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REVIEW: Sundara Karma – ‘Ulfilas’ Alphabet’ (Sony)


In a sentence:

Sundara Karma emulate the glories of their debut with second album ‘Ulfilas’ Alphabet’, this time relying more on texture than anthemic songwriting.

Sundara Karma broke onto the indie scene back in 2017 with their debut album Youth Is Only Ever Fun In Retrospect, a robust LP that set them up perfectly for future additions to their discography. Indie fans were attracted to frontman Oscar “Lulu” Pollock’s flamboyant charms and the album’s stronghold singles like ‘A Young Understanding’, ‘Explore’ and ‘Olympia’, plus other stand-out moments like ‘Lose The Feeling’ and ‘Watching From Great Heights’. Now, the Reading quartet are back with their sophomore LP Ulfilas’ Alphabet, named after a 4th century Greek bishop and missionary who translated the Bible into Gothic language using his own alphabet.

The bottom line here is that Sundara Karma have done exactly what they needed to do and expand their sonic architecture beyond what they did previously. This time, they rely less on anthemic songwriting. On a good portion of the tracklisting, the band educes Bowie-esque sensations – ‘Greenhands’ and the singles ‘One Last Night On This Earth’ and ‘Illusions’ are just three examples. The plastic soul of ‘Illusions’ harks back to Bowie’s Young Americans with its funky guitar and piano melodies and Pollock sings with forthright confidence. ‘One Last Night On This Earth’ is perhaps the album’s most accessible track, evoking the Thin White Duke’s film The Man Who Fell To Earth in telling the story of an alien who travels to Earth and falls in love (“One last night on this earth / Can you teach me how the heart works? / And the essence of your human quirks?”).

Music video for ‘Little Smart Houses’

There is as much material on Ulfilas’ Alphabet than there was on the debut, yet the experience this time round is more rewarding. The biggest reward comes in the form of ‘Higher States’ in large part thanks to its hip-gyrating rhythm and dazzling synths. Moreover, Pollock is at his most resonant on the chorus: “In the mirror there’s a shimmer of a ghost trying to awake / I’ve been trying so hard to make no big mistakes / Higher states, now we resonate, bodies slipping into place / If this is still the same cage, then take me far away”. Its accompanying music video is just as fantastic and grandiose.

Music video for ‘Higher States’

The penultimate title track is worth ploughing through the album to reach. Pollock’s thoughts about modern society are scattered throughout the lyrics, like “Sold yourself like a raving whore / You’re the most honest thing / ‘Cause living inside a simulated game that a holy nerd created brings nuance” seemingly represents Western society’s addiction with social media. In addition, Pollock sings “So entitled in the way I think / But then again, I’m always right / Keeping busy with daytime TV / And top ten hottest in magazines” on ‘Symbols Of Joy & Eternity’, referring to yet more media consumption. ‘Rainbow Body’ is the album’s dark horse where the longer-running chorus in the second half of the song builds gradually and consists of powerful background harmonies that complement Pollock’s lower pitch.

Music video for ‘Illusions’

Ulfilas’ Alphabet is a fun, catchy and compelling second outing, containing a flavourful mixture of pop, rock and electronic music. Sundara Karma have emulated the peaks of their debut and cemented their reputation as one of Britain’s best indie groups. (8/10) (Harry Beynon)

Listen to Ulfilas’ Alphabet by Sundara Karma here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!

1 Discussion on “REVIEW: Sundara Karma – ‘Ulfilas’ Alphabet’ (Sony)”
  • well done on this review..true beautiful words about thi incredible outstanding album and this amazing band ! gotta love sundara karma ! 😀

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