Blue Ox – Stray Dogs on Pity Party Island
As a music fan, I am cursed with two auditory itches that need scratching. The first is for music that is progressive, doing something strange, and tickling my brain by showing me something new that can be done with sound. The other? Music so heavy that makes me want to smash my head into a concrete wall and never stop. With the latter in mind, meet psychedelic sludge masters Blue Ox and their 2011 record Stray Dogs on Pity Party Island.
Blue Ox are as brutish and uncompromising as the early founders of grindcore and powerviolence, but are refreshingly unreliant on stubborn Discharge-worship tropes. There’s no hook, no gimmick, and no tangible factor as to why they stand out from their subgenre peers, they just do. It could be the guitar tone: modern but unrefined, somehow sounding colorful among a world of grayscale. The vocals drown in it, gasping for air while fuming in equal measures of rage and despair.
Good tone and infectious energy by themselves can make a band listenable for roughly the span of a 7-inch, but strong songwriting chops and a bit of variety are necessary to make a record as dense as Stray Dogs fun to listen to for all 36 of its minutes. Blue Ox’s sound is consistent; it’s always heavy and continuously presses forward, but sometimes it gallops, sometimes it lumbers, and sometimes it drunkenly stumbles. For instance, personal favorite Mattress Actress is a sojourn through the many mires of hatred, beginning as an ugly stomper before settling into the rolling chromatic riff that defines its second half. These final 2 minutes of Mattress Actress are beyond filthy, and wholly evocative of genuine, gleeful evil. Imagine a horned, sneering demonbeast awaking from slumber to dance an unceremoniously lurching waltz, ease into a playful yet menacing trot, then suddenly gain sight of its prey and charge forward on knuckles and talons, picking up speed until it sprouts hideous reptilian wings and takes flight.
You may have come to believe that I like Blue Ox for their intensity and not their creativity, but it’s not that simple. The dirty little secret behind this band’s effectiveness is that supporting the steel-reinforced wall of sludge cracking your skull in half, there lies elegant architecture. Do not mistake a lack of pretense for a lack of intricacy. A powerful mind created this music; it’s just a very angry mind. The bastardization of standard “punk” beats in at 0:18-0:32 in Born to Break Even is unobtrusive but powerful. Nuggets of post-hardcore flavored guitar shredding are buried deep, DEEP in the mix all over the record, adding welcome texture without sacrificing an ounce of power.
WARNING: Hit “play” on Bandcamp link below only if you accept that you may helplessly punch your bedroom wall for the entire running length of Stray Dogs on Pity Party Island, and that Toilet Ov Hell United Broadcasting Corporation® and Blue Ox© Ltd. LLC Media Derivative are not responsible for the consequences of your behavior while you listen to this PCP-mimicking record.
This post has been adapted from its original version which appeared on Skullsmasher.com.