As Karen Meat, Arin Eaton has performed with various permutations of backing bands – usually as Karen Meat & the ___ – each possessing their own unique sonic qualities. While most recently and often releasing recordings as Karen Meat & the Computer, You’re An Ugly Person is credited solely to Karen Meat, and is ostensibly a duo project between Eaton and Iowa City heady popper Dana T. (If I get any details wrong, just know I’m writing this sleepless from a Denny’s in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Have mercy.)
You’re An Ugly Person retains Eaton’s dry narrator’s voice, detailing the ins and outs of twenty-something life with all its pizza, beer, and romantic complexities. Unlike previous recordings, however, the foundation of these tunes is built on heavily programmed dance beats.
The title track rocks a buoyant mid-’80s pop R&B feel that permeates the entire album. This lightness nicely offsets the more dour lyrical moments, making self-doubt into a celebration of sorts. On “Overdwelled” the internal reflections are balanced by gliding synths over a steady electro beat. The juxtaposition benefits both the sound and the substance.
“I Thought We Were Okay” – which originally appeared in the form of a reverb-heavy ’60s pastiche collab with the Vahnevants – conforms nicely to its new synth-pop context. This exhibits the strength of Eaton’s songwriting, as the tune succeeds across styles.
Guitar features prominently in “Past/Present” and “Bored On Tour,” which spins its travelogue over inspired synths and wordless background vocals before dissolving into warm harmony guitar leads. “Why” is a plaintive ballad about how we deny ourselves the good things and people in our lives, which transitions into a peppy “Genius of Love” backbeat with some fine ’80s chorus guitar.
Clocking in at under a half-hour in length, You’re An Ugly Person is concise, its two and-a-half minute long sad pop ditties speeding by. It’s easy to miss the pathos of these songs until after the fact. Amidst all the hooks and beats there is an underlying and unifying somberness, reflections on relationships and how we sabotage them, and ourselves.
We may be ugly people, but we all deserve to be loved. In the meantime, Karen Meat will help you dance the pain away.