You know what kills so hard about a band like the Oxes? Okay, for starters the fact that they call themselves the Oxes, but also this: No one’s ever going to try and cover any of their songs, because no one’s ever going to break their mind trying to learn them. No one’s ever going to, except maybe György Ligeti or some other avant garde composer, because the songs are impenetrably dense—in the most complimentary way.
Not that they don’t rock, because they most assuredly do. There’s just way too much stuff going on: crazy changes, frantic patches of guitar scraping, funny syncopations, strange time signatures, beats that confuse and fluster. You can’t learn these songs; they have to be played from the inside out, as opposed to the outside in. You would have to have them explained to you in the same step-by-step way they were composed, except the Oxes were there the whole time and you were not.
In that way, they’re a lot like the Champs (the Bay Area Champs, not the same bunch that wrote “Tequila”), or Frodus. In fact, passages of both “Dear Spirit, I’m in France” and “I’m From Hell, Open a Windle,” from a recent promo CD teasing a full-length release on Monitor Records, strongly suggest Frodus at their craziest, minus the screaming vocals and early-’90s emo production. Would-be fans of an all-instrumental Frodus, a pricklier Champs or a similar custom modification of other minimal/absent/inconsequential vocal-having band (Last of the Juanitas, maybe) would do well to seek out a couple singles or take the LP for a test drive. Like the aforementioned bands, the Oxes sound is just too creepy-crawling with myriad changes to play along with or whistle on the way to work.
The Baltimore band have a couple of nearly-notable alumni credits that probably recommend them to fans of the greater D.C.-area scene, but nothing I really had ever heard before or knew much about. But the complicated rock factor here intrigues me. Where a band like U.S. Maple is all complicated build-up with no payoff, these Charm City boys sport a minimum of foreshadowing, preferring instead to cut right to the chase, thump hell out of a particularly abstruse passage and jump right to another one. It’s a sweet mystery how they can actually put them across as songs; the connecting tissue is so tough and tight, that’s how it works. Otherwise every song might easily sound like a song-length series of tape edits.
And about no one ever covering an Oxes song: I’d love to see a band like the Oxes play at a hostile rock club with a bunch of butt-rockers whooping and cat-calling “Free Bird!” or “Play something that rocks!” Subjectivity of term “rock” aside, I don’t doubt that the Oxes could whale on “Free Bird” or any other crappy classic rock song that Butt Boy’s pitiful cover band flogs to death every weekend. But could Butt Boy’s band play the first two measures of an Oxes song? Like to see ‘em try.
Oxes rock Jay’s Upstairs like it’s the casbah, Monday, July 24 at 10 PM. Cover TBA.