Music Reviews
A Portrait of an Ugly Man

Remo Drive A Portrait of an Ugly Man

(Epitaph) Buy it from Insound Rating - 5/10

When last year’s Natural, Everyday Degradation came out, it seemed like all of the momentum that Remo Drive had built up shattered in an instant. Lead singer Erik Paulson characterized the band’s sophomore effort as an attempt to separate themselves from the “kind of party emo thing right now,” but when you entirely drop the sound that made your band successful, it doesn’t always help you maintain that core audience. Still, the 2019 release was genuinely good. With funny storytelling and solid instrumentation, the big change was a production which seemingly sucked the life out of every great song on the album. Even if moments like The Grind stood out, the band lost their groove and needed to find their way back. So, what would happen if the band doubled down on lifeless music and added some bitterness into their lyrics?

Well, we’d be stuck with A Portrait of an Ugly Man, the band’s third and most frustrating project so far. It’s now been two years since drummer Sam Mathys left the group, and it appears that any semblance of excitement in their music left with him. This album’s got plodding drum work, tasteless guitar work, and some of Paulson’s worst lyrics ever, but it’s also an interesting album.  It’s not too surprising that there’s a song with a terrible hook here that wails “I’m already dead man,” but, surprisingly, it's underlined by boring mid-tempo indie instrumentation. Stuttering drums and bleeding guitar work sucks the energy out of Dead Man, but it does the same damage on nearly every song here. 

As Paulson attempts to distance himself from the snotty, clever lyrics that defined Remo Drive’s breakthrough album, Greatest Hits, he suffers from a clinical case of pathetic, intellectual posturing. Gone are the funny lines about having a conversation with God while in line to buy condoms from 2019’s Two Bux, or the exaggerated annoyance of their breakout single Yer Killin’ Me. What’s left is awkward lines like “I often ponder how to send you back into your mother” on the insufferable The Ugly Man Sings, or head-scratchingly whiny sentiments like “Darling, if you want to get me in the mood for loving, you’ll have to stop the world from turning as it does" on True Romance Lives. Their breakout single actually gets referenced on The Night I Kidnapped Remo Drive, a song about an obsessive fan kidnapping Erik Paulson because he pivoted to boring indie rock. Jesus, Erik, you’re killing me.

The Night I Kidnapped Remo Drive is better than it seems on paper, primary because it’s one of the few moments where Paulson’s bitter side pops up. When Paulson writes lines about lying to himself and everyone he loves (Easy as That), the meaninglessness of his social interactions (Ode to Joy 2; great title), or feeling cheated by audiences and bands similar to his own (Star Worship), the lyricism can be compelling. Take the aforementioned Easy as That, which is easily the best song here—even if its frustrated, angry lines don't lean into the album's ugly instincts enough. Paulson could create a compelling album with these themes, but he leans into loser poetry and boring indie rock shlock too much to make it interesting. Still, it’ll be hard to forget about the line “If all the goes up must come down, how long do I have before I hit the ground?” Based on the few great moments here, I hope he’s got more time than he thinks.