Those of you who are familiar with the Uglysuit probably know them from “Chicago,” the first single from their self-titled debut album, a song that music blogs and record store mailing lists have done a good job of plugging. “Chicago” is a somewhat charming, if overly inoffensive, four-minute pop song composed around a memorable lead guitar and organ riff. Lead vocalist Israel Hindman – singing mostly about daydreaming about Chicago, I think – has an adaptable voice that sounds weary when he’s singing about horrid winter weather in the upper Midwest but displays a lot of range during the song’s final chorus.
As a first single, however, “Chicago” does not set a pattern for the rest of The Uglysuit. The band runs six deep – in addition to Hindman there’s also Kyle Mayfield, Jonathan Martin, Matt Harrison, and Crosby and Colin Bray – and they have a fondness for long, dramatic songs. I wouldn’t say that they’re jamming, since the instrumental portions seem a little too tightly structured for that, although the new age titles of the songs, like“…And We Became Sunshine” and “Happy Yellow Rainbow,” might lead you to the opposite conclusion. The primary instrument on The Uglysuit, just like on the first single, is the lead guitar (indeed, each member is credited as a guitar player on the record) and most songs come from alternating guitar leads, with breaks for piano and organ.
The net result of The Uglysuit’s formula sounds something like an imagined pairing of Bedhead and Phish. It’s all right as far as it goes: Listen to one of the longer songs, such as “Everyone Now Has a Smile” and “…And We Became Sunshine,” both of which run over seven minutes long, and there are bound to be at least a few striking passages. But the record can also seem formless. There’s some tension between the three shorter pop songs that begin The Uglysuit and the longer songs that make up the bulk of the record. Perhaps this is because it’s a debut album, probably containing material written over a long period of time, or perhaps it’s just a result of the band’s freewheeling creative process. They might get together and write a four-minute radio-ready pop song, or a seven-minute epic, or something unclassifiable, like the carnivalesque “Anthem of the Arctic Birds.”
I suspect that it’s all by design, and that an album full of songs like “Chicago” is not automatically forthcoming. It’ll be interesting to see how that sits with the bloggers.