ALBUM REVIEW: Oliver Tree – ‘Ugly is Beautiful’

Words by Emily Hollitt – AKA – Malina Claire

After the impromptu cancellation of his debut record hours before release due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the announcement of his retirement, the bowl cut having, scooter wielding pop, insanely-high-music-video-budget-having pop sensation returns today with ‘Ugly is Beautiful’ (with accompanying live stream where he breaks the world record for the biggest scooter, of course). Regarded as one of the most enigmatic forces in the pop genre, he portrays himself as a character, yet conveys such an intense sincerity in his music. Mixing a heavier emo/rock influence with dark pop, Oliver Tree infuses all his qualities and influences to create an unmatched unique take on the modern contemporary music scene. With his signature baggy pants, box fringe, tiny glasses, pink and blue jacket and mad scooter skills, Tree engages in his audience in a way unbeknownst to any other artist on the scene. ‘Ugly is Beautiful’combines all his personality quirks, knack for emotional songwriting and affinity for cross-genre production to create a mix of distinctive tracks.

Me, Myself & I begins the record, featuring heavily distorted vocals and power-chords on an electric guitar. “I’ve been the outcast, it feels great. I highly doubt that, no way” he sings. The production changes from anxious rock to cool and inviting hip hop, as if he is comfortable in this anxious, outsider state. The lyrics are delivered quickly and conversationally, adding to the overall anxious feeling. “I don’t really want to be that way”. 1993 (feat. Little Ricky ZR3)is more deep-house in its’ production, reminiscent of Australia’s Timmy Trumpet. With its walk-paced bassline and intense production- the track feels like a hazy night out. Cash Machine opens with aggressive acoustic guitar as Tree analyses consumer culture. “When is it enough? How bad do you need that stuff? What’s it all for? Why do you seem like you still want more?” he sings in the chorus. “Smile with your golden teeth, that’s how you cover up your cavities” he sings about those who use wealth and appearances to cover up deep-seated insecurity. His vocal delivery is more casual and conversational, almost child-like at time, expressing the point in a simplistic, analytic way.

Let Me Down pays homage to his fans he felt he let down with the cancellation of the album. Released alongside its music video, a comedic parody of YouTube’s Colors Show, the video sees Oliver following the microphone around, kicking a baby doll version of himself and destroying the studio. Of course, after rocking up to the shoot on his scooter. Using the help of his close friends and family, the video was shot at one of his friends’ warehouses, creating one of his best comedic videos with a simple idea and making the best of social distancing restrictions. On the track he says;

”I wrote ‘Let Me Down’ the day after I cancelled my album due to coronavirus. Cancelling the release was devastating after working on this album for five years. Even though it was completely out of my control, I felt like I let a lot of people down so I made them this song as an apology. Even if I can’t drop the album, I still want my fans to know I care about them.”

“Please don’t let me down, you better come around” he pleads in the choruses. “I won’t come around”.

Miracle Man utilises acoustic guitar as the main instrument. Lower octave harmonies sit beneath Tree’s main melody line as well as consistent vocal doubling, giving the lyrics more interest texturally and breaking away from some of the same-ness of the rest of album. Finger-picked guitars separate the busyness of the rest of the song, forcing the listener in to focusing on the lyrics. Short but sweet, this song creates new and intricate production ideas, adding layers and versatility to the record as a whole. Reggae sounds and production heavily influence Bury Me Alive. Siren-like synths and bass surround his rap-style vocals in the verses. The entire feel of the track feels like the love child of Twenty One Pilots and Bootleg Rascal, completely different in direction than the rest of the album considerably. His vocal style in the vocals echo that of reggae music, as well as record scratches and screeches sounding reminiscent of the early ‘90s rap scene. Alien Boy feels more like early 2000s pop meets modern alternative hip hop, with its beat somewhat similar to the work of Tkay Maidza. Through comparing himself to that of a literal alien, Tree uses the analogy of being from another planet to explain how he feels outcasted or different from the rest of society at large. Through graphic imagery and physical descriptions, the track feels as though he is somewhat proud of the unappealing image he seems to associate with himself; happy in his solace. “My teeth are sharp like the great white shark. Let me taste that flesh, it’s my favourite part”. “I’m an alien among human beings” he sings, “somehow I still make it work”.

“My whole life is just a joke, but I’m still not laughing” opens Jokes On You!. The production is deep and heavy, very hip-hop-centric in its production approach. His rap style translates as almost deranged and emotional whereas his sung lines are gentle and soft-spoken, creating a beautiful contrast. The delivery of the verses echoes the style and emotion as well as accompanying production of the N.W.A. era of early rap, mixed in with more modern production techniques to create truly unique emotional conveyance. The track fades into chaos of high-pitched piano, shouts and yells and car sounds, before disappearing completely. Again & Again is considerably more preppy in comparison to its predecessor, working more of an edgy yet catchy pop song, contrasting devastating lyrics with danceable lyrics. “Take what you want, your mistakes make you wrong, keep your head up! Somehow, I’ve been shot down, again and again” he sings, contrasting his emotional lyrics with happy, danceable music, promoting the ideal of pushing through and keeping your head up in your darkest times. Tree’s moves along with each note in the bass to open Waste My Time. Uninhibited and overexaggerated, his vocal delivery echoes the permeating teenage angst of Yungblud, using expressive, forceful delivery to express anger, frustration and edge- using his vocals as an integral part of the instrumentation. Yelled group choruses are vaguely reminiscent of Queen’s Radio Ga Ga in term of the feeling of unity it brings to the listener, forcing them to want to scream along and feel with him.

“You say you don’t want me. You call me good for nothing, straight to my face.” The minor tonality in the bass-heavy chord progression add to the dark, aggressive feel of Jerk. The chorus is explosive, with face-past drums and deep synthesizers. “I feel the walls caving in on me, I’m sick of feeling so fucking lonely” he sings as his vocals become more and more overdriven before reaching another chorus, feeling somewhat even bigger than the first. “Don’t fret, I don’t ever want to see you and I never want to meet you again. One thing, you’re a jerk when you’re angry”. Hurt follows, the angsty, emotional song that initially introduced me to Tree’s music. “I’m sorry if I hurt you. I’m sorry if it got that bad. Well, sorry I can’t help you. Somebody should have had your back” he sings, acknowledging how his behaviour with a loved one could have deeply affected them. “Maybe it was me who was fucking up… I gave all I can give but, it seems that it never really was enough”. Introspective has a beat reminiscent of early 2000’s pop, with vocal delivery almost similar to that of Weezer. “Here it was so introspective. I don’t need things to get messy. This is overcomplicated. I guess I miscalculated.”. His words sometimes grow more slurred, almost careless, giving the track an underlying attitude and dismissiveness.

Vocal reverb and delay are heavier on I’m Gone, with tonality similar to that of which Ocean Alley and associated bands often do with their production. The production quickly changes in the chorus to his signature heavily doubled and aggressive delivery, creating another great example of genre juxtaposition, aiding to the overall clarity of the songs. The second chorus grows even heavier, emanating more heavier rock genres while also demonstrating Tree’s incredible vocal versatility. Heavy, layered and overdriven guitars solidify this song as more of a rock track, with similar textures to that of bands like Foo Fighters. A great remark to Oliver Tree’s understated talent, ‘Ugly is Beautiful’ takes the listener on a journey of uninhibited emotion, angst, integrity and honesty. Through the use of crossing genre techniques, vocal styles and a mix of live and in-the-box instrumentation, the record presents itself as an experimental, undefinable epithet to pop versatility and ambiguity. The perfect accompaniment to a trip to the scooter park with the boys.



With thanks to Positive Feedback

Leave a Reply