Dragging an Ox Through Water is Portland, OR native Brian Mumford who has been hopping around Portland for years playing noise shows, folk shows, punk shows, or any show that will have him. Its always interesting to hear someone who can switch between scenes and make things work each time. Mumford not only has released his debut full length on LP and CD but is also heading to Europe soon for a round of dates opening for Jackie-O-Motherfucker.
"The Tropics of Phenomenon" had been previously issued as a 12" on Awesome Vistas and now comes to us on CD thanks to the Freedom to Spend label, run by Pete Swanson of the now defunct Yellow Swans. Mumford seems to be fitting with a lot of these new "Avant-Indie" bands that have popped up in the last few years such as Dirty Projectors, Parenthetical Girls, Xiu Xiu, Jens Lekman but at the same time being a bit more loose than those bands, letting things sway back in forth between folky songs and noisy electronics and not completely trying to sound like Arthur Russell. The opening track "I Would Understand" sounds somewhere between "God Bless the Red Krayola" and Fat Worm of Error. This track is probably the most off kilter of any track on the record making it one of the more interesting tracks. The record continues with "Snowbank Treatment" which brings you more into the vibe of the record, sounding a bit too much like a thrown away track from some new Modest Mouse record but more like if the singer dropped the band and got some cheezy keyboards to make up for it. The following track takes a turn for the noisier side of things but comes up short due to what sounds like a field recording that has been ruined by too many digital effects. From there it gets into some of Mumford's better songwriting with stand out tracks like "Predictions" and Devil's Prayer." "Devil's Prayer" seems to be the most together song on the record with its light steel drum keyboard melodies over top the positive vibes of his finger picking guitar work and soulful love song.
"The Tropics of Phenomenon" is a good effort for Mumford but I can't help but be annoyed by the cheesiness of his keyboards. Certain keyboard settings should never be used and on this record I think everyone is. I think Mumford would be better off either losing the keyboards all together or getting a band to play the parts. 5/10 -- Jon Lorenz (27 May, 2009)