The lecture theatre is off warm, a faint scent of natural gas pitched on the air. Some students doodling matrices of multiple Xs or stickmen sex on their note pads, some scripting every single word the lecturer says. On the black board are forgotten Shimura variations, faded Fullerine formula, and ‘The Russian Futurists’ in foot-high block capitals. The room is quiet out of a tacit fear of rejection, of looking like an idiot if you are actually to question what the lecturer is saying. In the middle of the hall, the middle of the lecture, a boy stands up and tears his shirt off, full-on Superman rip, on his chest is inscribed ‘Have you seen my dignity?’ He begins to shout: ‘Equal rights does not include nudity! You are risking your life! Inhibitions? No! Exhibitions? Yes!’ He looks an incredible fool. Standing up in the middle of the conforming mediocre shouting like a mug. Rowdy and lairy – mentally crossed-off the list of all the boys’ Prospective Best Men lists: ostracised.

In order to avoid the uncomfortable sit of fiction in a music review I have to tell you that this happened. In Baltimore. Some of the facts are loose – this is to protect my right of not doing proper research. However the substantive gist of the account is true. It should be apparent now that I’m sketching the backstop for a metaphor.

Aim, release, flow through points one and two then connect. Not yet – hold, bide, don’t go to sleep on the possibilities here.

Alternative rock covets the scabrous; Andy Gill, guitar as shards of split electricity sound. Witness the ascendancy of the Albini sound: the dirt and scree of scraped string and clipped chords. His name is almost ubiquitous in alt.rock circles [blame In Utero]. Indeed, it is arguable that the rutting guitar-rape of Steve Albini’s Shellac of North America, avatars for the crunchy stopanstart fretlove of modern alt.rock, is the apotheothis of this bent. Listen to the records, though, and it’s hard to think of anything less structurally messy. Sure the sounds are itchy and corrupted but they’re all placed just so. Left a bit, right a bit, there.

Tell them about the scrawny kid in the faded Battle of the Bands: 1981 tee-shirt and Don’t Mess With Texas badge shouting up the place with his crazy slogans?

Now, the Oxes: studied insouciance. In a genre characterised by its own dour po-faced guitar-seriousness they are conspicuous. They’re Will Smith at Carlton’s private school in the Fresh Prince. All coquettish cheek and blank irreverence towards formally accepted structures and institutions. The opening riff of “Boss Kitty” churns like a palm-muted buzzsaw – I can see them in black spandex suits, tongues thrust spastically deep under their bottom lip, heads high. [On their boxes.] The structures of the songs are phenomenal – the engineered cascade of momentum perfectly judged. The only equivalent reference point structurally may be the Delgados’ The Great Eastern – though the Delgados’ deconstruction of Conventional Song is not nearly as extreme.

The lengths to which the Oxes push this disembodiment are obscene. If you completely disembowel the song then you re-cast structure – you can obliterate verse chorus verse. The first Oxes album achieved this annihilation but ironically it had no focus. It sprawled and songs chewed into others, grafts of guitar here, there etc. Say, for analogy, album X is full of conventional songs (song A, B, C, etc) and A is made up of 1a, 2a, 3a; B of 1b, 2b, 3b etc. Where this Oxes album achieves over its prequel is in its ability to successfully cheatsteal 1a, 2b, 4d, and 5n+1 for its song A. Little fragments of rock, glimpses and gasps of heavy metal grafted onto percussion – to make one heaving tapestry of all out spizzazz.

At this point I lost my thread and was unable to write a further paragraph. So I passed the computer to my girlfriend. This is what she wrote:

Oxxxes is generally a great album; see above. However, although it is mostly killer, there is that tiny element of filler in the middle section of the album. And does it have an “And Giraffe Natural Enemies”? You decide.

Which is fair. The almost stringent adherence to non-repetition means that the songs can be disparate and disjointed, each section a different rhythm, riff, and momentum. The result being that, as they’re unable to hit a 100% great phrase rate, they inevitably stumble upon a rubbish theme.

Now’s the time to shade the light you’ve cast. Show them their relationship to other rock bands. Follow through. Now.

They’re starkly contrasted with Shellac – they play the same music, differently, from a different philosophy and, unlike Albini, they are punk as fuck. They’re unique, their sound taking its structures and riffs from math.rock and heavy metal. It’s an injustice that I must explicate them by way of comparison and contrast to other bands within their field. But they are utterly indefinable by way of positive definition hence my requirement of negative demarcation. Not just another rock band having fun. A rock band that in their hyper self-conscious genre aren’t afraid to breach their dignity, to stand on boxes, to stalk through the crowd (wireless instruments are the fourth member of the band) rocking, ‘Excuse me, I’m in a band,’ to wear illuminous camouflage cargo pants and strip mid-stage. Why do I love the Oxes? They make me want to talk to strangers in the street, make friends with them; to look the idiot, ask the idiot question. They make me aware that I am risking my life.

David Howie