Oliver Sim has by no means been recognized for his vocal vary. Expressionless, and clad in all-black, the xx vocalist swapped soft-spoken, deadpan lyrics about “phrases unstated” and “silent devotion” with Romy Madley Croft, an equally laconic singer who has confirmed to be barely extra versatile. Accordingly, it is probably not a coincidence that Sim is the final member of the group to go solo, and his debut album, Hideous Bastard, is produced solely by bandmate Jamie xx. For the primary time, Sim’s voice is entrance and heart, lending the music a delicate, and generally irritating, emotional palette.
In comparison with his work within the xx, the place the group foregrounds the textures of the songs forward of the lyrics, Hideous Bastard takes a extra private method. Upon saying the album, the 33-year-old songwriter shared an announcement revealing he has been dwelling with HIV since 17. The undertaking, as said by Sim, was an specific try and, as he wrote, “free myself of a number of the disgrace and worry that I’ve felt for a very long time.” These themes, compounded by the helplessness of youth, seem starkly all through Hideous Bastard: navigating queer relationships, the expectations of his household and friends, a love so sturdy it’s debilitating. “I believed I may survive with out letting anybody close to… The second I received that style I felt bare and afraid,” he sings on “Saccharine,” meditating on a love extra difficult than any featured on an xx monitor.
Hideous Bastard is at its greatest when Sim raises his voice and leaves his consolation zone, ditching impressionistic lyrics for one thing extra concrete. Standout monitor “By no means Right here” contains a chugging bassline, toe-tapping drum programming, and a propulsive synth. Sim’s vocal, starting in a sleepy decrease register, grows more and more determined because the music reaches its apex, reworking an in any other case imaginative lyric—“I used to be by no means actually right here”—right into a rallying cry for anybody who’s ever felt like they might disappear at a celebration with out anyone noticing. “Fruit” harnesses an identical depth, marrying the album’s catchiest hook with considered one of its most explicitly queer and conflicted lyrics: “What would my father do?/Do I take a chew of the fruit? I’ve heard different folks say it will possibly’t be proper if it causes you disgrace.” Throughout the second refrain, Jamie xx ups the ante, harmonizing a siren synth with Bronski Beat’s Jimmy Sommerville’s attractive, wordless backing vocals.
Too typically, the album is marred by a way of vagueness. At worst, it feels underdeveloped: Sim’s lyrics finish at confession, simply in need of an precise message or course. These songs are filled with deeply human emotions, however they lack identifiable human moments. The album as remedy is a tough idea—one which lives and dies within the particulars, and as of but, Sim’s songwriting is less than the problem. “Run the Credit,” which caps off the album, makes a swing for a radio single however comes up thematically quick. “Psycho killer in a romantic comedy/Closing scenes of a decade-long trilogy,” Sim pines over tender piano on the hooky pre-chorus, setting the scene for the track’s large takeaway: Actual love is nothing like it’s in Disney films. We’ve heard this earlier than.
Sonically, the album additionally mines acquainted territory. For probably the most half, it’s all trendy, dour synth presets and moody piano set to light digital beats: You could possibly simply mistake these for outtakes from a Thom Yorke solo album. Sometimes, Jamie xx interjects one thing that feels new, just like the breakbeats on “Delicate Little one” or the choral association in “GMT.” Like his work with the xx, these touches elevate, complicate, and refine the fabric, and Hideous Bastard’s center part—made up of “Assured Man,” “Saccharine,” and “Unreliable Narrator,” all written by Sim with no co-lyricist—noticeably drags. As is typical in durations of self-discovery, Hideous Bastard is rife with rising pains. However surrounded by a trusted neighborhood, and in a number of sparing moments of readability, it hints at actual magnificence.
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