Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Pitstop: Uni Ika Ai

I was first introduced to Brooklyn art pop quartet Uni Ika Ai when I saw they were playing a show with Michael Hilger of Thin Hymns. A fan of Thin Hymns for several years, the idea that he was out and about playing songs albeit solo after the band went on a bit of a hiatus appealed to me. While I wasn't able to make it out to that show Uni Ika Ai's name stuck with me especially as I saw them paired up with other artists I liked and/or had covered like Cantina and GEMMA. In fact one of Uni Ika Ai's cofounders is Lucius' own Peter Lalish.

Uni Ika Ai fall into a subset of bands that are among my favorite to discover: those that evade genre classification. The foursome helmed by vocalist Mala Friedman encorporate elements of rugged experimentalism, psychedelic haze, and electronics occasionally coalescing in smatterings of infectious power pop. But there songs are never quite what they seem and their debut album Keeping a Golden Bullseye in the Corner of My Mind is an album that's as engaging as it is challenging.

Their most pop-centric songs like "Make You Better" or "Soft In Ice" aspire to more than being merely ear catching and like much of Keeping a Golden Bullseye... seem to prioritize taking the listener on an aural adventure. "Make You Better" arguably the most straight forward and simple the band lets itself get is a masterclass in the band dynamic. Building off Peter Lalish skipping guitar melody, Friedman's vocals rightfully take center stage but there's a delightful amount of interplay happening between the band. Undulating synths bow and bend with Friedman's cadence, the guitar goes off on these little embellishments before harmonizing with the synth, and the drums keep pace in increasingly interesting rhythmic figures. It's a song that provides plenty to latch on to even as it attempts to replicate a simple (though catchy as hell) pop song. It's the shortness track on the entirety of the band by a considerable margin (most clock in around 7 or 8 minutes) but there's no shortage of dynamicness in its composition.

Songs like "Is This Life" or "Already Dead" make the most of their longer run times pairing deliberately plotted narratives with intricate, layered instrumental performances. Despite its song construction being rooted in improvisation (Friedman and Lalish exchanging bits and pieces of ideas electronically while Lalish was out on the road with Lucius) every part of their longer songs not only feels vital but methodical. The fact that they apparently aren't is a testament to the skills of its members: all talented members of other bands before embarking on this newer project. Uni Ika Ai's music ideas seem properly developed, their creative trajectory of their songs all but certain but at no point predicatable. And therein lies the appeal of Keeping a Golden Bullseye... as it's both an expression of the artists' certainty in theirs skills even when they haven't particularly mapped out the particulars.

Uni Ika Ai's debut full length record Keeping a Golden Bullseye in the Corner of My Mind is out now and available for purchase either digitally or on LP/CD via their Bandcamp.

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