Since his 2014 EP Tales and Shadows, Oktoba (aka Chris Athorne) has continued to impress with his vocal and lyrical talents. These qualities stole the spotlight throughout his album Smoke Signals. It was a collection of songs rich in an acoustic sound, blending folk and Americana. Each one had a beautiful soundtrack that allowed his high calibre of storytelling to stand out. Listen to the tracks “Something New” and “Run” to hear how good he can be. Since then, he has produced the EP Takes and various singles, including “Snow” and a mesmerising cover of “It Must Be Love”.
Oktoba has been on a life journey over the last few years. These experiences have shaped his new album, What a Life. He says, “This record is a collection of my most personal tracks to date. Of a time of becoming a father and the emotional road it takes to get there. A time of age and change of moving from youth to adult. All on top of going through a worldwide pandemic! It was a chance to reflect through tough times. Not just personally but worldwide. About the care and love from those closest to home that we truly value the most”.
As for its soundtrack, he wanted everything to be just right. To achieve his goal, he decided to bring in some additional musicians. He says, “I feel honoured to have the players I do on this record too. For me, it’s them that make it what it is. Rory Dempsey (Heritage Orchestra, Aphex Twin) weaving his utterly stunning bass line and string arrangements through the tracks. Ben Edwards (Robbie Williams, Paolo Nutini) provided the brass, while my incredible producer Ben Townsend brought it all together. Huge praise to everyone involved on this album”. With all the pieces in place, the record was complete. Now his album What a Life is out there for the world to hear.
As soon as the album begins, Oktoba greets you with his vocals as he shares his story. As it progresses, it is hard not to notice its captivating soundtrack created by keys and subtle electronic layers. These elements flow into the song “Awake”. As soon as the keys begin to play, the listener knows they are in for something special. It is confirmed as he delivers the opening lines, “These days have never felt so easy / Now I’m next to you”. The emotional tone of his voice is stunning. It feels honest, with nothing to hide. Especially as he shares the chorus, “Oh it’s been a long time / Sleeping through the dark / But now, I’m awake / I’m awake”. It is a trait that is the foundation of all of his music.
Next comes “Fault Line”, with a story about “split attractions, a love triangle and the challenges of one relationship having to end for another to bloom”. At the start, you become drawn to the infectious feel of the various layers of instruments that make up the soundtrack. Their arrangement creates a lasting impression as impactful as the vocals, especially with their electronic beats. This atmosphere enhances the mood. It gives the hook, “I’ll be your fault line, fault line / I’ll be your fault line, fault line / Just give me some of your time, your time / And I’ll be your fault line” more impact. As the song comes to a close, the tone intensifies, wrapping up the first outstanding moment from the album.
He changes the mood with “Seduced” by swapping his piano for a guitar. It offers something different from those that came before it. Along with bass and strings, it creates an emotional soundtrack that is as mesmerising as his vocals. “Hold Tight” is an honest and personal track by Oktoba. About losing a child and feeling helpless as his wife goes through this hardest of experiences. He says, “your role becomes simple. To care, to love, to be there. ‘Hold Tight’ is my tribute to the bravery of the most inspirational women I’ve ever known. And that little chancer we never got to meet. Over a year on, our daughter El arrived. She’s pretty fantastic, and we couldn’t feel luckier”. Everything is laid bare throughout this moment as his voice doesn’t just share the words but the feelings too.
“Tape” delivers a story about “the desire to find a little solitude while the heart takes time to heal”. Its sound has an unusual feel, and Oktoba says, “the track’s slacker indie feel lends itself perfectly to soundtrack a broken heart”. Again, it shines a light on his musical and arrangement talents. His vocals stand out with the arrival of “Summer Sun”. They grab the listener’s attention from the opening lines, “To every women’s work / There’s a man undone / With a dying thirst / And a heart in love / Oh baby / I’ll go wherever you go”. They effortlessly float along and excel further during the latter part of the song.
Music is all about the journey and Oktoba’s new album ‘What a Life’ is the perfect example of that.
Seeing out the album is a personal highlight, “Rigmarole”. Oktoba explains, “we all feel the grind from time to time. When life seems to take from us, we crave that new beginning. Rigmarole was written in that time but from a place of hope. A belief in all of our ability to switch up. To change not only our direction in life but our mindset too”. It is a song that perfectly balances the old and new within his music. It maintains the captivating lyrical and vocal qualities with the new depth within his sound.
He sets the mood with his keys. It does not take for his tale to begin, “What a life / I can breathe / I can see / And my teeth are clean”. Musically, it is subtle in its minimalist feel but adds so much to the soundtrack. Especially whit the chorus and the use of strings is added. Along with his voice, it adds a special quality to, “On my way / No more / As I’m sick to death / Of the Rigmarole”. These are lines that see out the track in a delicate manner. As the album ends, you take in the audio journey Oktoba has just taken you on. It may be a rollercoaster of emotions, but all in a good way. He should be proud of what he has created. You should take the time and give What a Life a listen today!