Ultraísta // Ultraísta // October 1 // Temporary Residence
Side projects can be interesting but they often depend on how you feel towards the main act. Ultraísta here are a product of Radiohead’s producer Nigel Godrich. Producers aren’t usually attached to any particular project but Godrich’s sound and aesthetics has been an integral part to Radiohead’s krautrock influenced sound and its success. It becomes hard to not see Ultraísta as a sister project to Radiohead and that shows throughout group’s self-titled debut record that doesn’t shine as much light on Ultraísta as a stand alone group as much as it explains where Radiohead are coming from.
Either way, it would be totally unfair to write off Ultraísta as pop version of the Oxford five piece before listening to them even if the record shares the same details and influences. Ultraísta is based upon krautrock influenced repetitive robotik rhythms that make it sound like the record is a train rather than something more organic and free flowing. Ultraísta LP doesn’t really help itself by featuring ten songs that are based in the same universe and same planet. The similarity of the tracks of here brings the record a problem of it being a pop record that demands listener’s attention to be able to differentiate between the songs. I mean they all have a steady rhythm, glistering keyboards and a lot of intelligent sounding but eventually meaningless slogans that don’t really create Ultraísta’s world as much as it sets it in an already established one. It’s a ride through a steam engine powered world and a record that despite it’s airiness feels like it’s on rails from start to finish.
This brand of space synthpop is completed by the rest of the band which consists of vocalist Laura Bettinson and drummer Joey Waronker. The later actually plays with Thom Yorke in his Atoms For Peace band which puts even a stronger emphasis on the Radiohead sound. But Ultraísta isn’t synthpop Kid A as much as it is synthpop Hail To The Thief, a confused record that is arguably among Radiohead’s weakest and most difficult offerings. Ultraísta on the other hand isn’t difficult enough, even for a pop record. If you’ve heard one song on here you’ve heard them all and in case you were following Ultraísta from their inception, you already heard all the best tracks cum singles. Bad Insect is among the only tracks on here that make sense in the lyrical way but even then it comes across as weird, talking about having a good time while being looped on top of sounds that you wouldn’t usually associate with “good time tunes”. Ultraísta is about pretty sounds and while they use the same formula for all the tracks on here, some results are truly glistening. Bettinson’s vocal isn’t showy and it’s being looped along with the music making it another passive instrument that works very well within such dreamy music. Smalltalk is still the highlight on here and even the chorus full of meaningless slogans like “this old timer is torn apart, I’m stuck in before I start, when I breathe does it show, the more I learn the less I know” can’t bring down the pure aural bliss quality that it possesses thanks to the synth note progression. Easier is another similar track that is the closest thing on here to a ballad, loosely speaking. These moments make you forget that you’re listening to a pop version of another band and for the best of it.
Nigel Godrich admitted that Ultraísta is a temporary project for the fun of it. For a pop album Ultraísta is neither fun nor charming enough. The similarities between in and other projects by Godrich make it sound overly calculated and lacking variety. In the end it’s really hard to recommend such record to anyone that wasn’t previously a fan of later day Radiohead. It’s a record that can’t help but feel aimed at a certain fanbase who love their favourite band for their exploration and experimentalism. Ultraísta has some brilliant pop moments and if you like one song, like me, then you’ll find the rest of the album on your shuffle day to day basis but ultimately it’s experimentalist pop devoid of actual experimentation. It’s almost like a guilty pleasure, a record people will enjoy without having any real reasons why. Acceptable but with Godrich at decks you’d expect much more than a train ride through the familiar.