Bristol-based Oxygen Thief’s third studio album, Confusion Species, processes a post-Brexit, post-Trump political climate. Through message and music, Confusion Species plants its flag near late-nineties political hardcore punk rock icons like Refused and Rage Against The Machine.
For much of Confusion Species, the dynamic interplay between pounding guitar, gritty bass, and forward drums builds a serious agenda. While not necessarily blazing experimental territory like the aforementioned influences, Oxygen Thief writes witty songs. The introductory track, “End of the Pier Pressure,” is a perfect example of the band’s ability to give each instrument ample space for impact, all while uplifting meaningful lyrics.
Confusion Species’ true ignition source is Barry Dolan’s vocals. Dolan skillfully balances tones of composed disaffection and focused rage. His vocal performance is a visible neck tendon in a debate with loved ones that bought demagogues’ disinformation.
Utilizing his self-awareness as a “cisgendered, heterosexual, white man from a reasonably comfortable upbringing”, Dolan’s lyrics on Confusion Species are both a diary for sociopolitical understanding and a platform for caring activism.
The line “I know this town like the back of my head,” in “Suspension Bridge of Disbelief” captures the overwhelming nature of sudden, hyper-conservative action. Because Dolan doesn’t shy away from expressions of political dizziness, more concrete political statements on Confusion Species show signs of processing and growth. It’s this kind of vulnerability that makes Dolan’s words so relatable.
Nearing the end of an album of nuanced views, “Graffiti; Irony; Lists” sets Dolan’s political perspective in its sharpest focus. The song correlates the racist history of Dolan’s hometown with its modern clawing for a fictitious former greatness. The line “Blue passports and imperial measures are just fool’s gold, not priceless treasure,” takes a direct rib jab at the false promises of Brexit.
Musically, there are admittedly moments on Confusion Species that come on strong. In particular, the intro to “Uncommon People” finds itself somewhere in the palm-muted, double-bass-heavy bog of 90s, heavy rock tropes. That said, these moments are swiftly rescued by songs like “Troublethink,” which are supersaturated with unique scale choices, well-placed harmony, and cutting rests.
Ultimately, Confusion Species is a spirited album that recaptures and reinterprets90s political energy while only occasionally getting lost in the era’s heavy-handedness. Oxygen Thief share their political experiences and values in a laid-bare fashion, making their views widely accessible. Confusion Species is a well-delivered voice of loving allyship to combat a seemingly global turn away from empathy and equity.