Brooklyn trio Oxford Collapse's first release with Sub Pop proves to be not only a bold venture of great depth, but also a fantastic party in itself.
With their third full-length album, Oxford Collapse introduce themselves as a group to watch out for and expect more from. This debut with Sub Pop, Remember the Night Parties, is a set of rambunctious, jangling, and just plain rockin' tracks that successfully showcase the Brooklyn, New York, trio as one of great vision. When one thinks of Sub Pop, the Shins automatically come to mind. But Oxford Collapse's swaggering, loose style is a far cry from the tight, melodic phrases of the group that Garden State made famous. Splashy cymbals and runaway bass lines evoke more of a Pixies sound in a great way.
The album opens with "He'll Paint While We Play", a track that fails to ever build into something meaningful, and instead slowly burns away. "Please Visit Your National Parks" is the first glimpse of the group's greatness, what with its driving guitar theme and momentous bass. There's a raw edge to the sound that is never too rough, but just tough enough to evoke real emotion. Unlike the first track, by the end a rousing chorus of "oh-ee-oh-ee-oh" and jumping guitar is achieved to set the stage for the catchy punk-pop "Loser City", which is reminiscent of Green Day, when Green Day was still good. It doesn't appear to be anything special until nearly two minutes in, when the trio shows us their subtlety through sparse instrumentation and a slow build to the energetic finale.
But not every number is outstanding. "For the Khakis and the Sweatshirts" displays more loose, free rock, but doesn't present anything new or interesting, and "Return of the Burno" is about four minutes too long, sacrificing creative intent for needless monotony. The boys quickly save themselves, however, and with "Lady Lawyers" show they are far better when the energy is kept high and the guitars are throbbing. It's too bad that it takes until the sixth track for the party to really start, because start it does. The end of the song in itself is worth the wait, with subtle yet abrupt rhythmic changes from halting, chopped-up strums to free-flowing, cascading melody.
If the beginning of the album is good, then the second half is truly great. "Kenny Can't Afford It" at first seems to fall flat, leaving the listener waiting for a chord change or a wailing solo that will never come. But by the end the underlying, seemingly monotonous guitar is accompanied by thrashing drums, a trumpet calling forth, and what initially feels like apathy morphs into surprising -- and impressive -- intensity. At this point you realize that Oxford Collapse is not full of hummable melodies or poignant moments, but also that this is not their ultimate goal. The music is post-punk, pop, alternative rock -- whatever label one can think of -- but the songs never succumb to easy answers or predictable outcomes. At first listen, much of Remember the Night Parties sounds dull or uninspired. However, like many great works, multiple listens are rewarded because most of the album's charm isn't apparent the first time through; the power and drive of the music is never superficial.
The meaning here comes not from pop hooks, but from the gradual, subtle push of guitars into an explosion of sound and power. All of the trio's talents are packed into the unforgettable "Molasses", a never-boring rocker painted on the canvas of slow guitar jam and a near-brilliant bass line. An airy recorder is an unexpected but welcome contrast to the heavy guitars. On this track, as with the entire album, the vocals are good, but serve merely as a fine accompaniment to extraordinary instrumental energy. "Forget to Write" follows as a gentler, softer piece on which the group is not afraid to keep it chill. That said, their ability to effectively build upon a theme into a climactic ending is cemented with this track.
The best is most certainly saved for last. The final track is a rollicking, rolling rock in which the beats flow forth naturally. The sound is both loose and tight, and insanely addictive. The bass leaps and dances freely as the party starts to die down, and I realize that "In the Volcano" is the most fun I've had with headphones on so far this year.
Oxford Collapse creates an atmosphere that not everyone will love. It takes time for the nuanced talent of Remember the Night Parties to peek through some occasionally redundant elements. But for any listener that is willing to spend time with the disc, this trio clearly makes their first mark on Sub Pop a great one. This is a party I will remember for quite some time.