It certainly seems like, despite 2011 being a fairly uninspiring year for indie/rock/pop music as a whole, Oxford’s music scene has enjoyed a brilliantly vibrant 12 months. It’s been our first full calender year in existence, and we feel as if we have been truly spoilt by the great local music on offer. Blessing Force stepped out of the basement and into the NME, propelling them to produce a series of art/music installations up and down the country, Fixers began their gradual climb to the top of the British psychedelic pop tree and Spring Offensive slowly, but surely, became one of the best live bands around. We were going to compile a top 10 of Oxford releases at the end of this year, but after plenty of “umming” and “arring” over which artists would be omitted, it felt reassuringly easy to compile a list of 20. It could have even stretched to a top 30, but I hear that too much self-congratulating can make you blind. So, without further ado, here is part one of our Oxford top 20 run down, beginning with numbers 20 -11, obviously.
20. Alphabet Backwards – The White Russian EP
Known for their upbeat pop-gems, The White Russian EP sees Alphabet Backwards at their most exuberant. Concise, expertly delivered and barrels of fun, there is certainly space for this band to grow but in the meantime this is an EP that sees a band really finding their feet.
19. The Scholars – Arrival/Departure EP
Dramatic, heartfelt and laden with hooks, Arrival/Departure is The Scholars most assured release yet. Another of Oxford’s bands to embrace tight songwriting, each track here is driven and played with purpose. It remains to be seen if this will be the release to finally pull them to a wider audience, but regardless, this a slick collection of songs.
18. Coloureds – Tom Hanks EP
Oxford music isn’t all about math-rock and folk-pop you know. Coloureds are pretty much the finest example of Oxford music created to make you dance…and ears bleed. Tom Hanks EP saw the pair produce the kind of deranged, glitchy electro you’d expect from two guys wearing poorly fashioned, yet somewhat disconcerting, paper mache masks. Not sure whether I should dance to this or have a seizure.
17. Dead Jerichos – Please Yourself EP
Dead Jerichos have been simmering in Oxford’s musical consciousness for a while now. One of the city’s most prominent live bands throughout 2010, the band took a step back in 2011 in what seems a deliberate effort to take foot off the pedal and re-examine which direction they were heading in. Fortunately, they dropped this little number towards in the end of the year to remind who they are; still one of Oxford’s most promising young prospects.
16. Deer Chicago – ‘Lantern Collapse’
What a year 2011 has been for Deer Chicago; increasingly engaging live performances and this self-released single have ensured their rise from likeable local noise trio to Oxford’s most promising rock outfit. There is a good reason that ‘Lantern Collapse’ is the highest selling local release in Truck Store, it’s brilliant. If their output continues in this vein, they could be the Oxford breakthrough of 2012 and it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch.
15. Phantom Theory – Delayed And Decayed EP
How two guys can make this much noise is beyond me. Like a much punkier, much beefier version of No Age, Phantom Theory delight in making the musical equivalent of a Silverback Gorilla beating it’s chest and hollering at a group of terrified tourists on jungle-safari. Delayed And Decayed doesn’t let up from the word go, delivering tons of attitude, brutal beats and killer riffs.
Both on the Blessing Force team, one old Oxford heroes and the other potential kings in the making, Jonquil and Solid Gold Dragons’ split 7″ was a true delight. ‘Mexico’ delivered all that is great and good about Jonquil (Hugo’s soaring vocals, lilting tropical guitar licks and uplifting horn sections) whilst ‘Serious Lover’ stole the show with bewitching vocals, dance inspired synths and more trumpets!
13. Rob St John – Weald
Bit of an underground legend in Oxford, Rob St John, not from these parts originally but very much a musical resident, has his fingers in all manners of different flavoured pies. Thankfully, Rob St John popped up towards the end of 2011 with his debut album Weald; a wonderfully otherworldly effort underlined with effortless simplistic beauty. Each track unfurls gracefully and is a genuine joy to behold.
12. Secret Rivals – Make Do And Mend
Very much tipped to be the breakthrough band from Oxford next year, Secret Rivals are going from strength to strength. Having toyed and tinkered with various influences in the past, Make Do And Mend found the band at their most coherent and endearing. Punk tinged indie-pop could well be the sound of Oxford next year thanks to this band, and you wouldn’t find us complaining.
11. Young Knives – Ornaments From The Silver Arcade
Certainly up there with the cream of crop in terms of Oxford musical royalty (just behind Radiohead and Stornoway) Young Knives have a had a difficult time retaining the attention of the often fickle general public after their Mercury Prize nominated debut LP Voices of Animals and Men. Although this album came and went without much fuss, some of the tracks within were the freshest material they had delivered in years.
This list was compiled by Tom Jowett and Jack Olchawski.