begins as a dissonant assortment of buzzing synths over a background of what seems like pitched whale calls, coalesces into the most magnetic, transfixing four minutes on the album. “Feels like a dream tonight / A little break time / ‘Cause we howl at the moon,” croons McCandless in a gentle, rhythmic caress, expanding into a midsummer hymnal. Beneath the glossy instrumental dimension, lies a layer of nostalgia intensifying the transitory beauty that “New Summer” attempts, and succeeds in capturing. “It never would have been as good if built to last / We never would have stood a chance if it didn’t move fast.” Time comes to a standstill, and the last moments of “New Summer” are reserved for hopeless dreamers who want to waltz the night away while howling at moon, preserving the perfection of a moment that will never repeat itself.
Nothing else on Ultramarine matches the wilting splendor so carefully cultivated on “New Summer,” though gems abound. Unabashedly resplendent with Balearic synths and a sing-along chorus set to a captivating calypso cadence, “Fall For You” abandons all hinting toward a tropical ambiance and embodies the paradise that lies beyond the celestial halo. “Hard to Tell” grows on the listener, its eccentricity and skyward piano grounded by the McCandless’ contralto as she sings “Bring me back to your forest home / and marry me under its trees.” The intrepid rhythm of “What We Want” is funky enough to resemble a blurry figment of a Dadaistic dream, and perfect for a cosmic dance.
“In Fire” stands out for a different reason, marking the only weak moment on Ultramarine. A black sheep amidst the airy, whimsical flock, its relatively gloomy melody and lyrics such as “Worker bees under a spell / digging unmarked graves,” set it apart from an otherwise upbeat collection.
The dark detour of “In Fire” aside, Ultramarine is a last refuge for dreamers; a compilation meant to be played while speeding down some deserted country road at nightfall with the wind in your hair and the stars in your eyes. Time is fragmented and frozen, and urgency becomes but a distant triviality. However, what truly makes Ultramarine penetrate beyond the passé realm of feel-good electropop, are the subliminal hints of evanescent existence scattered amidst the stardust. All dreams must come to an end. Until then, McCandless intends to make the most of what precious time remains. “Come sleepwalk with me,” she beckons, and with that she whisks you away to a sparkling synthetic azure. [A-]
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