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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Ultraista don’t break the mold with their debut

    Ultraista dont break the mold with their debut

    If their music is any indication, it’s safe to assume that Ultraista roughly translates to “We really, really like repetitive drum samples.”

    The new project from Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, drummer/producer Joey Waronker, and vocalist Laura Bettinson approaches the record from a position of formulaic cool, constructing every one of their debut’s 10 tracks as a deliberate heap of wild drum patterns, unadventurous singing and Godrich’s trademark atmospherics.

    The musicianship is tight and everything sounds pristine, but the sheer competency of Ultraista’s members threaten to restrict any track from standing out. Three songs into the album, it becomes clear that the band has effectively exhausted its sonic palette.

    This isn’t to say the self-titled Ultraista doesn’t resonate. “Bad Insect” starts the album with promise, beginning with Waronker’s mix of live and processed drums that evolves steadily and dynamically over the course of four and a half minutes. The melody’s great, and all three members contribute differently and noticeably to create a wonderful sound spread. Bettinson has a fine voice that works with the material, though the star of these songs isn’t the drumming or the singing, but rather Godrich himself.

    Graciously credited by Thom York and Jonny Greenwood as an enormous factor in Radiohead’s musical expansion, Godrich slips in reverbed synthesizers and bubbly background melodies all over this record. It’s almost always Godrich’s contributions that differentiate one song from another, adding color to Waronker and Bettinson’s stately sketches.

    The horror-movie synthesizers of “Strange Formula” elevate a rote vocal performance to something eerie and reflective, where the buzzy noise at the beginning of “Wash It Over” meets with with Waronker’s rim-shots, twisting around each other as the song evolves into a wonderfully perverse take on chillwave that can be counted as one of the highlights of the album.

    In an odd way, Godrich’s knack for memorable instrumentation almost becomes the group’s greatest obstacle. With chirping vocal samples and a writhing bassline that refuses to resolve comfortably, “Static Light” should be Ultraista’s opus.

    However, the unmistakable influence of Radiohead’s Kid A and Amnesiac period quickly puts the song in a lesser place, a fact that becomes clear when the song fails to evolve over the course of its three-plus minutes.

    Similarly Godrich accompanies “Party Line” with a piano uncomfortably similar to the one found in Radiohead’s great “A Punchup at a Wedding (No No No No No No No No),” even after having Bettinson throw in a few Yorke-ish moans for good measure. This over-reliance on musical repetition and past triumphs soon reveals itself to be the main thing keeping Ultraista’s moody ballads from becoming much more than adequate.

    3.5/5

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