If this album encapsulates anything, it’s that you should take solace in how untidy that head of yours is, it’s what make you you.
By: Zachary Mann
From the moment you turn on the album Breathe Deep , you’ll find yourself someplace strange. A drone of planes and cars, kids yelling back and forth, the soft clicking of a guitar pedal being turned on and off, and a directionless plucking on a guitar which sounds as if it were built by an alien fill the atmosphere.
You’re no longer sitting in your own home, you’re in Oscar Jerome’s, “searching for aliens” from his apartment balcony, using an electric guitar as your telescope. What comes after is a steady parade of jazz, funk, neo-soul, and indie-infused pieces expertly intertwined to create a stunningly diverse and contemplative album on love, political turmoil, and identity.
Born in Norwich, England, Jerome studied at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London. He then became a prominent member of the UK jazz underground, playing and writing for London Afrobeat band Kokoroko and collaborating with Shabaka Hutchings, Moses Boyd and Yussef Dayes. In 2019, he supported prominent LA saxophonist Kamasi Washington during his UK tour. Between collaborations, the guitarist slowly developed and refined the collection of songs on Breathe Deep over the course of five years.
The first song on the album, “Sun for Someone” (“searching for aliens” is a skit), immediately brings forth an infectious groove, making it quite a difficult song to stand still while listening to. The constant swing laid down on the high paired with the steady eighth-note drive of the bass provide a solid ground, while the immaculate layering of guitars – all drenched in chorus – and electric and acoustic pianos (played by Joe Armon) make you feel as if you’ve just dived into a crystal blue ocean.
“The sun will always come for someone / but it doesn’t come for everyone / and it doesn’t come on time,” Jerome sings. The song is about the conversation around climate change, and that climate activism isn’t about saving the world (that will stay around long after we all die) but about saving ourselves from ourselves.
Those same guitars from “Sun for Someone” introduce the next song, “Give Back What U Stole from Me.” But they’ve taken on a coy attitude, slowly raising and lowering in volume, wanting you to follow them as they make their way in and out of presence. When your attention is fully engaged on the guitars, you’re blind-sided with an unequivocally chaotic drum solo which will knock you off your seat if you’re not thoroughly prepared.
The song quickly turns around to a more upbeat jazz-funk groove, dotted throughout with solos from electric guitars and pianos and an aggressive saxophone which takes centre stage during each chorus. With each re-listen of this song you’ll find something you haven’t heard before.
“I can’t understand this greed / How the selfish have the power / how the rest, how the rest just plant the seed,” he sings. This song is a tie-in to “Sun for Someone,” calling out those of us who have succumbed to greed over the well-being of their fellow humans.
“Your saint only cares for money / don’t you touch his sense of pride / Oh, Paris’ arrow is hot on your heels / A scholar caught in the rain / Unnoticed, unnamed”
Remember these words, because you’ll want to sing along with Jerome and the pitch shifted choir when you hear them. You’ll also most likely be doing that while bobbing your head up and down to the syncopated layers of drums and bongos. Gerome speaks of the hypocrisy of France, what he says is a country built on Christian values but continues to improperly treat refugees. Brother Portrait makes an appearance on this track, and with him comes a hypnotizing set of lyrics reminiscent of Gil Scott Heron.
“Each body across water, a spirit’s still tethered to a place / That meant purpose was being / That sang sweet, I am still tethered, now straining my face / Pulled into shapes of mourning / Now home is a burial ground”
The album starts to mellow out with “Coy Moon.” Muted guitar notes plop like rain drops against your inner ear, another guitar dressed up to sound like a synth gives the song the song an atmosphere akin to an 80’s horror movie. However, this song is a love song in the key of romantic poets such as John Keats. “Coy Moon” provides a nice break from the vibrancy of the first few songs.
Things start to pick up with “Gravitate” and the instrumental “Fkn Happy Day ‘N’ That,” with the former taking on a broken drum beat and the latter attesting to the Jerome’s Latin groove influence. While these songs still take on a groove which wills one to dance, it is apparent that the energy of this album was spent on the first half of the album. These songs, along with “Timeless” and “Joy is You,” take on a much slower tempo.
If anything, the second half of the album is contemplative while the former half is outgoing and apparently political. Oscar Jerome speaks of wanting someone to see themselves how others see them on “Gravitate” and about seeing someone as a series of memories rather than just as who they are in the moment in “Timeless” (with some excellent vocals added in from Lianne La Havas). The final song, “Joy is You” only uses two guitars and a double bass to accompany Jerome’s vocals. The song is intimate – being a celebration of the birth of his nephew – and acts as a gentle lullaby to lay the listener to rest after finishing the album.
There’s an atmosphere to each of the songs on Oscar Jerome’s Breathe Deep. From the fervent fury emanating from “Give Back What U Stole from Me” to the acoustic introspection of “Joy is You,” each song has something to offer.
Underpinning it all is the humanness of the album. You and I, we’re messy creatures, prone to shifts in emotion at the drop of a pin (or the skip of a track in this case). If this album encapsulates anything, it’s that you should take solace in how untidy that head of yours is, it’s what make you you.
“And as my thoughts go back to seashells / Oh though there’s a baby in the bluebells / The joy is you.”