Release Date: Oct 2, 2012
Record label: Temporary Residence
You'd expect an album involving Nigel Godrich, the Radiohead collaborator-superproducer, and Joey Waronker, drummer for Beck, R.E.M. and many others, to be full of dazzling arrangements and killer beats. And so it is. Memorable songs? Not so much. But Laura Bettinson's vocals bounce around prettily ….
While “producer” bands are generally a dreadful idea (see: Garbage), Nigel Godrich’s Eno-esque status affords an implied benefit of the doubt. And silly, self-canonizing moniker aside, Ultraísta—Godrich, with instrumentalist Joey Waronker and vocalist Laura Bettinson—proffer a gorgeously haunting brand of Bristol-influenced electro-dub, with ominous rhythmic underpinnings and shimmering synth orchestrations. Bettinson’s vocals can be a little…sweet, but the dark atmospherics sustain a palpable level of foreboding throughout.
Sometimes when you’re reviewing a record it’s easier to describe its sound with imagery and cod-synesthesia than it is to simply discuss what other music it sounds like. On the odd occasion these attempts at the poetic approach prove to be a good idea, but there always lies the risk that as a writer you’ll sound less Robert Christgau and more like a crap tour guide at a modern art museum. .
A trio of inevitably unequal proportions, Ultraísta consists of London-based artist/singer-songwriter Laura Bettinson (whose other musical endeavors include Femme and Dimbleby & Capper) and Los Angeleno session drummer Joey Waronker (Walt Mink, Ima Robot, Beck, R. E. M.
After more than 15 years as a producer with some of music's biggest names, Nigel Godrich has been working with some comparative unknowns in 2012. Earlier this year, he lent his distinctive touch to Brooklyn indie outfit Here We Go Magic's third album, A Different Ship; now comes the debut album from a new band of Godrich's called Ultraísta. The group consists of Godrich and Los Angeles-based producer/drummer Joey Waronker, who've worked together on and off since Beck's 1998 album Mutations, including time in the Thom Yorke's side project Atoms for Peace.
If Ultraista's fidgety electronic pop has much in common with latterday Radiohead, that's hardly surprising. The band is the project of long-term Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, along with vocalist Laura Bettinson, and producer/drummer Joey Waronker, who has played with Thom Yorke's Atoms for Peace. Hence a clever, rather clinical debut, on which precise drumming, buzzing synths and chilly vocal lines set off in separate directions, producing some cool-sounding disconnects but not enough of the subtle, insidious hooks that Godrich's best-known collaborators deliver.
When it comes to producer Nigel Godrich, it’s always difficult to predict what move he’ll make next. While the announcement of Ultraísta was certainly unexpected, it wasn’t too surprising. Godrich had been flirting with being a band-member due to the importance of his production on records like Beck’s Sea Change and The Information as well as his work with Radiohead which dates back to 1994.
You can hear echoes of Radiohead in Ultraísta's debut, which is unsurprising given that head honcho Nigel Godrich is the band's producer. Drummer Joey Waronker plays alongside him in Thom Yorke's Atoms for Peace project, yet the band are more than a side project. With singer Laura Bettinson, they make minimalist, krautrocky electro pop and, as you might expect given Godrich's day job, the production is stunning.
“The only thing you can do is respond to how you feel,” Nigel Godrich told us earlier this week, “because if you try to do anything beyond that, you just won’t do it.” Godrich’s thoughts behind his latest venture, UltraÃsta, bring to mind the age-old discussion of qualia. The philosophical term (Latin for “what sort” or “what kind”) that refers to the subjective nature of feelings; or, as American philosopher Daniel Dennet might say, “the ways things seem to us.” The acclaimed producer’s creative nature stems from that amorphous ideology, and it’s a key tenet behind the make up of UltraÃsta. Despite a complicated resume that precedes him, Godrich’s work here feels relatively simple.
A collection that seems set to be a cult favourite. Lou Thomas 2012 Nigel Godrich could release an album comprising automated supermarket checkout warnings and it would still provoke feverish interest. Fortunately, the first offering from the Radiohead producer’s Ultraísta project contains some fine work, and not a single unexpected item in the bagging area.
ULTRAíSTA (Temporary Residence Ltd.) Music-geek fans of Radiohead and Beck — we know who we are — can now peer long and deeply under the hood with Ultraísta, the project of Nigel Godrich, who has produced Radiohead since 1994 and has worked on some of Beck’s best albums. Ultraísta also includes Joey Waronker, who often plays drums with Beck, and the singer Laura Bettinson. The songs are credited to all three along with the bassist Gus Seyffert.