To say that the likes of Peetie Wheatstraw and Robert Johnson were great innovators not only in popular music but also in the marketing of it would belabor this now-objective truth so harshly as not only to beat a dead horse, but to molest sexually the open wounds made manifest by said beating. I mention it only to bring up a question seldom asked of the two artists: was the marketing necessary? To be sure, it is no uncommon thing for pop music acts to drag in tow with their sound some raucous horse shit story or stories that they assume would bolster their music, which is perfectly fine for acts that are awful beyond redemption. But are better acts distracting themselves? Perhaps that is the true charm of Oxbow when one really steps back and considers them and their oeuvre. There will, at times, come certain bands whose music alone towers over the tallest of tales. In 1989, Oxbow became one such band when it released Fuckfest, now rereleased two decades hence for the public’s proper reintroduction to their core ugliness.
Though the album can now be put into a proper context with the rest of Oxbow’s artistic history, as the starting point to all the that would ensue and gain in notoriety not long afterwards, it has its own profoundness. With its rough melding of noise, blues and hard rock, Fuckfest either plays like an exercise of mental breakdown through sound or a reinterpretation of rock n’ roll’s founding principles — or, more likely, both. Whatever the case, Oxbow sounds like the bar band of one’s nightmares. Niko Wenner has inventive ways of making even the simplest guitar riff sound menacing as he does with hellish rock numbers “Curse” (whose opening riff shows us a more interesting path through and away from hardcore) and “Bull’s Eye,” and the bluesy “30 Miles.” Stranger still is “The Valley” which is driven by a pensive, coldly produced acoustic guitar before diving into more hectic and layered territory comprised of sounds both voluminously overbearing and melodically beautiful. Centering around the whole mania is Eugene Robinson’s brazen vocal performance in which its screeches, howls, mumbles and other methods of indecipherability suggest a grand catharsis is being reached. One would have to consult a lyric sheet for reference of course (which Hydra Head did not provide), but given that Robinson actually cares about words, despite being incomprehensible in song, that, too, should be just as interesting as listening.
Though the Oxbow of 2009 has seen an expansion of its audience with the greater acceptance of eclecticism in underground rock in recent years, the Oxbow of 1989 was part of a greater sideshow of the underground rock culture — the alternative to the alternative to the alternative, if you will. They shared that sideshow stage with such acts as Earth, US Maple, Whitehouse, Unwound, Lubricated Goat, Rapeman, and other acts that were either too cool or too fucked to be considered for placement on any stage at Lollapalooza, and if Oxbow weren’t the former at that time, the title of the album would certainly give credence to them being the latter, and it is confirmed several times over after having pressed play, no horse shit is needed. Had this been the only album Oxbow had released, with all that is now known of the band obscured indefinitely, this would still be an adequate representation of the band’s overall vision: though everyone dies, Oxbow can die better, and can expound all the rage and energy it needs in doing so if that is what is required.
The Birthday Party – Junkyard
Jesus Lizard – Liar
Unsane – Scattered, Smothered and Covered