(Hello Thor Records/Instinctive Racoon, released Fri 28 April 2017 on vinyl and digital)

Since the dissolution of his group Over The Wall, multi-instrumentalist Gav Prentice has been hard at work crafting his first release under the ULTRAS moniker. Inspired by Prentice’s affection for hip-hop mixtapes, ULTRAS’ self-titled debut features six different producers – including Miaoux Miaoux’s Julian Corrie and Joe Cormack, famed for his work with The Pictish Trail – but its tone is largely consistent. Despite encompassing aspects of field recording, electronic music, and folk, ULTRAS throughout is an abrasive album of, in Prentice’s words, “violent pop for the patronised”, as he spins bloody yarns about unsavoury characters in an inhospitable world.

There’s an overwhelming sense of post-Brexit (and post-Scottish referendum) ennui shot right through ULTRAS: “Britons never shall be slaves / watch them digging their own graves” he sardonically sings on the conspicuously-titled Napoleon. British folklore old and new intercede, as the mythic figure of Scottish rhyme John Barleycorn is recast as a drunken nuisance on You’ve a Foul Mouth John Barleycorn, on a par with any sympathetic local souse (“He’s no half as bad y’know / if you get him on his own”). From there, a thematic resonance unfolds with musical interlude Murder, the oddly delicate commemoration of gang warfare Team Handed, and the complementary explorations of transience and longevity on Britannica and Royal Names. A dystopian picture of Britain is drawn on ULTRAS – one of a debased nation torn apart by internal conflict, absolutist monarchies, and substance abuse. For Prentice, this just so happens to be the glib Britain in which we find ourselves today. The rock/pop/electronic hybridity of ULTRAS may well recall The Postal Service’s seminal Give Up, but his lyrical content is full of the working class realism and protest rock of Billy Bragg.

Despite the strength of this downcast conceit, ULTRAS’ overall sound is dividing. On the one hand, many of the booming electronics and engineered drum breaks feel cold and lifeless – a far cry from the vibrancy of To Pimp a Butterfly and Knxwledge, two influences cited by Prentice for this project. Unlike the tunes on ULTRAS, these compositions feel exceedingly warm and pleasantly wonky, heartily revelling in unwieldy syncopation and imprecise audio snippets. One wishes Prentice would mimic this kind of experimental approach, instead of ULTRAS’ vague nods to sampling and lacklustre drum parts. Sadly, the record appears to misappropriate these aspects of hip-hop music in a way befitting a sonic tourist.

On the other hand, Prentice’s use of iMachine percussion presets might also be, well, revolutionary – a new kind of ‘lo-fi’ aesthetic and mode of production. The four-track recorder, once the symbol of egalitarian creation showing that a professional studio full of pricey equipment wasn’t necessary for producing good music, has since become fetishized into a boutique item. But most people today own an iPhone, onto which recording a half-decent rhythm section is as easy as tapping it on an app. While it may be hyperbolic, it makes ULTRAS’ cardboard stiff beats seem like post-industrial pop genius, if not merely refreshingly unique and self-conscious among today’s indie releases.

Pretensions aside, Prentice has made a very bold and aggressive statement with ULTRAS. To its credit, it actively invites multiple listens before one can really “get it”. ULTRAS, however, is far more engaging when it draws in the listener with murky acoustic ballads than when it blows them away with garish electro and middling rock. With an ambitiously thematic album demonstrating credible (if occasionally ham-fisted) genre alchemy, there’s plenty to admire about ULTRAS, so here’s hoping Prentice sticks the landing next time.