Up!, the fourth album from Ultimate Painting, seems prematurely destined for lost classic status. On Twitter Monday morning, co-frontman Jack Cooper announced that the acclaimed UK indie rock duo suffered an “irreconcilable breakdown” and “will no longer be working with each other.” Bands break up all the time, of course, but what made Cooper’s statement remarkable was the following: Despite having an album in the can, Cooper wrote, he’d asked Ultimate Painting’s label Bella Union not to release it, and they agreed.
Up! was not slated for release until April 6, but barring any last-minute changes Cooper and his bandmate James Hoare might have made, the album is totally finished—with art, a lead single released to streaming in January, and so on. I know this because, like plenty of other music writers, I received an advance digital download of the album last month, when the band’s PR agency began promoting Up! to the press. It’s a good record, filled with the same sort of Kinks-inspired understated hooks and quietly propulsive guitar lines that powered their previous releases. In retrospect, a press release that was sent out along with the album reads like foreshadowing, citing a “burned out” feeling amongst the band members, and “pain and indecision” that plagued their writing process. Still, it’s hard to imagine why Cooper and Hoare wouldn’t want to share the music with the world, even if they’re opting to call it quits.
Up! would have been the band’s first Bella Union release, after releasing three albums in as many years via Trouble in Mind, starting in 2014. Duncan Jones, a Bella Union representative, confirmed to Spin that the label “won’t be releasing the album though, and there are currently no plans to release the album at some future time.”
The difficulties that led Cooper and Hoare to split are surely real. Still, there’s no denying that the decision to hold Up! in limbo imparts a new level of intrigue to an album that might have otherwise flown beneath some listeners’ radar. I’ll admit that when I saw Cooper’s tweet, I immediately found my advance version of the swan song that wasn’t and started listening. Given the number of digital copies that already went out to journalists and others in the music industry, it seems likely that Up! will eventually make its way to dedicated fans, whether through official channels or otherwise. (According to Jones, it is unlikely the record would have gone into manufacturing yet, three months ahead of it’s release, so at least Bella Union doesn’t have stacks of unsellable vinyl on its hands.) There’s no reason to believe that the breakup and shelved record are part of some elaborate marketing stunt, but if they were, it would be a pretty effective one. Whatever minor legend the music amasses among hardcore fans and record-collector types will be merited: Up! is an album worth hearing.