Ugly Season is needless to say Mike Hadreas' weirdest and most avant-garde record yet by a mile. Since he did not release any singles to promote this record, I did not know what to expect, and I was certainly not expecting this from Mike himself. The production here is pretty dark and uncanny, but also beautiful at the same time. Mike also utilizes falsetto on this record, which is something he rarely does, and sort of reminds me of the likes of art pop legends such as Kate Bush, Bjork, and David Bowie.
The album starts off strong like any other quintessential art-pop record with the track "Just a Room". The droning cinematic strings in the first half of the song provides a foreboding tension that soon dissipates into a sparse impressionism ballad that sort of reminds me of Arca's Madre EP or her Kick iiiii LP. The tension on this track smoothly transitions into the next, the seven-minute "Harem", which sounds like a post-apocalyptic ballad. The droning cinematic strings are still present, but Mike's falsetto vocals are what truly make this song sound like it came from the underworld. The next track "Teeth" also carries over this dark and cinematic flair, but there's something about this track that just sounds a bit more hopeful and optimistic than the last one.
The somewhat hopeful and optimistic tone that "Teeth" hinted towards is fully present in the following track "Pop Song". As the title may suggest, the track is a more uplifting art pop track featuring glitchy synths and tribal trip-hop drums that remind me of some of Bjork's earlier 90s output such as Debut or Post. The next track "Scherzo" is a weird one, however. The dissonant piano chords and free-jazz cues felt a bit out of place on this record and weren't really doing much for me personally. It's not a bad track, but it might be my least favorite track from this record.
However, the album does kick back into place with the title track, which is also a more accessible pop track with its dub chords that sort of remind me of Fishmans. Mike's vocals on this one are interesting, and they sort of make this track a bit darker than usual. This somewhat uncanny vibe is carried over on the next track, the eight-minute "Eye in the Wall", which also features somewhat unusual vocals from Mike, but with tribal-house rhythms that progress the track throughout its entire duration. It also kind of sounds like an early Bjork song from the 90s, but much longer and darker. The next track "Photograph" is a much more mellower track, but it features this weird glitchy violin sound that appears for a few seconds in the middle of the track that I found to be quite interesting.
But the next track "Hellbent" however has got to the take the cake for being the weirdest and most avant-garde moment on this entire record. The song starts off with this dark and droning LFO synth that sort of reminds me of Swans' Soundtracks for the Blind, but then these dissonant, almost industrial-sounding strings come in and make this track very unsettling. Eventually, these krautrock drums come in and the song gradually begins to sound more chaotic until the very end of the track. This honestly has to be one of the best climaxes in any art pop record I have ever heard. Things settle down with the closing track "Cenote", a much more peaceful ambient impressionism ballad that ties this entire masterpiece of a record together.
Overall, I think the title "Ugly Season" and the cover art truly reflect the avant-garde and unconventional nature of this record. The balance of the "beauty" with the "ugly" is something that you rarely experience in albums nowadays. This could potentially be my 2022 album of the year.
Fav Tracks: Just a Room, Herem, Teeth, Pop Song, Ugly Season, Eye in the Wall, Photograph, Hellbent (highlight), Cenote
Least Fav Track: Scherzo (if I had to choose one)