Naive Ultra is an “indie band collective” from Basel, Cologne and Berlin who’ve just released a new album titled Honest But Unclear. Formed in 2022, the band features siblings Luca Hann (vocals/guitar) and Mario Hann (bass/vocals) along with keyboardist-vocalist Cordula Holland-Cunz and drummer Martin Linder. The band’s name stands for “radical vulnerability,” and its songs are “an attempt to counter a rationally exuberant world.”
The genesis of the songs come from the teenage demo tape archives of songwriter and guitarist Luca Hann, which makes the completed work a “coming of age” album. The band tackles topics like heteronormative behavior, social inequality, the materialistic world of adults and global warming. Musically the band describes its sound as eclectic, varying between grunge/stoner rock, electronic and psychedelic music, resulting in an “earthy sound with bittersweet melodies featuring delicate vocals.” Recording and mixing was by bassist Mario Hann, with mastering by Justing Weis of traxwork. This is a jam-packed 16 song album so I’ll talk about my favorites (though that’s most of them!).
“Little Flower” proudly stakes its place in DIY history as a lo-fi recording which is literally switched on, the music grinding up to speed like a malfunctioning Frankenstein console. There we are greeted with amiable picked acoustic guitars played at gentle walking speed. The stellar female vocals are double-tracked by (I believe) Luca Hann, while Cordula Holland-Cunz adds cool percolating synth sounds in-between verses. This is homemade electronic dream-pop of the highest order, and seems to settle deeper in the mind as it proceeds (though that might be due to the vocals coming close to direct speech at times). And at the very end, the tape gets shut off!
“Blue Moon” is again based on melancholy strummed acoustics with the lovely lead vocal centerstage, which is starting to give me Nico or Divinyls flashbacks. The song is quickly anchored by amazingly realistic digital cellos and classical strings along with castanet-like percussion. It’s technically just four long chords repeating, but the variations are so subtle that a dreamy, hypnotic state is soon achieved (did I just describe dream-pop?).
“Happy Monster Crew” has a fascinating chord trick that’s easy to miss, where the minor key skirts into major just at the end of each chorus. Let’s just allow that the vocals here and going forward are flawlessly beautiful, but helped along this time with a glockenspiel-like keyboard patch. The drums are more prominent as well, not in a flashy way but providing exactly what’s needed. “Lucy” marks a major changeup into 1950’s torch pop, like an outtake from “Little Shop of Horrors.” I love the shimmery tremolo guitars and (again) the sweet lead vocals singing lines like: “She kills, she kills me with her false love / That which she calls love / And what she’s dreaming of.”
“Enigmatic” is like a folk song filtering up from the deepest corners of the soul. Each instrument (picked acoustics, bass, piano, kick drum) is flawlessly played within a deep, comforting bed of reverb. And this is all before the vocals even start! I get the same feeling from this compelling tune as the first time I heard the Beatles Rubber Soul (American version). “Drowning” seems to go even deeper than the soul, realized in part by retro mellotron pads and an analog synth solo. At this point I’m picking up a vocal resemblance to Natalie Merchant, especially in “Easily Required.” Aside from the gorgeous vocals (natch) this is one of the more interesting tracks sonically, with cool warbling electric guitars and a short fragment of digital noise that’s weirdly effective. “Westen” not only features some of the most beautiful guitars but also has a section toward the end where the lyrics appear to be in German.
“August” is a wild track that would makes sense as the finale (it’s not) because all the different elements presented thus far (including the weird noise interludes) are mixed together within an especially teeming arrangement, dramatic and close to distortion (but not quite!). In contrast, “Don’t Tell People” is a comparatively bare-bones folk-rock tune which hits like a splash of cool water. The concluding “Walls” has a similar arrangement but with picked guitars that are just slightly out of tune, which adds a bit of vulnerability to what had been near-perfect tracks and performances. That vulnerability nicely fits the lyrics which appear to reference the walls that are built within romantic relationships. There’s some especially nice drumming here as we reach the final fade.
Well, I loved this album from the very first note and feel I’ve not adequately described its greatness, so please check it out for yourself!
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