A darker, more dramatic, and more polished affair than All Your Faded Things, Anna Oxygen's second album, This Is an Exercise, is just as fascinating as it is chilly and alienating. In her songs, Oxygen explores some of the same issues of authenticity, creation, and consumption that Tracy + the Plastics do, but with a sci-fi/fantasy bent, as song titles like "Fairy Quest" suggest. Certainly, the album sounds like synth pop as imagined by a replicant, or a lower-fi Laurie Anderson: at times, Oxygen sings surreal lyrics like "we wear fake pajamas" and "this is just a soggy reinvention of all the things I want to lose" in a deadpan so deeply frozen that almost any emotion could be projected onto it; at other times, her voice and the music are so dramatic that she seems like she's parodying the very notion of emotions. The overt quirkiness of All Your Faded Things is downplayed on this album, with the noticeable exception of "Mechanical Fish," a sketch that questions whether or not a real fish would have any more insight into itself than a manmade one. "Willow Song," meanwhile, surrounds its beautiful, gliding melody and Oxygen's ethereal vocals in very unnatural-sounding nature sounds. As cerebral as she is, Oxygen has a way with hooks and beats that comes to the fore late on This Is an Exercise, where the robotic groove of "Walk" and the aloofly mischievous "Psychic Rainbow" add a pulse to the album's brains. From the eerie-yet-danceable "R.R.N." to "Hold You," the delicately spooky lullaby that closes the album, on This Is an Exercise, Anna Oxygen excels at creating a unique, sometimes disturbing sonic world with an almost-palpable sense of atmosphere.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares