It’s been almost a year since As the Ox Plows popped up on the interwebs. Back then it boasted itself as a free digital version of the soon-to-be-released LP. Well, that time has finally come, with Razorcake Records, It’s Alive, and Dirt Cult stepping up to deliver the San Diegans’ second full-length.
The four-piece band shares members with Tiltwheel and Madison Bloodbath and, not surprisingly, they play gruff punk with pop sensibilities. It’s catchy in the right places, but driving and energetic where it needs to be. Think socially conscious Lookout Records mixed with Leatherface and Tiltwheel. Songwriter and primary singer J. Wang’s vocals are un-polished and somewhat muddied, but they keep a steady tone and enough oomf to carry over the driving guitars while emphasizing the whoa-oh singalong core. While some earlier Dan Padilla material had a touch of country beneath its surface, As the Ox Plows is forward-looking punk rock, more focused on energy than lament. As the Ox Plows goes quickly, covering twelve songs in under half an hour and, while the band doesn’t stray very much musically from start to finish, the songs each sound fresh and varied. This is the kind of record that’s short enough to keep circling on the turntable when the first listen is completed, rather than re-shelving it for another selection.
Lyrically, it’s opinionated but not-quite preachy, largely by maintaining an honest tone. The group vocals on “Booker T Would Agree” are as anthemic and as direct as one can get (“Don’t tell me about the Mexican border/ when you’ve never lived on it”), but the overall feel remains more singalong than pulpit. “Booker T,” though, is something of an exception in its directness. Most of the lyricism focuses on an individual point-of-view, relying on emotional appeal and using descriptive imagery pointed toward a universal message. Wang namedrops geographic locations in his songs, referencing Pierre, Chattanooga, and Minneapolis, among others, as the record builds character through a sense of place. Despite the focus on negative issues, there’s a hopeful tone that overrides the cynicism. The album closer, “Something After,” is an end-of-the-night party ballad that drives home what the band is really about. To put it succinctly, Dan Padilla sounds like a group of friends playing music for fun. It’s a bonus for us listeners that the record sounds so good, because Dan Padilla would be sitting on their porch banging out the chords with a suitcase of PBR at their feet whether we like them or not.
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