It’s fair to say that when acclaimed producer Nigel Godrich (aka “Radiohead’s sixth member”) and Beck’s favourite drummer Joey Waronker got together to form a band, their extensive music industry connections meant they had their choice of individuals to front it. Yet they eschewed the easy way out of simply getting a load of famous mates to phone in guest spots and went on a hunt to find someone truly suitable, using the pleasingly old-school methods of sticking adverts up in art colleges and trawling through the gig guides. Eventually they found Laura Bettinson, the woman behind FEMME, known for mixing sweet pop music with exuberant stagecraft. With the trio finally complete, work immediately began on their self-titled debut album.
Of course, much of the focus was always going to be on Godrich’s work with Radiohead, and Ultraísta’s sound will certainly prove accessible to fans of the band. The chiselled beats and effervescent electronics of opening track “Bad Insect” loosely recall the production style of “The King Of Limbs”, while Bettinson’s vocals float like a bubble in the middle of the hubbub. Yet Ultraista’s music is brighter, freer and more upbeat, with “Static Light” sounding like a pop song that’s been shattered into a thousand pieces and the shards scooped up, put into a snowglobe and vigourously shaken. “Our Song” is similarly affecting, each descending keyboard pattern and skittering beat sounding like a dead autumn leaf falling to the floor. The combination of gorgeous synths, cut-up backing vocals and clinical rhythms is worked hard throughout the album – Ultraísta have clearly worked hard to forge a defining sound.
They do occasionally fiddle with the formula, such as on, erm, “Strange Formula”, which employs a dizzying 6/8 rhythm to create a feeling of staggering around a strange town while out of your head, while “Party Line” swaps the synths for piano in order to create some heightened intimacy. They save the best for last though, with the stunning “You’re Out”, a hypnotic and utterly beautiful track with an emotional spike at its heart. Bettinson’s vocals are at their best – Thom who?
In fact, that’s the best indication of the record’s success; while much of the pre-release hype surrounded the links to Radiohead, by the end of the record those links are all but forgotten. Ultraísta have created their own niche, and it’s a very special one…