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ULTRAMARINE: Bel Air (CD on Blanco y Negro Records in UK).

Ultramarine is one of those UK techno bands that utilizes a beat but maintains an easygoing sense with melody. It's not ambient, for rhythms abound, but the strong tempos possess a light quality that floats among the sundrenched clouds (or perhaps that should be "suncaressed meadows", for Ultramarine's music always brings fields to mind moreso than the sky). The songs may soar, but the earth spirit edge is ever present. There's even a subtle beatnik sound going on this time. 75 minutes of pleasant techno from a pair of aging hippies. Cool!

ULTRAMARINE: Hymn (CD EP on Blanco y Negro Records in UK).

This EP contains remixes (by U-Ziq, the Mekons, Mouse on Mars, and more) of a song from Ultramarine's debut album "Every Man and Woman is a Star" in 1992. The song is typically earthy techno and the remixes are decent. The real hook to this disc concerns Kevin Ayers, who cowrote the song with Ultramarine, but did not appear on the album. Here: he does. This EP contains a soft rock version of the song, featuring Kevin Ayers, Ultramarine, Lol Coxhill, Jimmy Hastings and more. A thorough delight to Ayers afficinados (who are not notably the type to go looking at techno EPs).

ULTRAMARINE: United Kingdoms (CD on Sire/Giant Records in USA).

Ultramarine’s relaxed trance techno sound is in top form with this release, and amazingly enhanced by the wonderful vocal antics of Soft Machine legend Robert Wyatt.

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UNIVERS ZERO: Heatwave (CD on Cuneiform Records, PO Box 8427, Silver Spring, MD 20907 USA).

This one is a tad more industrial (in flair, not in sound) than Univrs Zero's other works. The guitar's snarl is characteristicly high end. There are lively sepulcher horns and eerie clarinets. The keyboards alternate between shrill synthis and dramatic piano. The bass has a sand grit nature to its tone. The intricate percussion its very durable. The violin strains are nothing short of possessed.

"The Funeral Plain", a twenty minute epic, develops into some overtly spacey weirdness too, creeping from the haunted sonic soil.

UNIVERS ZERO: 1313 (CD on Cuneiform Records, PO Box 8427, Silver Spring, MD 20907 USA).

Take chamber music and strand it in a desolate landscape of huge iron spires and chittering clouds of ash. Imagine this...and you have an idea of the nature of Univers Zero's music.

Their instrumental style is an intricate blend of cold violin, insectoid percussion, jazz drumming, urgent bassoon, sweeping subtle keyboards, and softly snarling guitar. There are passages of delicate harpsichord strains, counterpointed by mournful bassoon. Insistent outbursts of frenzied, scraping violin guide the other instruments into spastic rhythms that become cohesive with the blink of an eye. All the while there's a strong thread of tension itching at the base of your skull, evocative of some sinister funeral march in a Bergman suspense film.

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UNSOUND: Unsound (cassette tape on Clever Sheep Records, PO Box 331, Ardmore, PA 19003) ($7.00 post.paid, payable to Mike Ciul).

An intriguing blend of industrial, ambient and avant-garde craziness, utilizing a variety of instruments (like feedback, MIDI chapman stick and electric violin). The music is intense and thick, Stockhausen-cold with the violin doing a superb Fred Frith guitar solo.

More than half the material here is live, proving that Unsound need not rely upon overdub or production to achieve their crisp darkcloud of sonics.

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