Review Summary: Oxbow deliver on a promise, whether you like it or not.
When I reviewed The Very Best of Men's Recovery Project
for an old blog, I thought that there couldn't be a band less suited for a "greatest hits" release. Obviously, I had forgotten about Oxbow.
To put it simply, Oxbow is one of the most intense and challenging bands in America today. Oxbow sounds like an uneasy mix of the delta blues at its most unhinged and spectral, noise at its most throbbing and fetid, and rock-n-roll at its most debauched. It's possible to eke out thin points of reference: The Jesus Lizard or The Birthday Party, maybe even Neurosis. But Oxbow is an island that no planes fly over.
The focal point of Oxbow is lead vocalist Eugene Robinson. Onstage Robinson is a mountain of seething, tattooed muscle and slippery menace, moaning his way through Oxbow's fierce compositions like the anti-Christ to Henry Rollins' clean-cut Jesus, or a madman from Iggy Pop's nightmares. This is a man capable of deriding Jean Genet's approach to crime as "dilettantish." A handsome, charismatic singer known to choke hecklers into submission is noteworthy in any band, but the deliriously wonderful fact about Oxbow is that the racket kicked up by his band mates matches Robinson's pit fighter intensity. (By the way, that's not a metaphor; he's also a mixed martial artist of considerable skill and experience.)
I've been a bit disingenuous: Love That's Last: A Wholly Hypnographic & Disturbing Work Regarding Oxbow
isn't really a greatest hits album. Hydra Head bills it as a disc that "reintroduces the Oxbow canon", which it does in fact do. The first disc is rife with unreleased live versions and improvisations in addition to a handful of re-released tracks. The track selection actually does a decent job of making an unbelievably challenging band almost approachable. This Is What Sleep Looks Like?
is a piece of live improvisation that trumps most bands' recorded work in terms of simmering intensity and dynamics. Glimmer Bird
is a live mutation of the awesome, hypnotic closing track from An Evil Heat
, all pounding tides of glistening feedback and distortion.
As if all this wasn't enough, the second disc is a DVD that features Christian Anthony's awesome documentary, Music For Adults: A Film About a Band Called Oxbow
, along with extra live footage. Although the band prioritizes recording over live performance, there's nothing quite like getting an eyeful of Oxbow ("in the flesh" being a particularly apt figure of speech here). The documentary sheds light on the phenomenon whereby Oxbow, when offstage, are actually not the pack of wild-eyed psychopaths their music might suggest; in fact they are rather soft-spoken and personable young men. This seemed true in my limited experience (based solely on a brief conversation with Robinson following a show in LA last year), and the film makes them seem downright endearing. The fact that Robinson's singer-on-crowd violence never occurs without provocation only adds to this, making Oxbow seem like a band that's too real to be allowed to exist.
"For adults" is an apt qualifier for this music, a proper reception of which seems to demand from the listener a level of existential anguish only cultivated through years of failure and disappointment. A lot of bands bill their records as therapy, but Oxbow bleeds authenticity in a way most hardcore bands can only dream of. The band called Oxbow is a raw nerve in today's bland landscape of supposedly alternative music; you owe it to yourself to descend into their world.