slowthai – UGLY

A dark but ultimately cathartic third record...

slowthai has never been one for sticking to the rules. As a kid he worked in Next, before getting sacked for giving his mates the worker discount. The rigours of therapy, then, were always gonna be a tough call. Recognising that he had worked to do, he booked himself into classes – and then booked himself back out again. New album ‘UGLY’ – his third – was built in the aftermath of that doomed bid at self-examination. It’s a record where harsh truths and braggadocio linger side by side, where ruination and success are only a hair’s breadth away from each other. 

Built alongside Speedy Wunderground head honcho Dan Carey, ‘UGLY’ has the feel of a full-band record. If second album ‘Tyron’ was split between different approaches, then ‘UGLY’ is much more emphatic, direct, and secure in its placing. Picking up from his Gorillaz (and Slaves) collaboration ‘Momentary Bliss’, it largely eschews club beats and electronics in favour of a punk attack. It’s brutal, mostly unyielding, and incredibly efficient.

Opener ‘Yum’ is a careering blast of oppressive noise, the temperature rising moment by moment. Designed to chart the inevitable path towards a panic attack, it’s gruesome, unflinching in its honesty. There’s also a macabre sense of humour in there, too – at times on this record, the ugliness is the joke itself.

‘Selfish’ is all jet black electronics and vocal belches, while ‘Sooner’ shifts once more, allowing slowthai to adopt an ebullient, cartoonish swagger. The sonics are perpetually pitches towards the abrasive, the all-out toxic noise on ‘Feel Good’ transforming its title into an ominous, paranoid command. 

It’s not all bleak, though. The old skool beat on ‘Fuck It Puppet’ nods to his past, while the live band feel on ‘Never Again’ works wonderfully – it’s slowthai at his most musical. Indeed, there are also blasts of light amid the corrosive black – ‘HAPPY’ is a rare injection of luminescence.

With guests ranging from Shygirl to Fontaines D.C., and with additional production from the likes of Sega Bodega, ‘UGLY’ isn’t a record that stays in one place for very long. A more trimmed down statement than double LP ‘Tyron’ – or even his helter-skelter debut – that doesn’t make ‘UGLY’ any simpler, or more accessible. If ‘Falling’ drops the pace, and finale ‘Tourniquet’ offers all-out introspection, then the writhing performances on title track ‘UGLY’ illustrate how foreboding this album can be.

A bold attempt to embrace his contradictions, this is a project held together by the brutal strength of slowthai’s performances. Amid all his flaws, fractures, and fissures, his day-glo emerges intact. U Gotta Love Yourself, after all.


Words: Robin Murray

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