Oliver Sim Hideous Bastard Review: Finding Beauty in Radical Honesty

The album engages in a dialogue with the past, whether it’s Sim’s youth or the last half century of music and cinema.

Oliver Sim, Hideous Bastard
Photo: Laura Jane Coulson

Oliver Sim’s solo debut, Hideous Bastard, marks a second coming out for the openly gay singer-songwriter: When the single “Hideous” dropped back in May, the xx singer-bassist revealed that he’s been HIV-positive for 14 years. “Radical honesty might set me free,” he sings on the track. “Been living with HIV since 17.”

Produced by bandmate Jamie xx, Hideous Bastard maintains a more personal tone without departing too much from the xx’s previous work. Even when Sim doesn’t explicitly reference his sexuality—“Far too femme/Surrounded by rocks/You’re gonna look the gem,” he sings on “Fruit”—his lyrics cast an eye backward. “Since the day we met/The only thing I regret/Is my taste for disinterest,” he admits on “Romance with a Mystery.”

Sim’s strengths as a vocalist are apparent throughout Hideous Bastard. His rich, emotive voice and anguished vulnerability are complemented by stripped-down arrangements like the whining synth tones and warm strings of “Hideous.” Despite its subject matter, the album never feels bombastic, as the music remains restrained even as Sim pours his heart out.

Hideous Bastard is clearly indebted to ’80s synth-pop—for “Hideous,” Sims recruited Bronski Beat’s Jimmy Somerville, who also appears in an accompanying short film of the same name—but the album carves out its own unique space. Its songs are inspired by the era but are full of warped, windswept synthesizers and clanking, metronomic drum programming that feel distinctly modern.

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Musically, Hideous Bastard engages in a dialogue with the past, whether it’s Sim’s youth or the last half century of music and cinema. Tracks like “GMT” are rife with samples or interpolations of ’60s music, including Lee Hazlewood’s “Your Sweet Love,” Del Shannon’s “Sensitive Child,” and Brian Wilson’s “Smile.” The album’s closer, “Run the Credits,” examines Sim’s identification with queer villains like Psycho’s Norman Bates and Silence of the Lambs’s Buffalo Bill: “Disney princes/My god, I hate them/I’m Buffalo Bill, I’m Patrick Bateman.”

Hideous, directed by French filmmaker Yann Gonzalez, expands on this notion of queerness as monstrosity, with Sim transforming into a scaly, green-skinned monster. Sim recognizes the necessity of engaging with such imagery: After being laughed at, his monster turns violent but eventually finds peace, with Somerville’s guardian angel cradling him in his arms as Sim sings the title song. “Run the Credits” rejects the notion that life fits into a neat, three-act narrative, and Hideous Bastard serves as a frank, compelling chapter in Sim’s.

Score: 
 Label: Young  Release Date: September 9, 2022  Buy: Amazon

Steve Erickson

Steve Erickson lives in New York and writes regularly for Gay City News, Cinefile, and Nashville Scene. He also produces music under the name callinamagician.

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