It’s often difficult to find music that strikes an even balance between atmosphere and musicality. I personally find that when one triumphs the other seems destined to fall short, as busy musicians get caught up in this perfect sonic texture or that well-composed chord progression. However, upon listening to Ummagma’s latest album, Frequency, I was pleasantly reminded that there are groups out there that have conquered this creative pitfall and risen above the norm. The dreamy, 8 track EP features remastered versions of “Orion” and “Lama” (off of two of their previous albums released in 2012), as well as 3 brand new tracks and a bonus 3 remixes of the track “Lama.”
The Ukrainian-Canadian (husband and wife) duo comprised of Alexander Kretov and Shauna McLarnon are by no means fresh on the scene, having won numerous accolades and several coveted chart positions since the release of Ummagma and Antigravity in 2012. But their most recent album makes a significant departure from their earlier work. A blend of Brian Eno-esque ambience and airy, reverb-drenched vocals provide a rich textural base for the album from start to finish. Kretov’s instrumentation and sound design top off the mix and keep the album sonically interesting throughout as well. The snappy, seemingly improvised guitar in “Orion” is satisfying, cutting through the track’s mid-heavy crescendo nicely towards the end. The driving rhythm behind “Winter Tale” provides the same sort of satisfaction as it seems to pop up from beneath the wash of reverb and synth pads and pulls McLarnon’s honest vocals along through the thick, surrounding ambience.
Whereas Antigravity and Ummagma’s self-titled album borrow influence from post-rock acts like Mogwai or trip-hop outfits like Portishead, Frequency etches out a new niche that blends downtempo elements with art-rock, using less organic instrumentation and boasting a more electronic sound. Though this new collection of songs is a change of pace for the band, the direction seems to be distinctly their own, leaving their inspirations far more difficult to pin down. Ummagma has effectively found middle ground between atmosphere and structure on this latest record. And with such a dramatic change from their earlier work comes the opportunity for growth; for Ummagma to continue to define a sound that belongs entirely to them.