Jim Lockey, Ben Marwood, Oxygen Thief - Exclamation at Asterisk Hash

Owain Paciuszko 16/07/2009

Rating: 4/5

The split record is a great way of (a) giving you value for money and (b) introducing you to other similar, interesting artists by way of association. This tryptich of solo artists armed with acoustic guitars is a neat and diverse compilation coiled around a similar genre core.

Opening with Jim Lockey's glorious country stomp Waitress, which mixes foot tapping anthem with broken hearted lament before turning into an alt-rock barndance at the end. It's a brilliant start, showcasing both the immediate simplicity of good song-writing alongside a wealth of inventiveness that can take the listener on a varied journey. It sets the bar high for the rest of the record.

Ben Marwood follows strongly, his track Friendly Fire is a more restrained affair, playing into the subdued anger of artists such as Bright Eyes, but British. The stripped down voice/guitar arrangment works well after the array of noise that closed Lockey's track, and this bare, emotional composition contrasts brilliantly once the energetically strummed acoustic guitar of Oxygen Thief bursts into life on There Can Be Only One. With barked vocals doing battle with his feverish playing, Oxygen Thief has consistently smashed the notion that acoustic = quiet.

I Will Breathe You In is a sweet, if grit-edged, alt-country number with a touch of the Willy Masons about it, it shows off the emotional range in Marwood's voice and his ability to tell a story through song, drawing the listener along carefully and craftily. Lockey's The Boat Song is a similarly anthemic affair to his earlier track, providing - with his band The Solemn Sun (I assume) - richer instrumentation into the largerly acoustic mix, but keeping the sound of his tracks suitably direct and honest. The strongest Oxygen Thief track on this record is the magnficently ramshackle Too Many Trees, with guitar jostling between the vocals which switch channels and change tempos almost mid-strum. There's something upliftingly about lyrics like 'Working together we can reconstruct these fractured evenings', which could just be somebody trying to see through the fog of a hangover, but consistently throughout this track Oxygen Thief (aka Barry Dolan) displays a knack with cramming wry and occasionally awkward lyrics into his fast-paced songs.

You Can Hold On Once creeps in over the top of this track, Marwood spitting 'I know that I'm the bad guy, but I'm bad for goodness sake.' It's his most accomplished track on the record throwing in very subtle instrumental flourishes here and there to add a spooky, magical side to this bittersweet song. We crash back into Oxygen Thief for Sunclouds, his final track has an air of impending menace to its guitar-line, off-set by erratic handclaps. Jim Lockey closes the record with Atlases which begins with lyrics juxtaposed by slowly plucked guitar before turning into a glimmering country travelling song, drums and guitars conjuring images of fast moving roads and the feeling of wind in your hair. Lockey's voice quakes perfectly against the surrounding instrumentation (with glockenspiel dropped in for good climactic measure), it's a great finale to the record that kind of manages to embody the spirit of all three artists while remaining true to the mold Lockey set for himself from the off. 'If the party's ending, I don't wanna leave,' repeats Lockey across the song, and it's true of this record which works as a tantilising tease at what these three guys are capable of.

It's kind of a shame that the three artists don't get together for one final track, but perhaps that's my semi-cheesy supergroup yearning taking over. This record manages to elevate the impact of what would divide into three good EPs and transform them into even more impactful songs as a result of juxtaposition. It's a perfectly balanced mix of three extremely talented musicians performing with energy, intelligence and passion.