Review Summary: A well-read thug..
It’s been a cool decade since The Narcotic Story
slinked, crashed, f*cked and bullied its way to the top of Year-End lists among more partisan music publications. The musical landscape has gone through a dizzying amount of motions since then, but Oxbow never seemed like a band who would notice. They’re back and up to their taped ears in the old groove. And they still sound damn good.
The ten-year gap is felt in Thin Black Duke
’s smallest rucks and creases. Older and wiser might be a hokey way of putting it, but this is a sneakily classy record through and through. High-pitched horn swells serrate their way through the mammoth crush that the band churn on “Cold and Well-Lit Place.” Asymmetrical patterns and twitchy, shifting crescendos give “Letter of Note” an elegant avant-garde polish. Most importantly, on “Other People,” the band show a bent and distorted sort of patience. How they managed all of it without the raw viscera slipping between their fingers is the biggest feather in Oxbow’s cap.
And as far as coarse agitation and passion go, Oxbow’s cup runneth over. Dense and agile at once, Thin Black Duke
throbs like a coiled spring. Math rock, hardcore, experimental, blues, noise and some warped jazz all get smashed together into a cohesive whole, a thing that moves like an attacking animal. The songs manage to sound immediate, all the while being so busy with ingredients, sequences and howls that it seems like they might split at the seams at any moment.
Between their enigmatically crude front-men, and music that contemplates as much as it ambushes, comparisons to Swans have swarmed around Oxbow for years. But their lean and nimble convulsions lift them above Gira’s unwieldy monuments to professional artistry. Nothing as stilted and posed, Oxbow mine aesthetic ground that sticks closer to the kind of controlled chaos Jesus Lizard were swirling in in the early 90’s. It’s art rock that actually rocks, smart music that still packs a punch, and it is all the more terrifying and f*cking delectable for it.