Oxford Collapse

(Sub Pop)


The name Oxford Collapse suggests the chaotic crumbling of well-mannered, ivy-covered edifices (it also sideways recalls Orchid's brilliant freak-out "Amherst Pandemonium"). Appropriately, Oxford Collapse's songs are smart, bright pop rock—the sort of thing critics might have called "college rock" in simpler times—that seem to be always on the verge of falling apart. Lattices of climbing guitar melody wobble and threaten to unhinge; sharp, politely sung verses devolve into ragged, screaming choruses; speeding rhythms threaten to run off the rails.

"Electric Art," with its chorus of "I can't remember things," is a fuck-up anthem worthy of the Replacements. "The Birthday Wars" is a single, overdriven build. "Young Love Delivers" is Sicko-sweet pop with a slightly bigger budget and more international profile, lovers flying in from China and Sweden, guitars taking off like jets. The vow-ready romantic number "A Wedding" leaves stately, slow-dancing cello upright, but after the party-trashing "Back of the Yards," you keep expecting some crasher to topple it. The high-fret bass, tape-hiss high hats, and hoarse chorus of "Featherbeds" recall Pavement's early, hippie-burnout-abetted jangle slop gold; "Vernon-Jackson" sounds like a guest spot by the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle (a comparison one of the band's singers no doubt hears often).

The album stalls a bit in the second half (starting with "A Wedding," really), but not entirely. Especially promising (and Promise Ringing) are the driving guitar octaves and spittle-flecked singing on the verses of "For the Winter Coats (Kids)," which are fulfilled with a boozy, sing-along chorus. "Men & Their Ideas" is maybe the loosest take on the whole album, and disc closer "I Hate Nobody" swells from an acoustic melody to a coda of overdriven feedback.

Bits isn't the most even or polished album, but that's much of its charm. It's Ivy League–leveling indie rock with shirts untucked, collars unbuttoned, and ties loose—a fine mess.