Did The Two Year Hiatus Pay off for Oliver Tree?
After five years of work with a 2-year delay (label politics) and ever-changing cover arts, Oliver Tree’s (Atlantic Records) debut studio album is out now. The eccentric online personality, who started in the music industry as Tree has grown a mass cult following for his throwback 90’s aesthetics and bowl-cut hair. While pulling stunts such as riding the biggest scooter in the world, we have to see if his music holds up to the charm that Tree portrays.
The album starts with Me, Myself, and I, a fast-paced guitar reminiscent of early 2000s rock sound (which shows up about 90% of the record). With a monotone, distorted croon, Tree tells how “people tend to feel like they have to keep to themselves in fear of saying something stupid. This song, to me, is about how I’d rather say some stupid things in my life than say nothing at all.” This sentiment of living for the now and self-acceptance is sprinkled through the album, giving Tree’s character a deeper given before the record. The 808 kicks and the guitar are equalized to the vocals, were thankfully it is not a mess where both channels are fighting for attention to your ears.
1993 features Little Ricky ZR3, an alien from Tree’s universe who is contended as the only “feature” in the album. While this is a typical “hey look I made it” song, this track fuses rock, bass music (UK club music), and deep house, with the bass and loud synths swerving close to runway music. Little Ricky ZR3 comes in the outro, where a beat switch with trap bass, fire explosions, and police sirens SFX levitate the track as a surprising ending twist. Little details such as a pan steel drum in the pre chorus keeps your attention through the track. Definitely a first listen favorite.
Cash Machine, Let Me Down, and Miracle Man alters into indie/grunge lane, where one finds more vocal emotion from Tree. Cash Machine finds Tree saying that being materialistic is not the source of happiness, this track has listeners surprised at its lyrics. The concurring strong guitar strings are better than the electric guitar included in the after-chorus. The acoustic guitar focuses on the melody and is the main invoker of deeper feeling, just like the following track.
Let Me Down finds Tree having a non-monotone, flexible singing voice that croons about feeling bad for letting his fans down for keeping the album delayed. In this track, the electric guitar is more favorable where trap stems are carried in the back as extra “sprinkles,” making it more unique than its contemporaries. Miracle Man delves into relationships and has more melody than some of the other tracks, both vocally and instrumentally. With a chord progression of C Am Em G E E7, once again the acoustic guitar helps Tree wail over an energized chorus.
Bury Me Alive switches to a more reggae, West Coast rap, interpolating an older Tree song “Rising Phoenix”. Tree raps about his alleged acid trip during the Burning Man festival. Bury me alive is close enough to feel like a Beastie Boys B-side: not horrible but not the main star. Alien Boy is the rap track to loosen up and translates well into this big project. Tree cheekily puts himself in the shoes of an actual alien alluding to people who are outcast in society. Joke’s On You! Goes into a trippy rap about not judging people on their looks and self-love. The instrumentation and bass bounces left and right with synths going up and down the keyboard complementing the beat.
Alternative rock does not disappear from this project with Again & Again, focusing on occurring adverse events that can be changed. The electric guitar takes center stage, while Tree takes head vocals for the repeating chorus. Waste My Time starts weak with no direction but takes hold in the pre-chorus with a strong melody. Once again, an electric guitar takes center stage as the primary instrumentation. This song has the most transparent vocals from Tree and is the one that does not have him shouting the lyrics sarcastically as he clamors about being yourself and not wasting time on earth. Another masterpiece of an outro shows up on this record, with the electric guitar hastily climbing its chord progression for emotional effect.
Jerk and Hurt are a surprising pair. Produced by Marshmello, Jerk goes straight about “people who are jerks,” calling him a nobody and a waste of space. His emotions are evident, the trap incorporation adds darkness, and if one applies this as a break-up song, the second pre-chorus hits like a punch in the stomach. “By now I’ve given up all hope // I guess I’m better off alone.” Hurt [ironically an older song] accompanies as a “moving-on” track in the relationship sense, even though the song “reflects” about his scooter accident from when Tree (or, in this case, Turbo) was 18. The eerie intro talks about soul selling with a wailing sound of a over-synthesized guitar, while the verses follow a more alternative route, the chorus returns to that same eerie sound that sounds like Tree is repenting from hell and says “f—k you” to the whole ordeal.
Introspective and I’m Gone are another pair that serve well as the album closer. This pair unfortunately are not as hard-hitting as the other ones. Introspective self reflects about overthinking, with the talk-rap incorporating rap and indie-pop that attracts a well needed soft guitar. Unfortunately, by this time, his monotone vocal feels like it drags out the rather short album. As an (another) sarcastic response to fans about quitting music after this album, I’m Gone an alternative rock swan song. Like a song rolling at the end of the credits, some of the verses borrow themes and questions from other songs in this louder, grunge track. The lyrics respond to these issues with “this is why I’m exiting out.” Heartfelt Ooh-ooh’s are shouted as the validity of emotion. It is not the most potent album closer but gets the message across.
The album is about Tree storytelling his journey in the music industry and not being taken serious as an artist. The lyricism in this album can be doubled as love/break-up songs (Let Me Down, Miracle Man, Jerk, Hurt) where you can scream about your ex messing up your life. While this album suffers from having too many tracks with a 2-minute mark, they are begged to be replayed. Another downside of the album is the number of songs. Even with the songs being short, as a whole, the 37-minute album drags long in some spots… such as the last two tracks. Taking away at least two tracks resolves this. Tree’s monotone vocals at times also drag down places in this album, making vocally melodic and emotional songs like Let Me Down, and Jerk is worth the wait during a full listen. Nonetheless, Ugly Is Beautiful does a great job composing the universe that is Oliver Tree.
1993, Miracle Man, Jerk, Hurt
Do you agree with my assessment? Do you disagree? Let me know in the comments. Support Oliver Tree with the links below.