29 Jun 2022

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Oliver Birch - Single Review: Docile Healthier

21 May 2022 // A review by Harry Platt

There is a strange paradox in the independent, self-produced musician who laments the seemingly ever dangerous trajectory of technological society. Because that same trajectory enables them to find liberation in creating new soundscapes without any objection. This is not to say these circumstances are dependent on each other. I’m sure in other parallel universes there is a world in which someone can conduct a philharmonic orchestra in their bedroom and be free from the tyranny of surveillance capitalism. But alas we are here on Earth in Two Thousand and Twenty Two.

And so we come to the new single from Auckland artist Oliver Birch. Docile Healthier, a sequel of sorts to Radiohead’s infamous musique concrète track from their prophetic studio album OK Computer, Fitter Happier.

It would’ve been easy for Birch to just supercharge the mood of the source material and update it for the second decade of the 21st Century. Find some way to deliver its sentiment in a way that represents the current manifestations of technology as Thom Yorke did with Fred, the synthetic speech to text voice from mid-90s Macintosh. Certainly, his lyrics make a depressing reading much like inspiration. “Docile, rendered compliant/Everything in moderation,” opens the second verse where the prose becomes Orwellian in all but name. But more interestingly there is some nuance. No augmented or digital vocal tricks, just Birch himself singing over the composition but barely with any joy of melody in his baritone voice. Musically, it’s an awkward listen but I doubt that is unintentional. The erratic jazz intro gives way to a song where there is a push pull between moments of upbeat clarity and a contrasting cacophony of distorted raucousness. Birch claims these upbeat sections represent the “insidious nature” of our technological world “has come to pervade our lives.”

Birch isn’t wide of the mark with his update to Fitter Happier's commentary on the pernicious constructs that we drag ourselves around to. However, what I think he has done unintentionally is create a song that really represents that technological paradox of the modern musician. Those upbeat sections are the moments where the artist is free, delighting in the possibilities afforded to him by engineers that can squeeze ever increasing numbers of transistors onto a piece of silicon. The flipside of the coin? The chaotic, overwhelming noise? That’s when the artist has to go out and face all the other possibilities afforded by those same engineers. And not all of those have joy at the heart of them. Even if they claim to. Docile and healthier?

Rating: ( 4 / 5 )

About Oliver Birch

Oliver Birch writes about existential angst, the gradual erosion of democracy, and having no friends. These concerns belie the varied, gorgeous, and hopeful instrumental palette utilised in his music, which covers several genres from new-wave, to jazz, to pop.

Every song is written, performed, and produced by Oliver, and each is a deeply personal offering that he shares hoping that others might find comfort in it.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Oliver Birch


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