‘Free And Easy’ by Oscar Dowling (Album)
Auckland-based Oscar Dowling, formerly of the noted indie-pop group New Gum Sarn, bares all on his melancholic debut solo album
Free And Easy is not an easy album to listen to. The slow sauntering bass and drums of the opening song The Life, followed later by a warped out guitar and Dowling’s Leonard Cohen-esque deep voice, sets the tone of what is to follow. With lyrics such as: “I had enough / Enough time to kill myself,” from the start you’ll be aware that you’re being taken on a melancholic journey.
Oscar Dowling, formerly a member of the noted indie-pop group New Gum Sarn, and his backing band comprising Auckland locals Steven Huf, Will Wood, Mason Fairey and Sam Hamilton recorded his debut album with minimal practice. It shows, and strangely not in a bad way. The band hangs on a thread behind Dowling, the ramshackle turbulence lending the songs a genuinely exciting edge. This is best exhibited on Sally Free And Easy.
The lack of rehearsals is put down a last-minute change of heart from Dowling. After playing at a neighbour’s wedding, Dowling was approached by producer Ben Lawson from Auckland’s The Red Bull Studios and asked if he wanted some studio time. Dowling was given a week in between other projects. At the last moment he realised he didn’t want to record solo and enlisted his friends to help. As Dowling remembers: “I’d seen both of them play with a lot of different people over the years and knew they could pull it off without much warning. I think we only practiced three times.”
The one thing you will take away from this album is Oscar Dowling’s unique voice. One moment it channels Jeff Buckley, the next early Cohen. It leads a band in the throes of cacophony, and then harmonises with a soft piano. Rotten Apples sees Dowling sing over what sounds like an old-time piano and wailing brass section. The juxtaposition between the somewhat cheery backing, Dowling’s melancholic voice and his raw lyrics is jarring, but it works very well.
The closing track, Motorway, begins with a whammy bar inflicted guitar. It’s an instrumental song – a swirl of guitars, drenched in feedback, float above the loose drums and bass. That’s the end of the journey and you have seen Oscar Dowling’s soul laid open. Free And Easy is as ironic an album name as it gets: this record is anything but.
Verdict: A journey in melancholy