Count Five, Have a Psychotic Reaction


I checked the Oxes’ press kit online—pictures of the band cavorting, but it didn’t tell me what I most wanted to learn, which is why they eschew the old Anglo-Saxon “oxen” in favor of the not-yet-English “oxes.” I prefer the old myself, and if you disagree I’ll poke out both your eyen. (Maybe the group were originally Foxes, but after years of hard living and trying to play in 7/4, they were no longer foxy.)

The Oxiness of their song forms is that instead of going verse-chorus-verse-chorus, or Part A/Part A/Part B/Part A (known to aficionados of song form as AABA), the Oxes go ABCDEFGH, or variants like ABCDAFGCAH. Or ABCDguitarplaysAwhileotherguitarplaysCthenguitarplaysE-whileotherguitarplaysDthenFGH. The Oxy ones deal with the question “How come there are no good rock singers anymore?” by not having a singer, and they deal with “How come there are no good rock instrumental soloists anymore?” by not playing any solos. And they deal with “Who gets to play the main melody?” by not having main melodies. Just riffs and power chords and drumbeats. This is so no one will mistake them for a jazz band. The instrumental parts roll and slide and scrape by each other in counter-rhythm, so that you don’t mistake the Oxes for a punk band either. But you might mistake the Oxes for a punk band nonetheless, because they are a punk band—though one with a slide-scrape-and-roll pit instead of an old-fashioned slam pit. And when dancing with your honey you can slip and trip too, if that’s your thing, since the Oxicles intersperse 5/4 and 7/8 rhythms with their 4/4s. (Slip-and-trip is more punk than slam is, anyway, since slam dancers merely slam to the music rather than against it, while slip-and-trippers get to dodge and entangle themselves in the beat, as the music stalks them and laughs.)

“Russia is HERE”: Drums roll in the distance. Different rolls in different speakers, like two armies approaching. Half a minute in, one drum stops rolling and starts beating; 20 seconds further, a guitar heralds a second guitar, which fires a volley of fast notes, while drum #2 just keeps rollin’ along. So guitar #1 whines tunefully, and the rolling drum drops out (leading to a life of crime, poverty, and indolence). Some of this is in 4/4. Some is in 5/4. Then, for no reason, a jig from one of the guitars; and then, out of nowhere, chiming guitar chords (they get the chime effect by playing the “do” and “so” notes of the chord but not the “mi”—you didn’t need to know that, but I thought I’d tell you anyway). A squalling guitar squalls all over his chiming comrade.

“Half Half & Half”: The flight of the heavy-metal bumblebee. This should be in 3/2 time, if I understand the title, but instead it seems to alternate 3/4 and 7/4.

“Tony Baines”: Real heavy swamp riffs, in 6/8. Then acoustic anemia guitars playing the same riffs but taking nine beats rather than six to get through. Then back to the electric riffs in 6/8. Then different riffs in 6/8. Then more rhythms and riffs, none of which are from the original bogstomp. Then a pretty coda.

“take & free Miami”: As time signatures are to the Oxes’ music, capitalization is to their song titles: varied. A scratchy oxylicious guitar rhythm like the one Destiny’s Child sampled from Stevie Nicks’s “Edge of Seventeen,” but the Oxxers keep interrupting it.

“boss kitty”: A circling little riff, and to hell with specifying time signatures (he says, while hearing a solid 6/8).

“Bees won”: Fast strum (I’m trying to remember the violin name for fast bowing: tremolo?). They abandon the tremolo soon enough, but a minute later it returns (our motto: Back to Tremolo)—but not played for tremulous effect; rather, for scraping the barnacles from your soul (or the plaque from your teeth, at any rate) (speaking of “rate,” they seem to be scraping around in 4/4). Suddenly, this is all replaced by a pretty keyboard. Pretty, that is, if you’re a male car alarm hearing the mating call of a female car alarm across forest lakes.

“chyna chyna chyna”: This is all nice prettiness. Chyna chyna chyna indeed! I’m giving up counting time, I swear. By the way, they’ve turned on the distortion and turned off the prettiness, gone to speed riffing. Then back to the pleasure plink. In 4/4. (“Patient resumes compulsive counting activities; recommend placement in experimental medication program.”)

“Kaz Hayashi ’01”: They count off 1, 2, 3, 4 and waltz right into 3/4, then break into 4/4 but in “swing feel” (which means that each main beat subdivides into three beats) (oh shut up).

In short, I would recommend this album to anyone with an interest in propulsive overload and elementary arithmetic.