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The music of Canterbury duo Ultramarine resists easy classification, drawing as it does from electronica, ambient, techno, and folk as well as eclectic '70s Canterbury prog rock artists such as the Soft Machine, Caravan, and Robert Wyatt (the latter of whom occasionally performed live with the group and appeared on their 1993 album, United Kingdoms). Though they recorded semi-regularly in the '90s, the group was absent in the first decade of the 21st century, working on solo projects and production efforts. They re-emerged in 2013 with This Time Last Year on Real Soon. The duo, made up of Paul Hammond and Ian Cooper, delivers a distinctly British feel in their music. In addition to banks of keyboards and samplers, they employ a wide range of acoustic and electric instruments, found sounds, and synthetic yet airy textures in their productions which makes their music simultaneously quirky and readily accessible.
Hammond and Cooper first collaborated in the avant-garde band A Primary Industry during the mid-'80s. When that group split, the duo named themselves Ultramarine and recorded the Folk LP in 1990 for Les Disques du Crépuscule. Their second album, Every Man and Woman Is a Star, appeared in 1992 and earned praise for the duo as one of the first home-listening electronic groups. Sire signed Ultramarine in 1992 and issued their first U.S. release, United Kingdoms, the following year. Despite a high-profile collaboration with Robert Wyatt (and with Kevin Ayers for the accompanying Hymn EP), the album practically disappeared both home and abroad. Nevertheless, Hammond and Cooper continued to record in a quirky electronic folk-pop vein for 1995's Bel Air. Three years later, User's Guide saw Ultramarine's sound approaching the trip-hop/electronica mainstream. After a long break, the duo returned in 2011 with two singles ("Find a Way" and "Acid I Butch"), while 2013 saw the release of their sixth studio album, This Time Last Year.
After touring briefly, Ultramarine's members again retreated into the shadows to pursue other projects both solo and together. In 2015, they began composing work in their Essex studio, enlisting Anna Domino as a writing and performing partner on four songs, including the single "Spark from Flint to Clay." After completing the 12-track full-length Signals Into Space, featuring contributions from saxophonist Iain Ballamy (Food, Loose Tubes) and percussionist and vibraphone player Ric Elsworth, Ultramarine released both that album and Meditations -- a two-track extended ambient EP bundled as an optional accessory -- in January of 2019. ~ Steve Huey
- Canterbury, England
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