Perfect Sound Forever

The Ugly Club

Photo by David Worthington

by Lee P. Doptera
(October 2016)

A bit of history. The Ugly Club is an unassuming five-piece band from Brooklyn, a city that consistently produces stellar bands. A bit of fortune telling. The Ugly Club is your new favorite band. They are: Ryan Egan (lead vocals), Taylor Mandel (vocals, keyboard, and trumpet), Joseph Stasio (guitar), Ryan McNulty (drums), and Rick Sue-Poi (bass).

When I first came across them, I randomly selected "Step to Me" from their 2009 album Sing What You Want. You may not be familiar with it right this moment, but it's the one that you'll be playing obsessively for the rest of the week before you can even think about exploring their other albums. The good news is that it only gets better.

"Step to Me" begins without hesitation or prelude. The horns grow from glacier blue to rust orange while the drums begin a measured sprint then vault into the '60's nightclub swank that follows. The bass murmurs in smirking self-assuredness to a deceptively laid-back tempo. Mr. Egan sings a melody that tastes like a campfire while you reflexively chew your lips. His voice then brightens from the campfire coals to the curl of sandalwood smoke with the same heady sweetness. The guitar adds a spicy punctuation at the end of each line and a leering minor modulation that counters the desperate plea of the lyrics. I moaned at 1 minute and 53 seconds to the amusement of the other passengers on the light rail. I attempted to compose myself at that point but then the song made the unsportsmanlike decision to drive the point home with a will-crumbling trumpet solo. The drums are cayenne and molten lead, spicy and burning. Everything about the song works. It is jaw-dropping how good it is. Songs like this make me want to shake strangers by their shoulders and ask them why we are not listening to it on every station.

Ryan Egan works harder than anyone I know and for the life of me I can't understand why. Why does he have to do so much to be heard above the roar when his music is so stunningly good? We only have ourselves to blame. Free music is an expectation these days. When we can download a few files for next to nothing, it seems outrageous that anyone would ask so much money in return for a record or a concert ticket. We justify piracy by saying "most of that money doesn't even go to the musicians" and this attitude dooms struggling musicians to quiet poverty with the click of a mouse. I shared my righteous indignation with Mr. Egan some time ago and his calm and courteous reply rather put me in my place.

The Ugly Club is one of those rare bands that really is in it for the music. They put their videos and their music out there for anyone to just have. For free. No strings. They don't have any seething anger when it comes to Spotify or record companies, they have no harsh words for people who stride past the merch tables without a glance. They just want to make music that people like. This was not the article I had in mind when I contacted him. So I tried a different approach. I just listened.

Having listened to their older stuff with a repetition bordering on Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, I decided it was time to move on to something newer. Their newest single, "Cocoon," came out November 2015. The sound is different from their older stuff, less raw, cleaner. There is a sweetness and a lushness to it that shows how long they have been working at this together. The harmonies are perfection, the instruments find the sweet spot and balance perfectly then take over for the second half of the song. Yes, the entire second half of the song is purely instrumental and it works, unlike the long self-indulgent jams Phish interjects into their performances. Oh, I'll get flak for that one.

Working forward through their music, you can hear a progression towards this smoother sound. Something in there is pure Ugly Club but it's like seeing a friend from high school suddenly wearing a suit while he goes to his job at the bank. It's still him, he still tells cringe-worthy jokes, but now he tells them in a quiet aside because he's polished and adult. I would mourn the boys that howled for me to step to them, but I don't have it in me to turn on them because the new music is just too good for me to muster up any resentment. I tried. I wanted to be a "their first album was better" snob, but listening to "Passengers," "Cocoon" and "The Lonely," the fact is that they have talent and staying power and the wherewithal to explore their growth rather than to repeat themselves. So I will keep "Let's Sleep Around," "The Limbo of Sasha Ipei" and "Step to Me" on my driving playlist but the newer songs will keep them company.

Also see Ugly Club on Bandcamp and Facebook

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