Ultimate Painting is the side project of James Hoare of Veronica Falls and Jack Cooper of Mazes, a pairing that combines Hoare’s knack for bubblegum indie pop and Cooper’s off-kilter guitar licks brilliantly. Coming almost out of nowhere with their self-titled debut, ‘Ultimate Painting’ is a pleasantly surprising record of straightforward yet gorgeously constructed pop songs that breeze by as elegantly as the inevitable cool autumn wind. Those who’ve enjoyed either of the pair’s work in the past will feel right at home here, as spritely, sidewinding riffs and an overbearing sense of haze take hold for just over half a blissful hour.
After touring together extensively and striking up conversation concerning the type of music they’d like to make moving forward, the eponymous track ‘Ultimate Painting’ was recorded after a few ditched attempts, and the pair consider it a sort of theme song for the project. It’s easy to see why - Cooper’s vocals are endearing and almost buoyant, swirling around his life-affirming guitar work that’s loose and carefree like a leaf spiralling up above. It’s a song you can kick back and relax to, but it’s also just a great, easygoing song in general, and that’s what makes ‘Ultimate Painting’ such a thrill - a record that isn’t anything new, but what it does do it does so well.
There’s a likening to Simon and Garfunkel throughout, too, especially on ‘She’s a Bomb’. A soft rock song at heart, Hoare and Cooper twist its traditional pop centre brilliantly, slathering it with crooked analogue synths and softly sung harmonies that harkens back to all that was great about the ‘60s. Throughout ‘Ultimate Painting’ it feels like the pair are painlessly travelling through time, picking up tips from pop’s greatest songwriters on their travels. “I killed an hour by going to John Lennon’s house,” speaks Hoare on the spoken-word outro to ‘She’s a Bomb’. Perhaps he spent longer there, getting a full breakdown on how to write a cracking tune from the man himself before heading back to present day?
‘Talking Blues’ is another highlight, as Cooper switches to storytelling mode in a way that’s most comparable to Courtney Barnett’s ‘Avant Gardener’. “I want to be alone with you, I want do the things you do,” sings Cooper in the chorus after half-talking his way through a familiar tale of mundanity. It all sounds cooly effortless and cheerily brisk, but there’s a certain understanding of influences and a level of craftsmanship that permeates the album making it a joy to listen to. ‘Rolling in the Deep’ is another corker, as Hoare takes up vocal duties in order to take us along a gentle stroll into Ultimate Painting’s charming world of hummable melodies and catchy choruses. This is the work of two guys simply expressing their love of music for the rest of us to enjoy - swooping from ‘60s pop to ‘00s rock while appreciating everything in between - and what a loveable collection of work it is.