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“Funky Rhetoric” by Lee Oskar

Throbbing, pulsating, cornering us around every turn in the rhythm. When you’re listening to a song as guitar-laden as “Funky Rhetoric” by Lee Oskar is, it can be hard to focus on anything other than the fiery fretwork holding everything together at the top of the mix; that said, with a player like Oskar in the song, to say our attention is spread across an entire composition just wouldn’t be doing the boldness of this piece justice. “Funky Rhetoric” tries to capture the essence of its title in more than one sonic facet, but in all honesty, I think it’s a lot more soothing a listen than anyone would have expected this fall.

Lee Oskar’s harmonica is enrapturing, but I noticed right from the start of his opening beat that this is a more modulated approach he’s taking to the microphone than he has in other releases. He’s not being hesitant with his play, but there’s more of a swing in his delivery than I was expecting for sure. Although he always sounds a little more focused when the arrangement is tight, it would be fun to hear him experiment with his arranging to the extent he has in this single more often, given that he has the talent to do just about anything he chooses.

The beat that guides the melodic instrumentation in “Funky Rhetoric” has an ironically metallic aesthetic directing its every move, but I would stop just shy of calling it a heavy rock influence over the other elements of the song. Oskar hasn’t crossed into that genre’s realm just yet, but if you take into account all of the different ways he’s been making his music heavier in 2023, there’s no debating whether or not he has it in him to make a full-on heavy record. In some ways, this is as close to a true crossover song as he’s made to date.

If there’s one thing that Oskar hasn’t skimped on in any track I’ve reviewed, it’s making the production quality as sterling as his actual performance is, and the substance of the mastering of this piece does not disappoint on any front. “Funky Rhetoric” features the Midas touch on its high-end frequencies and doesn’t abuse a scooped EQ on the harmonica parts as much as I’m used to hearing as a music critic, but best of all, it doesn’t sacrifice melodicism in the name of emphasizing machismo, which is something that I always get put off by when I find it.

There’s an argument to be made that Lee Oskar is still figuring out his sound and expanding upon a theme we heard in his very first release, but I also think that, at this point, he’s got the kind of respected reputation in the underground that doesn’t obligate him to push his artistry any further than he already has to own a certain segment of his scene. “Funky Rhetoric” confirms that his abilities are no joke nor some fleeting good luck a lot of short-term stars enjoy; he’s here to stay, and his output reflects this.

Mindy McCall



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