It’s a surprise that no one ever mentions Nigel Godrich’s association to Radiohead. Sure it may seem like a cynical ploy to attract attention, but given the cultish devotion fans of that band have to anything vaguely related, you’d think someone would have thought to bring it up in relation to Ultraísta, Godrich’s new project.
OK. Not really. Godrich’s role as the sixth member of Oxford’s finest may have come up a few times when discussing his new band. In fact, in the build up to the release of their debut, you could be forgiven for believing he had actually officially changed his name to Nigel Godrich, Radiohead producer.
So what has Nigel Godrich, Radiohead producer, gone and done. Well he, drummer Joey Waronker (who has hit skins for the great and the good of rock… oh, and The Vines) and vocalist Laura Bettinson (remarkably unburdened with associations) have made a sleek, glossy record that succeeds wholeheartedly in being pleasant, listenable and totally forgettable.
What you can’t debate is the quality. Perhaps unsurprising given the collective experience of its members, Ultraísta has an air of competency. The songs sound expansive, atmospheric and very well done. But as much as you can appreciate the quality of what they’ve made, it doesn’t get close to glossing over the fact that there’s something lacking here.
Possibly any real sense of innovation. Ultraísta have a template, introduced during the first track, which then hardly varies throughout the next nine. It goes: jittery drums, with just an occasional hint of afrobeat polyrhythmic tendencies, luscious waves of synths piled on top and and Bettison’s sweet vocals cooing back, often from multiple directions.
After a while, the temptation to compare to Radiohead is just too great. It isn’t just that the pattern, the build of skittering beats, electronic textures and floating voice; there are also plenty of moments where you flash to literal recall. With Bad Insect it’s Where I End And You Begin, Gold Daysz it’s Backdrifts, while You’re Out cuts and reassembles Bettison’s voice into similar disorienting space as Everything In Its Right Place.
The comparisons only really serve to highlight Ultraísta’s paucity of anything noteworthy. There’s nothing memorable, no single great song, no single glorious element that marks it out. So it just fades into the background. It’s a wallflower of an album, pretty, nice, but lacking the inspiration needed to lift it beyond the mundane.