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Ultimate Painting guys on their quietly excellent debut

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Ultimate Painting
Tsouni Moss

Standing outside Brooklyn’s Rough Trade after a late-afternoon CMJ set, Ultimate Painting’s Jack Cooper and James Hoare could easily pass as childhood pals. They casually crack jokes and finish each other’s sentences in a way that mirrors their self-titled debut’s loosely precise brand of slacker rock. Everything about Cooper and Hoare’s relationship—both musical and social—seems experienced. But the London-based musicians became friends less than two years ago, and recording partners even more recently.

“I once lent him some money for the bus,” Hoare says of Cooper. “That was about as far as our friendship went.”

Cooper feigns ignorance and Hoare rolls his eyes. “I’m still waiting for it back.”

As vets of London’s indie rock scene, Cooper and Hoare had seen each other at shows for years. It took a 2013 tour featuring Cooper’s band Mazes and Hoare’s group Veronica Falls to kickstart the collaboration that became Ultimate Painting. And though the record, which splits the difference between the Velvet Underground and Television, sounds off the cuff, it’s one of the year’s best collections of guitar-based indie.

Most listeners will immediately recognize Ultimate Painting’s classic rock touchstones. Lead single “Ten Street” sounds like Ty Segall brought some bourbon to a jam session with Lou Reed circa 1969. On the album’s opening track, also named “Ultimate Painting,” the Byrds and Real Estate collide. The LP masterfully reveres the past while keeping an ear on the current.

Not that any of that matters to the guys behind it. “In London, there’s a lot of bands who come out and say, ‘Yeah, we’re influenced by this obscure band you’ve never heard of,'” Cooper says with a smirk. “We accepted the fact that we’re influenced by the biggest bands that have ever been, because a lot of them are really good.”

Ultimate Painting draws from external influences more than Cooper or Hoare’s prior projects. Mazes constructed tight and edgy riffs, but lacked the immediacy of higher-profile garage bands. Veronica Falls produced pleasantly generic dream pop. Ultimate Painting channels the latter’s ethereal qualities and the former’s concision without sounding like a ripoff of either.

Cooper and Hoare deployed that jangly guitar-pop to get a room of Brooklynites moving on a Sunday afternoon—no small accomplishment. When some technical glitches left the band and crowd silent, Cooper got laughs by asking the audience, “Are you just being attentive? I hope so.” Bands rarely emerge as stage-ready and fully-formed as Ultimate Painting has—that might be the best utility Veronica Falls and Mazes have served.

Clocking in just over thirty minutes, Ultimate Painting isn’t a grand statement. It’s a spontaneous, low-key album, which is how Cooper and Hoare recorded it.

“Sometimes we’d start working, and after half an hour I’d say, ‘I’m not feeling this,'” Hoare says. “Jack would go home, and that’d be the day. We didn’t have any expectations, or anyone asking us to hurry up. It was relaxing.”

The vibe goes back to their childhoods. Both grew up in more rural areas of England before moving to London as adults. Hoare cites his “hippie town” Totnes as an influence, adding that “where I’m from, people just skateboard, surf, and smoke weed.”

Ultimate Painting has an industrious attitude—they recorded their debut in just a few sessions and hope to get back to the States for a larger tour sometime in 2015—but their mellow ethos might win out.

“We’re pretty keen to make another record really soon,” Cooper declares. “It might be soon. Or it might be in 10 years.”

For now, this sublime slice of retro-rock pie will do just fine.