Musk Ox vs. MuskOx

After reading about three acoustic interludes on Agalloch’s The Serpent & The Sphere being written by a Canadian songwriter in a band called Musk Ox, I immediately found a Bandcamp page for an instrumental band from Toronto called MuskOx.  

When listening to MuskOx’s most recent album Invocation/Transformations, I was immediate intrigued due to the combination of the organ, gurgling synths, driving krautrock-influenced beat, and the almost Tortoise-like jazzy guitar melodies of “Lutonian Knights I.” Then “Buff Stop” begins with harmonized skronky horns leading into a mathy drum figure before the next instrument sold MuskOx’s sound for me…banjo. It might sound weird but the timbre of the banjo totally works along side instruments used typically in British progressive rock, jazz, and post-rock.

The third track titled Zephyria Tholus breaks into an almost doom metal riff in the middle section with plunking banjo melodies on top…definitely not something you hear everyday. Throughout Invocation/Transformations, the instrumental and melodic prowess of MuskOx shines through along with their revisionist history/alternate universe instrumentation. If the idea of “banjo prog” sounds cool to you, definitely listen below.

After fairly obsessing over Invocation/Transformations for the last few months, I heard about a new album from Musk Ox a few days ago. So I look on the inital Bandcamp page I found and don’t see the new album. After a quick Google search, I find the new album on the Musk Ox Official Bandcamp page and assumed they created a new page for band. I immediately hit play and I’m slightly surprised not to hear any banjo. Where is the banjo?!! Despite my initial disappointment, this album is also great in a totally different way. These songs are more stripped-down, emotionally charged and performed on only a classical guitar, cello and violin.

As I listened to Woodfall in its entirety, it sounded even less like the other MuskOx album. In addition to the absence of banjo, no classic prog influences shined through…it was more like chamber music and reminded me of Rachels at times. The songs are also much longer (9:26 to 17:46), more pastoral, and folk-oriented. So I carefully read the descriptions on both Bandcamp pages and see the band members are totally different. Plus the Musk Ox Official Bandcamp page refers to the Agalloch interludes, while the initial MuskOx page I found does not. Hmm…

What are the chances of two instrument bands from Ontario (Musk Ox are from Ottawa) have the same name barring one space? I’m not sure, but that is the reality. I’m also not sure if MuskOx is still an active band since their last recording was released in 2011, while Musk Ox’s first recordings came out in 2010. 

Regardless of this confusing name issue, I strongly recommend checking both of these albums out. Prog fans would definitely lean towards MuskOx, while chamber music and neo-folk people would prefer Musk Ox. But there is something for all open-minded music nerds, metal heads and post-rock kids on both records.

Editor’s Note: After this review was written, we noticed that most of the members of MuskOx recently formed a new band called Famous Wildlife Movies. But we haven’t found any new music online yet.