CD Review: The Ugly Club’s “Visions of Tall Girl”

Nothing ugly about “Visions of Tall Girl”

Kyle Nemick photo

It’s usually pretty hard to judge a band on just four songs. Union County-based rock band The Ugly Club, however, has managed to present a quartet of tracks that make a strong statement about themselves and their music on their recently released EP, “Visions of Tall Girl.”

The album’s opening track “Visions Part I” – which, along with “Visions Part II,” was inspired by a painting in vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Ryan Egan’s room – opens with a slow guitar riff that mimics an old vaudeville organ tune which flows right into a more contemporary section. This new musical phrase retains the riff but keeps it from getting too circus-y. Overall, the first minute or so sounds a lot like 90’s alternative rock (like Travis, maybe?).

At 1:34, the band brings in a little variation just in time to prevent the whole tune from sounding like some boring mall performance. The song gains intensity as it gets more emotional – especially with a soulful guitar solo at 2:02. At this point, it’s clear that this song is something that was written from someone’s heart. The quiet emotion in Egan’s voice, along with the smart dynamics of the piece, make “Visions Part I” a good candidate for inclusion in a movie or TV soundtrack. Overall, this is a pretty good song, but I can’t say I’m too crazy about the ending. The song closes with a group singing “La, la, la,” to the tune of the chorus. It isn’t overdone and works pretty well, but probably would’ve worked better earlier in the track with a repetition of the actual chorus closing the song instead.

The cover of "Visions of Tall Girl"

Next is “Parks,” my favorite of the album. It’s refreshing and calm at the beginning and sounds very, very college-radio – which in this case, is a great thing. The band once again shows its talent for including different – but related – moods and dynamics in their songs. This song’s light, airy beginning gradually builds, dropping hints that something epic is coming up. At 1:27, hard rock guitar comes in, injecting the track with energy and a grinding yet melodic rhythm that reminded me a bit of Razorlight. The song as a whole is more intense than its beginning might suggest, but is quite cohesive and still likely to please the audience that its intro draws in.

Here it becomes clear that the band, which produced the album themselves in Union, N.J., really knows how to piece different musical ideas together. If you listen carefully, the second minute of “Parks” – while much wilder than the beginning – draws from themes and motifs introduced from the start. Overall, it’s a really enjoyable song.

The opening section of the next song, “Visions Part II” is really exciting, high-energy and attractive. At 1:05, the song suddenly gets slower, smoother and calmer. Here, a little brass and a jazz rhythm shows the band’s 60’s soul and hip-hop influences. It bridges the beginning and another rock section that takes back the song at 1:55 but doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Your mind sort of just accepts it – it sort of says, “WE ARE JUST CHILLING FOR A BIT. WE’LL ROCK OUT LATER, DON’T WORRY.” Throughout the song, the understated passion in Egan’s voice works really well, especially while surfing through the rock-jazz-rock transitions of “Visions Part II.” Also, it’s always great to hear guitar being used really well to create strong rhythms as it is here.

The EP closes with “Hope We Survive,” a very bohemian, tambourine-tapping, egg-shaker-shaking, exotic-sounding-drums-drumming tune complete with a group singing “Oh, oh, oh” in unison – a really non-Western motif reminiscent of Anathallo’s “Floating World,” a concept album that drew heavily on Japanese influences.

I have mixed feelings about this song. It’s not a bad song at all, and is a nice way to end the EP. An after-dinner mint, almost. On the other hand, this is the kind of song a lot of young people would say they really like because they think it makes them really different. Also, I’m not sure it’s the best way to end the EP – but only because I have a feeling they could’ve come up with something better. Overall, however, the 1:42 song is relaxing, peaceful and works well as an outro.

Overall, I’m not sure this EP gives us a complete picture of The Ugly Club or who they could be, but it does show that they have respectable musical range and really know how to string different ideas together. Their sound also meshes really well with their influences. The Ugly Club knows how to tip their hat at a certain band, song or genre without being super obvious, acting obnoxious or losing a sense of who they really are.

If “Visions of Tall Girl” isn’t enough to impress you or make you an official fan of The Ugly Club, it’ll definitely get you interested in what they have in store for us next.

Watch video of The Ugly Club’s May 2011 performance of “Visions Part II” at Maxwell’s in Hoboken.

Summer Dawn Hortillosa: So, who are you guys? Where are from and who plays what?
Ryan Egan: We are from various central NJ towns but basically operate out of Union County. The lineup goes: Ryan Egan – Vocals, Guitar; Joe Stasio – Guitar, Vocals; Taylor Mandel – Keyboard, Trumpet, Vocals; Ryan McNulty – Drums; Rick Sue-Poi – Bass.

SH: What makes you different from other artists?
RE: I suppose just how wide our musical taste and styles range individually is what makes our band original. And really just putting in the extra effort it takes to really accomplish things as a band sets us apart from the lazier bunch I guess, haha.

SH: Who are some of your influences?
RE: We definitely pull influence from tons of stuff like 60’s soul music and hip-hop and rock yet despite our individual influences we understand what the Ugly Club sound is at this point and have a fairly strong grip on how to arrange our music based on that concept.

SH: How is this new album different from your previous work?
RE: This album right off the bat is different because our lineup has changed. We started out with a much more classic sound with more horn arrangements and now we’ve embraced a much more modern, original sound. We tend to be referred to as psych rock or indie rock.

SH: Is there something particular that inspired this album? Does it have a theme?
RE: This EP actually is partially themed. I wrote the two-part “Visions of Tall Girl” songs based on a painting in my room and ended up titling the record after that. The other two songs are basically unrelated in theme but are just representative of what was going on in my life at the time.

SH: Did you change or grow as you wrote, recorded and produced this album? How?
RE: I guess that’s just inevitable but specifically because we engineered and produced it ourselves it was a learning process from the beginning and we really learned how to get the sound we were going for which was the best experience.

SH: So what is the next step for you guys?
RE: FULL LENGTH RECORD! Can’t wait. But until then we’re just pushing this EP hard, playing shows, and writing.

About Summer Dawn Hortillosa

Summer Dawn Hortillosa is a journalist specializing in arts and entertainment. Among other things, she is also an award-winning playwright, director, singer-songwriter and actress. Her work has been seen in The Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal and other publications.
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