slowthai Gets UGLY on his Latest Album — WECB

Self love is a struggle. It’s a Sisyphusian, tear-streaked march up an ever-higher hill to a destination you’re not quite sure you’ll ever reach. At any one time, each and every one of us is neck deep in this filth, doing whatever it takes to try to find a foothold to escape. For British rapper slowthai, this dregs of self-loathing is a source of artistic inspiration and the whole concept behind his latest album. UGLY (You gotta love yourself).

Since 2018, Slowthai has been steadily making waves in almost every alternative subgenre imaginable. He’s a rapper first and his early releases definitely fit UK Grime, albeit his own brand. However, in just 5 short years, Slowthai has completely shattered the rap categorization, flirting with rock, punk, electro, hyperpop and even hardcore, along with a host of notable collaborators. his debut album, Nothing great about Britain (2019) was a critical success and its gritty live shows quickly gained a reputation for ruffling feathers. (while on tour in 2019 he often brandished a severed dummy head of then Prime Minister Boris Johnson) 2021 TYRON was an incisive sequel that propelled him to international stardom and only further cemented his beloved status as one of modern music’s most original voices. So where the hell do you go from there?

Lucky for us, it is UGLY. Slowthai’s latest work is by far the furthest he has strayed from his grime roots and instead focuses on punk. But fear not, this isn’t a Machine Gun Kelly situation; This album is punk, not only in its sound but also in its filthy self-loathing beings. Produced almost entirely by Dan Carey – known for his collaborations with bands like Fontaines DC and Black Midi – the influences on this album are far-reaching. There’s a touch of house, post-rock, shoegaze, post-punk and pretty much every other RateYourMusic staple that has defined the angsty boys’ playlists for the last 5 years. Somehow, however, all of that weirdness is carefully brewed into an incisive, cathartic experience that may be Slowthai’s finest work to date. At the very least, it’s certainly his most vulnerable, and as the album comes to a close you’d have to be partially cybernetic not to have felt it something.

Already in the first seconds of the opener “Yum”, UGLY sounds completely different than anything in Slowthai’s previous catalogue. A pounding bass line centers the song around a surging dance rhythm that quickly turns into scattered drums and screeching synth walls. Slowthai’s vocals are impossible to pin down, and he rambles through spoken word frustrations in therapy sessions before veering into a graphic, lyrical portrayal of drug-addicted sex binges. This entire track is an exercise in excess and, much like its lyrical content, deals only with extremes. There is nothing glamorous about these depictions of sex and drugs; It’s an ugly, ugly experience you just can’t turn your back on, and the unbridled rawness is truly beautiful to behold. As Slowthai sings the song’s chorus towards the end of the track, “Excuse me while I self-destruct/’Cause I don’t give a fuck,” it’s clear this isn’t going to be an album that packs any punches whatsoever.

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And pulls punches it doesn’t. Lead single “Selfish” is a brooding, slow build that hums a dizzying melody amid mountains of distortion. Slowthai’s vocals are ragged and tend to spiral into screams, and his lyrics are painful condemnations of materialism and groupthink. His vocals morph into a strained hum on the song’s bridge, where a muted chorus accompanies the words “And we got what we deserved/Somehow we never learn.” It all comes together in a cathartic cacophony of screeching guitars and buzzing synth lines that bury Slowthai’s muttered repetition of the phrase “I only think for myself.”

With the tracks “Sooner” and “Feel Good” the track list takes a much more pleasant left turn. Well, pleasant might be the wrong word for it, both songs are still crammed with lyrics hinting at declining mental health and a heavy reliance on substances to get through the day… but they sound kind of happy! ‘Sooner’ features an uncredited performance by London indie artist Ethan P. Flynn – who also helped produce – and its lilting chorus is a glorious singalong that makes for one of the most rousing jams on the album. The single “Feel Good” is a deliciously short bop that has a cheery Slowthai grinning through the pain and repeating the mantra of “I feel so good” ad nauseam, along with an addictive bassline that absolutely oozes energy. The track also features some uncredited backing vocals from Shygirl, and if you’re unfamiliar with her music, click out of this review and familiarize yourself with it before you read another word.

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“Never Again” is a melancholy track where slowthai tells the story of reconnecting with a lost lover. His hushed spoken word paired with soothing guitars and clanging drums is heartbreakingly poignant, and as the story comes to its tragic conclusion (no spoilers here), his agony is palpable. While “Never Again” is an exercise in understated melancholy, “Falling” is a full blast of shoegaze maximalism, building into one of the project’s most emotional high points, where Slowthai screams his heart out amidst a sea of ​​distorted guitar and wailing synths. It’s not all repressed doom and gloom though, ‘Fuck It Puppet’ is a borderline horrorcore interlude where Slowthai trades bars with his nagging conscience, ending in the two falling out and going their separate ways. There’s also “HAPPY,” (my personal favorite), a timid homage to post-punk that sounds like you’re strutting down the street in your stomping boots.

The procedure ends with “Tourniquet” and “25% Club”. The former is a meandering rhythm that features some of the only pianos on the entire project, and it gradually builds into another visceral performance of Slowthai that seems like he’s screaming his lungs out. The track de-crescends with a beautiful string arrangement that flows beautifully into “25% Club”. This final track is a stripped back lo-fi recording built around a guitar line that I think sounds like Adrianne Lenker’s “Terminal Paradise”. It’s a beautiful conclusion to the album and feels like a refreshingly relaxed lament compared to the frenetic madness that defined the first half of the record.

If you’re just a fan of slowthai’s rap career, you might be disappointed in this album. It’s a drastic departure from everything hip-hop related, and sonically it’s quite a challenging web of harsh noise and experimentation. However, for more open-minded fans, UGLY is an absolute gem of an album and marks a glorious development for one of modern music’s most interesting figures. UGLY lives up to its name; It’s a robust mix of guts and buckets that sounds like the musical equivalent of a man going insane. But in the end there is a catharsis in this project that years of therapy could only hope for. While self-love is one of the most grueling practices one can endure, wallowing in the dirt with Slowthai for an odd 40 minutes is one of the best musical experiences I’ve had in a long time, and I can’t wait to dive back in in again.

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