I tend to reserve this space for albums that I remember fondly from a bygone era, but there is a lot of worthy new music around these days, and once in awhile, I like to feature a promising young band. That brings me to a band from Oklahoma City called the Uglysuit.
The annual South By Southwest music festival in Austin played host to about 1,900 bands last year. That doesn’t include all the bands that descend on Austin during the festival for unofficial shows, in nearly equivalent numbers. There is a lot of music vying for the attention of anyone who attends. You certainly can’t get to it all. You have to set your own criteria, and create a schedule for yourself. Said schedule usually goes out the window a few hours into the first day. So how do you decide who to see? I went for bands that made albums that I liked, but that I’d never seen live. Then I added bands that I’d read positive things about, but had never heard or seen live. Finally, I relied on advice from people whose musical taste I respect.
It was that last one that brought me to a midday set by the Uglysuit at the Austin Convention Center at last year’s SXSW. It was kind of a strange venue, not very band-friendly. Every band got 20 minutes, one band after another all day long. People were coming and going during each set. A lot of people were just there to rest their feet. After awhile, it was just a blur of bands, making it hard for any one to stand out. But one did. The Uglysuit had obviously been paying attention in rock school. They chose their influences carefully, including strains of Pink Floyd, Wilco, Radiohead, and their Oklahoma City homeboys Flaming Lips, in their set. To call the performance intense would be an understating it. Crescendos, and there were a lot of them, would find the band head banging in unison, their long hair flying through the air. If it wasn’t so clearly heartfelt, it would have been cliche. I had never been so blissfully exhausted by a 20-minute set.
Remember what I said about throwing the schedule away? Sets like the one I saw that afternoon are one of the reasons for that. I had the whole day carefully booked, but when the Uglysuit let me know that they were playing again that night, in a Mexican restaurant of all places, I knew that I had to be there, schedule be damned. The venue that night was kinder to a rock and roll band. They had more time to stretch out, and they did. If anything, their set was more explosive than what I’d seen during the day. I noticed at both shows that I wasn’t the only one who was blown away by this band’s live performance. I’ve been to see them several times since, in New York City, and in New Jersey, and they’re winning new fans with every set they play, and making me look good for raving about them to friends.
The members of the Uglysuit, ages 20-23, have been playing together since they were in their early teens. They released their self-titled debut album on Chicago’s Quarterstick Records in 2008. I’m not going to try to tell you that the band managed to capture the fury of their live set in these grooves. That would be nearly impossible. What they have done is allow listeners to catch the more subtle aspects of what they do, which aren’t always obvious in the clubs, due to the vagaries of sound systems and acoustics. You get to hear the delicate swirl of electric piano and guitars on the opening “Brownblues Passing,” a song that clocks in at 4:26 on the album, and stretched to over 12 minutes when I saw the band play it in Asbury Park last week. The album’s most traditionally constructed song, “Chicago,” could serve as a tribute to Wilco, who are based in that city. “… And We Became Sunshine” makes great use of audio dynamics as it alternates between pulsing anthem and delicate meditation, and the complex “Happy Yellow Rainbow” builds to one of those epic crescendos that I mentioned earlier.
The Uglysuit is at work on a new album for release this year, and having heard some of the new material, I can tell you that my expectations are very high. In the meantime, you can buy the vinyl from the band’s website, purchase a CD from Amazon, or download it from iTunes or the other usual suspects. While you’re at the band’s website, check out those tour dates. If they’re coming to your area, and eventually they will, make it a point to get out to see them live.