OXFORD – Holiday
A Wisconsin trio with a spectacularly dull name, Oxford has a style that is very difficult to pin down. Their album Holiday incorporates elements of alt-country, classic rock, new wave, and punk (to name a few), but can’t really be grouped into any of those categories.
Oxford certainly deserves at least a little credit just for defying definition, but having a distinctive, genre-disregarding sound doesn’t necessarily translate into being great. Their new album Holiday is, quite frankly, a mess, especially on the first listen. Guitar riffs and chord progressions blend together; it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between them. Some songs, like the barely audible “Capture,” are flat-out duds. Sifting through all fourteen tracks, some prove to be gems (like the unusually energetic, punk-infused thrill of “Domination/Longevity”), but with few exceptions, there are no particularly good songs or bad songs. There are merely good and bad parts of songs. The track “Holiday Yard” starts out with a nice, dreamy series of guitar arpeggios before progressing to a segment that sounds like a sloppy jam session. This part segues into flat, distorted singing during the verse; then the whole song redeems itself with a kick-ass, totally infectious “whoa-oh-oh” chorus. This process is repeated on “Phoenix”; it starts with a cool, Franz Ferdinand-like disco beat before getting to the singing, which alternates between poorly recorded droning and clear, glorious emoting at a rate of about every other line. This is fairly representative of the singing on Holiday as a whole; never truly bad, sometimes incredible, generally unremarkable.
Judging by the CD booklet, Oxford write some damn awesome lyrics. This can’t be determined by listening to the album alone, but once you realize that guitarist Steve Nielsen and bassist Nilz Petersen are saying things like “You got it in your head /A thing called trust / It doesn’t last like this / The path we take will lead us / To the only place we know” and are effectively employing an almost Joyce-like stream of consciousness in their writing (“Sell your head trade your time / Possessions gone even if it don’t work out / Storm rolls despite the moon”), subsequent re-listenings soften the disorienting effect of the uneven vocals since they are much easier to understand. And album-closing ballad “The Diner” is a perfect ending, musically and lyrically. This passage summarizes the album nicely: “You don’t know my name / And I don’t know yours as well / Won’t you take a seat / By the end of the night / We will know each other well.” The disc is very weird at first, but if you take time to get to know it, it proves for the most part to be worth your while.
Perhaps Oxford are just ingenious businessmen, whether or not they realize it. An album that requires a lyric sheet to be fully enjoyed might just encourage people to buy it instead of downloading it.