Ultre: The Nest and the Skull

Audiobulb seems to get progressively stronger with every release and certainly The Nest and the Skull does nothing to reverse the trend. Finn McNicholas's sophomore release under the Ultre name is a fresh fusion of acoustic folk elements and crisp boom-bap, rather like a much more perfectly realized version of the Prefuse 73 Reads The Books E.P. that surfaced in 2005 (speaking of which, one alternately could hear Ultre's work as a carefully-handled fusion of Savath Y Savalas and Prefuse 73). If there's a difference between the new release and its predecessor, All The Darkness Has Gone To Details, it's a shift in emphasis from piano to guitar but what impresses most is Ultre's arresting fusion of electronic elements and acoustic instruments.

What begins in “Favourite Moment” as an exercise in acoustic head-nod quickly morphs into a master class in electronic shredding. Handclaps keep time as dizzying swirls of violins, cellos, and acoustic guitars collide and hammering percussive treatments stutter. “Dead Words” and “To All the Laughing You Will Never Do,” head-spinning forays into electroacoustic funk powered by thrumming beats, may be even better, while the equally funky “Peace Corpse” merges Spanish guitar filigrees with splashes of sparkling acoustic strums and snapping beats. A dust-covered piano and violin are juxtaposed with more contemporary electronic materials during “Tics” and “Takas” respectively while the closer “A House Under Your Head” appears to bring an entire string orchestra aboard.

An occasional beatless setting (e.g., the organ-heavy meditation “Lingers”) offers respite from the bold beat-based cuts but, in truth, it's the latter that make the strongest impression. Accompanying info intimates that Ultre creates his beats by hitting objects around his home, and by clapping, finger-clicking, and chest-beating, and furthermore the music eschews Digital Signal Processing for sounds created live during the recording and often using a homemade microphone (McNicholas himself asserts that's he's never used a single sample or preset). Regardless of the production methodology adopted, Ultre packs a remarkable amount of detail and activity into tracks that are rarely more than four minutes long (“Struggle and Nothing” even makes its mark in little more than two minutes) and the album weighs in at an attractively svelte forty-four minutes.

March 2009