Ultraflex is the side-project of Norwegian folktronica artist Farao (Kari Jahnsen) and avant-garde Icelandic pop-star Special K (Katrin Helga). Straying away from their individual sounds, they have combined to bring us an eccentric album of synth-pop inspired by Soviet disco, exercise videos and all things 80s.
They particularly run with the exercise video thing in the record’s opening one-two punch of Get Fit and Work Out Tonight which, when performed live, come with their own exercise routines and are performed to a backdrop of Soviet exercise tapes. Both are fun, synth-driven numbers. Both also veer dangerously close to out-and-out ridiculousness. Like most of the album there is an element of self-conscious cheesiness, but both songs stay just the right side of playful pastiche.
These early tracks also set the tone for the album. As well as their humorous archness they are lush and seductive- sounding, particularly Work Out Tonight with its breathy vocals and throbbing drum beat. Throughout there is a pulsating erotic energy that courses through the record. This is definitely an album with one thing on its mind, there is even a song that is simply called Full of Lust.
Another steamy effort is Olympic Sweat, which with its mix of synths and chimes giving off a kind of 80s soft-core vibe. At the same time, its triumphant melody makes it the perfect soundtrack for running in slow motion. Like a sexy Chariots of Fire.
Not everything is quite so hot-and-heavy though. Never Forget My Baby, for example, is a wistful dance number that feels like an odd fit with the rest of the album due not only to its downbeat nature but also its complete lack of irony. Also, while perfectly pleasant and slickly made, it is also the track that feels the most generic of the eight on display.
For all the slick surface gleam and upbeat brashness of most of the record, there is also an interesting sinister edge to a lot of the proceedings. That sinister edge is most fully expressed on Man U Sheets, a track whose dissonant clash of electro beats makes it sound every bit as awkward as its lyrical subject matter (first adolescent sexual experiences).
Visions of Ultraflex has a mixture of hipster irony, arch humour and high camp which is bound to put some people off. But it is difficult not to be won over by its eccentric charms and sultry-sounding synth beats.