Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ultraista (2012).

Nigel Godrich has formed a trio with Joey Waronker and Laura Bettinson.  Godrich and Waronker earned credibility from having knocked around as producers and collaborators with Radiohead, McCartney, REM, and Beck, to mention only a few.  Bettinson, having been associated with somewhat lower profile projects like Dimblebly & Capper, Femme, and Eckoclick, is significantly less renowned, and half the age of the other two in the band.  However, the secret weapon here is, in fact, Bettinson.  She provides the focus and, as the voice of the band, she sets the tone, which is effortless, and slightly detached, but not without joy.  

The album sounds like a bunch of immensely talented friends jamming together over a weekend. The overall sonic palette throughout the project is comprised of deep bass, lush and fuzzy synth parts, the syncopated and off-kilter accents of the tasty percussion, and occasional retro noises.  Godrich sticks to a limited choice of synth sounds, providing a bed of cohesion.  He seems to have a thing for a fizzy timbre that recalls, to me at least, the Korg Poly800 from 1983.  Waronker always finds inventive, dancey, catchy patterns that often achieve the level of “the hook,” even before the vocals begin.  With great taste, he knows that interest is often created not by adding more stuff, but by dropping things out at the right time.  Bettinson is the anchor with her elusive words, the smart, pop melodies and that just-got-out-of-bed, slightly dazed, vocal delivery. Without her, the band would still be pretty good, but very different. With Bettinson, the trio has created an intriguing and appealing whole that works like a dream.

Static Light:

The songs dwell in the land of loops; repeatable fragments with ongoing variations that keep things from becoming too predictable or robotic.  It’s at once hypnotic, droney, dizzying and invigorating.  There’s a nice sense of spinning in each tune.  Every song sets up its own percolating system, starts rolling, and it just pulls you along.  The temptation would be natural to stretch any of these tunes out ad infinitum and just keep playing with the details.  But they brilliantly decided to keep the tracks brief, so you will probably find yourself going back to the beginning of this collection, over and over.  The album has a feeling of “rightness,” and is certainly one of my favorite efforts of 2012.  Their Tumblr is pretty awesome too (it's actually Laura's tumblr; and she seems to have a knack for finding the most overheated and outlandish things on the Web).

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