Ultraísta Ultraísta Review

Released 2012.  

BBC Review

A collection that seems set to be a cult favourite.

Lou Thomas 2012

Nigel Godrich could release an album comprising automated supermarket checkout warnings and it would still provoke feverish interest.

Fortunately, the first offering from the Radiohead producer’s Ultraísta project contains some fine work, and not a single unexpected item in the bagging area.

Accompanying Godrich is prodigious Goldsmith’s College graduate Laura Bettinson, providing impressive vocals throughout. Completing the trio, drummer Joey Waronker consistently supplies rhythmically interesting beats, as befits his previous work with a range of artists including Beck, Thom Yorke and The Smashing Pumpkins.

After initial industrial clanks that sound like they escaped from Portishead’s Third, opener Bad Insect lays on the euphoric Underworld synths and sticks with them while Bettinson croons elliptical, occasionally abstract lyrics. The repeated refrain of “Not gonna sing unless somebody’s holding on” is particularly enticing.

Gold Dayzz and Static Light are more challenging, but are both intriguing listens. They are full of overlapping snippets of vocals bleeding into one another, beats that misdirect and melodies that change direction. Talking Heads at their most esoteric are a key reference point worth noting, as are underrated New York duo Phantogram.

Later, Easier is even better. Its wondrous descending chord riff and sublime vocal is resminiscent of Braids at their most seductive, or Chairlift gone funky.

Pre-album teaser release Smalltalk follows it and is the album’s best moment. Bettinson’s voice is assured but vulnerable, like Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano at her devastating best, while Waronker’s deceptively simple beat can do no wrong.

From its start to the jazzy electro shuffle of You’re Out that rounds it off, Ultraísta is consistently involving, even if it sags in the middle with Our Song. It’s set to be a cult favourite rather than sell millions of copies, but this is because it contains fascinating ideas you won’t hear on most pop records.

Several visually striking band-made videos of their songs have surfaced online, too, so it’s worth checking out what they've made for your eyes as well as your ears.

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