Two critically acclaimed albums into their career, Ultimate Painting have already gotten used to the Velvet Underground comparisons.
True, the British duo doesn't veer toward the dissonant extremes of the Velvets' "European Son," let alone the spoken-word morbidity of "The Gift." But it's still easy to imagine Lou and Nico nodding along to the band's self-titled debut single, with its delicate electric guitar interplay and lyrics that rhyme "lying, waiting for a smile" with "bodies lying in a pile."
Co-founder Jack Cooper says he understands the comparisons to the seminal art-rock band's work, but feels more connected to later albums like 1969's Velvet Underground and its successor Loaded.
"I'm not gonna say it's a lazy reference," allows Cooper. "It's definitely a touchstone, and there's a sonic similarity. Those records sound really beautiful, and the guitars are so sparse and simple. But I'm probably a bigger Byrds fan than I am of the Velvets, even though I absolutely love them."
Ultimate Painting have gotten a lot of press for a band that started out just two years ago as an extracurricular collaboration between Cooper, who's also in the band Mazes, and James Hoare from Veronica Falls. Influential publications like New Musical Express and Consequence of Sound were soon hailing them as a British indie-rock "supergroup," which is kind of a weird thing to call a band consisting of just two musicians.
After their first single racked up some airplay, the duo followed up last fall with a full album, also self-titled, then pulled together a few backing musicians for an American tour with the band Parquet Courts.
Never the sort to waste time, Ultimate Painting began recording their sophomore album as soon as they got back to the UK. They did it the old-school way, recording to 1-inch tape on analog equipment. And, as befits any self-respecting Byrds devotees, Hoare's Rickenbacker guitar was never far from reach.
"We were really happy with the way the first one sounded, and so we just moved forward in a very natural way," says Cooper of Green Lanes, which was released in August on the Chicago-based Trouble in Mind label. "I don't know, I think there's something very contrived, and too considered, when bands sort of say, 'Okay, we need to change things up.'"
In fact, it was Trouble in Mind's laissez-faire founders Bill and Lisa Roe who provided some necessary reassurance as Green Lanes was nearing completion.
"We were worried that it was too downbeat," says Cooper. "On the first one, there's 'Ultimate Painting' and 'Penn Street,' which are quite high-energy, I suppose. So we were concerned that there wasn't that kind of upbeat stuff, and Bill and Lisa were like, 'No, no, this is great. It doesn't have to be like that.'"
And while Ultimate Painting got their start in the shadows of Veronica Falls and Mazes, the situation has since changed.
"It definitely feels like this is my real band at the moment," says Cooper. "I think maybe we'll come back to Mazes and stuff, but this is definitely not a side project."