Oh man, Oxbow makes me angry. Don’t get me wrong, the anger isn’t directed at them, but it’s still a present and palpable emotional response. Listening to their latest record (and first new music in six years), Love’s Holiday, puts me in mind of the early 1990s – and perhaps that’s where the anger springs from. Let’s rewind to those days of yore and see if we can trace this feeling…
So, anger in this era may have sprung partially from my geography: South Africa, my native land, was not in the best of places, politically or socially speaking, having just emerged from the heavily oppressive 1980s. I joke with people that the ’80s in the country was just like the small-town setting of Stranger Things, except the Demogorgon we were battling was institutionalized racism, but the reality is that it was a very unsettled time to be a teenager, regardless of your race or upbringing. Thankfully, I had music to escape to.
Kicking off a record in D Minor could easily set a fairly sombre tone, but “Dead Ahead” is an abrasive, vigorous introduction to the album.
But then I examine that music and the anger makes a bit more sense… Rage Against the Machine were just starting to make their presence known and Zack de la Rocha’s venomous assertion that ‘anger is a gift’ in “Freedom” was a regular in my playlist back then. They were joined by the likes of what was arguably Nine Inch Nails’ most aggressive record, Broken, Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power (with its unforgettable fist-to-the-face cover artwork) and, of course, the inimitable outpourings of Mike Patton and Faith No More, among many others.
But it’s on recalling this last that my anger at Oxbow becomes clearer: Faith No More were equally unclassifiable. In fact, because of them, my local music shop started a separate bin for CDs filed under ‘What you heard at McCoys this weekend’ – McCoys being the local alternative hangout for society’s misfits. Therapy?, The Prodigy, Soundgarden, Beck, Jane’s Addiction, Butthole Surfers and Christian Death all rubbed shoulders with Nick Cave, Einstürzende Neubauten, Tupac Shakur and Talking Heads in a glorious mélange of ‘polyjamorous’ creativity.
John David Levy’s direction is a touching visual accompaniment to “1000 Hours.”
And that genre-defying purity of expression is why Love’s Holiday makes me angry. Not because it’s hard to pin down but because it reminds me of just how far music has fallen, celebrating mimesis, homogeneity and mediocrity far more than originality or talent. Oxbow should, given the quality of this record, be given the keys to every city in recognition of what they’ve crafted.
My personal highlight, “100 Hours,” may have started as songs Eugene Robinson sang to his children at night, but it becomes a paean to lost youth and the pressures of life, all coloured by death’s impending release. That sense of drama and appeal to an affective, primordial emotional reaction is yet another lost art among the so-called musicians making Spotify ever richer: and it’s a feeling carried through well into the album’s B-side. The deceptively simple storytelling approach in “The Night the Room Started Burning” continues in this vein, masking barely-veiled hostility in the mundane.
The music video for “Icy White and Crystalline” may be a live set recording, but it’s still gorgeously captured.
All in all, Oxbow have stayed true to their eccentric past but still show no signs of creative fatigue. 2017’s Thin Black Duke album may have been purpose-built to draw the inevitable David Bowie comparisons, but Love’s Holiday cements that: not just for Robinson’s powerful vocal performance, but for the band’s energy, eclecticism and marvellous sense of the unexpected. Despite my anger at the music industry, in general, stemming from this record, I cannot recommend Oxbox highly enough, regardless of your usual listening tastes.
Love’s Holiday Track Listing:
1. Dead Ahead
2. Icy White and Crystalline
3. Lovely Murk
4. 1000 Hours
5. All Gone
6. The Night the Room Started Burning
8. Million Dollar Weekend
9. The Second Talk
Run Time: 42:28
Release Date: July 21, 2023
Record Label: Ipecac Recordings