Ultrasound, a band from England, appeared out of the post-Britpop wreckage with a unique audio stockpile of emotion and noise. The music they made didn't always work, the band's eyes and ambition often bigger than their abilities, but they were overwhelming with ideas and imagery and a series of luscious, increasingly acclaimed and popular late '90s indie singles that ended up to be better than their debut, the band's one and only album, which, exactly a decade ago, destroyed the band, who were never seen again.
Ultrasound deserved a lot more.
In the late '90s, the Britpop hangover was at its height, mirroring a country lodged back into pre-millennial tension and self-hate. A bleakness crept back into major music culture, from bands like Mogwai, Radiohead, and Verve, but also with the icons of the decade's earlier, once-joyous champions like Pulp and Blur, who both suffered public breakdowns and unleashed the darkest works of their careers. The British music scene, for better or worse, was not much fun anymore. But it was here, gathered in London from a dozen different bands, Andrew "Tiny" Wood, Richard Green, Vanessa Best, Matt Jones, and Andy Peace saw a window ready to be flung open.
Ultrasound arrived and it was obvious they were out of place.
The band was aging, theatrical, and overweight. They were a floodlight of krautrock, King Crimson, Rachmaninoff, Dexys Midnight Runners, and Metal Machine Music. They wrote songs as long as EPs, built on chaos and trickery, but full-throated with a very English sense of melody and expanse. Tracks like "Suckle," "Underwater Love Story," "One Plus One," and "Aire & Calder" were enormous in length and layers, wonderful and different, coming off like rival bands' whole careers. Where others of the time bunkered down with dread, digging inwards, Ultrasound took the culture's fatalism and burst back with an unfashionable pride and brick-shattering volume, looking for something else, something new, just to celebrate it, whatever it was, even if it was going to end tomorrow.
Nothing was better than "I'll Show You Mine" and its apocalyptic, white-light romance. Or "Stay Young" with its single-firecracker start and electric, next-generational call-to-arms climax.
"In the future all this will be yours," they sang, "So do what you want."
But their story was short.
After a series of successful singles that rallied the band around the walls of the mainstream, first from the Fierce Panda label and later Sony's Nude, the band kept vanishing into the studio. If Ultrasound's songs were already ridiculously long, the debut album was looking to be even worse, too big for the sum of its parts, spreading public doubt instead of anticipation. In 1999, when Everything Picture finally materialized, two discs and all, it felt like an anti-climax, overshadowed by its lead-up, and it came across like something made by a band from their own future, long after the highs and lows, kicking back against the collapse of their own hype and ego, ideas stretched as far as possible, whose members had gone and lost their minds.
And that was it. Then they were gone.
Time, at least, has been kind.
Ultrasound have only grown in affection over the years. Their singles remain remarkable things. Everything Picture, in reality, has become a spectacular achievement. And because of its arrogance. Its ambition. Its faults. Its astonishing, heart-stopping, twenty-minute final moment.
Melody Maker once wrote, "And that's the crux of Ultrasound -- they're infectious, hypnotic, inspiring, the band who can make you trade the real world of fat blokes and prejudice for the stars, the endless stars. Give in." Adding, "It's time for the dreamers to win for a change."
We've tried to write about Ultrasound all year, but couldn't.