Big’n / Oxes – Big’n / Oxes

4 out of 5

Label: Box Factory Records

Produced by: Carl Saff (Big’n); Craig Bowen, Adam Cooke, and Oxes (Oxes)

A bit uneven, but absolutely required listening for fans of either group on this split.

The Big’n tracks are all-timers, everything that was already good about the group sharpened and spat out at you as bloody knives. The group has leaned into their sneering rock and blended it with some deconstructionist elements, bringing to mind U.S. Maple or The Conformists; both King of Mexico and Old Negro Work Song play with our expectations via extended silences or interludes that go way past the point of normality, only to give way to incredible intensity. Carl Saff’s recording also allows / encourages every element of the group – razored guitars; thumping bass; murderous drums; some of the most terrifyingly aggressive speak/shout vocals ever spoken/shouted – to hit at an extreme without overwhelming, blowing past the kind of wall of sound approach on their albums.

Limited to three songs, the changeover from these openers to the quiet-loud buildup of Angelus Occultation isn’t perfect (it really feels like a different band at first) but the track is just unbelievable, starting out like a Slint track before going very minimalist – a quiet you wouldn’t assume Big’n would be capable of – and then becoming unleashed in its final segment.

The Oxes tracks are, admittedly, more interesting than necessarily essential, but I think they’re a super fun capsule of a somewhat unpolished version of the group, with a couple of these tracks very raw takes on songs that would later appear on albums. That rawness makes them very unique, though: when not buttoned up so much in studio, the songs spread out in rather surprising ways; these are “different” songs in that sense, hence my first statement that they’re pretty required if you’re an Oxes fan. (Second track Undefeated is also, I think, not released elsewhere.)

There are also… vocals? I’m honestly a bit confused on that. I don’t own any Oxes singles from before their albums, so I don’t know if they were in the habit of shouting over their tracks at this point, but the vocals also happen to sound like Big’n’s Akins, so was this more of a joint project? Completing some kind of meta circle, final track China, China, China has a recording snippet that talks about how Oxes wants to include a recording snippet a la Big’n’s secret track on Discipline Through Sound, so, yeah, who knows what was going on here, but the tracks are quite a kick, both in comparison to their other versions and then on their own as an alternate-universe version of Oxes.