This is a limited edition 7” of … I dunno, 500 copies apparently, though mine is hand numbered 149/1000. This is a first time introduction to both Oxes and Microkingdom for me. Oxes are an instrumental rock band from Maryland. Seems they’ve been around since 1999 and have a reputation for wacky satirical and practical jokes during their concerts. Microkingdom released their first album in 2008 and are described by Pitchfork as “jazz spazz,” which after listening to their two track debut album on Bandcamp rings pretty true. Call it avante garde experimental noise jazz with electric guitar, sax and drums, No-Jazz, or a “psychosonic curatorial adventure,” according to their homepage. I do like. The connection here is that the band contains two members of Oxes.
Strong Enough… is a Sheryl Crow song, this version recorded back in 2001 and it’s funny hearing Oldham’s voice the way it used to sound in a ‘new’ context like this. The original is a country pop number in which Crow’s narrator seems pretty desperate, crying “tears of rage,” a nod to Basement Tapes Dylan, and pleading with her man to be man enough not to leave her. Her version is boring, this one not at all. Sounds like Palace through and through with a decent rock vibe, heavy bass, and Oldham’s slightly nasal warble. The music quickly turns noisy, screechy feedback, though the main rhythm keeps the pulse. We get a chorus section in which the narrator begs to be lied to, which presumably is better than having her man leave her. We get a chorus section, “Are you strong enough?” intoned. Then as the song gets on and the narrator more despairing, the music becomes louder and messier and more disturbed, the voices buried, as the final lines “Lie to me / I promise I’ll believe” disappear under an avalanche of grungy chords and piercing feedback. Pretty short, but interesting.
I’m On Fire… is a cover of the Bruce Springsteen song from Born In The USA, a song which by now has been covered a zillion times. In the original the Boss exudes desire with a voice of quiet pressurized restraint in which he describes a freight train running through his head, or an emotion like someone’s cut a six inch valley through the middle of his soul. I’ve always liked it though I probably haven’t heard it since the 80s. Yep, I got suckered into the Born In The USA hype way back when. This Microkingdom cover is probably the best anyone’s ever performed of this song. It’s a skazzy jazzy guitary percussive mess and it sounds wonderful. The vocal is awesome, and the singer seems to enjoy upping Bruce’s ante with his quietly menacing impassioned gargle of a chorus line, “Oh, oh, ho, I’m on fi-i-i-re.” Reminds me of Lou Barlow’s cover of Bryan Adams’s “Run To You.” It would be funny, but it’s beyond humour. The song just gets weirder and more grisly as it continues, and the lyric no longer seems to matter, the final two metaphors of desire get enunciated like the singer, Samuel T. Herring, has been winded via a punch to the gut. This is awesome. I think maybe I need some Microkingdom in my collection. Skittering, skronky, dirgey, trashy, but yet still rhythmic, and then fading out at the end into some weird ambient thing, while far off, someone is still wailing “Oh oh oh.” Brilliant.
This is the best 7″ single featuring Will Oldham I’ve heard in a long time, though I fear we’re not about to get music of this sort from him any time soon. The singles he’s been releasing dripfeed style on itunes late 2013, early 2014 are very much of the country & 70s pop style. I think I could further investigate Microkingdom though, given their chaotic brand of jazz-rock.