Things seem to be heating up for Sam Bisbee, which is a good thing: Music this charmingly square doesn’t often bubble up from the indie depths. But Bisbee’s been making all the right moves for a couple of years now, appearing on various compilations, hobnobbing with buzz magnets like Cat Power, and having his music licensed for a GM ad campaign. This should be his year.
Which, I guess, explains why Oxygen is the sort of all-bases-covered album you might expect from a band on the verge. It’s a smooth listen â€” not too short, not too long, hooks aplenty â€” but it doesn’t represent a whole lot in terms of forward motion for Bisbee. His subject matter â€” relationships and self-deprecating looks in the mirror â€” remains the same, but that isn’t what leaves me wanting more from this album. I mean, plenty of songwriters spend their entire careers writing about that stuff; there’s a lot to talk about. Musically, though, Oxygen just sort of treads water, although it does make for a fun game of “spot the influence” for awhile: “Inferno” (download) is mid-period Whiskeytown! The title track â€” a less Stipey Josh Joplin!
A couple of the tracks are disappointingly half-baked for a ten-song CD (“Album Track” promises to go nowhere and delivers; “My Stunt Double” peters out suddenly after 2:10), but all things considered, an album like Oxygen is probably exactly what Bisbee needs to cross over. There’s no denying the surging pop power of a song like “Sun Shines Wherever You Are” (download).