This Time Last Year

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As mellow, warm, and welcoming as the day they patented the Ultramarine sound, the duo of Ian Cooper and Paul Hammond return after a long 15 years off with This Time Last Year, an album filled with enough high-grade, home-listening electronica to rival their beloved debut, 1992's Every Man and Woman Is a Star. The difference here is that big, hooky, Blue Room numbers like "Saratoga" and "Honey" have given way to smaller, more meditative music that reflects the indie, post-Boards of Canada world outside, but it's still sweater weather out there, and if Ultramarine have lost their "cute," they've certainly filled that space with grace and sophistication. Soft, broken beat gems like "Technique" are more complicated and artistically rewarding than the average Every Man cut, as that opening number suggests that Tangerine Dream's synths, Carl Craig's sequencers, and Prince's drum machines have all surrendered to Ultramarine's control. "Find My Way" anchors the album with some hazy, '70s-flavored vocals that represent the duo's equal love of the acoustic and the electronic, while all the analog moments give the album a nostalgic, wistful spin, as if these electronica spacemen have embraced home after years of orbiting Earth. The drifting here is all slowly downstream and not the weightless, otherworldly kind an astronaut experiences, so fans who always thought of them as a transitory, Orb-like, pre-club group should turn the car around and head toward the couch. It's best to trade those dancing shoes for comfy slippers, because This Time Last Year is the mature, delicious, and filling sound of the elder Ultramarine.

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