Oxbow : Love’s Holiday

Oxbow Love's Holiday

Oxbow frontman Eugene S. Robinson is the type of big dude that’s often absent from rock music. The idea of a “big guy” usually refers to one’s relevance in the greater culture or to their ego—think Noel Gallagher. Robinson’s stature is nothing like that. As a former amateur fighter, bodybuilder, and current black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he possesses rare physicality that comes from experience in combat combined with an imposing frame that transfers to his performance. However, he also carries a humbleness cultivated from those intense interests, yet you would never confuse it for meekness. He’s both assertive and attentive. Where so much of rock music leans towards angular, sinewy, spiny, and jagged, Robinson’s presence is a rarity. 

While the rest of Oxbow aren’t beef cannons like Robinson, they share his raw power. This is to say that the band’s most gripping element is their simplest: they rock. That statement is intended with as much rockism as it implies because the task is more difficult than it appears. It’s a complex concoction that requires balancing distortion, tonality, friction, volume, energy and maturity. Too much of one at the behest of others leads to Greta Van Fleet (oh no) or Sunn O))) (oh yes). Thankfully, Oxbow are as entertained by blues as they are by noise rock, two fundamentally solid genres to draw from as the former supplies the required muscularity to make rock music alive while the latter is creatively daring enough to push that muscularity into dangerous territories. Just one is fine, but both are fantastic as they compensate for each other’s losses. 

The key to Oxbow since their return with 2017’s Thin Black Duke is that looseness and heaviness should co-exist, a belief that courses throughout Love’s Holiday’s strongest tracks, the opening two numbers and the closer “Gunwale.” On “Gunwale,” Oxbow take this dichotomy to a conclusion of sorts as Robinson battles drummer Greg Davis for dominance in the mix. There’s not much structure outside of that conflict, but there needn’t be for the track’s sake. It’s untethered and unfiltered, though not in a punk sense of abandonment that leads to disconnection from the craft. Oxbow are still clued into what’s happening and can tap into a primal energy that supersedes format. 

Unfortunately, Oxbow haven’t quite perfected a mechanism to instill the vitality of tracks like “Dead Ahead” into Love’s Holiday’s major theme. The energy that coursed through “A Gentleman’s Gentleman” from Thin Black Duke is largely replaced by a focus on love. This is not young fiery affection, but an aging connection. A difficulty to dislodge the other person from your life and the idea that your life ceases to exist without your partner. Love like this doesn’t lend itself to explosive rock music so Oxbow turn to bluesy pastures, slower tempos, and orchestras. The soothing background vocals that coddle “1000 Hours” are more indicative of Love’s Holiday than the two opening tracks. They get the point across that mood is the primary expressive form here, but tracks don’t exist outside their mood. There’s little variation in dynamics or structures so the songs don’t lift off nor develop meaningfully. They’re too short to establish themselves or leave a lasting impression. “All Gone,” for instance, has all the makings of a touching track, but Robinson’s vulnerable performance, the romantic pianos, and the would-be elevated stakes of the choral accompaniment are squandered by a sense of malaise. The delicacy with which “All Gone” wishes to operate is undercut but the sinister guitar, dangling the track in a purgatory between its intentions.

Love’s Holiday concludes as a frustrating album in the same way as your favorite MMA fighter not getting in enough offense is frustrating to watch. Oxbow’s representation of love as a gothic and aging affair is novel and occasionally heartbreaking. “Million Dollar Weekend” comes to mind as a beautiful send-up to youthful lust and it’s the album’s strongest track of this variety, but even it suffers from a lack of momentum. Love’s Holiday reflects how Oxbow don’t want to abandon what they have for its permanent place in their lives. So while a song like “1000 Hours” can, for all intents and purposes, be wrenching and romantic, it doesn’t get across the stability Oxbow have built up. You can hear and appreciate their sentiments, but too infrequently feel them. 

Label: Ipecac

Year: 2023

Similar Albums:

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll To Top