November 26, 2003

Ultramarine "Companion"

Ultramarine's Every Man and Woman Is A Star is a lost post-techno classic. Blending jazz, techno and ambient music, they created a pleasant, beautiful little record that only grows warmer and lovlier after every successive listen. When it was released, it became an instant lost classic, as their label folded within weeks of its release, assuring that nobody would hear it. Though the album was lost, Ultramarine soldiered on, and quickly followed it up with an EP of remixes from the album, entitled Nightfall in Sweetleaf. Companion is a companion to Every Man and Woman Is A Star, containing the Nightfall in Sweetleaf EP, as well as songs that were released in and around that time as well.

This compilation could not be more welcome, as it serves as a wonderful, erm, companion to one of the best albums of the early 90s. While Nightfall in Sweetleaf was essentially a remix single pasted together with three short little instrumental pieces, "Intro," "Outro" and "The Downer," it did prove that the mellow, chilled-out Every Man and Woman... could easily be transformed into dancefloor groovers without really losing their mellow, jazzy appeal. DJ's Lovebomb, Sweet Exorcist and Spooky all take turns behind the mixing board. Though the idea of remixing Ultramarine might not sound too appealing, "Panther" and "Lights In My Brain" only grow in depth once a dance beat is added.

Though the Nightfall in Sweetleaf EP is pretty much straightforward, the extra remixes and outtakes are what really makes Companion worth seeking out. "Saratoga (Remix)" is a rather obscure track taken from the excellent Volume series, and though it doesn't particularly differ much from the album version, it's still nice to have. Same with "Nova Scotia," a rare B-side taken from Ultramarine's entry in the Rough Trade Singles Club--a single that I remember hearing at a record store back then and dismissing as dull adult contemporary jazz. (My, how our tastes have changed--and I can't give away these grunge 7"s bought that day). The rest of the songs are unreleased remixes, and though not all of them differ much from the final album, they provide a wonderful variation on the Ultramarine theme, and I'm most fond of the jazzy "Early Discovery" and "Lovelife #1." There's even a live appearance, "Pansy," taken from their set at Glastonbury 1993.

Though they never really soared as high as Every Man & Woman Is A Star, Ultramarine did make some very beautiful music, and Companion shows that it was not a fluke on Ultramarine's part. If you're looking for mellow, beautiful and inspiring music for chilling out, meditating, or simply providing a nice, peaceful atmosphere, go get Every Man & Woman Is A Star. Then buy Companion. Then put them on the CD changer and hit random. A lovely collection, and an enjoyable reminder of what made Ultramarine great.

--Joseph Kyle

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