4 out of 5
Label: Jade Tree
Producer: Matt Bayles
While bearing some of the same sonic limitations as the group’s debut EP, ‘Oxeneers’ was a huge step forward in sense of scope for the band, throwing song and lyric ideas around that would be swirled about to produce the epic followup ‘Easter.’ Immediately, with the dual live drums and manipulated drums thundering us into opener ‘The Shit Sisters’ – a wonderfully vile name to set the tone – ‘Oxeneers’ is an arresting listen, Matt Bayles’ abilities to a their best use in dialing up the band’s sometimes flat sound into something harsher. Of course, singer Steve Snere’s hoarsely impassioned talk/shouts and his aggressive lyrics lend a hand, already beginning to form the symbols – teeth, body manipulation – that would become repeated on the next couple albums. The group is still in the mindset of its EP, though, in the sense of switching between washes of sound and songs, vs. the marriage of the two. But that’s where Bayle’s style is a blessing, longplayers like ‘Gadget Arms’ worked and flourished to calculated extremes. Along that same road, we have Erin Tate’s drumming, which was the key component that needed to be switched out for Chris Common’s more inventive playing before the band could progress – Tate’s arrangements being somewhat more predictable, paired with Bayles, pushes some of the songs toward a dancier faux-electro thing, such as in ‘Darlings of New Midnight.’ These songs and moments are not bad, but they do siphon out the anger that fuels the group’s best moments, making Snere’s yelling seem like posturing and, unfortunately, drawing more attention to his lyrics which, when they’re not leaning toward being cryptic, can be a little silly.
However, those flaws are truly few, and only really became more apparent when going back to listen to this after falling in love with ‘Easter.’ At the time, ‘Oxeneers’ made a notable stamp upon my, er, ears, attacking with the ferocity that every group that works with Bayles wants to have, but rarely get to achieve, since they’re rock bands working with a guy who seems to love his electronics. But TAAS’ sound was made for that type of coldness, and thus as the group swings from all-out blasts to more keyed-up, wandering compositions, to final track ‘Idaho’ – which looks forward to the kind of no-chorus, no-bridge amazingness they would make on ‘Easter’ – it’s one of those great moments in music where you realize you’re hearing a band define (and become comfortable with) their own unique place.