A lot of ugliness lives in Unlovely, the third full-length record from Boston-based trio The Ballroom Thieves. The world is burning (“In the Dark”), there’s anger (“Homme Run”) and pain (“Don’t Wanna Dance”), and a cacophony of bad news envelops you (“Unlovely”). On top of all that, liars are everywhere: A selfish swindler is at the center of “Vanity Trip,” and liars are the cause of exasperation on the closing track “For Hitchens” — “Why do you let them lie to you?” the trio ask.
And yet, Unlovely is lovely. The Ballroom Thieves face the ugly and unjust found in personal and public spheres with unflappable energy, and in turn they’ve made a dynamic album. Unlovely embodies the comradely atmosphere of a protest.
Track-to-track, The Ballroom Thieves’ arrangements maintain a similarly playful energy but they never quite sound the same. With songs ranging from quiet folk ballads to boisterous rock tracks with a smattering of horns, Unlovely is a sonically sprawling record, but by always being anchored with The Ballroom Thieves’ calls for justice, it rarely feels unfocused. The smartly titled “Homme Run,” for example, is one of the more stripped back songs from the record, with Calin Peters’ vocals and Martin Earley’s waltzing guitar rhythm at its center, while “Begin Again” is a scraggy rock track with guitars that screech and bellow, but both tracks underline the need to dismantle the patriarchy.
A contrast between the dark and the light is a focal point of Unlovely as the band wades through contemporary disharmony but pairs it with buoyant melodies. In the final moments of “Tenebrist,” a funky rock track whose title refers to a painting style marked by the vivid contrast of dark and light tones, The Ballroom Thieves come together and state what feels like the core of Unlovely: “We need the dark to know the light.”