Slowthai's rawest effort yet, UGLY - which stands for U Gotta Love Yourself - is post-punk leaning, strong narrative pushing and it sounds just as cinematic as his visuals. Arguably his magnum opus, he's taken break from witty rap over impeccable yet somehow sinister production and delved into the world of post-punk. Don't get me wrong, he's definitely still spitting but he's exploring a range of vocal techniques to express the motifs on the records. He's upped the angst and proved his emotional intelligence more than ever before.
The production on the record is menacing in places - which is a given when it comes to Slowthai who frequently collaborates with producer Kwes Darko. He's traded spooky synths and alt rap melodies for raw instrumentation. The post-punk influence is clear, with the drums on the record reminiscent of past standout hit, 'Doorman', in that they're fast paced and often emulate running from something. The record fluctuates between moments of pure anarchy and chaos to moments of slightly calmer introspection. On tracks some of the tracks, the narrative within the song is often strengthened with sound effects to emulate what's being spoken about. For example, you can hear his heavy breathing on 'Yum' to emphasise a panic attack. 'Sooner' has more of a sixties pop rock feel, courtesy of the 'Suddenly You Love Me' sample by The Tremeloes. 'Feel Good' sticks a gunning bassline to a bouncy intro that packs a punch, which is a collaborative effort between Kwes Darko, Dan Carey (who appears frequently in the production credits) and hyperpop producer Sega Bodega. The changes in pace on the album still align with the overall post punk sound on the album. 'Never Again' feels a lot more stripped down and peaceful, but still kept alive by the hi-hat heavy drums. Title track 'UGLY' and subsequent track 'Falling' carry the eery essences of Radiohead and Pixies throughout. '25% Club', which concludes the album, follows a melodic acoustic guitar that is introduced by a sequence of beeping noises that reduce in volume as the guitar is ushered to the forefront. It's akin to a rainy day in the UK, gloomy and melancholic.
Slowthai's storytelling ability feels vulnerable and down to earth, in that it just feels like you're having a conversation with him and he's actually telling you the story. He details a therapy session during the interlude on 'Yum'. 'Never Again' is a tale told in three acts. Using dialogue from an interaction with the parents of his ex in the first verse - "How's thingy doin'?" "Yeah, she's pregnant and she's arguin'", then details his interaction with her after bumping into her - "Yeah, she pushed a pram, like she pushed her men away / And she's always aggravated, same exppression on her face." The final act is gut wrenching as he hears on the news that she's been murdered by her husband - "Two seconds, didn't register, then I felt worried
I hurried to my phone, butterflies in my stomach". It tells the story of a young man who chases his dreams but is haunted by the fact his childhood sweetheart was murdered by the man she moved on with.
Slowthai has always stood out for his lyricism, he's always daring to be different, pointing out the cracks in society and of course is unapologetically British. On 'UGLY' his lyrics are just as well crafted but feel a lot more profound than his previous work. In 'Sooner' he declares "I wanna swim, get drenched, deep Holy Water / Baptized in the blood of my enemies", which emphasises the theme of rebirth. The "People suck dick to climb a pyramid, it makes me sick" lyric is somewhat of a double entendre, in that "sucking dick" can also refer to ass-kissing aswell as using a sexual favour to get ahead. He makes a complex statement on masculinity on 'UGLY' - "TV screens, adverts, and the grown men / Cryin' like infants for no reason / People make mountains out of mud hills / Boys with their toys and flexin' their muscles". He flips a common phrase in 'Wotz Funny' - "Sharpest tool in the shed went blunt" to point out a low life.
The record's hidden features add texture to the sound of the album. Shygirl's subtle backing vocals on 'Feel Good' amplify the breezy feeling on the track. Ethan P. Flynn makes an appearance on 'Sooner' giving it slightly more of an indie twang. Fontaines D.C help to give 'UGLY' more of a raw edge. Oly Carey's soft tone floats in between Slowthai's somber vocals.
Post-punk Slowthai might not be for everybody, but it doesn't deter from how remarkable the record is. Having dipped his toe into these kind of sonics prior to the release of 'UGLY', it was only a matter of time before we got to experience it in all it's glory. To put out a work like this - in how stark the difference is to his previous work, how vulnerable it is and essentially a glimpse of what goes on inside his head - is bravery at it's finest. It makes you sit and think for just under 40 minutes, imploring you to really reflect on various matters in society aswell as yourself. And it's hard to say that the messages within the record would hit you hard enough without the post-punk landscape. It's the aspects of that genre, both production and vocals wise, that truly allow the sentiment of UGLY to be felt.
Review written by Kat Friar