Boomkat Product Review:
Originally released on tape in 2019, 'Big Room' helped establish Philly's Ulla Straus as one of the key figures in the post-"bblisss" wave of nu-ambient practitioners. Interchangeably glacial, gaseous and liquid, it's a rare downtempo tome that never shies away from sensuality and raw, messy emotionality. Gorgeous material: essential listening for anyone into Jake Muir, Perila, Shuttle358, Oval, Pendant or Space Afrika.
'Big Room' is a technically advanced record that never dangles its prowess in your face. Ulla's sound sculpting is remarkable, but the key to 'Big Room' is not her processing skill, it's her open-hearted emotional honesty. And if contemporary ambient and experimental music has been pocked by the Instagrammable nostalgia drip and hacky tacked-on PR narratives, 'Big Room' succeeds because it offers us a clear, demarcated alternative. Ulla doesn't need to shoehorn in a grandstanding press release or video footage of an elaborate modular setup to get our attention, the music does all the heavy lifting, drawing us in with clouded bathhouse textures and soft-focus dub rhythms, chiseled digital hiccups and levitational synthesizer loops.
From the opening tones of 'Nana', with its sloshing pads and subtle glitches, to the dislocated wind chimes and blurry electronics of 'House', there's a resounding faded texture to Ulla's music that helps set a picture perfect mood. 'Big Room' is an album to lose yerself in - Ulla's able to dial in an aesthetic that goes beyond the surface level, piercing not just the production elements but the writing itself. Using relatively few elements, she's able to bridge the gaps between dub techno ('Net'), Mille Plateaux-esque processed glitch ('Past'), glowing Eno-influenced ambient ('Billow') and breathtaking arpeggio-led kosmische sounds ('Sister'), linking each track with her diaristic subtlety and careful choice of processes.
In a forest of withered ambient mediocrity, 'Big Room' is a lonely, pristine evergreen - we just can't recommend it enough.