Outside of the SST/Amphetamine Reptile circle, it’s unlikely that many are familiar with the work of San Francisco’s Oxbow. And yet, they’ve had a longer career than most bands spawned from the post-hardcore school, having lasted for 16 years and released five studio albums in that time. Like many of their peers, Oxbow’s style is abrasive and disturbing, not unlike Jesus Lizard or Shellac. But there’s something altogether more frightening and, interestingly enough, bluesy about the band that few of their genre could boast. Simply put, Oxbow are a one-of-a-kind band, and Hydra Head has assembled a new compilation of Oxbow material (not new, unfortunately) packaged with a DVD to serve as a career summary for the band, even if its odds-n-sods nature doesn’t so much facilitate a convenient introduction to the band.
Love That’s Last is composed of unreleased tracks, album tracks and a live cut, which originally appeared on a zine compilation. And you would be hard pressed to find a more confusing set of songs to come from just one band. Starting off with a cover of Willie Dixon’s “Insane Asylum,” re-titled “Insylum,” the band combines Jesus Lizard-like skronk with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins style voodoo and Eugene Robinson’s scary-as-hell howling. A similar combo of R&B and noise can be heard on “Yoke,” which almost grooves, in spite of Robinson’s fingernails-on-a-chalkboard screech.
Elsewhere, the band takes on Zeppelin-esque stomp on the unsettling, yet surprisingly accessible “Is That What Sleep Looks Like?”, a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Mogwai album. “The Valley” is a relatively subdued acoustic number, no less creepy, but less confrontational than some of the noisier numbers, a couple of which come in 30 second, Captain Beefheart-esque form. Those who can make it through a listen to “Bomb” without having the experience result in nightmares might be a better man than me. It’s pretty fucking intense, all acoustic drone, piercing strings and, of course, Robinson’s unholy bellow. But afterward comes “Sunday,” one of the band’s more conventional “rock” songs, recorded by Albini and not sounding too far off from Shellac, aesthetically.
Love That’s Last might be a strange introduction to Oxbow, as it jumps all over the place stylistically, but it does show you everything that the band is capable of in a fairly concise package. I’d say the band was criminally underrated, and I’d be right. But the fact of the matter is, most people probably wouldn’t be able to take this level of intensity.
The Birthday Party – Peel Sessions
Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band – Trout Mask Replica
Jesus Lizard – Bang
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.