REVIEW: Uni Ika Ai - Keeping a Golden Bullseye in the Corner of My Mind

Kelly Kirwan

Keeping a Golden Bullseye in the Corner of my Mind.

It’s a line that feels lifted from a sonnet, rife with meaning, like a riddle whose answer was written on a piece of origami. We lift the flaps and run our fingers along the creases, because for Uni Ika Ai, sonic textures are as important as the melody—if not more so. The Brooklyn-based outfit have honed a unique brand of dream pop that bustles in off-kilter settings. Perhaps that’s why the aforementioned title to their latest album focuses on the sparks of creativity that so often catch fire on the periphery of our consciousness.

Uni Ika Ai is more concerned with the spaces that exist between the beats of classic rock structures, their rhythms thriving on missteps and electronic twitches to create an effervescent alternate reality. Just like dreams, their songs pulse on airwaves that are both viscerally familiar and also slightly out of touch with the world we’ve come to live in. Maia Friedman knows how to manipulate her voice between sweeping, airy, stretches and deeper, more earnest tones. Her vocals are the equivalent of the black-and-white spiral that’s become the icon of hypnotism, with Uni Ika Ai’s songs acting as the asymmetrical space which welcomes our indulgent trance.

Unsurprisingly, the band was first born from slivers of experimentation. Friedman and her now-bandmate Peter Lalish began writing together in 2014, and gradually teased out their snippets into songs (and their duo into a quartet). For their latest album, D. James Goodwin acted as both the producer and occasional saxophone accent for a quick slip of jazz-inspired improvisation. The giddy, dizzying high of art without calculated structure is Uni Ika Ai’s bread and butter, and our new frontier to explore. 

For instance, there’s the synth-heavy introduction to "Mexico," which is reminiscent of a pipe organ filtered through a satellite orbiting overhead. It’s a futuristic blip that then fades into a more leisurely, forlorn song with sweetly swaying percussion and guitar accompaniments. Friedman sings in glistening strokes, “Where you go I’ll follow … Down to Mexico,” her voice wavering over the final vowels to extend the note. It’s an undulating and melancholy streak which we easily float alongside.

Then there’s "Make You Better," which opens with heavy, folk-inspired strumming. “If I could I’d have my way,” Friedman sings, her voice managing to be gentle without feeling flimsy, as the line, “I would make you better” flies off into a lofty spiral of a note, like a paper plane twirling in a gust of wind. It’s a song that's hard to classify, as each term seems to just miss the mark. The lyrics hover somewhere between a statement of fact and a promise, such as “I don’t ever want to miss you,” delivered in a softened tremble. Uni Ika Ai are, first and foremost, eclectically unique. On "Make You Better," Friedman muses, “I’ll make you stay…” And, honestly, it doesn't take much to convince us to stick around this album.