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Uglyhead - The Garden (special edition) [review]
Katarzyna NINa Górnisiewicz | Detailed or mini-review submissions: song, EP/album | Suggest an artist
Uglyhead - The Garden (special edition) |Automation Records, 2012|

01. The Path, 02. Through the gates, 03. Between the leaves, 04. Empty City, 05. Lichen, 06. Nerium, 07.Drosera, 08. Kudzu, 09. Burgeon, 10. Blight

Bonus Disc: 01. Amalgam, 02. Wilting, 03. The Merge, 04. Engorgement, 05. Pulchritudinous, 06. Surfeit

Having over 10 years of musical experience, Uglyhead released their newest album The Garden in very special way. The album comes in a customized locking wooden case laden with an aesthetic mix of dry leaves and a cat skull. The Garden is undoubtedly a conceptual album. The song titles, illustrative plant macro pictures as well as environmental samples mix into the tracks perfectly and speak for this conceptual idea. However, we're not talking about a typical backyard, but rather an abandoned secret garden where dew, fog and wild plants intertwine with mysterious harmony. The garden is also a battleground for wild animals where the strongest or the smartest survive, leaving the bones of their victims deep in the bushes.

The journey begins with a track called "The Path" which leads the listener into the garden. A droning, ambient intro with a bird whistling gives the first mystic impression. The volume rises until it peaks into a regular rhythm. "The Path" emulates iconic gothic melancholy feelings similar to those by Fields of The Nephilim in the 1990's.

Next, we're approaching the garden gate. It's not clear if we're sneaking through a hidden back entrance or slipping through the front one. "Through The Gates" begins with fuzzy drone sounds, an effect used to visualize something either shining or pulsating, like a classic science-fiction force field blocking entry into a meaningful place. The synth melodies, gothic bass lines as well as drums build a structure that is spiced up with Jake's voice. These initially easy-listening arrangements take a turn into a noisy rock experience that becomes surrounded by far more brooding moods thanks to the guitars and irregular drum beats. The tempo slows down at a certain point and falls into a heaviness that is reminiscent of stylings and textures similar to the music of Godflesh.

Suddenly, it appears as though we've been knocked down, laying in a dizzy frame of mind on wet grass. As we crawl, "Between The Leaves" becomes an even more clamorous undergoing. Industrial samples joined by low tuned bass tracks repeat until distorted vocals come in. At first, this song leaves the listener with a rather murky feeling that turns into melancholy until a dense atmosphere attenuates the mood at a certain point.

Abandon all hope though, we're now entering "Empty City". Instrumentations of distorted harmonies open this composition along with the sound of creek water flowing somewhere in the background. Brooding drums accompanied by synths create yet another gothic vibe enriched with short, although not pushy industrial samples. The mood changes in the middle of the track. All of the noise descends into a clean mix and only a simple structure based on a monotone bass line combined with electronica lead into a silent ending.

"Lichen" is a plant you may see almost everywhere around the world, however it is one of the ugliest species. They are usually hidden in dark, moist places as they are quite common in cemeteries as well as ruins. The song avails subtle progressive moods thanks to a Hammond-esque synth track, but it still stays in a low end tuning that is as noisy as the rest of music we've heard to this point. The track is occasionally broken with environmental sounds such as the chirping of the birds or the buzzing of bees. The moods vary throughout the song, though the ending sounds aggressive due to screaming and distorted vocals.
"Nerium" is expressed by a yawping fusion of vocals, drums, guitars and bass, but no static rhythm is implemented. The song leaves no time for reflection. On the other hand, "Drosera" (which is a continuation of "Nerium") brings with it compositional aspects usually associated with more electronic and experimental tunes. The ending of the song sounds very psychedelic, so it may make your head spin.

We're still in the world of plants. "Kudzu" is native to China and Japan and belongs to a list of 50 fundamental herbs. The song starts suspiciously simple, but turns into a very complex composition with a variety of arrangements and moods. You can hear synths and bass as well as a violin which gives the song an organic feel.

Listening to the beginning of "Burgeon" feels like watching a film of buds opening in slow motion. This in fact may be the perfect way to visualize the song. Later, more gothic and darkwave vibes are expressed utilizing bass, vocals, synth and effects. When "Blight" begins, you can almost hear the sound of bacteria eating leaf tissue while it turns the entire plant from a sparkling beauty into a brown worthless nothing. This is possibly a song about death since ending and sorrow are usually linked to these modal counterpoints. A slow rhythm, pleasant guitar riffs and melancholic moods may make your heart feel broken as if you miss this album even though the music is still playing. This is the longest track on The Garden (over 11 minutes), so you can enjoy it as much as possible. 8-bit music effects provide a proper finish to "Blight", which kind of digitizes the idyllic picture painted before the listener.

This disc set comes with an instrumental bonus album that contains 6 ambient and experimental, although non-distracting tracks. Transcendental moods will surround you as soon as you play the first track "Amalgam" and finish with "Surfeit" which represents dark ambient style of music the best. I personally enjoyed this one the most for its pulsating and thrilling outer-space feel. All of these songs seem to speak about an element of process (of destruction, creation, lasting and meaningful change) or they may refer to alchemy (nigredo, albedo, rubedo meaning blackness, whiteness and redness). Both of these interpretations are very much linked to philosophy and the enlightened understanding of the nature of things on a metaphysical level. These tracks can easy illustrate a lot of independent one-reel movies. However, they may fit black & white or sepia-toned productions a lot better.

The Garden was released in two versions. 1 CD version is available in most on-line stores, but a customized limited edition CD with all kinds of not very casual goodies can be purchased only through Uglyhead's official store. It's a medium sized wooden chest (like a treasure chest, dug out from an underground secret location) with a small lock and a branded, burnt band stamp on the top. A set of 2 CDs are locked in a metal case and buried in a pile of dried leaves of fern, moss and flowers, but you will also find real animal bones (cat's skull, jaw). The set is packed into custom shipping boxes. Now, we're talking about real art.

Uglyhead was founded by Jake Alejo (vocals, synths, guitar) who is currently residing in San Francisco. There were many other musicians who participated in the band during live shows, tours and recording. The Garden is supported by Jenson Charnell (guitar), Patrick Christopher Huerta (drums), Nick Katich (bass, guitar), Jeremiah Smith (noise, sampling) and Taylor Izak (violin).

Uglyhead's bright future lies in visualizing top level ambitious art-related movies, theater or outdoor performances (think of The Burning Man event) and conceptual multimedia works (i.e. specific ambient backgrounds for media related to museums, movie and video game websites). Alejo is highly skilled in seeing artistry in pictures, illustrating them and philosophizing about them with the use of sounds. If your imagination is creative enough to see such pictures and your ears prefer gloomy, yet experimental moods over an easy-listening mash-up to understand the darkness better, you'll be extremely pleased when you buy The Garden.

(Katarzyna 'NINa' Górnisiewicz, Fabryka Magazine, September 4th, 2012. Proofreading: Scott M. Owens)

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Buy on: This Special Edition CD is available only at Uglyhead Store
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Buy this music on CDBaby.com

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