Feel sorry for Oliver Tree. For a crumb of our attention, the 27-year-old artist-turned-“living meme” has bathed in a tub of Flaming Hot Cheetos, “smoked” out of giant joints lit by flamethrower, and hung a wrinkly ball sack on his chin for a music video. On some occasions, he sports a sweatsuit patterned like a ’90s Solo Jazz disposable cup. But most of the time, he dresses in his standard uniform. On his head: red sunglasses and an atrociously ugly bowl cut reminiscent of Vector from Despicable Me. On his body: a pink and purple ’80s windbreaker, socks and sandals, and uber-wide JNCO jeans. His persona is dense and unappetizing, like a Twinkie squashed under hot car cushions for weeks. He might strive for iconoclasm, but his aims are very ordinary: He is the umpteenth artist lobbing outrageousness at crowds to provoke a reaction, to sell us something.
For his gimmicks, Tree has been heralded as the “trickster laureate of pop’s viral era” and cast as a Warholian insider skewering the music industry. Of course, the suits love it. “You can’t win unless you polarize people right now,” proclaims Atlantic A&R rep Jeff Levin, who signed Tree in 2017. In interviews, the artist delivers winning jokes like mispronouncing “COVID” as “Coviod”; he threatens to retire, it seems, every other week. In March, Tree declared that his debut, Ugly Is Beautiful, was officially canceled due to the pandemic, and apologized with the arena-sized “Let Me Down,” on which he howls from the perspective of a fan who’s grown tired of his shit. But he returned in May, when a “mysterious hacker” took over his socials and demanded one million Instagram comments in exchange for the album art and release date. He finally dropped Ugly Is Beautiful last week, and like clockwork, announced that he was quitting music to focus on filmmaking.
To a generation that’s been bludgeoned senseless by the 24-hour news cycle, a dude with a bad haircut in a silly outfit might seem unbelievably dull. Anyone who’s seen two seconds of a Jake Paul vlog will yawn through Tree’s monster trucks and burning cars; nothing this novice troll does can obliterate brain cells like “They COVERED My LAMBORGHINI IN PEANUT BUTTER!! (prank).” Still, for an artist chasing shock and bombast, Oliver Tree’s music is surprisingly tame. Ugly Is Beautiful is an amalgam of genres like alternative rock, hip-hop, and electro-pop, with most of the tracks not straying far from what lands on the Hot Rock & Alternative chart. The catchy electro pop-punk opener, “Me, Myself & I,” recalls early 2010s radio favorite Neon Trees, as does keep-your-head-up jam “Again & Again.” Billie Joe Armstrong’s congested groan haunts songs like “Introspective” and “Jerk.”
Ugly Is Beautiful is bloated at 14 tracks, with several recycled singles in the mix. Tree’s voice—always a little shouty, a little whiny—is riddled with distortion, casting a fuzzed-out sameness…
Read More: Oliver Tree: Ugly Is Beautiful Album Review