Malachai: Return To the Ugly Side

Return To the Ugly Side
(Domino Recording Co.)

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They say a sophomore album can make or break an artist. Thankfully Malachai’s Return To the Ugly Side presents no such slump.

The title itself reflects a continuance from the first album, Ugly Side of Love, a wonderfully eclectic debut. But while musicians Gee and Scott still maintain their whimsical edge, Return to the Ugly Side is definitely more restrained and refined, with Gee’s vocals in particular. While on the first album we hear the front-man refreshingly rant and rave, here he seems to have cut all the jagged edges off his sound, resulting in a more melodious, polished and cohesive album, but perhaps sacrificing the integrity of individual songs.

This 14-track effort features three instrumental tracks, beginning with album-opener “Monsters,” a swirling, ambient yet symphonic piece that sounds like it belongs on a film score. Luckily we experience this sample again on track eight, “Monster,” this time with support from Gee’s vocals.

In “Mid Antarctica (Wearin’ Sandals)” we witness both the bark and the bite through Gee’s taunting vocals and a pulsating guitar, amidst bits of electronica. “Rainbows,” featuring Katy Wainwright, is a dreamboat song with a beat–exactly what you’d want from a track of that title.  “The Don’t Just” spins a tale of peace and love amidst negative conjunctions, while the first released track, “Let ‘Em Fall,” will definitely be a fan favorite (Check out the video here).

“How You Write,” perhaps my favorite track, seems to question the artistic process when one is in a negative or positive state of mind. Namely, does one create better work when one is in a better mood? Or better yet, as creation is expression of the mind, if one’s mind was truly clear, would one even have the urge to create anything at all?

Return To the Ugly Side definitely has a somewhat ominous, apocalyptic undercurrent running through even its most euphonious songs, but perhaps that was the point. Maybe this album represents the pressure in a soda bottle before it explodes, hopefully meaning that we’ll be experiencing more of the “ugly side” frontier in the future.  Overall, the Bristol duo has still maintained their charm, pushing boundaries by defying genres.

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