The sad, but probably inevitable split of Ultimate Painting a couple of years ago has at least led to three terrific records coming out in the intervening time since. Modern Nature's Jazz Folk epic, How To Live and two albums from The Proper Ornaments. Last year's splendid Six Lenins, and now an even better record, Mission Bells which dropped last Friday.
The two main songwriters from Ultimate Painting Jack Cooper and James Hoare were probably doomed to go their separate ways sooner or later given the oft cited musical differences. Cooper is by far the more adventurous of the pairsonically but Hoare has a specific, articulate talent all of his own.
There's ample evidence of this on show on Mission Bells an album that slots in nicely with a tradition of downcast, melodic English guitar music going back to The Kinks Dead End Street. Proper Ornaments are resolutely glum, and put out a set of songs redolent of depressing Southern bedsits, with cracking wallpaper, overflowing ashtrays, predatory landlords, rising damp and narrow and ever narrowing life opportunities.
That certainly doesn't mean there isn't plenty to relish on Mission Bells because in many respects it's a quite inspired record. If The Velvet Underground were surely the initial guiding influence for Hoare and Max Oscarnold, (his partner in Proper Ornaments), they make a sound that is inescapably, almost defiantly English. The departure point for this is the Swinging Sixties though they remind us as The Kinks, Zombies, Hollies Who and Manfred Mann did before them that it certainly didn't swing for everyone.
For the vein that Hoare and Oscarnold choose to plunge their syringe into is a determinedly melancholy, under-achieving one. It's an England where it always rains and we somehow almost always just manage to scrape by despite foreboding skies and bad news in the papers and on TV every single day. In other words Hancock's Half Hour set to music.
Proper Ornaments don't exactly locate the cloud's silver lining. They positively revel in the misery. But in documenting it with such precision, as the bands mentioned previously did and novelists like Graham Greene, George Orwell and Patrick Hamilton did before them, they provide an enormously valuable public service. Mission Bells describes a cast of characters occupying themselves in the space between this life and the next as best they can. If there aren't exactly a barrel of laughs to be had along the way, this is as true a document of a certain way of life as another generic standby of the English artistic tradition, the kitchen sink drama. Proper Ornaments have a gift and vision that should be celebrated. Chin up. Stiff upper lip they say. Get on with it. The most English values of all.