Remember the Night Parties
arlier this year, this writer wondered at the critical frenzy over the Nirvana/Biggie/Hum sampling of Girl Talk's Night Ripper and Zach Condon's Neutral Milk Hotel moves on Beirut's Gulag Orkestar. But imagine my surprise when I hear shades of “real emo” simultaneously occurring in two bona-fide “Next Big Thing” candidates: Annuals and Oxford Collapse. For all that’s said about the cultural bankruptcy of rock music from the 1990’s, it shows there’s obviously still a lot of love in the twenty-something crowd for the Alternative Decade. While Annuals take a glancing shot at emotional hardcore (notable mostly because they take a shot at all) on their debut Be He Me, Oxford Collapse's Remember the Night Parties jumps in full-force, continuing to make all the Braid and Versus moves they’ve been copping on their last two albums.
More than anything, the positive reaction to the band reveals the perplexing fashion in which hipsters are diving into the cultural colloquialisms of the previous decade. It's not quite retro to dig the 90's, and a lot of its movements find themselves floundering in irrelevance (grunge) or reinvention (shoegaze, post-rock). Emo is an especially touchy subject for a rock underground that has seen its beloved style maimed by Hot Topic and the likes of Dashboard Confessional. Thus, it’s surprising to see a high-profile championing of emo, especially as its bastard cultural counterpart, mainstream emo culture, is somewhere around its popular peak (and critical nadir).
But despite the oddly familiar rough edges, the smart money is on Remember the Night Parties doing quite well. And the handicappers appear to have covered the angles: Oxford Collapse have a couple of solid LP’s (including last year’s A Good Ground) delivered at the rate of about one a year, a new record deal with Sub Pop, lots of love from the blog community (residing in the epicenter of indie music blogdom, Brooklyn, certainly helps), and marketable similarities to vaunted post-punk reference points like Wire. Of course for all this capital, musically the record comes off as simply a rote (if spirited) rendition of the best records from Rainer Maria or 764-Hero, which certainly isn’t saying much.
But more interesting than whether or not this record is good or bad (in keeping with the reviewer's code of non-normativity: it's neither), is what it means to the independent landscape. Oxford’s brand of copycat is the type of clinical emo ("Please Visit Your Parks," "Let's Vanish," "Molasses") that the independent world just doesn’t do outside of self-deprecating acts like Minus the Bear. Thus, it's possible that Michael Pace's high-pitched, multi-tracked shout-singing and the syncopated lo-fi lead guitar on the much-downloaded track "Please Visit Your National Parks" could be lumped into that emo novelty category. But Oxford Collapse’s scrubbed-up angular rock is appealing enough to succeed on a serious level because it reminds listeners that angular rock of the 90's and angular rock of the 00's actually have a lot in common.
And what happens once we accept the Oxford Collapse? The success of this album may be tied to a tacit re-acceptance of emo into an independent music culture still stinging from the genre's perversion—an ironic and sobering possibility. Sure, there are touches of Mission of Burma and other post-punk to latch on to, but as it is Remember the Night Parties is a litmus test: one that gauges whether or not the indie world is ready for a full-scale emo revival.