Oliver Tree is an enigma, but not in the ways that you’d think. Yes, he is memey, but his iconic parka doesn’t guide his undeniable talent, and the obnoxious personality fails to overshadow the brutal honesty and relatability of his music.
The latest album exchanges parkas and scooters for tassels and bison-ATV’s, in a move that seems far too artificially designed to intrigue, and comes with a jarring switch to acoustic styles, making the sophomore feel like a stripped version of an album gone AWOL. Gone are the layers and texture that defined the debut album, leaving nothing for Oliver's unique voice to weave between. Gone too are the bouncing beats and quirky mixing, forcing the lyric work stand alone.
It’s bold, and it doesn't quite land, with an unwelcome passenger on the quadbike-bison - the cowboy theme bizarrely manifests as an unhealthy southern drawl - Oliver’s voice is already often quite harsh and jarring, and when stripped from its mixing it is a brutally authentic sound, that lends great weight to his simple lyrics (see ‘Alien Boy’). Now though, an unhealthy twang drags on every vowel, crossing the El Paso border well into annoying.
Did you enjoy that western pun? Was it horrifically forced, yet bland as hell? That's exactly how this bizarre southern thing feels, especially when it is dropped immediately after the first track. The song ‘Swing & A Miss’ is fantastic, but what makes it superb are its layers and strong repetitive lyrics, feeling more like a song that fell off the debut and into in the sophomore.
Next we receive ‘Freaks & Geeks’, which again ditches the cowboy memes, but retains the simple mixing, placing the lyrics in focus. This is perhaps the only place that Oliver hasn't adapted, and this song is the first to suggest it may be time to move on. The debut album perfected this material, and it feels unnecessary to return, especially after so many changes in other aspects.
‘Suitcase Full of Cash’ seems like a return to form, but only as a parallel to ‘Cash Machine’, that it actually reuses lyrics for. The eponymous ‘Cowboys Tears’, ‘The Villain’ and ‘Playing with Fire’ blend together, with Oliver's unedited voice feeling like over exposure, lacking any individual impact.
‘Cigarettes’ is perhaps the only place the cleaner vocals work well, stuck to playful acoustic chords that works so well it stands apart from the rest of the album, which is a mixed bag of retrodden lyrics and odd changes, that miss more than they hit. (‘Swing & A Miss’ is a definite hit though!)
To summarize: for 5 plebs on a road trip, ‘Cowboy Tears’ survived 2.5 songs before it was swapped for ‘Ugly is Beautiful’s’ bouncy beats and fresh lyrics.