Throwaway Style: NAVVI Offers a Track-By-Track Breakdown of ULTRA

Throwaway Style, Interviews, Local Music
09/27/2018
Martin Douglas
Photo by Wet Negatives

Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every Thursday on the KEXP Blog.


Especially in hindsight, Omni represents fulfilled promise, the worlds-in-miniature of their early work making way for their rich debut album. Brimming with musical flourishes, little textural corners to get tucked into; vocals that convey desire and regret. Both the rhythms and the lyrics are slyly poetic, the bloom of their profundity unveiling on repeat listens. Exploration has always been the modus operandi of NAAVI, so it’s a natural consequence everything congeals so well on their first full-length.

The thing about NAVVI is they don’t necessarily resist easy categorization, it’s more that the duo can often be placed into so many different categories due to their curious and fluid nature as musicians. ULTRA (out tomorrow on Hush Hush Records) is a starling document of the growth of their talent, flitting between sensual, synth-driven R&B (“Sampaguita” “Ritual”) and uptempo, house-leaning shimmer and shake (“Young Hearts,” “Devotion”) with a sense of both facility and wonder. A very fair comparison I’ve seen bandied about is how the album serves as an alternate version of the Drive soundtrack. Though I mostly agree, I feel as though a better analogy is crouched in that observation; ULTRA is an alternate universe version of the Drive soundtrack.

The songs here are masterfully structured and gorgeously composed: “101” works its magic in a lockstep hop and neon, flourishing signs of life; “Possibilities” shines as an early-90s after-midnight jam. “Dreem” features a highlight performance by Henry, her vocals expressing a sort of yearning so tangible it feels as though invisible hands reached into your insides and tries to pull your heart out. The slow-motion bounce and constantly shifting synths gracefully augment Henry's alternate revelations about a suspension of being able to dream and the lovestruck line that guides the early part of the song: "Give me one good reason not to dream about you."

ULTRA finds a duo searching within themselves, striving to find both artistic and spiritual fulfillment in the art they create, cultivating a sense of beauty that courses through the body much like electricity. Every song on the album reaches for a transcendence far beyond the reach of our hands; the work on this album is not only being delivered to terrestrial beings here on our planet but is shot out into the universe. In search of meaning, in search of an interior beacon of light only the stars can provide.

I recently asked Henry and Boettger to offer their thoughts on each track from the album. Here is what they had to say.


“ULTRA”

Kristin Henry: I like to think of this song as the record's thesis. We initially thought it was too out-there or too extra to be track 1, but it didn’t fit anywhere else on the record ... like, it demanded a spot at the front of the line. The hook came to me right after a panic attack. I remember sitting on the floor of my apartment, trying to focus on my breathing, trying to hold on to literally anything that would distract me from myself ... and this was the product of that moment. I don’t know where it came from, but I remember thanking the universe for the gift and immediately recording it on my iPhone voice messages. I was thankful for the distraction. Maybe my conscience was asking me to appreciate chaos as much as I did beauty; that the two are not mutually exclusive. I don’t know. All of my songs and what they mean to me are very fluid, especially this one.

“101”

Brad Boettger: This song provided a different look and as a result hopefully elevates the material around it by contrast. Too much boutique/sound design work can be a bit of a time suck but there is a lot of custom effects all over the place. Recording jangling my keys, reversing vocals into snares, pitch shifting, chopping, and panning elements all over.

“Sampaguita”

KH: It’s like I’m trying to convince my inner voice to change its mind about me through song. It takes everything that I used to be, everything that I am now, and everything that I want to be but have not yet realized ... and celebrates all of it instead of the usual feelings of loathing. I had a conversation with someone last year, and they explained to me that confidence and ego are not the same thing. It sounds simple but this distinction really started to change the way I saw myself. I named it “Sampaguita” to honor where I come from and the identity that is a constant, as a way to anchor myself in the song.

“Possibilities”

BB: This song served as an anchor for the spirit of the record while we did a lot of experimenting. We wanted trip-hop to be a foundational element to the work this time around. The phrasing of everything is what I am most proud of in that the song feels like it's having a conversation within itself.

“Young Hearts”

KH: It’s wild to me that this song is on the record because I wrote it almost 10 years ago. It always felt incomplete until now. I consider it’s placement on the record to be important in understanding why it was included. It comes right before “Us”... moving from a naive understanding of love into one that is true and transcendent (“Us”).

“Us”

BB: It seems like you end up in a completely different vibe by the end than where you start for “Us.” We both tried to expand the tools and palette we usually work with for this one, recording live bass, different vocal effects, and process.

“Devotion”

BB: This song was spartan for a long time but as it went along, Kristin wanted more and more synths to layer it up. After we recorded her vocal I was tasked with putting a lead line in with her vocal for the verses which was a fun challenge as I rarely get to do that sort of thing.

“Ritual”

KH: The ritual of confession was drilled into my head at an early age. These days, how I’m confessing and who I’m confessing to is different, but I still have to say these things out loud. I consider this song to be my modern confessional. I need to get it all out there in order to heal.

“Unparalleled”

BB: We needed something to bridge the gap of “Ritual” and “Dreem” and I like the idea of interstitials and vignettes. I wanted to do a small piece where you get the idea of a song and it feels almost fleshed out but it's left to the imagination what the song could eventually be. Much of the record is maximalist and I wanted to show some restraint here.

“Dreem”

KH: I stopped dreaming for a couple of months. I went from having the most vivid dreams to straight-up nothing. No dreams at all. I don’t like this world and desperately need fantasy and escapism to survive it. Of course, my dreams are a huge part of this so when I lost them, it was really hard to cope. I’m singing to a healthier, happier, more fulfilled version of myself and asking why She seems so distant from the "me" that is here and real. I needed something to blame for my dream loss and I chose her.

“Human Highlight Reel”

BB: I think I was trying to make a couple of different songs that failed and ended up with this one which was a melding of ideas. There are a few fun recording tricks I used here. I recorded myself huffing into a harmonica microphone and then distorted, pitch-shifted, and layered it for the rhythm in the hook. The title is a tip of the hat to 'Nique.


New and News

Macklemore and Others to Help Put Teaching for Black Lives in Every School

Eventually (but hopefully not soon) I will get around to editorializing Macklemore in the space that is known as Throwaway Style, as I have a long and somewhat complicated personal relationship with his music. But the civic work he does for Seattle is universally worthy of being applauded. Recently, the Seattle artist, former Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett, and activist and Garfield High educator Jesse Hagopian (among a host of others) helped facilitate distributing copies of the book Teaching for Black Lives to every Seattle middle and high school.

Growing up, the history textbooks I was given to read were dominated by the white perspective, sweeping various atrocities under the rug and ultimately displaying white people as the saviors of American society. Teaching for Black Lives is described to "help educators humanize Black people in the curriculum" through art, essays, poetry, and class activities. Bennett was quoted as saying, "This is the book I wish I had coming up in school but never existed." Read more about the successful effort here.


Live and Loud: This Week's Recommended Shows

September 27: Sunset Rollercoaster, So Pitted, and City Hunter at The Crocodile

September 28: NAVVI (performance + DJ set), Orphan. (DJ set), and DJ Amazon Primus at Vermillion Art Gallery

September 28: Tres Leches, Terror/Cactus, and the Wednesdays at Clock-Out Lounge

September 28: Cumulus, Temple Canyon, and Kristin Allen-Zito at Sunset Tavern

September 29: Haley Heynderickx and Matt Dorrien at Ballard Homestead

September 30: Shonen Knife, Bad Saint, and Ichi Bichi at Tractor Tavern

October 2: The Beths and Coach Phillips at Timbre Room

October 3: Shannon and the Clams, Sávila, and Bread & Butter at The Crocodile

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