I’ve stuck with this hard-working, ever-evolving Canadian band ever since I fell in love with the unique brand of hip-hop influenced nu-metal on their 2000 independent release Set It Off. Trevor McNevan’s voice was energetic, gritty, and infectious and the music equally so. However, I always thought the attention that album gained them and their subsequent signing to Tooth & Nail records to have been a mixed blessing. Maybe the stylistic progression was inevitable, and their musicianship and production quality has definitely improved, but none of their following releases has grabbed my attention in the same way.
Seeing Tooth & Nail as the bad guy, I was eager to see what direction the band would take after they left the label and returned to the independent world for their 2012 release The End Is Where We Begin. I loved that hints of their roots showed through, but overall it was more of the same, which isn’t to say it was bad by any means, but I was still left wanting more originality and creativity.
Earlier this year, the band announced they would be releasing OXYGEN:INHALE, funded via a Pledge Music campaign. Once again, I anticipated hearing a new fully independent TFK release. I pushed play, and I’m happy to report “Like A Machine” starts this thing off with a bang–pounding rock and rap that.could have come straight off of Set It Off, which is a good thing. The message is a call to war, with hearts of love
“Fasten the hatchet door, we ain’t gonna run no more…Comin’ like a machine…And we might rock the party, Oh! But we ain’t gonna hurt nobody.”
“Untraveled Road” amps up the fun level with uptempo handclaps, spoken-word vocals, and energy that continually builds to each chorus. McNevan makes another call to the listener, this time that one person can make a difference.
“‘Cause one voice is enough to make sleeping giants wake up To make armies put their hands up and watch whole nations stand up.”
When I thought my smile couldn’t get any bigger, standout track and debut single “Born This Way”, an anthem about being who you are (not to be confused with the Lady Gaga song), opens with a raw bluesy riff and breaks out into infectious southern rock sprinkled with tempo and dynamic changes. Not too shabby for a few guys that couldn’t be much farther from the South.
While not overly inventive, thus far the album has been a blast, the weakest spots being the standard overdone TFK-style choruses.. With “Set Me On Fire”, the album hits a major misstep, a radio-friendly rock song as generic, repetitive, and uninspired as the title might suggest. Hope returns for the halfway point of the album, “Give It To Me”, where the group changes things up again with aggressive chugging guitars and Joel Bruyere’s strong bass line.
If this were a 5-song EP, with only one throwaway song, I’d say this is a solid release. Unfortunately, there are five more tracks on this album, polar opposites of the first five–no rock, no rap, terribly repetitive both musically and lyrically, and very little energy. Yes, TFK has always had their share of mellow songs, but they’ve never been their strength, and they haven’t consisted of half of any album’s content.
The only song from the second half I would have kept on the album is “In My Room”, an emotional, gradually building ballad from the perspective of a hurting person crying out to God
“But can you meet me in my room? A place where I feel safe Don’t have to run away And I can just be me.”
The layered piano and strings are a nice, though underdeveloped addition to this song, and and along with his emotional falsetto, McNevan seems to be doing his best to channel The Fray’s Isaac Slade.
The lyrical content on OXYGEN:INHALE is primarily centered around being filled with God, including metaphors of his Spirit at work in our lives as fire, light, and oxygen, The words are heartfelt but unoriginal and many of the choruses repeat the same lines ad nauseum. Frankly, it feels like a rushed effort, though there’s no reason it should have been.
Unfortunately, with only two semi-bright spots beyond the first three tracks, by the time I reached the album’s end, I had practically forgotten how much I enjoyed the beginning of the album. I was bored, tired of the constant repetition, and ready for the album to be over. No more excuses. This band isn’t who I thought they were, and I will just have to learn to accept it.