11 September 2009

Oskar – LP:2


Incarnation (2009)

(Another Fact review!)

There is something about that title that doesn’t sit well with me. While Oskar aren’t the first band to name a record as such – let’s face it, we’ve had similar from the likes of Led Zep, Autechre and Dungen – that colon suggests rather too much self awareness. If, indeed, a band can be too self-aware. The cover tips you off, though, of the trio awkwardly positioned on a bleak allotment, bearing instruments fashioned from gardening implements.

This is a sense that remains throughout LP:2. Oskar, featuring a member of Collapsed Lung (of ‘Eat My Goal’ ‘fame’), seems to be a group of crafty industry veterans, keen to show us how good they are at lots of different stuff. LP:2 boasts a range of moods, from wry amusement, through parody, to melancholy. But even melancholy seems to be performed here with an eyebrow so raised it threatens to catapult off their collective face.

And it’s a shame, because there is some real brilliance on here. ‘Paper Cuts’ and ‘Printer Tzara’ offer intelligent calls back to the turn of the century electronica-infused songwriting of the Beta Band, Laika or Anjali. ‘Eden’ is believable in its piano loneliness. ‘Richenbach Falls’, though, sounds for all its good intentions like a ham-fisted approximation of how Carla Bozulich may have sounded, had she been narcotised, bundled in the boot of a car and taken to David Lynch’s club Silencio.

Oskar tread a tightrope, and your writer faces a dilemma. Oskar’s competence at evoking a variety of moods, of composing in many forms of popular music, of performing in numerous languages, should be applauded. There is, however, a subtle, yet inescapable cloud of smugness hanging over proceedings. While it’s an intangible sense, it’s nagging, hindering enjoyment of the album. It’s hard to commit to loving ‘Hi-Beam Blue’, which occupies that space between OK Computer and Kid A, as it’s just another turn on what sounds like a showcase record. I guess now I know why certain folk feel prevented from loving Squarepusher or Aphex.

With the above in mind, then, it’s surprising that the highlights of the album are the most theatrical, high-minded, Newsnight Review, nudging, winking songs of the lot. ‘Some Song’: the very title sends fear shooting through my marrow. But it’s great. The vocal is a monologue performed by actress Sharon Smith, of Max Factory, and it’s funny, convincing and endearing. Similarly, the most conceptually out-there song is ‘Sanatorio’, inspired by Nick Powell’s experience with aged psychiatric patients in Madrid. And it’s lovely. So while the album is nearly torn apart by its eclecticism, that trait bore its greatest fruits.

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