Ulla - Limitless Frame
Ah Ulla records, the Supreme of Ambient as someone said today... Well, Ambient Fetishism be damned, because this remains a record worthy of devout attention and understanding. Through both her music and the Experiences Ltd imprint she operates, Ulla Straus is undeniably central to the 'West Mineral & adjacent' (inc. Sferic, xpq?, and of course, Motion Ward) sound that's been championed here and by countless others the la st few years, arguably hitting its peak with last year's Tumbling Against A Wall. Love it as we do, there's only so much you can say about a type of music that seems so aesthetically pre-defined. In that context, it's especially satisfying to receive the appropriately titled Limitless Frame. It begins in roughly familiar territory, couched in the reverb and delay of abstracted electroacoustics and manipulated electronics, haunted by the ghosts of glitch-past. Straus is incredible when making these sounds, and i'd be more than happy to hear another record based solely on this approach. Yet Limitless Frame sees Straus gently evolving her practice, the second side shifting into newer, less explored spaces. And 'space' is in fact the operative word. Album centrepiece 'Something Inside My Body' is a work of spatial reverence, mournful piano chords held suspended against a backdrop of natural static, the outside world floating in through the window, as if the breeze itself is playing the keys. Arguably the best thing anyone from this associated world has put their name to. The final three tracks explicitly place electroacoustic instrumentation front and centre (most arrestingly via the sax and piano interplay of Walk Alone), as if Straus is actively moving away from the synthetic qualities of electronic composition to the more direct emotional expression of 'real world' sounds. The overall textural shift reminds me in part of early Tomlab and Fat Cat (particularly The Books), in creating that bridge between post-rock abstraction and electronic minimalism, and there are some aspects of Arthur Russell's World of Echo rearing there head in the contrasts of empty space and crackling reverb. But even then, Limitless Frame seems to require its own understanding. This feels like a hugely evocative and personal statement, not so much genre-defining, as surpassing it, moving into its own standalone space. Gotta be one of the best of the year.
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