Brothers Erik Paulson and Stephen Paulson were onto something when they released Remo Drive’s debut LP, Greatest Hits. The anthemic emo record, which includes the iconic “Yer Killin’ Me,” has a sense of vitality to it, breathing life into everything that’s good in music. After a sophomore LP that shifted away from its emo roots into more alternative rock and mostly falling flat, Remo Drive finds itself repeating those same mistakes, delivering a forgettable album where it’s somewhat difficult to distinguish between tracks.
The Minnesota-based Remo Drive, with its name taken from the drum brand Remo, released a handful of EPs before Greatest Hits. It took early inspiration from Pup and the Kinsella brothers of Cap’n Jazz before declaring itself an off-brand Vampire Weekend with Natural, Everyday Degradation. Now, as Remo Drive gradually fleshes out the kinks with A Portrait of an Ugly Man, it can’t necessarily be compared, and that’s not always a good thing.
It’s hard to ask any artist to replicate “the old stuff.” Musical evolution includes experimenting, straying away from what you’re comfortable with and honing your creative expression. Bands can’t stay the same forever, but that doesn’t mean releasing two subpar albums consecutively won’t come with repercussions. There is so much potential, but tracks like “True Romance Lives” offer nothing but decent, brief instrumentals and straight-up odd lyrics. “The Ugly Man Sings” is sonically pleasing but too flowery. Erik’s vocal tone is fantastic on “A Flower and a Weed,” but that’s about it. The old Remo Drive most likely won’t be back, so you’ll just have to take the brief moments of hope you get.
Here are the best three tracks from A Portrait of an Ugly Man:
3. “Ode to Joy 2”
“Ode to Joy 2” explores what it’s like to take in your surroundings while intoxicated. Backed by infectious drums from Sam Becht and a riveting guitar line, Erik eloquently breaks down the side effects: “Oh, what fun it is laughing at nothing … Your lips will smack until they bruise / Your appetite will be profuse / Your tongue will clean your dishes, too / And when your makeout session ends, the next one will quickly begin.” That bass from Stephen is like musical ecstasy.
2. “Star Worship”
This was released as the lead single for a reason. Whether it’s the pulsating guitar line, blissful bass line or thought-provoking lyrics, “Star Worship” has something for everyone. Erik finds himself wanting to be anyone else, bluntly admitting, “Often, I’m naked posing in the mirror, trying to look unlike myself.” He looks to his heroes to transform into someone he’s proud of and, if given the chance, will become so much like them that it’ll lead to a full circle moment: “I’m a child standing in your shoes / I’m imitating all your moves / And should you look away, I’d steal your everything and try to sell it back to you.”
1. “Easy as That”
If the opening line of “For someone with more connections and most books bound in leather, I found it pretty easy to amend one of my chapters,” doesn’t get you, something else on “Easy as That” surely will. Erik is undergoing self-deception, finding it’s the easiest way to get through life instead of accepting the hard truth. The lyrics are immensely relatable, whether people want to admit it or not: “And if this lying has a consequence, I’m sure I could say something that could change its end / ‘I didn’t know it; I’m so sorry’ is a personal favorite that I really love to use.” The last minute is a soothing, reflective guitar solo that alone is the album’s best feature. “Easy as That” is poetic genius, and it’s the best on A Portrait of an Ugly Man.