Throughout mythology, there have always been bizarre creations, amalgamations of disparate elements that should never be able to exist together. The part-man, part-bull Minotaur; the part human, part horse Centaur; the complete mishmash of animal parts that is the Griffin. Compelling for their juxtaposition of animal parts, these creatures have captured man’s imagination. In music, rarely does such an incongruous hydra come about, fusing completely disparate elements into one living, breathing, beautiful creature.
Oak is Keeping is one such hydra.
With a body sturdily composed of riff-heavy, bass massive Black Sabbath, a brain derived from the harmonious melodies of the Beatles, and two thunderous paws, one crafted from Seattle grunge a la Alice in Chains, the other bearing the beefy imprint of swirling psychedelia, and a tail composed of the best distillation of post punk indy rock, Oak is Keeping is a band to capture the imagination.
And once they've captured you, they hang onto for dear life, ensnaring you into their drooling maw and carrying you off into a mythical sky of fierce, chugging, yet infinitely melodic and listenable rock and roll. Anyone who calls this stoner rock is stoned. Go beyond the power of the Sabbath riffs, lose yourself on the magic carpet ride that is the melody, sing along to the sweetness of the harmony vocals, marvel into the Alice-drops-down-the-rabbit hole psychedelic madness, that swirls and dances, yet never loses itself in its own madness. Melodic Psych? The Black Beatles? Who cares what you call it, labels are for small minds, and this music is all about expanding minds, erasing boundaries, exploding dimensions.. In the end, it’s just rock and roll and it’s simply marvelous.
“SiNk,” feedbacks and thunders it’s way into your consciousness before dropping into the mother of all Alice in Chains riffs, just as quickly to mutate into a snarling, beastly ugly Sabbath thud. Heavy? Hell yes, but it’s not metal. No way. Listen to the vocals as they come on, incredibly smooth, yet still impassioned. And what’s that he’s singing? By God, it’s a true melody, deep and, dare I say it, lovely. A melody that could easily grace one of the latter Beatles albums, married to the density of a Sabbath plodding footstep. Stuttering guitars, layered harmony vocals. Damn, what is this. It’s not prog, but it’s complex. It’s not metal, but it’s ominous and heavy. It’s not pop, but I’m singing along, joyfully, my soul rising with the soaring chorus. It’s a bowl-full of contradictions all thrown together, and I got me a spoon and I’m digging right in.
If “SiNk” didn’t fully ensnare me in the Oak is Keeping lair, “No Kiss,” completed the capture. Big, choppy riffs, stop and start like the thundering step of a mythological creature. Stepping heavy, plodding closer. Alice in Chains sounds heavier here, in the use of harmony vocals, the rising crescendo of the vocal bridge, the tone of angst as they sing, “They say that animals need their space/inside we’re cannibals/the human race/cut off our nose to spite our face.” But then that chorus comes along, as sweet and addictive as pop. Vocals soaring to higher registers, smoothly, melodically. The Oak is Keeping Griffin lives, many different parts all living together in perfect harmony.
Then “How We Treat Girls,” swings into gear throwing me for another, glorious, swirling ride into unexpected territory. The guitar tone here is pure indy rock, perhaps like the tone that we’d always hope The Killers would one day find. Sabbath is gone, instead the guitars shimmer and shine, the bass runs high up the neck, the vocals ride an intense melody highlighted by a hook destined to reside for years in my brain. The chorus is another masterwork of melody, a stark contradiction to the lyrics that spit and snarl with sarcasm and snot. More than any other, this song runs back to the past, like Spirit or Love, or some other psychedelic pop band that captured lighting in a bottle.
Getting the picture. This beast shouldn’t live, it shouldn’t exist, and it definitely shouldn’t be so compelling. Check out the knock em dead chorus of “Tell Me These Things,” with it’s choppy “Stab me in the front/don’t stab me in the back/stab me in the front/use a dull blade,” lyric. Not something you expect to find yourself singing out loud at two in the morning, but there it is. Arm it with an ugly Sabbath riff that mutates into a near Lizzy guitar attack, ending in a swirling maelstrom of double-fisted piano and you’ve got another winner. “Tempt,” then takes all this mythological fusing of elements and creates a beast that will forever exist in it’s own universe. Charging harmony guitar launches things forward into a neo Alice in Chains riff . . . but it’s not. The guitars swirl too much, like who? Early Cult maybe? I don’t know, but I do know that it moves quickly into a grungy chorus, before the whole thing builds and builds to . . a total drop out of all that is heavy. Suddenly the guitars are gone, piano trods delicately, the vocals floating into a psychedelic Beatles melody, for two measures before the guitars roar back, heavier than before. If this is an acid trip it’s one for the ages. Harmonics sing and dance. Counter vocals leak from separate earphone channels. Guitars swirl. Where is reality? Where is my desk? Who am I? Oh, yeah, I’m Racer, and I’m listening to some seriously intense, fantastically wild stuff. And the ride in this animal style is just beginning.
Come join me.