Don’t judge a band by their name: Little Ugly doesn’t live up to their moniker. This Hartford, Connecticut-based trio creates big, polished, dramatic songs that are far from little or ugly on their five-song EP, Where the River’s Born. Describing their genre as orchestral folk rock, the members use a classical background to construct the songs. Made up of vocalist/ukelele/banjo-player Michael Day, percussionist Nick Dickinson, and vocalist/violinist/pianist Kaia Pazdersky, the band has received awards from around Connecticut and should soon receive attention outside of their home state.
The first track, “Named After Saints,” has a Celtic folk sound to it (thanks to a violin) and compares to Mumford and Sons. The folk sound on the opening song isn’t really replicated on the rest of the album making this song stand out as black sheep (but a good black sheep.) On the rest of the album, Little Ugly brings big drama: “Til the Earth Stops Shaking” and “Promise of a Storm” are backed by orchestration that swells below the strong vocals. Even without a full strings section, Kaia Pazdersky’s violin adds a haunting sound to “And We Said.” At moments in “And We Said…” and “Promise of a Storm” the band channels Silverchair.
The group’s two vocalists, Day and Pazdersky, mix well. They each have rich voices and swap being lead and backing vocals effortlessly. Pazdersky’s clear, clean vocals from the background change to a pretty snarl as lead in “Oh, Return” and “Til the Earth.” At times, her delivery made me think of Lane Staley; at others, Norah Jones.
Unfortunately, this talented band commits one of my biggest musical pet peeves on “And We Said…” The entire chorus is made up of la-la-las with a woo-ooo-oooo thrown in at the end. They’re clearly capable of writing dramatic, story-driven lyrics but chose to pack this track with filler. This breakup song does mention being led by words unspoken, but those unspoken words didn’t have to be replaced with la.
This is a talented band worth checking out if you like your folk with a side of orchestral drama. I’m interested to see them live as I wonder how a trio can recreate such complex, full songs in a more acoustic setting. Though, with those vocals to distract the audience, no one may even notice the string section is missing.