I like a good pun. Who doesn’t? So even before I have dropped the virtual needle into the digital groove the titles alone of this new album suggest wit, intelligence and wordplay and suggest something about the confusion of modern life. And such things are indeed at the heart of this latest Oxygen Thief outing, whilst the sound itself is one of grating guitars, cavernous soundscapes, thundering drums and pummelling bass lines. But rather that just another slice of modern indie-punk that such a musical melting pot might suggest, within this swirling mass, this sonic juggernaut, it is the finer points, the musical intricacies, the taught and tense riffs and the deft details that puts this ahead of the pack.
Many of us today are struggling to find our balance in a world that is becoming ever more entrenched, where the dialog on decisive issues such as Brexit and Trump, where the battle between heart and profit, the haves and have-nots, for trustworthiness of information and a thousand other issues are all being fought over. And if Barry Dolan has always been politically engaged, socially aware and happy to use his musical platform to communicate with others, open debate and act as a voice in the wilderness, Confusion Species is the perfect storm. It thunders, it questions, it rallies, it stomps and stamps, it gives food for thought, ammunition for the assault on the virtual barricades, it is a debate, a cry of despair and the soundtrack to the mayhem and mistrust of the modern world. Imagine New Model Army writing lyrics for The Wildhearts and you are certainly not a million miles away.
Opening salvo End of The Pier Pressure lays down the template with slabs of granite guitars marching to stripped back beats, a leviathan of sound that will make your average metaller jealous. But unlike such genres there is no show-boating or ego trips at work here, things are stripped down to a heavy essence rather than dressed up unnecessarily. There is the song and message and both are served superbly. Suspension Bridge Of Disbelief drives along on post-punk bass grooves, a love hate relationship with the city he calls home, Graffiti; Irony; Lists is spiky and angular and Troublethink is a frantic race towards an illogical conclusion.
On purely musical terms, this would still be a great album, one that appeals to alt-rockers, post-punks, hardcore fans, punks and the alternative set alike. But Barry Dolan has made a name through having something important to say and that is what propels Oxygen Thief and Confusion Species into more rarified altitudes. It may not have all the answers but it certainly poses all the right questions and sometimes that is enough.