Sasquatch, the freshman effort from Portland's Oxcart, begins with the engaging smooth groove of Esta Illegal, but as soon as the vocals kicked in I had to resist a strong urge to turn it off. The singing on this disc is nearly laughable. Jason Baker's vocal styling is absurd, for lack of a better word. He tries too hard at originality and succeeds only in sounding irrelevant, like an oddity best kept in a basement somewhere or at least buried deep within a local music scene. I don't feel that I should encounter this music anywhere outside of Portland. Even in Portland, I'd rather not cross paths with Oxcart.
The musicians behind Baker's voice scramble to redeem his failures, but only half-succeed. The band's press release describes the music best, as a “psychedelic mixture of explosive rock, funk, and deeply atmospheric melodies.” At the top of their game, Oxcart produces noises that expand throughout your mind, pushing out thought to reverberate through a peaceful emptiness. When the band runs out of fresh ideas, however, they default on a bag of generic tricks: funky bass licks that have been played verbatim countless times throughout music history, electric guitar relying on the wah-wah effect to cover up missing skill, and obnoxious synthesizer wails.
Sasquatch is a bizarre, unsettling, and confusing experience. Embarrassingly, I found myself tapping my foot to the music, albeit just at its sharpest moments. Other moments of this disc appalled my better musical instincts. Not once did Oxcart manage to sound relevant or fresh. This is a monumental musical misstep that has sat festering in some musicians' minds for far too long, where it should have stayed.
This review was originally written for the Boise Weekly and also appears on my This is Breathing blog. The Amazon links below are for three better CDs from the Pacific Northwest, because Oxcart, fortunately, cannot be found on Amazon.