John McCauley & Jonny Fritz: Oxyana (soundtrack)

oxyanaDon’t get excited! The name John McCauley and Jonny Fritz might appear side by side on this soundtrack, but far from the previous association on “Middle Brother,” their work for Oxyana is a sobering reflection on the pathos of a downward spiral. Much like the jaw grinding, hopelessly impoverished W. Virginians featured in director Sean Dunn’s (American Juggalo) poignant and timely documentary, I might be getting ahead of myself.

Though not yet household names, both McCauley and Fritz are showing the first signs of blossoming in mutually exclusive careers that may well soon be what all the kids are talking about. Mr. McCauley is the glass-vocaled singer of Nirvana‘s only true protégé, Rhode Island’s Deer Tick. From humble origins far removed from the illuminated music circles of major cities, Deer Tick distilled themselves into a potent but still bizarre amalgamation of alternative root-genres: punk, 80’s indie, and hillybilly rock. Their most recent peer, Johnny Fritz (nee Corndawg), has done something similar with the country/western format, consolidating a trip from obscurity to prominence in the last 18 months alone. His last work, Dad Country, solidified his persona as indie-country’s razor-witted smart-ass darling. Both artists have a dynamic range, composing both vice-bent youthful narratives and quality old soul heart breakers. McCauley and Fritz’s talents first crossed paths on 2011’s superb single, “Middle Brother,” a track so fine both the band and the album got named after it.

But the Oxyana soundtrack isn’t the carefree fake-it-til-you-make-it music of any of their previous endeavors under any moniker. It’s a heavy handed, intentionally somber little ornate gem, the black sapphire of a widow’s engagement ring. If country-western doesn’t have a goth sub-genre yet, the Oxyana soundtrack may well have invented it.

The lack of lyrics for the majority of the album implies the design behind this project was conceived primarily for soundtrack. Don’t be misled by the industry standard of supplying songs post-production. If you haven’t seen the documentary yet, it can basically be described as Requiem for a Dream to real people in real time. The soundtrack leads one down that same path aurally. Washed out guitar melody figures prominently in the opener and main theme, “Overture.” The lonesome reverb’d surf rocker’s wail is haunting by its own merits, desultory to a fine point that bleeds into track two “Fever Dream’s” weeping fiddle flawlessly. Slow the RPM’s on Ugly Cassanova’s Sharpen Your Teeth, or imagine Jeff Mangum‘s opera In the Aeroplane Over the Sea as composed by cowboys on acid, and you’ll understand the direction completely.

The soundtrack’s landscape outlines a desert valley under an intense noonday sun. Drawing heavily on traditional instruments and perhaps a hint of preindustrial desperado Mexicana, it initially catches the listener off guard when lyrics and more standard pop formats surface late in the album on “Willow Garden” or “Cat Funeral,” and Josh Hedley must be commended for his vocal delivery on the only slice of hope on the album, “Silver Wings.” Closing out with an instrumental of Santo and Johnny’s 1959 classic “Sleepwalking,” Oxyana‘s powerful soundtrack is much like the drug at the center of the documentary. It’s disorienting but intriguing, an exotic draw that will entrance, confound and sink its audience into a waking dream.

Rating: 8.8/10
Download: John McCauley & Jonny Fritz “Fever Dream”

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