About four years ago, Sebadoh’s Lou Barlow and Jason Loewenstein toured as a duo, leaving drum duties to a boombox named `Philips.’ They were considerate enough to make a stop in San Diego (bands have a tendency to skip this city on tours), bringing their nostalgic trip through their college rock hits to the Casbah. Suffice to say, I was stoked, having played my copy of Bakesale so many times during my teenage years that I nearly reduced it to digital dust. But I was clearly one of the youngest people in the room. As I scanned the bar, taking note of the other patrons, I was amazed at how many had likely seen the band during their early years, going so far as to prove it by wearing long since faded Buffalo Tom and Dinosaur Jr. t-shirts.
While Oxford Collapse’s Dan Fetherston, Adam Rizer and Michael Pace are closer to my own age than that of J. Mascis, I can’t help but imagine that the three members of the Brooklyn-based band have their own closets full of well-worn rock tees. Their fourth album Bits sounds like that college rock wardrobe come to life, with, ahem, `bits’ of R.E.M.’s Murmur, Pylon’s Gyrate, The Feelies’ Crazy Rhythms and, occasionally, Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation bouncing around in a fun and frenzied indie rock vacuum.
While this classic indie sonic meld has been Oxford Collapse’s M.O. since day one, their approach has become more sophisticated. The move to Sub Pop with 2006’s Remember the Night Parties reveals how well the band sounds with cleaned up production, revealing their endearingly imperfect voices and brightly glimmering guitars with a certain clarity. While these three fellows may sound a bit panicked when their cracking pipes each belt out “I can’t remember things…I just don’t know what to do” on leadoff track “Electric Arc,” the gleeful jangle of the music seems to suggest something more joyous altogether. Taking a completely different route with first single “The Birthday Wars,” the band layers on the fuzz, going almost shoegazer yet remaining unrelenting in their emotional power.
“Young Love Delivers,” most of all, sounds like some kind of long lost track from Camper Van Beethoven, with a glorious jangle and witty rhymes like “My love came back from Sweden/ brought me some bathroom reading.” Coming as a dramatic surprise, however, is “A Wedding,” which still finds the trio yelping in harmony, yet they do so against a spare backing of cello—the clean guitar jangle and hyperactive rhythms are nowhere to be found. “For the Winter Coats” is much more explosive in sound, but carries the casually sweet sentiment, “I’ll hang with you in a heartbeat, if you let me.”
Oxford Collapse wear their share of American post-punk influences at all times, but their unique blend of said influences has evolved into an individual, recognizable brand. The N.Y. trio merely had good taste to begin with, and throughout their career, have been funneling that into something new and exciting, with Bits being no exception. I can only hope that in 15 years, I’ll be seeing folks my own age wearing faded Oxford Collapse shirts to indie rock reunions.
MP3: “The Birthday Wars”
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.