We’re all in this together
Ladies and gentlemen, they’ve finally done it – Remo Drive has saved the world. The indie rock duo’s latest record, A Portrait of an Ugly Man, shines a more-than-welcome ray of light through the darkness of 2020.
Featuring memorable guitar hooks, evocative storytelling, big-budget choruses and a keenly self-deprecating sense of humor, A Portrait of an Ugly Man is exactly what the doctor ordered. Relying on unapologetic candor and urgent relatability, the album takes a stand for both sanity and levity amidst crisis. Brothers Erik and Stephen Paulson share their unique brand of youthful wisdom, inspiring fans to conduct some leisurely soul-searching. Through meticulous lyrical phrasing, vivid imagery and a decidedly Western atmosphere, the Paulson brothers transport their listeners far from isolation. Picture windswept clifftops, sprawling desert and a blue, cloudless sky. Take a seat, kick back and be therapized.
Opening tracks “A Guide to Live By” and “Star Worship” preface the album’s tone perfectly. Confident, intricate guitar hooks combine with soaring vocals to form a quintessential upbeat indie rock experience. Feet will be tapped, heads nodded and windows lowered. Though light and breezy on the surface, however, “Star Worship” is a peak example of A Portrait of an Ugly Man’s understated lyrical depth. The track paints a picture of a musician torn between ambition, insecurity and unoriginality. “I’m a child standing in your shoes,” sings Paulson. “I’m imitating all your moves.” This musical and lyrical duality is echoed throughout the album, making the overall effort enjoyable for casual and dedicated listeners alike.
Remo Drive continues this self-deprecating trend most notably in “Dead Man” and “Ode to Joy 2.” While the prior song chronicles Paulson’s perpetual losing battle with shame and hypercriticality, the latter tells an all-too-relatable tale of isolation-induced insanity. Utilizing descriptive storytelling and poetic phrasing, the dryly named “Ode to Joy 2” depicts a lonely, banal Friday night. Just like everyone else, the Paulsons are stranded, bored and losing touch with reality. While Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” celebrates peace and prosperity, Remo Drive’s sequel yearns for it.
That said, it would be criminal not to touch on Remo Drive’s impeccable sense of humor. A Portrait of an Ugly Man maintains an easy-breezy feel thanks to a myriad of wryly hilarious one-liners. Containing unorthodox roasts and questionable personal revelations galore, the album has remarkable replay value. In “True Romance,” for example, Paulson shares some uniquely corporate dating advice: “Honey, if you want to make me crumble at your touch, you’ll have to dress up like an apple and take me to the Genius bar.” But for listeners searching for new burns to use on their enemies, “The Ugly Man Sings” succinctly takes the cake: “Often, I wonder how to send you back into your mother.”
Remo Drive’s latest record is an alt-rock extravaganza of witty humor, relatable self-burns and feel-good vibes. Amidst a year as unpleasant as 2020, it’s exactly what music fans need. And in that context, the album’s title suddenly makes perfect sense. After all, what else is there to do during quarantine other than take a step back, look at oneself in the mirror and over-criticize what they see? Whether indie rock fans are searching for catchy driving music, introspective soul or both, Remo Drive’s new album fits the bill.
If people aren’t excited, they should be for A Portrait of an Ugly Man.