Some bands have an aura about them, something which you cannot put your finger on as the music created is beyond description. It is not designed for mass consumption, it is not to be digested by the masses as it is not a cookie dough, easy fit, identikit one size fits all product. Some bands are not your average act and that is something that Oxbow could never be accused of.
Oxbow are a band who command respect from all who hear their call, they are their own masters and they have little concern for anything but their own sound.
Formed in 1988, Oxbow have been mixing a blend of Avant Garde jazz and noise, pushing the boundaries of what constitutes as a song over the course of their six previous records. Their last studio album was released in 2007 (the brilliant The Narcotic Story), but they have not been quiet in the ten years since that release. They have released live albums and split EP’s, they have toured and they have been making sure that their presence is still felt. Thin Black Duke is an album I have been anticipating as a reviewer and a fan, it is also an album I had the honour to review twice – one for Bearded Gentleman Music and once for my personal blog.
Which is probably just as well, as I knew that this album would take a long time to absorb, to explorer as fully as possible. This is down to one factor and one factor alone – you never totally appreciate an Oxbow album on the first listen.
With any Oxbow release, it takes many times for my brain to have an inkling of understanding what it is about, as the craftmanship that goes into each note, each uttered word, each drum skin hit is inspiring and on a different level to almost every other band out there. Writing anything about a band who are as well read and sublime as Oxbow is daunting, especially for my dyslexic style of writing, doing it twice is nuts. So, as I have lived with the Thin Black Duke for a while now, it is time to write my (2nd) review.
Over the course of eight songs, Oxbow have once again redefined themselves and what it is to be a band. They have crafted an album which is standing head and shoulders above everything else that has been released so far in 2017, this might be a bold statement, but Oxbow are not your average band and Thin Black Duke is not your average album.
I could go into detail (as I did in the other blog) about each song, but it will be a repeat of that sonnet which has already been written. There is not a poor track, a filler moment, a wasted note or breath on this record. It demands your attention throughout, never letting you get comfortable and always challenging. From the whistling introduction “Cold & Well Lit-Place” before it melts into strings and noise, the shifting sands of “Host” which never let you settle, the aggressive and primal “A Gentlemen’s Gentlemen” to the sublime and breath-taking “Other People” and the finale “The Finished Line”, they all combine to make a masterpiece.
I am still wrestling with Oxbow’s Thin Black Duke.
I am still trying to understand the depths of the record and to gauge more understanding from each spin. This is not an album you can have on casually in the background, to listen to the sweet cuts and cherry pick, throwing the rest away. It is an album which you need to invest in, to sit down and immerse yourself in, and surrender to.
As I said earlier, you do not get an Oxbow record on the first listen and this is the case with Thin Black Duke, but that does not stop you from falling under its subtle charms. I am truly floored by this record, the strength behind the music is amazing and I am finding it hard to put into words just how beautiful this album sounds. You have to think of this album in terms of art, its something that is still torturing my mind and dreams, and I have been listening to it at least once a week since I purchased it.
I wish there were more albums created with this much attention to detail, with this much passion, determination and skill. In this score, Oxbow are in a league of their own with the Thin Black Duke.
It is a masterpiece, one that is without equal in 2017 so far and one that will be incredibly hard to beat. I usually try to think of some sort of criticism, so that my reviews do not sound like a one-sided fan boy piece, but this review is pretty much a love letter to an album that is hard to love and impossible to put down. I cannot compare it to any other album out there, it is a unique and beautiful experience that reveals more with each listen, but in the end is still an enigma.
Reviewing this album twice has been tough, but the result (and some of the context to be honest) is the same. I have also purchased the album in two different formats (digital & vinyl) and will be purchasing a CD copy as well. As I stated before, it will take one hell of an album for this to be beaten in 2017, someone is going to have to create an opus beyond human reckoning. If I had to describe this in one word that word would be flawless (or terrifying, I go backwards and forwards on that one).