Return To The Ugly Side, the second album by Bristol proggers Malachai, is a dense, chaotic work that often borders on oppressive. The duo of Gee Ealey and Scott Hendy makes a massive amount of noise for two musicians; they have clearly used the studio as they see fit. There are a wide array of sonic effects—bleeps, whooshes, scuzz-funk distortion and voices all over. Malachai incorporates Michael Bay strings, scratchy keyboards, tons of percussion, huge vocal harmonies, all compressed and delivered for maximum immersion. Dub runs all over the record, with massive basslines and beats underlining Ealey’s raspy diaphragmal croon.
This is a dense and all-encompassing rock album made with a curator’s eye; call it the bastard grandnephew of Paul’s Boutique (although without being as fun, cohesive, or clever). The music behind Ealey evokes the feeling of loops; you get the sense that this album couldn’t exist without Pro Tools and DJ Shadow. The record is less played than organized—these are sounds made by, but not of, Ealey and Hendy.
Return To The Ugly Side is composed of 14 jams in 35 minutes, which rounds out to an average length of two and a half minutes per track. But this record feels longer than that, perhaps to its credit. There are so many ideas per measure packed in each song that the 14 songs feel sprawling rather than compact. Each song is founded on a jerky groove, with Malachai’s craziness piling on top of it. When the groove is strong, it’s tempting to ignore the song. This is a good thing, because the search for subtlety (which is not the same as intricacy or complexity) is usually fruitless here. The duo is quite adept at keeping the dopey momentum going, but without a respite or a break in the haze, Return To The Ugly Side is often impenetrable. But that’s kind of cool—a half-hour album that stretches out (or drags on) to feel like far longer.