Ultraista

Ultraísta

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A trio of inevitably unequal proportions, Ultraísta consists of London-based artist/singer-songwriter Laura Bettinson (whose other musical endeavors include Femme and Dimbleby & Capper) and Los Angeleno session drummer Joey Waronker (Walt Mink, Ima Robot, Beck, R.E.M.), along with the headline-stealing Nigel Godrich -- longtime producer for (and sometimes designated "honorary member" of) Radiohead. The easy and obvious comparisons (and the pre-release anticipation from Radiohead fans) are readily borne out by the music on Ultraísta's self-titled debut, whose dense, dreamy matrix of buzzing synths, precise but bloodless drumming, digital stutters, and liquid clicks immediately recalls the similarly dominant textures on The King of Limbs and, to a lesser extent, Kid A and Thom Yorke's The Eraser. (Waronker and Godrich, who've previously crossed paths on projects with Air, Beck, and Paul McCartney, among others, also play together in the Yorke-led Atoms for Peace.) That's not to underplay Bettinson's contributions to the project, which, according to interviews, was conducted as a full three-way collaboration. Her vocals, while not always the most prominent element of a given track -- the clearest indication that this is undeniably a producer's record -- definitely help give the album its distinctive character, one which hearkens back to the '90s-era arty ennui of Broadcast, Stereolab, and early Goldfrapp. Like those groups' singers, Bettinson's presence here is human and personable but not overly demonstrative, equally able to step forward, on more melodically inclined pieces like "Bad Insect," "Static Light," and the bewitching "Smalltalk" (not coincidentally, the same three cuts that were made available prior to the album's release), or to blend into the shimmering expanse of sound, as with the drifting, incantatory fragments permeating "You're Out." As a collection of songs, and particularly as a "pop" record (inspirations for the group reportedly included Rye Rye and Whigfield, which seems far-fetched at best), Ultraísta feels a bit unfulfilled, but as a work of sound and atmosphere, it's captivating, predictably excellent work worthy of attention not only from fans of Godrich's better-known buddies (and especially those who might have found The King of Limbs to be slightly too distant or understated), but anyone with an interest in the still-fertile interstices between atmospheric electronica and indie rock.

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