Compass – Ummagma (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

The remarkable thing about Ummagma is their ability to wander diverse musical pathways, soaking up influences and juggling so many disparate and different sounds yet bring it all together in music that sounds cohesive, natural and …well, Ummagma-esque. There is nothing wrong with bands having a singular vision, to want to fit neatly into a generic type, but Compass is the sound of a band doing the exact opposite, a band allowing themselves to jump creative divides, to kick down musical barriers, to not only rip up the rule book but more probably to just ignore the fact that there ever was one in the first place.

But then everything about Ummagma is wonderfully unusual. Shauna McLarnon hails from Canada, Alexander Kretov from Ukraine and the album was made against a backdrop of “five years, three moves, two countries and hauling a studio across the Atlantic to set up everything all over again.” And with such transient surroundings taking place in the real world, how could their sonic world reflect anything other than the same fluidity and movement? They say that you can also tell a lot about someone by the company that they keep, the same is true for a band and past collaborations and remixes with the likes of Cocteau Twin’s Robin Guthrie and Curve’s Dean Garcia to name but two speaks volumes.

And whilst that might suggest a backward, post-punk glancing attitude towards making music, nothing could be further from the truth. This is a wonderful forward thinking collection of songs, unburdened neither by fad nor fashion, time or place. And for every shimmering dreamscape they create they balance it with more robust and driven grooves, often within the same song. Otherwise being the perfect example, a drifting, woozy platform through which they thread reggae infusions and delicate and distant Spanish guitars into something both sultry and solid yet ethereal and chameleon-like. Galicticon hints at Vangelis-inspired soundtracks, LCD is a strident rock urge, warped and woven with strange musical motifs and gorgeous glitches and Bouquet is an otherworldly slice of balladry.

Like all good music, defining what Compass actually is, is not only impossible but pointless. If you try to describe it even the best appraisal can only begin to capture its wonderfully beguiling post-genre nature. It is an album of grace and change, of familiarity and exploration, of emotion and euphoria, of sky scraping cinematic highs and intimate and intriguing lows. And if that sounds appealing to you, then that is only a fraction of what you can expect.

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