Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
To try and understand Minneapolis band The Cloak Ox, even just a little bit, or to think that you're getting somewhere with them, we offer a paraphrased piece of conversation that we had with member Jeremy Ylvisaker at the conclusion of the band's first session's taping. Know first that the four men in this group spend the majority of their time performing as Dosh and Fog, as well as with the one and only Andrew Bird. This is one of those other things that they do when they've got some time on their hands. So, Ylvisaker finds me before they leave to head home and he hands me a tiny, rectangular, spray-painted cardboard box that jangled plastic and wheels when shaken. It was something that was expected as Martin Dosh preempted the gift an hour earlier, telling me I had to hear it.
On the front of the purple box was an overlay of the stenciled words "Guitar Party" in more of a golden spray paint. Ylvisaker explains that it's a band he put together that features his seven-year-old daughter Micah on vocals, through a bunch of pedals, sounding like some My Bloody Valentine shoegaze, Dosh, Mike Lewis from Dosh, GAYNGS and Bon Iver and others. And here's the kicker, the relevant piece to the Cloak Ox conversation, he finishes by saying, very humbly and without irony, "It's the best thing I've ever done." We think we comprehend the urge to make such a statement. It's a reflection of the genuine feelings about the music, but even more so the passions that keep these four men - singer Andrew Broder, guitsrist Ylvisaker, bassist Mark Erickson and drummer Dosh - restless. They're too good at their craft. They're too clever and they're too curious about what they can get themselves into next. They might even be guys who like to take things about just to see what they're made of - and in the process, test themselves to see if they can put them back together and get them functioning again. The music that has come out of this long-time friendship finds itself on too many different territories to count. The guitar-play is sword-like and masterful, surely the culprit for stupid drunk old dudes hanging out too close to the merch table and band van after shows, wanting to buy rounds and talk shredding.
When the Cloak Ox punches in during their climactic moments, it's with full balls. It's with a desire to see if they can rattle free some of the ceiling tiles in the room, or to shatter the bottles of liquor on the wall at the back of the room, as if they were involved in a shoot-em-up. Broder writes lyrics the way an older and wizened man, who's seen his share of the country's roads and its rock bars dozens of times over. What once were novel moments and those of anticipation and excitement have been turned into reverse prescient thoughts that have led to a consideration of what all of that stuff meant. There are lines in these songs on that could have started as band practice jokes or inside stories that now ring out with a kind of absurdist brilliance, the stories of either fucked up dreams or bizarre drafts of narrative. It's the only way we've come to comprehend what is likely a literal, but rarely voiced reality that, "I've been fucked up on four continents," - (we'd like to think that if the four were to take a comprehensive tabulation about this matter, the number would be higher) - and part of a tale about a woman named Josephine, whom, "they dragged her through 20 different waiting rooms/whipped her with a bike chain in every one." These raw moments and stark revelations still come out as feasts for the feet, the long hairs and for the head.
*Essay originally published November, 2011
The Cloak Ox Official Site
Totally Gross National Product Records