Have you ever read something to yourself while alone – unfamiliar song lyrics, maybe part of a story or poem, or any sort of text that you’d never heard over music –
and started singing the words out loud? Kind of an unconscious act,
where you’re the only person in the room and for some reason need to
hear your own voice, so you pretend to sing a song when you’re really
only setting text to your own imagined music? All right, so I could
have made a few more friends when I was younger. But Anna Oxygen’s This is an Exercise comes off as a recorded version of the habit – maybe she could use some friends too.
Evergreen State College grad is somewhat obscure in her Seattle base:
her shows (finding her in aerobics gear and a giant owl’s head, if
you’re lucky) often receive little publicity; she performs at the
smallest of venues and art galleries; she’s in her own, otherwise
uninhabited world, for the most part. But she’s lively and engaging,
able to wow an intimate crowd with her keytar and horrifyingly
authentic spandex, or better yet, her chanting (“Psychedelic! Woo!”).
Her combination of electro-pop and performance art gives her a level of
charm unmatched by most musicians. So it’s disappointing that her
unconventional style can’t translate into quality album material.
of Oxygen’s selling points is that she’s a classically trained opera
singer, an accomplishment that likely earned her points in school but
clashes with her heavily ’80s-influenced, kitschy
Casio-and-laptop-spawned rhythms. “Willow Song,” the token “ballad” and
only track on the album not self-penned, attempts to show off some of
her elegance. But more strongly than the rest of her danceable
sophomore record, it falls somewhere between satirical and schmaltzy
new age, answering the question of what would happen if Sarah Brightman
were to travel through space. As with the rest of the record, though,
Oxygen’s voice is exactly what prevents her low-budget beats from being
classified as great dance music. Most women who pull off synth pop are
able to sing with attitude in the highest of pitches – think Le Tigre or Gravy Train!!!! – but Oxygen seems to have a natural alto that she controls with an uneasy force. And, shit, she’s no Kate Bush.
nerdy wit does shine on a few tracks. “Mechanical Fish” is a dialogue
between “Jerry” and “Sandy,” who transform a quest to build robotic
fish into unintelligible banter that would perplex the most thoughtful
(or baked) who listen in. And “Psychic Rainbow” is more representative
of Oxygen’s live show than any other track here, particularly its
chorus: “Psychic rainbow/ come into the light/ you’ll be kicking the
light/ when you get too far.” (I hope as you read that you pictured an
owl’s head over a woman’s leotard, cigarette lighter swaying in the
air.) Those who have seen Oxygen live and acknowledged that she has the
formality of a ten-year-old boy likely have an idea of how much more
she improves with a presence. But if her albums were the only record of
her existence shit, she’s no Kate Bush.
“Fake Pajamas” MP3 (Right Click Save As)