Ulla: Foam LP

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Ulla returns with ‘Foam’, a surprise new album unlocking variants of ambient pop and looped jazz/dub styles coiled inside a glitched matrix that reminds us of Huerco S’ ‘Plonk’ as well as Ekkehard Ehlers fractal treatments and those incredible, smudged and disneyfied edits of Celine Dion released earlier this year by elusive outfit Romance. It’s an absorbing, quietly significant album for 3XL, on its most substantial release to date.

Responsible for one of contemporary ambient’s finest breadcrumb trails in recent years, Ulla leads on from an acclaimed run of albums toward a more filigree style on ‘Foam’.  Deploying fragmented morsels resembling glass-cast confectionary with a burbling vernacular, these ephemeral new works dissolve into a supine, shoe-gauzy and jazzed bliss that’s best compared with Jan Jelinek’s efforts in this dream-staged arena, the subs x piano minimalism of Alva Noto & Ryuichi Sakamoto’s revered collabs, as well as the memory-frothed echo of claire rousay and Co La’s fractal baubles. Aye, it’s a sound close to our hearts and one weft with a certain sort of magic that sparkles on the nerves and imagination with delicacy. 

Intending it to “feel like a keychain”, the album follows a logic that’s almost algorithmic with its haphazard mutations, but which ultimately displays a more human pulse on pieces like ‘foam angel’, weaving forlorn brass around jazz samples and Ulla’s disjointed voice murmuring unintelligibly like some cyborg liz frazer speaking into the sublime. 

Effusive solo keys and strings cascade like petals on ‘song’, where familiar leitmotifs become wind-dispersed like seeds. We’re snagged on the bittersweet tang of ‘popping out’, and the unexpected dance between marina’s jazz guitar lilt and the aerosoul thizz on ‘sad face’, while the tongue-tip sensitivities of ‘blush’, and ‘for your love’ sound like Rihanna produced by a Systemisch-era Oval.

As tangled and complex as it is filled with improbable ohrwurms, ‘Foam’ is unlike anything we’ve heard from Ulla before, and it just might be the weirdest ambient/pop dislocation of the year so far.

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