If you’ve heard Oskar Herbig’s guitar work when he’s played with his cousin Skyscraper Stan Woodhouse’s band the Commission Flats, then Oskar’s first solo EP won’t come as too much of a surprise. It’s a short affair, five songs that set out Herbig’s stall as a solo performer in his own right. Just a lightly-distorted, mostly finger-picked, hollow-body guitar over which Herbig sings bleak, heartfelt lyrics that tell stories of the life of a struggling singer in Melbourne.
Herbig has established himself already as an accomplished guitarist with a distinctive style of intricate acoustic-influenced electric picking, and his signature style is to the fore in these five tracks, an engaging and agreeable mix of folk, blues and, in places, a slightly skiffle- and bluegrass-inflected mood that manages to be full enough not to need a rhythm section behind it. What’s new is Herbig’s voice, an enjoyable instrument in his own right. While it’s definitely his own voice, it’s also clear that Oskar has been listening to his Nick Cave records during his time in Australia, the deep, rich tenor of his voice shining through most powerfully in the opening track Lord, I Ain’t Your Son, a song that also owes more than a passing debt to cousin Stan’s back catalogue.
Lyrics match music for mood: there is an undeniable heartache in Terrible Feeling’s tales of sleeping rough, or a reference to “blood under my nails” in the album’s second track, which insists that “I shouldn’t have to live like this.” Writing miserable lyrics is easy; writing pain with humour and wit is an altogether tougher task, and Herbig seems up to the challenge. There’s no denying the gloom in Bloodstain On My Shirt, but for every reference to a keyboard that just plays broken notes in the dark, there’s a hint of redemption: “Unlike the ships that sink around me, I know that I’ll stand tall; I’ve been through all this shit before, and I know it doesn’t last.”
It’s a short set, but a very strong one, a promising start and a tantalising hint. Oskar Herbig’s first solo release suggests that he has a very strong full first album inside him waiting to get out, and there’s little doubt that it will be a record worth waiting for.