The Rickety Old Shack

Ulver — The Assassination Of Julius Caesar

album cover

Not one to rest on their laurels or slack in their output, Ulver's latest studio album continues the band's long-standing trend of doing whatever they want, however they want — marching to their own beat as only they can. After following-up the largely improvised live performance ATGCLVLSSCAP with the film soundtrack Riverhead, the group returns with yet another curveball on The Assassination Of Julius Caesar, a synthpop record. Those already familiar with this Norweigan project already know that the only thing you can reliably expect from Ulver is that you can't expect anything, and this new album serves to reiterate this fact.

Not that a record like this was thought to be beyond them, but given Ulver's proclivities for more fringe genres — drone, ambient, experimental electronica — the notion of project with such mainstream appeal was a mild shock. I've never been a fan of Depeche Mode and their ilk, even if I do appreciate a lot of the production techniques and technological advances they pioneered. That beind said, my feelings in that regard have thawed a lot, as I've been exposed to better examples of this music and the synthpop style; I'm slowly coming around, and this record did a lot to bring about this change of perspective. When I see "synthpop" I tend to think very rudimentary songs, a 4/4 metronome for the dance hall with a sterile, digital production job drenched in bass and reverb, but that's not what we have here.

With a running time just under 44 minutes, The Assassination Of Julius Caesar has a two longer cuts — "Rolling Stone" at 10 minutes and "Coming Home" at 7:50 — while the other tracks mostly gover around the 4-5 minute mark. None of the material falls into a predictable verse / chorus / verse formula, so even though this album has a sonic aesthetic similar to a mainstream pop album, the pacing and composition is anything but. Each track has a distinct feel to it, while still fitting into the greater whole of the album itself. Kristoffer Rygg's vocals are in fine form on this album, and the sparing use of saxophone reminds me of Perdition City. You can hear fragments of Ulver's past work in this material — like some of the textural background loops that remind me of Lyckantropen Themes — but nothing sounds like a retread or blatant reuse of a whole sample.

It wouldn't be correct to say that Ulver re-invent themselves on every record, rather that they long ago established that they're going to make whatever music they feel like making. I look forward to each new release from them with great anticipation, as the craftsmanship and variety of genres of their discography is in a league of its own. That all being said, The Assassination Of Julius Caesar may very well be the group's best record yet — and by a wide margin. Ulver have done the seemingly impossible here; melding the sonic accessibility of traditional pop music with the ambient weirdness and eccentric compositional style of past efforts like Blood Inside, Shadows Of the Sun and Perdition City — and in perfect amounts.

Easily one of the best pop albums I've heard in ages, this album is impressively good. I'm an easy mark for an Ulver record, but The Assassination Of Julius Caesar is just so accessible groovy without losing any of the quirks that make the group one of my favourite bands of all time. Where Ulver albums normally come with some qualification as to what niche audience it seems aimed at, this album is something I think everyone should hear.

Summary

Without showing even the slightest hint of slowing down, Ulver continue their streak as one of the music world's most talented and eccentric projects. The most concise way to sum up The Assassination Of Julius Caesar is that it's the best Depeche Mode album in decades, and this even takes into consideration that Depeche Mode just recently dropped another critically acclaimed record. This album is a synthpop masterpiece, packed with instrumental ear-worms, catchy vocal hooks and just enough of that vaunted Ulver weirdness to leave their stamp on the finished product. Despite their refusal to confine themselves to a single genre, or do anything that might classify as predictable, Ulver keep churning out compelling, original music. The Assassination Of Julius Caesar is the group's most accessible work yet, and easily among the best work in their discography. I cannot recommend this album strongly enough.

Album Information

Release date: April 7th, 2017
Record label: House Of Mythology

Kristoffer Rygg — vocals, additional programming
Tore Ylvisaker — keyboards, programming
Ike Alexander Halstengård — electronics
Jørn H. Sværen — miscellaneous
Håvard Jørgensen — guitar (track 7)
Anders Møller — percussion
Rikke Normann — vocals (track 2)
Daniel O'Sullivan — guitar (tracks 4, 6)
Dag Stiberg — saxophone (track 8)
Sisi Sumbundu — vocals (tracks 2, 7)
Ivar Thormodsæter — drums
Nik Turner — saxophone (track 2)
Stian Westerhus — guitar (tracks 1, 2)

Track Listing

  1. Nemoralia
  2. Rolling Stone
  3. So Falls The World
  4. Southern Gothic
  5. Angelus Novus
  6. Transverberation
  7. 1969
  8. Coming Home

Link: ulver.bandcamp.com

—by Derek

Published: August 2nd, 2018.