The Oxford Coma present Adonis

Somewhere late last year I was looking for something new, some different  kind of sound around town and this  led to me, literally walking and light railing constantly across Phoenix and Tempe in search of something I simply hadn’t heard or something that was unlike anything else I was witnessing. Around that same time Billy Tegethoff contacted me and let me know about his band The Oxford Coma, he sent me the early tracks for their debut EP and invited to their debut show. The tracks were cool, like nothing else going on, dancing that thin line between heavy alternative and metal–I loved it and their first show was amazing. I was sold. Nearly a year later and The Oxford Coma have released their first full length album Adonis. What pleases me is that this is music somewhat outside of my element these days, yet it is also music that brings me back to my youth.

In November I ran an online election for who would be the last band to be featured in JAVA for 2012, unbeknownst to anyone else, I had already decided that the runner up would certainly get the January issue. The Oxford Coma was leading the race for the first half of the poll, but they had made such a huge effort and so many people had put their vote to them (especially, wonderfully, people who had never heard them until tracks were posted), that it was clear they would be the ones to start off 2013 on these pages. What I love most, true to what they have to say in their Facebook profile is that they are genuinely different from anything going down in this town right now—and it shows, they are truly following their own instincts and creating their own sound.

I love reading their Facebook information over and over again, because it’s both amusing and accurate, “Since early 2011 we (Billy Tegethoff , Casey Dillon and James Williams) have spent countless hours concocting our little brand of energetic weirdness, aiming to give fans (like ourselves) a break from the monotony of metal and “indie” rock that has populated and overwhelmed the scene. It’s frustrating at times trying to do something different, because there aren’t any real touchstones to compare our progress to. But being the stubborn asses we are, we’ve pressed on in the midst of countless metal clone bands getting …We know from our own experience that not all of you are into that scene just because it’s popular now. We know you well; you’ve been called picky, music snobs, closed minded, stubborn and whatever else the bandwagon likes to throw around. We are you. We’re your band. Plug us in, crank it up, and enjoy. We promise it’ll be a step in a different direction.” They are not wrong, they are definitely a step in a different direction  and their music is best served at maximum volume. They describe themselves as “Progressive psych-grunge” and “the world’s heaviest Jam Band” and they may well be right on both counts. Their debut album Adonis is the strange crossroads where Tool and Helmet meet to have coffee with Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to plan an evening with Queens of the Stone Age, Incubus and The Mars Volta. Keep that in mind, now remember it’s a power trio. Wow. So, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, Adonis.

Photo by Jon Jenkins

The one minute introduction that is “Ellipsis” braces the listener for something great, something bordering on what should be presented perhaps in an amphitheater, though it purely a tonal instrumental, it could not brace you for what’s next. “BBS” launches with a jaunty bounce, that would be almost comical, circus like—in a Les Claypool/Mr. Bungle sort of way—if it were not shrouded in a wicked grin, an aggressive darkness that invites the idea that you might be at a carnival in hell. It’s a brilliant album opener and a damn fine number that simply invigorates the brain—also, it’s an assured crowd pleaser live. “Last To Die” makes a reappearance from the debut EP and it still speeds by at a hundred miles an hour, with a great groove intact and flashes of brilliance throughout, this is a dark song that makes you remember just how fun head banging hard rock can be. Three songs in and it’s nothing but stars exploding in the dark of night.

“Rim Liquors” begins to tread into some serious prog weirdness as it winds up, the guys killing it on guitars, Billy’s vocals never better and feedback achieved in all the right places. It also shows off some nice vocal effects and a reminder that in music this heavy you can still have harmonies. It actually amazes the ear at how much musical territory can be covered in one song, lending a somewhat schizophrenic vibe to the entire affair—until the magnificent solo and marching drum roll, where you are once again brought to the earlier imagined carnival. With the exception of a few expletives, this is raw and radio ready now. The heaviness of “Mime”, found deep in dark tones and bass notes, reminds of why grunge was so damned refreshing in 1989 and how this type of music re-inigorates an aspect of ourselves that we may like to hide, we may not want to admit exists, but it’s the part of ourselves that wants to stay at home some nights, play music that explores the erosion of our souls, but sets our blood on fire.

The next return entry from the EP is the brilliant “Seven.”  Thunderous, fast and fun, with a heavy layer of prog to keep it interesting, steeped in grunge, but all these comparisons sell them short. No one sounds like this right now in this town (or possibly anywhere else) and that’s what made my ears perk up when I first heard them—in fact, these days, no one sounds like them at all. In short, their music is pretty refreshing because of that. During the album and their performances there is a pervasive groove throughout their songs which is rare with anything bordering on metal and grunge, but they definitely have it, recalling the genre experimentation of Faith No More or early, early RHCP.  One of my proudest moments was the night they played the Marquee, I had to be elsewhere, but some folks showed up late  to the gig I was at, whose opinions I respect and they smiled and said simply, “You were right, no one sounds like The Oxford Coma in this town and they’re fucking amazing.”

Throughout the album, not unlike the beginning, there are a few strange link tracks, “Stall 3” which follows is one of these, peculiar pieces of “music” that serve as conduits to the next phase or song, interregnums between epics if you will. The title track “Adonis” follows in its little wake like a tsunami of guitars and raging vocals, with enough funk to make Uplift Mofo Party Plan era Peppers downright jealous, the tribal drum solo by Dillon makes this one worth the price of admission alone, but from back to front this is just goddamn simmering and brilliant. “Lictosy” is simply put, one of my favorite tracks on the album, I’m not sure how many times I’d look down at my player in the countless spins of this album to see that it was track nine blowing my mind.  There is a great grunge vibe going here, a groove that recalls a time when all guitars were on point to propel the song right along with the drums into a moment of space weirdness before melting your face in fantastic audio explosions.

“Pirate Song” is another favorite, certainly evoking it’s title in some way that I can’t even express, it also returns to the delightful sensation of a carnival in hell, or maybe a carnival from hell—either way, it’s a headbanging classic and when the bridge spins you off in space for a moment, it builds slowly back to an un-reckoned pace that makes me smile every time. The link track “Ether Moths,” a cracked smile of a broken piano piece, is the connective tissue between that and the last reprise from the EP, the epically brilliant “Peregrine.” This may still be the best song that they have in their catalogue, it still stands as an amalgam of the best features of their songs and sound slammed into one tune, here everything shines, perhaps not as catchy as other tracks or as thunderously thrilling as, say, “Last To Die”, “Peregrine” solidifies their sound slightly better, serving as more of a signature song, more of a calling card than any other. This song screams, “This is The Oxford Coma, you’re welcome.” It should serve as a great set finale, in all honestly, so  that the power of the song is felt from head to toe as their parting shot, reverberating through your soul everywhere you go for a week after the show.

Not to be outdone or under-weirded by their own efforts, Adonis closes with “Ghosts of Departed Quantities” which has all the quality of the link tracks throughout, but more touches of absolute madness—the door slamming at about 90 seconds in literally made me  jump the first time I heard the album. This finale also includes a speeded up hidden ending of sorts that sounds like Billy on helium, playing a ukulele. The effect is impressive, conclusive and leaves you with a smile on your face considering all you’ve experienced across the better part of the last hour of your life. While it may have been released ten days before the end of the year, it’s clearly one of the best albums of the year for sheer vitality and ferocity. Expertly produced by Jalipaz and Dan Somers at Audioconfusion, this is yet another testament to their astounding ability with sound, texture and the sheer grasp of the artist at hand. It’s also a great way to lay the foundation for the new year, a year in which we should all step outside of ourselves and try new things, explore new horizons—If I hadn’t done that last year I never would have opened my mind to these guys and I can tell you, because I did that, I opened myself up to so much more music that I never would have appreciated otherwise. The Oxford Coma will be a band to watch this year, they are driven and determined, they promised to have a complete album out by the end of 2012 and they did it. Keep an eye on their promises, these are gentlemen who know how to rock and keep their word. Expect nothing but greatness from The Oxford Coma. Adonis is living proof.

This Friday, you can experience a once in a lifetime event at the Sail Inn. The Oxford Coma will be playing  their last show with founding member and drummer Casey Dillon. This is THE last show with the original lineup for this amazing band and it is an amazing night of music all around featuring GOMI, The Venomous Pinks and Evil Beaver. I seriously advise you to take a walk on the wild side, conjure your inner raging spirit and get to the Sail Inn on Friday–this will be amazing and enlightening at once. Food will be available….come hungry and thirsty. If you have any doubts, listen to the album below.