ALBUM REVIEW: Lost Ox's Wildheart
Words by Mitch Melheim
Photos by Coleman Schwartz Media
Portland, Oregon genre-hoppers, Lost Ox, are not an easy band to describe. Don’t make the mistake of writing them off as just another jam band. Their heavy and dark motifs are accented frequently with their playfully imaginative instrumentation. An infectious groove might appear out of a bluesy honky-tonk jam, while the next song may begin with a crunchy synth pad that leads into a doom metal breakdown. It’s unpredictable, yet all undoubtedly drenched in progressive rock influence, as is evident throughout their noteworthy compositions.
The band’s debut album, Wildheart, encompasses all of these sounds and more. “Wildheart,” the title track that opens the album with an eerie psychedelic ambiance that blossoms into a blissful groove, quickly turns into what sounds like zydeco music sung by Randy Newman with an extra pair of nuts. I understand this sounds obnoxiously unappealing, but that’s why this band is best observed aurally. They have a knack for taking chances and knocking them out of the park.
“The Edge” is a wildly hostile country rock song that’s fast enough to be bluegrass but feels more like ska. Again, an unappealing choice that they knock out of the park. Guitarist Dylan DiSalvio doubles as the band’s primary songwriter and his words bring the aggressive feel of the song to life. “You’ve been hanging around like a wolf amongst the sheep. Your twisted eye fixed by your hunt for easy meat,” DiSalvio sings before threatening, “and if you come to hurt my sister, well, then you’re gonna feel the edge.”
“Blue Dream” gives the listener their first exposure to Lost Ox’s funkier side, as Reed Bunnell’s bass takes the lead melody to get things rolling. This tune lends us the band’s most impressive vocal performance of the album, with not just DiSalvio’s lead vocals but the band’s harmonies excelling as well. “Passin’ By,” the next song on the album, carries an agreeably sludgy groove that lurks upon DiSalvio’s words which speak of a squandered opportunity at love.
“Emerald Sun” sounds more like one of Trey Anastasio’s Phish ballads than the roided out Randy Newman approach to vocals the listener has almost certainly grown to love by this point in the album. The quiet song abruptly explodes into a chance for DiSalvio to show off his prowess on guitar, the one common theme of the album.
The sound of crowd chatter opens “Travelin’ Blues,” a much-welcomed addition to the rockabilly-meets-blues tune which may be the most dance-inducing track on the album. The bar room chatter and music both make you feel like you’re out dancing with your grandparents in the ‘50s, when they were younger and not so cranky. “Sleepwalker,” the album’s power ballad, begins with the sound of frogs croaking along a night-time pond. “I’m the sleepwalker / Dream talker,” DiSalvio sings before providing the most soaring guitar solo on the album.
The most masterful composition on the album, “Run Me Wild” eventually finds its way into a funk groove beginning with the second verse. “Turn and twist my senses / pull my closed eyes open wide / because the wick’s been lit / the spark’s been switched / and now the motion don’t subside,” are some of the final words spoken on the album before Mullen delivers his best solo yet, this time on organ. The track then fades into a thunderous bass solo, eventually “letting the drummer get some” so to speak, as Mike Stavish is rewarded for his role as “glue” in this album.
“Jim” is the final track on Wildheart, and based off of its sound and title, I would presume that it is the “male” companion piece to the gently beautiful “Jan” two tracks prior. A dark, buzzsaw synth pad opens as the song’s palette while sounds are patiently added until a synth-heavy climax drops into the first hint of reggae we see from the band. Obviously unexpected, but what is still surprising at this point in the album? A lead synth line blends itself into the reggae groove and gives way to DiSalvio’s guitar for an instant, just before they all come together for a jamtronica-heavy ending to what was definitely not a jamtronica album. Lost Ox, ladies and gentlemen.