Born primarily out of vocalist Joey Ashworth’s experiences of being both bisexual and non-binary, there’s no getting around the fact that Oh Dearism is an intensely personal record.
Backed by a posse including a number of other non-binary and bisexual musicians, Joey’s explorations into what it means to not conform have won plaudits from the press and underground scene alike. The primary theme is how alone discrimination has made Joey feel, perfectly accentuated by a similarly sad Johnny Foreigner/Tangled Hair-esque aesthetic on pre-Oh Dearism releases such as “Get Terrified”.
Said track makes a reappearance here, and stands tall as one of the album’s highlights. Balancing the feelings of isolation with a gut-wrenching frustration, Joey’s rasping questioning of “Did you ever defer uni? How was living abroad? Did you plan me when you made the world? Do you know my pronouns?” feels, at least on a couple of those points, largely relatable.
This notion of getting nice and close with Joey is no more apparent than on the excellent “Craiglockhart”. Turning defiant, they recount their love in circumstances tougher than most of us will likely ever encounter. Joey’s cries are heartbreaking as they perfectly capture the multitude of emotions that stack up when your love comes under question: “Just because I can’t see you, doesn’t mean you’re not there! Were you really not angry? Or just not scared? I’ll protect you my love, just don’t run / I’ll protect you my love”.
Alternatives to the consuming sadness in Joey’s words however are all too rare, and itoldyouiwouldeatyou are all the worse for it at times. Lyrics such as the infuriating “Kids hurt themselves by accident / So when I hurt myself, is that an accident?” at the end of “Young American” and the convoluted spoken word of closer “Goodbye To All That” reflect little in the way of variation.
The same can’t be said of the musical arrangements, which although steeped in emo also feature touches of indie and post-rock. The success with which the band presents these variations however differs from track to track. “Almost Zero” is a wonderful example of guitarists Josh See and Alexei Berrow proving themselves equally adept at creating soundscapes both urgent and glistening. Extended endings to “Greek Fire” and “Gathering Things And Not Dividing Them” however betray that there is still work to be done, and the combination of influences rarely makes the record feel any less one-dimensional.
There’s no doubt that Oh Dearism is in many ways a valiant record from the band, and successfully communicates the loneliness Joey went through. There is little variation around this theme however, or much inclusion of the wider gamut of human experience. As it stands, Oh Dearism is a terribly sad release. The unfortunate part is it could have been that, and so much more.