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'Real Britannia'   

-  Label: 'CAC'
-  Genre: 'Indie' -  Release Date: '2nd December 2016'

Our Rating:
Ultrasound formed in the 1990s but failed to live up to the initial hype. Now resigned to never being the next big thing, co-songwriter Richard Green says this latest record was fired by "the simple buzz of hearing sounds you've made coming out of a speaker".

Real Brittania, which was partially funded through Pledgemusic, is the band's third album overall and their second since reforming in 2010.

It is primarily an examination of how easy it is to get hooked on fake nostalgia or, in front man Andrew 'Tiny' Wood's words, it takes its cues from: "What it means to be British [.........] harking back to times that never existed".

From this description you might imagine you're about to hear some heavy Burial-style Dubstep; but Ultrasound's take on 'hauntology' follows a very different route. Their music is largely built around a retread of bubblegum pop and trash rock that was once the staple of Top Of The Pops.

The album is structured, and meant to be listened to, like vinyl LPs of old. Side A features five relatively conventional pop-rock songs, while Side B comprises one song about surrendering to the madness (Asylum) before leading into a twenty minute opus called Blue Remembered Hills which is easily the most notable track here.
Side A highlights include the pulsating motorik of Soul Girl written, and sung, by bassist Vanessa Wilson and No Man's Land. The latter is inspired by the Threads drama that terrified TV viewers in 1984 through its stark depiction of Britain after a nuclear bomb had dropped. It ran with the tag line "The end of the world as we know it". Somewhat incongruously, but in true retro fashion, the song features a Jethro Tull-like flute solo (by Atholl Ransome) over the rocking beat.

None of this prepares the listener for the epic Blue Remembered Hills. Not coincidentally, this shares its title with the Dennis Potter TV play from 1979, a grim study of lost childhood innocence which was in turn named after a line in A.E. Houseman's poem 'The Land Of Lost Content'.

The disillusionment in 'Tiny' Wood's sprawling six part mini prog-rock opera stems from a personalized view of England's not so green and not so pleasant land today.

In it, he sings of being "lost in the swirl of my imaginary world" and, in the closing movement, reflects "The past is a shining sea that's drowning me / So I get my kicks from those who fall like me / Into the deep blue".

At times this is like a cross between The Rocky Horror Show and Genesis' 'Supper's Ready' and also makes you think that the earlier flutey nod to Jethro Tull was no accident. Ian Anderson attempted something similar, albeit on a larger scale, with Tull's albums as social commentary Thick As A Brick (1972) and Passion Play (1973). Both of these records were widely pilloried by music critics at the time for the pomposity of the concepts and the obscurity of the lyrics.

In comparison, Woods' piece is a healthily self indulgent piece linking its central themes of dysfunctional families and psychological meltdown with some topical questions regarding national identity.

With this album Ultrasound are taking a sardonic view of their own past while placing it in a much broader context.

By virtue of its ambitious scope and range alone, it deserves praise and the self evident flaws add to, rather than diminish, the overall appeal.

Ultrasound's website
  author: Martin Raybould

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ULTRASOUND - Real Britannia