“Ugly is Beautiful” is a vapid new take on the early 2000s rap rock trope and quickly becomes just as stale as its predecessor.
By Gavin Majeski
Internet celebrity and alternative pop sensation Oliver Nickell, commonly known by his stage name, Oliver Tree, first hit it big with his 2018 debut “Alien Boy” EP and subsequent music video that is currently sitting at 29 million views on YouTube. Nickell’s public presence is an enigma, as he is often seen riding a Razor scooter and wearing a brightly colored 80s ski jacket, oversized jeans and kids’ sunglasses while sporting a bowl cut. Most footage you will find of Nickell behind the scenes is of an immature, hot-headed personality that turns heads with just how outlandish it is.
In 2019, Nickell released his second EP, “Do You Feel Me” which for some odd reason contained the lead single, “Alien Boy,” from his previous 2018 EP. Nickell’s debut full length project, “Ugly is Beautiful,” is a continuation of the same lazy pattern where he reuses previously released tracks on a subsequent project. “Alien Boy,” “Miracle Man,” “Hurt” and “Introspective” made up two-thirds of “Do You Feel Me” and all of the aforementioned cuts made it onto this “new” 14 track LP.
Where “Ugly is Beautiful” separates itself from Nickell’s “Alien Boy” EP is in its lack of sonic diversity. The unique vocal cadence of Nickell was a breath of fresh air in 2018, as he blended electropop, hip-hop, and rock into a tight package. Though there are a few standout tracks such as “Me, Myself & I,” “1993,” “Bury Me Alive” and “Jokes on You!,” the vast majority of everything on “Ugly is Beautiful” sounds exactly the same.
“Me, Myself & I” opens with a lo-fi, alternative rock feel to the guitars, which then transition into passages featuring modern 808 drums, creating a unique blend of genres. “1993” is a bouncy, electropop banger with heavy synths leads that blend well with one of Nickell’s more mellow vocal performances on the entire project. This decision benefits in the song’s favor since the vocals don’t take precedence over the vastly superior production, which shines during the last leg of the song.
Though somewhat of a mess due to an iffy vocal performance, “Bury Me Alive” is an excellent example of just how unique Nickell’s songwriting can be. He opens with a ukulele driven, reggae rock hybrid that spirals into a '90s feeling hip-hop track reminiscent of acts such as Beastie Boys. The closing moments of the track also feature great DJ scratching, which only helps to amplify the '90s hip-hop theme.
“Joke’s On You!” is another hip-hop focused track that is far more aggressive than the '90s feel of “Bury Me Alive.” The one feature “Joke’s On You!” has going for it is the unique twinkling synth drops that are layered all over the track. The rest of the instrumental features basic 808 drum kicks and guitar riffs that sprinkle themselves in and out of the track, a theme that becomes the record’s Achilles heel.
Scuzzy acoustic guitars, punchy snare drums and heavy trap bass kicks are littered on every track, with most openings and choruses featuring the same rudimentary guitar. “Cash Machine,” “Let Me Down” and “Miracle Man” are back to back disappointments in the first leg of the album that, while not necessarily bad, provide for a trite and boring listening experience.
The second half of the record is no better than the first, as the weight of similar tracks begins to sit on the listener. When giving the record multiple listens, it starts to sink in just how quickly Nickell has painted himself into a corner regarding his own sound.
But even though “Ugly is Beautiful” fails to see Nickell diversify his sound, it is sprinkled with good ideas that, if further developed, could see him venture into a more refined sound.
Favorite Tracks: Me, Myself & I, 1993, Bury Me Alive, Jokes On You!, Again & Again, Jerk, Hurt