It’s hard to deny that Hollister was an important part of my early teenage years. Throughout middle school, the unmistakable perfume scent served as an ideal backdrop for the Saturday afternoons that I’d spend browsing through age-appropriate graphic tees and the like. Say what you want, but the sprawling “Hollister” text that would dominate these t-shirts and sweatshirts was well worth the authentic California aesthetic that I aspired for through my awkward phase in central Connecticut. All I wanted was to embrace the sunny days and purported “coolness” that the Cali brand exerted.
From the campus of Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California, Box the Oxford finds itself ripe with the ability to capture the ingenuity of that very California way. With members from Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Diego, the band is of distinct west coast heritage, and their common California grounding shines through on their debut record, Wild. Rather than tangling with adolescent creative strife, they are quite comfortable and confident with themselves on this first crack, even without the takeaway of a rigid sense of purpose. With solid tracks that exhibit great potential from this young band, this is a record that sets them in motion as they continue to find ways to solidify their direction.
The band’s California roots are not hard to find here, as their self-described “indie surf rock” style manages to lean well on these sorts of vibes. While not as surf-friendly as say, Best Coast, the record captures a similar sort of easy-going, sunny spirit. On “Bones”, an ambient fade-in rolls into a track driven by a swarm of keys and beach vibes. When the guitar accents to turn to bigger riffs and accents, there is a melodic expansion that is coupled with a chorus about “giving up on the world”. These pieces fall into place in such a way that the youthful, carefree nature of the track elicits romantic thoughts of a day at the beach, one that culminates with an idyllic California sunset. It is these moments of poise that showcase the skills of this young band, something that is present throughout this record.
While that track features a more constructive frame of attack, other ones on the record build around the band’s own take on tight, concise arrangements, ones of the sort that Vampire Weekend and Smallpools manage to muster up. Things are sunny and dance-friendly on “Someone”, with a hi-hat driven percussive pattern that the rest of the band centers itself around. It is a memorable, up-tempo affair, and one of the most charismatic tracks on the record, showing the band at a place where they are most comfortable.
Similar tides shine through on “You Are Here”, a track that wouldn’t be out of place on Foster the People’s Supermodel. While it features a heavier guitar presence (complete with a flashy sort of “surf’s up” solo after a chorus), the track’s peppy mood and solid composition carries it in a manner like other, more mature bands, ones that have more experience than Box the Oxford.
With high points that stand out quite well, there are times where it’s evident that this band is still young and finding itself. While most of the songs have the same elements that make the stand out tracks what they are, some don’t hit with the same sort of potency. In the case of “Orphan Law”, there’s an alignment with slick California vibes, but the song has trouble standing out with the same sort of compositional tightness and consistency found throughout the first half. Likewise, “Girl” doesn’t have the same sense of purpose as the tracks that precede it, stunting the momentum and energy of the record a little bit as it carries into its less sunny second half. It is reasonable for a band to dabble around on a debut record, but the latter half doesn’t totally match the same standard of charisma as the first half.
Even though I’ve grown out of the less-than-subtle graphic tees that line the shelves of Hollister, I can’t deny that its artificial Californian aesthetic has had some influence upon who I am today. The sunny disposition that surrounds its clothing has found its way into me in several ways. As Box the Oxford wrestles through their own sort of adolescence in putting out their debut record, it is apparent that they are a few steps ahead of where they should be at this point. With an undeniable west coast flavor to it, Wild features a solid set of cuts that shows a band that is quite sure of what they’re about. Alongside these tracks, there are ones that have these fundamentals in check, but may need some more refinement and growth to fully succeed. While their musical adolescence is still a factor, Box the Oxford is beyond any sort of Hollister-esque awkward phase, just riding the waves that they embody throughout their debut record.
With solid tracks that exhibit great potential from this young band, this is a record that’ll set them in motion as they continue to find ways to solidify their direction.