The Oxford Collapse have seemingly come a long way since their debut self-titled EP in 2002 which found the band riding on the coattails of venerable, post-dance-punk champions Radio 4 and the Rapture. After a couple years of relentless touring, tireless dedication (you know the story) and their first acclaimed full-length, Some Wilderness, they’ve propelled themselves into an unoccupied niche by extracting pieces from a wide variety of influences, molding them with their previous sound and seizing the proverbial moment with one hell of an album that should put them at or above the radar.
The opening chords of the album immediately had me mumbling ‘oh, it’s The Strokes’ under my breath. Then Michael Pace’s vocals kick in and you know this isn’t going to flesh itself out to being another one of ‘those bands’. You will, however, find very simple rhythmic guitar lines (a la the Strokes) strewn about the album but, thankfully, they stifle any kind of monotonous patterns with twists and turns, spastic irregular drumbeats (see: ‘Prop Cars’) and a mixed bag of eccentric vocal styles. I felt the scent of old school Promise Ring and the Kinsellas on ‘The Boys Go Home’ which introduces itself with a repeated janglefest of ringing guitars. The vocals are almost a dead ringer for Davey Von Bohlen himself, perhaps even Bob Nanna. Halfway through, the band hoots and howls call-and-response style before quietly exiting the pub, not giving me the chance to buy them a round. Bastards. This one ended way before I wanted it to, even at a little over 4 minutes. ‘Dusty Horses Practice’ is the most post-punkesque offering on the album, ripping a few pages out of the Gang Of Four and Mission Of Burma playbooks: creeping, rumbling basslines, semi-automatic one-note leads, stuttering percussion and that ‘hey! we’re all standing in a big cardboard box!’ feel in the production.
The album does hit a snag in the midsection where we find ‘Cracks In The Causeway’ just kind of moping along without any real sense of purpose. The song opens with a repeated guitar lick, a few ‘ba-ba’s’ followed by a whistled outro. The ensuing acoustic-driven reflective piece, ‘Flora y Fauna’, futher injures the tight flow of the record. Neither are repulsive and in fact they’re quite nice but they really do tend to disrupt the let’s-get-in-and-get-out tempo of the first half of the album. Thankfully, this brief distraction ends with the driving ‘Proofreading’ and the sloppy 90’s indie chunk-and-clang intro of ‘Flaws’. Pace whimpers, yips and shouts like he’s suddenly been dropped onto a football field’s worth of hot coals. He finally makes it to the end and the band congratulates him by singing along and smashing out some dirty chords.
Their press sheet cites such heavyweights as Sonic Youth, Mission of Burma and Wire but I see A Good Ground as a much-needed extension of the more adventurous emo staples of 10 years ago like Braid, Cap’n Jazz and early-to-mid period Promise Ring coupled with the frenetic tendencies of Les Savy Fav and Fugazi. Arty but not pretentious. Crooked but never chaotic. Hummable and terribly melodic but never sugar-coated. Packing a punch that stuns but never floors. Jittery but never kitschy. Raw but matured. Oxford Collapse have properly assembled all the necessary ingredients for a satisfying indie rock cocktail. Recommended.