Remo Drive – ‘A Portrait Of An Ugly Man’

By Ian Kenworthy

Seven months after the release of their mature pop-rock album ‘Natural, Everyday Degradation’, Minnesota’s Remo Drive are back with album number three. ‘A Portrait Of An Ugly Man’ might follow hot on its heels, but it is by no means a carbon copy of what went before. The duo are taking their sound in a new direction, so you had better strap yourself in. This is the sound of a band who know what they are doing and if you let them lead the way, you’ll find it quite rewarding.

Made up of Erik and Stephen Paulson, the band describe themselves as part of the emo revival, yet their sound leans heavily on power-pop – there are clear parallels with Weezer and the duo have similar scope. Both bands disguise their introversions with an upbeat sound and love to explore new avenues, hence this album is more about texture than Remo Drive’s prior work, with huge throbbing basslines and beefy drums adding real depth. There is also more emphasis on groove and Erik’s guitars feel more nuanced than ever before, especially on ‘Dead Man’ which crackles with mischief and fun little guitar licks.

Erik’s vocals have always been the band’s biggest draw and this is again the case here. He has a real gift for melody and shifts elegantly between a soft croon and a pained wail, expertly creating catchy hooks without the need for a big hefty chorus. This is most notable on ‘The Night I Kidnapped Remo Drive’ where he sells the most simple lines by using a beautiful shaking quality. This does, however, make the overall record a tougher sell as there are few (if any) choruses you’ll find yourself humming along to – a real contrast to ‘Natural, Everyday Degradation’.

Every one of the album’s ten tracks has its own sound and tries something fresh; pick any song and you will find them trying something new and interesting. Notable highlights include a gurgly mermaid backing choir on ‘True Romance Lives’ and the opening to ‘Easy As That’, that latter of which also features a strange and soporific atmosphere. You should also watch out for the solos running through ‘Ode To Joy 2’, which allow Erik to explore the neck of his guitar in slick and satisfying style. Despite this generous spread of different sounds, the songs complement each other well making for a cohesive listening experience – perhaps the album’s finest accomplishment. There are slow songs, too, but they are positioned in such a way that they act as a tool to ensure the music flows together rather than forcing the pace to sag. Notably, in contrast, ‘A Flower and a Weed’ adds energetic moments, and even a few yells of delight, right when the runtime demands it.

The duo worked on the album themselves and – shut away in their home recording studio – handled everything, including production duties. This gives it a slightly unpolished sound which only enhances the varied song style. By highlighting different elements, they also give the album a rich palette. For example, ‘If I’ve Ever Looked Too Deep In Thought’ leans on a shimmery guitar sound but on leading single ‘Starship’ it’s the throbbing, sleezy bassline that pushes through.

Notably, and again much like Weezer, the band’s charm is what makes the record. There is a zesty light-hearted twist to the lyrics, which fans will find endearing. This stops the album becoming too self-indulgent or downbeat, even though it favours navel-gazing.

Although ‘A Portrait Of An Ugly Man’ features a shift in style it is a solid body of work. It might lack the wider appeal of their previous albums but feels far happier with itself. A satisfying and sophisticated listen, fans will find much to enjoy.

IAN KENWORTHY

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