Love That's Last: A Wholly Hypnographic & Disturbing Work Regarding Oxbow
posted on 4/2006 By:
It’s hard to believe that Oxbow has been around for nearly twenty years now. It’d be hard to believe that anything as stubbornly atypical and unfriendly as these Californian lunatics could last more than a few years in the rock world, but here they are. Love That’s Last isn’t a new album, but rather a collection of live cuts and rarities that spans the band’s lengthy history, and quite a collection it is, too. To most of the band’s fans, Love That’s Last will be most valuable as proof that Eugene Robinson and company are together and well, and have landed on one of experimental rock/metal’s more respected labels to boot. For everyone else, this collection (with a companion DVD documentary to sweeten the deal) can serve as a solid push-off point for the exploration of one of rock’s most bizarre back catalogues.
For those unfamiliar with them, Oxbow is a band who defies pretty much every established genre convention they can in pursuit of a heaviness and intensity far beyond the reach of the most extreme death or black metal bands. Their core sound holds a certain kinship with the curled-up-in-a-corner-shivering ambience of hometown fellows Neurosis, but that’s hardly the whole story. The catholic experimentalism that some might associate with Kayo Dot crops up from time to time, but Oxbow are still fundamentally a rock and roll band, complete with blues trappings and the occasional grandiloquent drum work. Make no mistake, though; this is rock and roll skyrocketed through the roof by stacks of hallucinogens and armed with lethal musculature. Opening track “Insylum” begins as a smoky, Hammond-driven shuffle, but it doesn’t last. Marianne Faithful of Rolling Stones fame conducts a hair-raising duet with notoriously tough Oxbow frontman Eugene Robinson; the former’s husky croon carries most of the song’s first half, but Robinson’s demented shrieks drag the aesthetic into shadowy parts unknown while the band itself builds up to and beyond Sabbath-ian mass for a monolithic climax. The effect is devastating, and “Insylum” is clearly Love That’s Last’s strongest cut.
But constant noisy abuse isn’t Oxbow’s modus operandi, and Robinson’s voice is hardly as consistently violent as his stage presence. Love That’s Last shows off Oxbow’s contemplative side too; the live take of “Is This What Sleep Looks Like?” draws the listener in with clever, intricate arpeggiating that calls Slint to mind, while “The Valley” glistens with expansive post-rock escapism that conceals a somewhat more sinister musical bone structure. Robinson takes the back seat for these tracks, lurking mournfully in the wings while Dan Adams (bass) and Niko Wenner (guitars) play off each other. Oxbow can manipulate atmosphere as masterfully as virtually anyone in the experimental/post/noise/rock/whatever scene, but the simple knowledge that they’re real heavy down in there somewhere can undermine their attempts at ambience. “Glimmer Bird” drones along eerily, like ISIS with the creep-o-meter turned further up than Aaron Turner ever managed himself, but the track seems to build up to nowhere; you spend the track’s five-minute run length waiting for the hammer to fall rather than listening to the music itself.
But when Oxbow do take off the kid gloves, though, watch the fuck out. The last several tracks of Love That’s Last are dominated by the band’s Mr. Hyde persona, and are consequently some of the most pleasingly deranged. “Yoke” is a nightmarish mess of a song; Wenner’s bizarrely harmonized feedback and skronky noises battle with Robinson’s scathing howls for supremacy while drummer Greg Davis trudges along at a pace that would do Khanate proud. “Pretty Bird” and “Sunday” are slightly more straightforward sludge/noise rock…if such a thing exists, but in any case help to close Love That’s Last on a punishing note.
Love That’s Last is a compilation and thus understandably fails to gel as well as Oxbow’s full-length efforts, but is also a remarkably continuous listen. There are likely many an Oxbow fan who haven’t heard all of these tracks, and to them I wholeheartedly recommend at least checking out some of the gems to be had here. The casual listener also stands to gain from giving Love That’s Last a listen. The selected tracks display Oxbow’s musical strengths while simultaneously communicating the identity crisis and slight excess of inscrutability that trip them up from time to time. Either way, one of the more memorable things you’re likely to hear in 2006.
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