An unlikely side-step for Nigel Godrich yields compelling results.
When it comes to producer Nigel Godrich, it’s always difficult to predict what move he’ll make next. While the announcement of Ultraísta was certainly unexpected, it wasn’t too surprising. Godrich had been flirting with being a band-member due to the importance of his production on records like Beck’s Sea Change and The Information as well as his work with Radiohead which dates back to 1994. On Ultraísta he teams up with vocalist Laura Bettinson and percussionist Joey Waronker. The pair suit Godrich’s strange electronic impulses quite well and their self-titled debut provides ample evidence to back that claim up.
“Bad Insect”, the track that opens the record, has been floating around for a while now and has earned it’s repeated plays and the listener’s attention. Coming across as something resembling kraut-pop it does an effective job of setting the records tone and did a more than effective job heightening the anticipation for the record. The atmospherics on display are, somewhat surprisingly, incredibly bleak. There’s a strange sense of melancholy darkness of an almost romantic nature that permeates throughout Ultraísta, rendering it an even more inviting affair. “Gold Dayzz” and “Static Light” both sustain and establish Ultraísta‘s pacing, while also revealing the bands tendency to use structures that begin to feel somewhat formulaic.
Fortunately “Strange Formula” and “Our Song” both prove more than up to the task of dismantling any notions of Ultraísta being a one trick pony. There’s an exhilarating yet subtle rise/fall dynamic coursing throughout the former and a step towards greater accessibility with the latter. Hell, if you were to switch Bettinson for James Murphy, “Our Song” could conceivably be a scrapped song from This Is Happening, which is much more of a compliment than an insult. “Easier” slows Ultraísta down a little, even if it does add heavily to the atmospheric aspect of the record. However, after the pianos roll in and the song plays itself out, Ultraísta seems as if it’s landed back on its feet and is ready to make a mad dash towards its end.
“Smalltalk” accelerates the record in every sense and stands out as an easy highlight, bringing to mine an amphetamine-addled Portishead. Despite how good that song is, Ultraísta‘s best moment may be what most listeners will gloss over or give little thought to. I’m talking about the perfect transition between “Smalltalk” and “Party Line” that occurs over a fraction of a second. There’s a sudden release from a building crescendo that drops immediately into the pulsating electronic beat (soon to be joined by the records smoothest percussion track) of “Party Line”. It’s an inexplicably thrilling moment that serves as the perfect lead-in to the records outright best song. “Party Line” is mannered, concise, and incredibly seductive, which seems to be the combined angle the band yearns for throughout the course of the record. They finally hit it dead-on with “Party Line” and the result is spectacular.
The record closes with “Wash It Over” and “You’re Out” which do prove to be two of the better songs on the record but remain a little too similar (both vocally and instrumentally) in spots to warrant too much praise. However, they do put a nice bow on Ultraísta and simultaneously represent the records flaws and strengths. Yes, Ultraísta is inventive but it overloads on likeness and similarity. There’s enough here to warrant several listens and maybe even an impulse purchase but not quite enough to suggest that a follow-up record is necessary.