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Ultraísta - Ultraísta

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Artist: Ultraísta

Album: Ultraísta

Label: Temporary Residence

Review date: Nov. 29, 2012

For a debut record, Ultraísta doesn’t exactly aim small. Multi-instrumentalists Nigel Godrich and Joey Waronker can be heard...well, all over the 1990s — Godrich is probably best-known for his production work for Radiohead, and Waronker is one of the business’s most respected session men. (The two of them are also members of the Thom Yorke-fronted group Atoms For Peace.) And while vocalist Laura Bettinson may not be as recognizable a name as her bandmates, it’s not for lack of talent. Her range as a vocalist allows her to sound at home on both the album’s more atmospheric and kinetic songs. At times, her presence is the liveliest element on display, creating energy when the music behind her is more content to achieve a dense kind of sonic wallpaper. The end result is an album of esoteric pop; it’s the kind of album that might have ended up on Grand Royal in that label’s prime. Eccentric enough to keep it from falling neatly on some pop axis, but wrapped up in insider cred.

The best songs on Ultraísta recall the murky pop made by the likes of Broadcast, where clarity and catchiness intermingled. “Strange Formula,” in particular, throws a number of striking textures into the mix, blending decaying synth sounds with an uptempo beat and precisely enunciated lyrics from Bettinson. And “Smalltalk” effectively balances a reverberating keyboard melody with a staccato beat to rewarding effect. Elsewhere, Ultraísta is more content to find a texture and stick with it. “Easier” and “Gold Dayzz” both feel somewhat like the sonic equivalent of treading water — they’re layered and abound with nimble sounds, but never feel effective as either mood pieces or ambient soundscapes. In terms of Ultraísta’s more downtempo moments, the later “Party Line” does a better job of maintaining interest even as the pace slows.

Ultraísta’s name evokes the Ultraist school of writing, whose most notable member was Argentina’s Jorge Luis Borges. I’m not clear if the members of Ultraísta see themselves as musical heirs to a notable literary tradition, or if they’ve simply chosen the name because of its notable cultural associations. It suggests ambitions beyond the smart, textured pop that’s heard here.

By Tobias Carroll

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