I have to thank the 2000 Trees team for my introduction to Oxygen Thief, one Mr Barry Dolan, on their ‘get excited now’ pre-festival playlists. In a mix with the other Greenhouse Stage (read folk) acts, his track was a metaphorical kick in the ears that had me bounding over to my computer to see who had so surprised me.
Often tagged ‘folk-punk’ for the political nature of his songs, Oxygen Thief is definitely dialled up on the punk and certainly not just another man and his acoustic guitar. I have never heard anyone make so much noise on six strings; in fact I have never heard anything like this before - a pretty impressive win for originality in an oversaturated musical market.
Effects and looping are put to good use (in fact opener, Show ‘em Who’s Boss is like the album in miniature), but the backbone of every song is formed of heavy, heavy, endlessly energetic and discordant riffs. My favourite track, Camera Shy, demonstrates this perfectly with a building, multi-layered urgency that climaxes in a Talons-esque breakdown, particularly impressive as it takes six times as many of them to make this much noise.
“I am searching for a balance between caring and carefree,” goes Modesty Is Dead and ultimately this is what makes Oxygen Thief so much fun to listen to, a potent mix of witty social observations and comedic flippancy. Just as he plays with your idea of what an acoustic guitar should sound like, lyrically he lulls you into thinking you know where the line is going…and then clobbers you with something totally unexpected and often bitterly hilarious.
On first listen, like a lot of ‘challenging’ albums, Destroy It Yourself can sound a bit samey to begin with, but persevere, because there are so many hidden moments of delight, like the whistles and horns extro of Words On Walls that whacked a grin on my face, the delicate beginnings of instrumental Makoto Nagano, or the ‘this is going to be fun at gigs’ clapping of All Done, Bye Bye. The album as a whole does feel like an assault of some kind, “I’ve got pins and needles in my brain” is an accurate description, but I must be a masochist, because it gets better with every listen.
So give it a go, or several, and see the man live. You are guaranteed a good time.
Destroy It Yourself is out now on Broken Tail Records.