When your band features the talents of Radiohead's regular producer (and so-called sixth member), a drummer whose been behind the kit for Beck, Elliott Smith, and R.E.M., and a charismatic singer straight out of school, you can expect a sonic pastiche as genre-stretching as it is listenable.
At least, that's the case with Ultraista, the British trio comprised of Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker, and Laura Bettinson. "It's very hard to pigeon-hole this [band]," notes Bettinson, who was recruited by the Atoms for Peace bandmates after Godrich saw her perform live. She adds, "The guys' careers are based in more indie experimental music, and I come from the left field of pop, so it's a meeting of those two worlds. There's an intelligence to it, but not the pretension."
You can tell that much if you give Ultraista's self-titled debut album, which came out this past fall, a listen. From opener "Bad Insect," which shimmers above an almost tribal beat, onward, it's smart--but catchy--electro-dance music tinged in everything from psychedelia to world music. The one thing that ties it all together? "What we really wanted to do was make electronic music that's danceable and full of energy, so you can play live. We're not just playing to a backing track, or a guy twiddling his buttons up onstage; it's three people engaging in each other and having fun," Bettinson explains.
You can see that in person this month, when the band tours the US (with stops in Philadelphia, Chicago, Brooklyn, and Los Angeles). Prepare to move--"the more dancing, the better," is how Bettinson puts it--but also prepare to be wowed by the frontwoman. Yes, she's joined onstage by two guys who have been doing it for a while (and doing it with some of the best performers out there), and yet it's Bettinson who enchants, thanks to her not-too-sweet vocals and graphic fashion sense. "Everybody's taking pictures, you're going to end up on someone's Instagram. So I'm always thinking about what would be quite effective or striking," Bettinson says, adding, "Or what you can move in!"
The end result? An art school Lady Gaga who isn't constrained with making it into the Top 40. But with this brain trust running Ultraista, don't be surprised if they somehow do.
REBECCA WILLA DAVIS
to get Ultraista's full list of tour dates.