July 26 2014, Review by Cam Thompson : Starting is hardest part. The blinking cursor on the screen keeps reminding me that I haven’t yet started. This is not for lack of things to say about Thousand Foot Krutch’s latest album, OXIGEN:INHALE, but rather the right way to say them. Full disclosure, I have never listened to this band before. In keeping with this sense of trust that I just established, this is far and away not a genre of music that I have ever listened to for a significant amount of time. When I was given a copy of this three piece Canadian Christian rock band’s latest effort, I was understandably a bit nervous about reviewing it. I suppose it is partly due to the fact that it is very easy to be dismissive and cynical when it comes to something new and unfamiliar, especially in terms of music, and partly due to the fact that writing about something you do not have much knowledge about can make someone sound like an idiot. With that being said, let me go ahead and put on the record, I am an idiot. There, now that we have that established this review will go a lot smoother and expectations can be managed, hopefully.
First things first, I adore ten track albums, a lot. Thank you, TFK for making a ten track album. I cannot tell you how many albums I have listened to in the past where one of the defining factors that kept it from being a great album was the length of the album itself. I mostly cannot tell you because I do not actually keep track of how many times that happens, but trust me, it has happened. The point is, learning that OXYGEN:INHALE was a tight ten songs got me very excited. TFK waste no time in pulling the listener in to their special brand of fun, “Like a Machine”, starts things off with a heavy dose of dirty guitar, vocalist Trevor McNevan’s gruff, but almost silky voice, and Steve Augustine’s pounding drums. It opens the album up in a great, adrenaline fueled, fun way. “Untraveled Road” follows and completes the one-two punch that “Like a Machine” started. One of the few things that I did know about this band prior to diving into the record was that McNevan is known to rap on tracks. Frankly, this frightened me. Most exposure I have had to the rock/rap, nu-metal, genre of music has not been pleasant at best, and made me physically ill at worst. (That last part may or may not be true.) I was pleasantly surprised to discover McNevan actually has an ear for rhythm and flow and his style of delivery really melds well with the bands instrumentals. Lyrically, OXYGEN:INHALE, deals with a lot of my favorite themes: acceptance of one’s self, finding purpose in a modern world, and never giving up hope. OXYGEN:INHALE continued to surprise me especially when I arrived at the first single off of the album, “Born This Way”. It is a very confident, sure headed, southern rock inspired anthem with McNevan declaring “You can’t stop us, we can’t be stopped.” This album is front loaded with great tracks and is just good old fashioned fun. TFK aren’t taking themselves seriously, but not in a bad way, they are relaxed and enjoying themselves while recording and it really comes through on these songs.
“I See Red” has the albums laziest instrumentation and comes across as a generic imitation of what a song is supposed to be; as if the band had all the right ingredients for a song, but put no feeling or emotion into it. “Light Up” is a ballad. I love a good ballad. This is not a good ballad. A slow picked acoustic guitar accompanies McNevan’s high pitched falsetto, crooning a very confusing simile, “I saw an angel fly today, just like a movie”. The highlight in the albums back half, however, is “In My Room.” Now, TFK is considered a Christian band, and that can always go one of two ways. The band either embraces their Christianity fully, and craft songs that are very overtly religious, or the band is aiming for a more mainstream, secular crowd and writes songs based around universal themes where the interpretation is up to the listener. Thankfully, TFK is the latter form. “In My Room”, is by far and away the closest the album ever gets to being explicit about its Christian leanings. Normally, that is not my cup of tea, but this song is very inspired and honestly I could almost say that it is one of the best tracks on the album. It builds in a very unassuming manner until the final moments where the song finds McNevan pleading for someone, assumingly God, to meet him in his room. McNevan captures that feeling of desperately needing to speak with someone intimately; to gain a better understanding of themselves and their place. The song is relatable to people, regardless of religious affiliation, on a basic human level.
The production on this album, a collaboration between McNevan and Aaron Sprinkle who also produced records for Anberlin, Pedro the Lion, and past Thousand Foot Krutch albums, is stellar. Everything is crisp, clean, and for the most part, unfiltered. They took a very organic approach to recording the album and it really shines through. Sadly, the downside of having only ten songs on a record is that there is a lot less room for error; just about every song has to stand out or at least not be relegated to a skip. Oxygen:Inhale has a few of those in it’s sparse 38 minute run time. This record won’t be gaining TFK any new fans, but it won’t lose them any either. It is an album that ultimately plays it safe and sticks to what it knows, for better or for worse.