Review Summary: Talk Talk, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and Ulver all hanging out under the electric stars...
A new Ulver album arrived, at least for me, with very little hype or awareness that they were even working on something. I start seeing headlines and articles on various music outlets that Ulver has branded their new album a 'pop' album. This coming from a band that is always growing, changing, and endeavoring to execute something wholly unique with each new album. Every album is a challenge, an amalgamation of styles, and Ulver is a band never willing to rest on its laurels.
So we get a 'pop' album from Ulver in 2017? Needless to say, I was seriously intrigued. 'The Assassination of Julius Caesar' is unquestionably the most accessible album they have made from start to finish. Every Ulver album has always had individual songs that were accessible enough that you could play for your less adventurous friends, but they have never so singularly and unabashedly made an album that was this pop oriented.
The lead singer, Kristoffer Rygg, aka Garm, has always had a strong presence and a wonderfully warm voice. However, for whatever reasons, they have always chosen to use his voice sparingly. When a strong vocal hook did appear, it's presence never was never overwhelmed by the music, nor did it overshadow the music, like most pop. That is the perfect balance we find on 'The Assassination of Julius Caesar'. The music is definitely in the electronic realm with music that is definitely accessible and very catchy. So if that is how we define 'pop', then the label fits. However, there is far more to this than merely being catchy.
The music resonates with an ominous tone, calm and inviting, while feeling threatening at the same time. There are back-up female vocalists, big drum beats, bleeping electronic sounds, while there are dark morose lyrics, based off real life events and tragedies all existing in the same musical space. This is not your Top 20 pop band styling's. A song like "Rolling Stone" evolves into something that sounds closer to Rick Wakeman than Depeche Mode. The first single,"Nemoralia", is probably the closest to thing to a go-to type of song for quick-fix, and even then, the driving beat is juxtaposed against a haunting melody that is not likely to win over anyone looking for something light and fluffy.
If you like Ulver, you will like this album, and for those that liked Ulver in passing, or couldn't quite latch onto some of their more experimental works, this may be the album where you fall in love with them. For the world of critical acclaim with praise almost universally being heaped on bands like Radiohead and Sigur Ros, it is time that Ulver is thrown into that mix. Perhaps them making a 'pop' album twenty plus years into their career is what needed to happen.