Starting off badly but correcting itself quickly makes Oxford Collapse's new album a great leap from last go-round.
Several bands attempt to show their wares by going through a myriad of styles for the sake of being arty or to convince people to occasionally sit up and take notice. At times it works, but more often than not you get the sense that you're being snowballed a bit in terms of actually seeing what the band can truly do. Oxford Collapse tends to fall into this category initially. But folks, it is only early, trust me! The group, which released Some Wilderness last year, wants to venture down this road, but the album gets off on the wrong foot with the quasi art rock-meets-rockabilly feel of "Empty Fields", which could have been re-titled "Empty Feels". Lead singer Mike Pace tries to come off like the Killers' Brandon Flowers but the overall effect is a bad mishmash, as if Tiger Army or Social Distortion were valiantly attempting to cover Talking Heads. Kudos for trying but this just doesn't work, even for the brief fleeting moment that it lasts. But don't give up hope, there are still 11 songs to go.
When Oxford Collapse whittled a song down to fit its strengths, it fares much better. "Prop Cars" should be given props because of the fact that it's powerful, high-energy, and musically tight thanks to the work of bassist Adam Rizer and the drumming of Dan Fetherston. People into Mission of Burma or a quirky, XTC-influenced group would lap this ditty up. Not anything you will hear on rock radio, but due to its being summed up and capped off in three minutes, it's an extremely effective song. And it is with the ensuing tune that Oxford Collapse shows what it can pull off. "Last American Virgin" could be heading down a dark, mysterious path, or one that is filled with the pomp and circumstance of a U2 anthem. However, the group forges a path that is a little to the left of the darker one, with a great series of indie or alt.rock riffs that propel it high over the bar like a classic Cure tune. Strong and sure to put a smile on your face, this effort makes you forget about "Empty Fields" quickly.
Listening to this record, you believe that Oxford Collapse is in some way channeling a genre that Franz Ferdinand once attempted but went the other, equally danceable route. "The Boys Go Home" has Pace singing and almost whining the words as a cross between Sting and Scottish darlings Dogs Die in Hot Cars. The chorus seems to come out of nowhere and is a gleam of sunshine on an already hot Police-like number. It's easily the album's crowning achievement, the jewel in an indie rock tiara. This bouncy rock domain continues on the arty but accessible "Dusty Horses Practice" which brings to mind Mission of Burma and Hot Hot Heat. The equine reference is also appropriate as the beat is like that of a galloping horse thanks again to the fine musicianship of Fetherston and his love of the high hat. Who doesn't love a good high hat, I ask you?
This is an album you're afraid to keep listening to for fear that you will be disappointed at the drop in quality. "Cracks in the Causeway" is airtight and shows no cracks or chinks of any kind; Oxford Collapse drives home this breezy but slowly intensifying pop tune. It sounds like a cross between the Strokes and Sonic Youth as the sugar-coated lilt seals the deal. And by this time you could be thinking that is it the Brooklyn area's answer to Spoon's Kill the Moonlight. The lone song that seems too forced or formulaic is the standard dance pop of "Proofreading", although "No Great Shakes" has very little hip-shaking moments within it.