Ultraísta may be a brand new band, but its members are far from amateurs. The London-based trio comprises Grammy-winning producer Nigel Godrich (better known as Radiohead’s fifth member), journeyman drummer Joey Waronker and Goldsmiths College alum, vocalist Laura Bettinson. The three-piece admits that it came together through a mutual love for Afrobeat, electronic and dance music, visual art, and tequila, and each of these influences (except maybe the tequila) plays a large role in the outfit’s debut self-titled album.
The songs that comprise the group’s freshman effort possess dark, moody instrumentation (think Thom Yorke’s The Eraser) and are meant to be played live with a visual accompaniment (check out tour dates here). The album was a collective effort between the three, showcasing each member’s talents. Though if familiar with these musicians’ resumes, it’s easy to hear the contributions from each individually—Waronker’s complex, romping percussion style, Bettinson’s smoky, looped vocals—it’s obvious that Godrich held the reins on this project. His layered, squirming synth and electronics lend as the core to all of the album’s ten tracks. To a casual listener, Bettinson’s dreamy vocals and imagery-inducing lyrics may be the focus of the songs, but on closer examination, it’s the instrumentation that keeps the sound interesting.
This is obvious from the beginning. The album starts with “Bad Insect,” Ultraísta’s first single. The track begins with a complex and ominous electro beat. Galloping percussion comes in, and dizzying synth disorients its listener. About a minute in, Bettinson’s vocals come in, and it seems as though the focus shifts, but listen closely—the instrumentation continues to build on itself while the melody stays relatively constant. And though Bettinson’s vocal loops and layers create rich harmonies as the song progresses, it’s the infectious electronic beats that create the track’s real intrigue.
The rest of the record follows this formula, and by the time the closer, “You’re Out,” begins, it’s become a bit predictable—synths and electronics will hold the song up, percussion will direct the pace and the vocals will flow, slowly adding loops and synthetic harmonies.
This does not mean Ultraísta is a bad album. It’s good, and from a producer’s standpoint, technically proficient, but we’ve all seen what these musicians are capable of and how wide their ranges are, so hopefully the follow-up will incorporate some more expansion and creative risks.