Oli Duerden - The Distant Paths (EP Review)


Old-school riffage is alive and well in Bristol. Multi-instrumentalist Oli Duerden may be best known for his work with the early-21st-century rock band Left Side Brain, but since that group's hibernation period started in 2014, Duerden hasn't put down his guitar. Instead, the riffs on his sophomore solo EP, The Distant Paths, are as heavy, dark, and unassumingly straightforward as any post-Y2K angst-ridden band that made a name for themselves when Kerrang! was still culturally relevant.

The Distant Paths has a retro feel, and those who like rock music that doesn't beat around the bush will surely appreciate the immediacy of the four tracks presented here. "Papercut Smile" opens proceedings with a two-chord riff that hits you between the eyes. Though, it's not all cock-rock bravado. Duerden puts as much energy into the melodic aspects of his craft as he does the rhythmic, resulting in tracks that have as many kisses on the cheek as they do bites on the neck. "Open Up" follows a similar dynamic structure but has more intention to soar, digging into the dirt like a shovel before going skyward with an inspirational melody and lyrics about the importance of being as honest with others as you are yourself. 

On "Run With It", Duerden branches on musically, swapping his dangerously sharp riffs for summery chords and uplifting piano keys. It's more emotionally driven songwriting, and while the distortion is still there, it's under the radio-friendly refrain of "You're not alone", which repeats over major chords, a sort of call-to-arms that inspires the listener to realise their place in the world is not solitary (how could it be?).  

"Take A Breath" is an acoustic-led closing track that ends the EP on a reflective and positive note. It's a contrast with how the EP began just three songs prior. From anti-establishment aggressions to more adult contemporary songs guided by a veneration of positive mental health, this incongruity can feel like day and night, yet both exist next to each other in harmony. Duerden has contrasted his variegated styles to show two distant paths, as though he is standing at crossroads and figuring out which one to take.

The Distant Paths showcases the two sides of the Oli Duerden coin; energetic riff-driven rock and highly melodic and sweet songwriting. While this dichotomy might not make for the most comprehensive listening experience, especially given the limited time frame Duerden has given himself to make these juxtapositions, the result is a refreshingly unique blend of different flavours that come together in one morish taste.