“The Ugly Art” is the fourth album by digital hardcore duo Machine Girl. It’s loud, lo-fi, aggressive, fuzzy, futuristic, disorienting, and, as the title suggests, often ugly.
What I just described may sound horrible to a lot of you, but “The Ugly Art” far surpasses the sum of its abrasive and off-putting parts.
Perfectly reflected in the album’s cover art, the sounds on this record contribute to an aggressive, post-human collage, ready to attack at a moment’s notice.
Usually relying on electronic drum machines, this is the first time Machine Girl has implemented live drums into their recorded music. Right from the first track, “This Is Your Face On Dogs,” we get blown-out snares and distant cymbals followed by a blast of synths as vocalist/producer Matthew Stephenson shouts, “Not your dog / Won’t play dead / F**k the hand / Aim for the neck.”
If Machine Girl has mastered one thing, it’s the breakdown. A majority of the songs on this record feature moments in which practically all instrumentation stops to highlight one aspect of the track which is then built upon for the remainder of the song.
There are so many little details layered into each track. Something new will stand out with each repeat listen. After playing this album for the better part of October, I’m still finding new things to appreciate.
In order to break up the otherwise unrelenting pace of the record, there are a handful of sections and full tracks that are more mellow. The opening of “Kill Screen” offers a short respite after the previous glitchy track, “A Song Called Clive Barker.”
“First Five Years of Life” combines both to create an interlude that’s both serene and glitchy. The instrumental “Loop Version” wouldn’t sound out of place on a JRPG soundtrack. Finally, there’s the atmospheric and penultimate “Where Were You,” which leads into the album’s closer, “A Decent Man.”
The crown jewel of “The Ugly Art” is “Status,” which opens with a blistering gabber beat over which Stephenson delivers the best vocal melody on the album – “Status / What’s your condition / Manic / I’m picking blisters / Static / Cut off transmission / I’ve had it / This rip will take me off the planet.”
Later, a set of synthetic horns is introduced to the chorus and leads to yet another infectious breakdown followed by the track’s second movement. From here, the synths and drums build in intensity before they all fade into nothingness and a sinister bassline builds back up as Stephenson repeats the mantra, “Make your father proud / Get that face tattoo,” as a vocoder effect builds to make him sound less and less human.
At first glance, the noises, samples, and vocal styles on this record are just what it says on the tin – “Ugly.” But the way Machine Girl allows these aspects to interact is the genius of the record.
I’ll admit – the first time I listened to “The Ugly Art,” I wasn’t all that impressed. I didn’t hear much past the chaos. But with every repeat listen, I love it more and more.
The hardcore duo delivers one of the most creative and abrasive electronic albums of recent memory.