Ultra Sunn - US

Ultra Sunn
Artoffact Records

Between solid streaming/social numbers and increasingly high-profile booking, it’s impossible to not see new LP US as a larger referendum or capstone on Belgian duo Ultra Sunn’s rise through the darkwave club ranks over the past several years. While it doesn’t veer drastically from the sleek and EBM-influenced style of club music they’ve plied on previous EPs, US does bring the most immediate and satisfying tunes Gaelle Souflet and Sam Huge have yet brought to the table. Perhaps more important than somewhat abstract questions of “quality”, though, it’s a record which clearly establishes a sense of personality and charisma for the band in a milieu which is often sorely lacking in those departments.

There’s no getting around the immediate stylistic markers which placed Ultra Sunn firmly within the broader realm of your Boy Harshers, your NNHMNs, and your SDHs. The focus on minimal body music bass and icy programming which was established on their 2021 debut for Oraculo remains in place here. US‘ tracks show just how much the duo have zeroed in on what works within that sound, and few tracks exemplify that better than recent single “This Is Not About You”. Its tinkling synths and rubbery bass connote both Valis’ ahead of its time “Cold Hands” and the jangly rattle of the infamous “People Are Still Having Sex” by LaTour respectively, but it’s Huge’s monotone chanting of the title over which really cinches it. “You & Me” conjures A Split Second with its faux-exotica flavoured new beat flair but puts the focus squarely on the vocals for a more restrained but still cathartic chorus.

This isn’t to say that there hasn’t been some reach and development in Ultra Sunn’s structures and influences beyond the vocals. When “Shake Your Demons” shifts away from its (somewhat rote by that point in the record) rubbery EBM and into Underworld-flavoured breaks in its second half, Ultra Sunn seem to be acknowledging more the more melodic strains of classic electronics which have been hovering around the corners of US but which Huge’s vocals alone have referenced up until that point. Similarly, the simple chord change in the chorus of “Lost & Found” is more than enough to lend it some dimension suiting the singer’s dead simple yet strangely engrossing sing-song deadpan.

Like Kontravoid, Ultra Sunn are one of the few acts in the broader body music game right now capable of delivering a record which functions both as a full armament for DJs to choose from depending on the particulars of their format and crowd, and which has enough programming and harmonic depth to function as a proper LP; no small feat given that it’s their first. Seeing Ultra Sunn perform at Terminus last year, I found myself struck by how much of the band’s material (and not just their performance of it) hinged upon Huge’s vocals; it’s heartening to hear that charisma ported over to the band’s studio material as their profile rises.

Buy it.