The Ox - Island Life
Owain Paciuszko 19/06/2009
The influence of 90s electronica permeates this sophomore album from The Ox, but fortunately though it has aspects of a retro sound it doesn't feel dated. Perhaps this is due to the current 80s revival? Now 90s influence music feels fresh and new again? What it is definitely down to though is The Ox's (aka Paul Hogg) ability to create memorable musical patterns, building them gradually over euphoric soundscapes and throwing in a 'tasty beat' when necessary.
Lead track Inner City Vibe may have title reminiscent of Flight of the Conchords but it's a soft and soothing, pacy number akin to Groove Armada's best work. Money Or Your Life opens with a relaxing piano line and synths before throwing in a distinctively 90s dance rhythm, juxtaposing its sombre and summery feelings well it's kind of like Robert Miles holiday snaps from Ibiza.
Occasionally across the record things get a bit too 90s for my tastes, and this first occurs on the buzzing synth-line of Release Me and the dancefloor orientated happy daytime TV piano of Open Minded. He handles the dance vibe much better on the euphoric Let Me Be, it has that explorational and exciting feel to its rhythm that made Spiller's biggest hit Groovejet work.
Lifeline is another warm laidback track, with gentle, distant brass line and a sleepy drum beat, whilst IA seems to capture the same sonic feel that the soundtrack to Danny Boyle's adaptation of The Beach managed; which is strange because The Ox's intention with the record was to capture the feel of travelling around Britain, but instead it kind of has that wide-eyed wonder of travelling to much more distant shores.
The influence of under-rated film score composer Craig Armstrong is notable on the brief title track, a one and a half minute piano instrumental that reminds primarily of Armstrong's work on Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet, sweet, simple and romantic. Things come to a close with Shoreline, a track that starts with a soft, ambient sound with an experimental Brian Eno-feel to it, throwing in occassional bassy bleeps and skittering noises before an optimistic piano echoes in the background. It has the gauzy, drive of a mellow Middle of Nowhere-era Orbital track and is a fitting close to the record, hopeful and reassuring.
Perhaps foreshadowing a wave of 90s electronica and ambient resurrection, The Ox has produced a record that is drenched in clubland chart nostalgia and sun-tanned memories; perfectly timed for the coming months. It manages to both feel like a love letter to musical times gone by and a well crafted record fit for drifting out of speakers complimented by the sounds of the ocean.