For those unaware of the multi-faceted, multi-instrumentalist, producer, singer, songwriter, rapper, director, and most importantly, living meme that is Oliver Tree, delving into his full-length debut can be quite a jarring endeavour.
At a first glance, the bowl-cut sporting, soccer-mom jacket wearing, flared jeans, socks and slider combining jokester can come off as just that, a mere joke. In an era where artists continue to take themselves far too seriously, often lacking any humour or self-awareness, Tree is the remedy, the destroyer, and the breath of fresh air that all scenes so desperately require.
‘Ugly Is Beautiful’, is a project five years in the making. In that time, we’ve been treated to a slew of increasingly dynamic and unique singles that defy categorisation. By fusing elements of emo, pop-rock, and nerdcentric hip-hop (think MC Chris but he’s the fourth Beastie Boy), Tree has cornered a market of his very own, amassing fans of all tastes and preferences. The bizarre style, creative music videos, and ludicrous social media presence have all been meticulously thought out, and executed with strategic flare. All of this tongue-locked-firmly-in-cheek posturing means little, however, without the material to back it up.
While this cultivated character permeates through the entirety of the brand that is Oliver Tree, it’s left at the door to some degree when unpacking these songs. A known perfectionist, every nano-second seems poured over to an obsessive level. Make no mistake, Tree is a true auteur behind all of the nonsense, and the crisp, expert-level production is testament to this. For a record consisting of so many contradictory styles, things flow seamlessly, with the gamut of influences running from The Strokes, to the aforementioned Beastie Boys, to The Lemonheads, to Jamiroquai (no, seriously).
Lyrically, it doesn’t really get more honest than this. Songs deal with everything from loneliness to self-doubt to failed relationships, and while these are by no means ground-breaking topics to cover, it’s hearing the brutal and introspective honesty of the man behind the meme that’s so endearing.
The material utilises the barriers of eccentric production and character to bare all from a distance, letting us in for a short period, before ushering us back into the shiny, colourfully-lit foyer. Whether we’ll be welcomed back is anyone’s guess, but for now, ‘Ugly Is Beautiful’ is the sound of an accidental genius longing for acceptance.