Ultraísta: Sister (Partisan) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, August 10th, 2020  




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The fact that Ultraísta’s second album Sister sounds like a master class in experimental avant-garde electronica and gleaming production techniques is both the album’s strength and its weakness. 

Ultraísta comprises of drummer/producer Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M., Atoms for Peace), singer/songwriter/producer Laura Bettinson (FEMME, Dimbleby & Capper), and Radiohead collaborator/producer Nigel Godrich. It’s certainly a formidable creative trio, and they have delivered an album that fascinates and occasionally infuriates. It’s a collection of work that’s awash with skewered propulsive electronica, skitterish percussion, and disorientating tonal shifts which all form an eerily compelling soundscape for Bettinson’s hypnotic vocals to weave their subtle spell. And she does a superb job of holding many of the album’s songs together.  

Sister is a sophisticated trip into widescreen, experimental electronica; immaculately crafted and painstakingly assembled. But there’s a certain cinematic coolness about the whole affair that induces a feeling that it’s slightly lacking in any real emotional heft. Of course, when the trio’s impressive creative talents align in prefect union such as on the sublime lead single “Tin King” it provides dazzling moments of singular beauty. However, there are also occasions when the album can feel a little labored, impeded by an undertow of repetition pulling it toward a morass of endless loops and beats with no real sense of purpose or direction. “Ordinary Boy” and “Mariella” in particular are flawlessly arranged and performed and yet do little to engage the listener.    

It’s an album that contains fewer hooks then the current New Order line up, although admittedly huge anthems aren’t exactly Ultraísta’s shtick. They’ve always been more interested in exploring atmospheres, tonal shifts, textures, and even Dadaism rather than building a reputation as purveyors of huge pop bangers. It’s certainly an album worth spending some time with (something we all may have plenty of soon, thanks to COVID-19). For example, there’s the undulating grandeur of “Bumblebees,” the understated reflective beauty of “The Moon and Mercury,” as well as a forage into dark Portishead trip-hop territory in the form of “Water In My Veins.”

It’s a collection of songs that would benefit from being listened to via high-end audio equipment, possibly on vinyl to fully appreciate the gleaming crystalline production rather than streaming it via the convenience of your mobile phone. Sister ultimately is somewhat bereft of moments of heart-bursting passion, opting instead for a veneer of glacial shimmering coolness and as such is an album to be admired from a technical viewpoint rather than being one that induces a huge sense of emotional investment. Which is fine, you can just kick back, relax, admire it, and ride the sonic waves. (www.ultraista.com

Author rating: 6.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10


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