To a neutral, long-term observer, it may appear as though we harbour some sort of Icelandic fetish within these glossy pages. Despite the country’s population being slightly smaller than the combined headcounts of Aberdeen and Dundee, we seem to repeatedly feature young Icelandic artists of varying stylistic hues.
The programming of our pre-extinction era human brains means that we spot lazy correlations and presume there’s a related causation. You know: the thought that if you like lots of krautrock bands, there must be something innate or structural about the environment that created these bands that aligns with either your own formative environments or your individual personality.
On the other hand, it’s perfectly possible that a range of different artists with their own life experiences and musical personalities all just happen to have been born on one island, and the fact that they’re being lumped together through some sort of geographical preconception says more about you or, indeed, any person who thought starting a lengthy music review in this ridiculous manner was a good idea.
How about you rethink trying to fit things around your established cultural stereotypes, eh? Think and suck on that, so-called music-writey man.
Ultraflex come at things from a decidedly and unashamedly pop-loving angle. Their debut album, Visions of Ultraflex, was a mash of Italo- disco and hummable harmonies presented with tongues firmly in cheek. Arguably, it was the archly observed humour which set it apart. Formed of the pairing of Farao and Special-K (otherwise known as Kari Kamrud Jahnsen and Katrín Helga Andrésdóttir), the debut channelled t.A.T.u. minus the Trevor Horn production, the lack of autonomy, and the questionably titillating public image.
Infinite Wellness keeps the positional relationship of cheeks and tongues intact but adds an eclecticism and relative wisdom, embodied in the opening track and lead single ‘Relax’.
Stabby synth bass notes with almost no sustain on them form the core of the song’s identity, but it’s the melodic pads that use the four-and-a-half minutes to take the song on a journey. Rich, uplifting pads mutate slowly into droning, dream-inducing lasers of uncertainty.
‘Baby’ is bathed in the type of fantasy chimes that became popular sometime in late 1987 and have never really left us. There’s something concurrently earnest and winking about the delivery of the lines ‘I see you / Across the room / And you’re not looking at me / I’m gonna fix that / I’m gonna sneak into your peripheral vision’ that sums up the band’s mixture of cheek and intent.
‘Mi Vuoi’ features the fantastically named Kuntessa, has a rhythm like a galloping train, and would comfortably be mixed in or out of almost any record being played just after 1am. The mix is teaming with elements. Strings, steel drums, vocal harmonies, and a range of synth sounds from fizzing to burping to triumphant to phasing seemingly fight for the listener’s attention. The solo section sounds like a saxophone and even this doesn’t feel like too much. This is the sound of too much fabulousness going on in the one postal district where the law explicitly states that no limits should be placed on fabulousness.
Almost as a counterpoint to the rising tempos of the first three tracks, ‘Melting Away’ is a slower paced, introspective effort that sounds like it was written in a quiet bedroom rather than a studio.
‘Rhodos’ is a dancefloor banger both in manner and as subject matter. There’s even a breakdown with some background people-talking-in-a-club ambience. On first listen, I misheard the lyric ‘liquor straight into your mouth’ as ‘gonna castrate your mouth’ and I secretly hope they change to this much more aggressive version when playing live.
‘Ultrasex’ is the soundtrack to an ad for a holiday company in the waiting. Blissfully paced, with varied elements popping in and out, its sexiness is mainly generated by a wailing guitar that is thankfully mixed at the right volume rather than dominating the rest of the sonic palette.
Five of the eight songs on here have already been released as singles; the latest is ‘Under The Spell’ and it’s the album’s highlight. Electro-influenced verses with a chilled, broken rhythm explode into a joyous singalong chorus.
Album closer ‘Run’ clocks in under two minutes, but belies its short runtime by squeezing in so many competing synth noises over its relatively abrasive snare sound that it acts as a falsely epic sign-off.
Infinite Wellness is the sound of two souls finding their feet and expressing themselves with more affirmative confidence than they’ve let the world see thus far. They have set themselves apart from their compatriots, mostly by just being themselves. Hang on. It says here that one of them is Norwegian. That completely blows apart the earlier attempts to group them clumsily with other Icelandic acts. In fact, it really does make a mockery of someone going to the extent of creating a spreadsheet of Scottish conurbations to figure out which combo of them added up most closely to that of Iceland.
This narrative disservice to Ultraflex could provide a lesson worth learning, though. Don’t let your eyes, preconceptions, and urge to put people in little boxes hamper the ability of your ears to just process the sound of two intertwining talents producing smart, danceable pop music.
Infinite Wellness is out 7th October via Street Pulse
Header Picture by: Douglas Dare