It’s not every day that high school students release an album. And it’s even less common for high school students to release a truly fantastic album with a serious wow factor. But that’s precisely what Ugly Bunny have done with their stellar debut, Tokyo
You may recall Ugly Bunny from my very positive review of their singles “Tokyo” and “Compromise & Sacrifice” last September, during which month I also interviewed the duo, which consists of vocalist/keyboardist Gwendolyn Giles and producer/vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Camryn Nichols. I still think those songs are entirely awesome and if they’d released this album last year it would have likely made the top 10 on my Best Albums of 2013 list. To that end, I’m sure it will rank equally high on my list of the best albums for this year.
I have memory issues, so I can’t recall any specifics of what I wrote about “Tokyo” and “Compromise & Sacrifice” or the other two tracks that the duo let me hear prior to their interview. I could have read what I wrote prior to writing this review, but I thought I would review the songs as if I were only now hearing them for the first time instead of rehashing what I wrote last year. That said, I might very well say the same things, so forgive me if I do. Not that any of you will remember what I wrote last year. At least not many of you.
The album begins with the super synthy “Tokyo,” which Camryn sings lead on. “Where I come from, the world’s a different place,” he sings, his distorted voice cutting through massive beats perfectly. The lyrics also mention geishas and “love on a subway train,” but those aren’t the only Japan references. If you listen closely, especially during the break, you’ll notice traditional Asian music sounds giving the song added depth. It’s this attention to detail that makes Ugly Bunny’s music so original and distinctive.
“Compromise & Sacrifice” follows and it immediately hooks you with its mammoth, rapid-fire beats and howling synth, which are even more intense than much of what we now call EDM even though it is ultimately a pop song. A banger of a pop song, but a pop song nevertheless. As the song continues, it delivers layers of enchanting loops and synths, meanwhile the vocals — Gwendolyn sings lead here — are sweet and infectious.
Also noteworthy is “Just Another,” which has a distinct retro vibe, calling to mind ’80’s new wave with its deep, humming synth lines. It’s not hard to picture it playing during a montage where a young Molly Ringwald experiences the silly kind of love only ’80’s movies could deliver. “The Light” has a retro vibe, too, only it’s early ’90’s pop that it’s reminiscent of, its percussion giving off the vibe of many potent Kylie Minogue remixes circa “Better The Devil You Know.” One thing these tracks make abundantly clear: Camryn and Gwen are capable of writing rollickingly catchy songs with melodies so sweet they can put the listener into a sugary pop coma. And even those who detest synth pop would have to admit that this album is free of synth glop. No, this is synth pop triumphalism.
One of the richest songs on the album is the dance ballad “For Good,” the production of which is enough to make the almighty Garbage jealous. “I’ll be gone for good,” Camryn sings over beaucoup loops and keys, the vocals swirling and intoxicating. Listening to this, it’s easy to imagine him owning a full-scale studio and producing other artists in the near future. If they heard this album, I have little doubt that the majors would not only want to sign Ugly Bunny but hook him up with plenty of pop superstars to produce. To that end, I strongly suspect that Britney Spears’ new album would have gotten much, much better reviews — and sales — if he had produced it. Not that he would have been willing to do so.
Remember how “Tokyo” has flourishes of Asian music sounds? “Lotus” is especially interesting because it begins with a traditional Japanese music string part, which soon adds an Asian wood instrument and other Asian music sounds, proving that the duo have an aptitude for such music. As the song continues, we hear more of this, but the tune ultimately proves to be a gem of a dance pop ballad. “I’ll forget about the world if I can just have you tonight,” Camryn sings, sounding vulnerable in a most precious way. I should also mention that “Street Wars” has a bit of an Asian music vibe as well, so the album ultimately has something of a world music flavor as a result of these three songs, which is just another reason to love it. Clearly, the duo draw inspiration from all over and by now it’s obvious that their well of inspiration is boundless.
Camryn and Gwen both sing parts of the emotive lead vocals on the closing track,”Everytime,” which is a fitting ending for the album as it has slightly lighter beats than its other songs and mid-tempo vocals, although, to be sure, the beat is considerably faster and still plenty danceable.
Time and time again throughout the album, Ugly Bunny’s music proves to be deeper than most of their contemporaries in every sense of the word. Their lyrics have a real sense of maturity while their sound easily rivals anything by Dr. Luke or Max Martin, although it tends to be closer to that of the uber-talented Calvin Harris or even the brilliant Greg Kurstin. It’s hard to believe this is only the duo’s first album because it is as rich as anything by their contemporaries who already have several albums under their belts. A must-hear, sophisticated concoction to be sure.
If you haven’t read it already, be sure to check out our interview with Ugly Bunny from late last year: https://loveispop.com/interviews/exclusive-interview-ugly-bunny-electropop-of-the-sweetest-kind/
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