After a long wait the Indie, Super Collaboration Ultraista launches their second release Sister on March 13. It can be hard to believe that 8 years have passed since the release of Ultraista’s self-titled debut. Until you consider who peoples the collaboration, Producer/musician Nigel Godrich of Radiohead fame, and numerous other projects, percussionist Joey Waronker, Beck, REM, Atoms for Peace, etc and Vocalist/Dj Laura Bettinson, of FEMME and Lau. Each is extremely prolific with seemingly superhuman energy that makes nuclear fission seem lackadaisical by comparison. At times it appeared that Ultraista’s first release would be their only release. The much-anticipated Sister provides another healthy dose of exhilarating, laser-focused Electronica but also displays Ultraista adding new dimensions to their sound.
To record Sister the trio would utilize sporadic improv sessions to create the nine new tracks. Each member intentionally strove to wear different hats and get outside their comfort zones to try something outside of their day jobs. The trio succeeded in combining many sonic threads; Afrobeat, post-modern Electronica, evocative strings and driving bass to create an iconoclastic album while maintaining their unique sonic motifs established on their first release. The intricacy of putting Sister together has been described by Godrich as attempting to build a space shuttle out of matchsticks.
The intensity of the recording sessions demanded that the trio take breaks after each portion in order to have the will to go on. The main ethos the trio looked to follow was to make an album that was more than just an art piece; they aimed to create a loose concept album that was accessible but additionally sophisticated. Throughout the album displays all the accumulated skills of each performer with Bettinson’s vocals becoming clearer and inhabiting the centre of each track.
The opening track is the single “Tin King” a song that is loaded with immeasurable energy that makes it so engaging. Bettinson completely inhabited the postmodern vibe of the selection with her vocals and displaying just enough edge to accompany the comfort of her voice. The lyrics attack greed and self-centred voyeur behaviour. When examined closely the track is inherently counterintuitive yet utterly addicting. “Harmony” is more sinuous with a dreamier vibe. The percussion is breathtaking and the harmonic feel of the track is in keeping with its title. “Anybody” questions what we consider as beauty and icon worship. The sophisticated instrumentation features violins adding a new element to Ultraista’s sonic palette.
“Save it Til Later” is the torch song updated for the 21st century. The track is a marriage of the glacier cool of Electronica married to the warmth of Bettinson’s voice. This song along with “Anybody” contains more personal elements in the lyrics when compared to the trio’s debut. “Ordinary Boy” is a showcase for Waronker’s percussive excellence on this skittery effervescent track. The impressive “Mariella” switches to sunlit minimalism as it imparts some much-needed wisdom in the lyrics, “ Surviving is not living… beware of nostalgia”. Bettinson utilizing ethereal vocals is apt making for yet another impressive track.
There is palpable brilliance to the tempo and pacing of the recording. Godrich’s deft producing is displayed as he seems to know just when to accelerate and when to ease off. This rare ability becomes more and more evident as the album proceeds. “Water in My Veins” takes funk bass, fully actualized Electronica, think Caribou, and adds the grit of the city to produce music alchemy. This frenetic vibe is then contrasted to the organic, simple feeling of “Bumblebees”. “Bumblebees” enthrals with its hypnotic vocals and clean production making it my favourite offering on the release. Sister signs off with “The Moon and Mercury” where a delicate synth connects the terrestrial with the eternity of the interstellar, creating a haunting ending to a noteworthy release.
Sister took a long time to create but is definitely worth the wait. The new release is the culmination of the skills each member of the trio has acquired in the last 12 years. There is a common sonic thread throughout the recording that is uniquely Ultraista’s trademark. Each track is distinctive maintaining the listener’s attention. If you have never given Electronica a serious listen this is your chance. Sister is an excellent gateway into the wonders of Electronica. Each member of Ultraista brings something to the recording enhancing their collaboration and creates a multi-dimensional trio worthy of recognition. Hopefully, it will not take 12 years for the third slice of inspired Ultraista goodness, but if that is what it takes to release something this brilliant, I for one wait with anticipation.