For several years now, Ulla Straus has been making meticulous, tactile ASMR music that feels made for the body as much as the mind. It’s intimate, touchy-feely, and gets under your skin in the best way possible. It’s not a stretch to say that Ulla’s on the cutting edge of ambient music today—no one else sounds quite like her, with the possible exception of her frequent collaborator Perila. The two artists teamed up for last year’s Transparent Waters of Blue EP and LOG ETERNAL LP, which I wrote about back in January. LOG ET3RNAL fused their ASMR-laden sound-worlds in achingly beautiful ways, creating what I called the “musical equivalent of a flickering candle”.
As gorgeous as the album was, you could argue that Ulla and Perila have gone on to even greater heights on their own. The two artists may be peas in a pod, but each has a very distinct vision and approach to their craft. Over the summer, Perila released How Much Time It Is Between You and Me?, which united eerie field recordings with some of the year’s most evocative soundscapes. Ulla released Limitless Frame, an equally stunning LP that saw her ambience take on warmer hues and incorporate more live instruments.
Indeed, if anything distinguishes Limitless Frame from Ulla’s past work, it’s how prominent the string and brass instruments are here. Tracks like “Look or Look Away” and “Chest of Drawers” are led by choppy, poignant guitar lines, making for a cleaner and leaner sound than your typical Ulla record. And on “Far Away”, things get jazzy. An indescribably lavish saxophone plays over gently strummed acoustics, with long stretches of silence between each guitar refrain. The song explores contrasts, an exercise in a kind of freeform control—the sax wanders around spontaneously and uninhibited while the guitar never changes gears.
That said, Limitless Frame is by no means always clean and buoyant. The music is still doused in an aura of foggy ambience, washy keyboards, and synths that hiss, purr, and whisper. “Shelter” pairs reverb-soaked human voices with an echoing synth loop that fades beautifully in and out of the mix. On “Clearly the Memory”, the acoustic guitar plays over an indiscriminate series of sonic bleeps and bloops, making the whole track sound frayed at the edges. And on “Something Inside My Body”, perhaps the LP’s emotional centerpiece, a sorrowful piano glides sleepily along to trickles of water and modulated wave sounds. The result is both murky and serene, oceanic and intimate.
In a poem that Ulla wrote to accompany Limitless Frame, she said, “I made this music to hug myself.” I could wax poetic all day, but I probably couldn’t come up with a more accurate description of the album than that. Limitless Frame is spine-tingling and hair-raising in the gentlest sense, about as far from “wallpaper” music as ambient can be. Like her collaborator Perila, Ulla has an uncanny ability to make music that you don’t just hear—you feel. Her latest LP is her most intimate record yet.