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Oceansize – A Band Review

March 26, 2011

Working from home today I find myself flicking through some of the newer albums I have downloaded, including such worthless junk as Neon Trees Habits (not only is “Animal” the only half decent song, the lead singer also looks like he could do with a well deserved smack upside the head) as well as more pleasant but still somewhat average offerings from miss Lykke Li.

And so in an attempt to remind myself of how good music can be made and also after sadly hearing of the bands demise as of February this year, I present to you an introduction to a band which should really never have been in the position to need to be introduced in the first place. This is obviously for sentimental value as I managed to miss out on watching these guys play on countless occasions and I am sincerely devastated that I have now missed that opportunity for good. I can only hope their upcoming side projects will have even a fraction of the quality of this band so that when I see them live (and I will see them live) I can get a decent feeling for how they were.

Oceansize formed in the dying embers of the 90’s in Manchester with their name coming from a Jane’s Addiction song of the same title. Having messed around in various, by their own admission terrible, bands whilst studying at Salford University the band really took form in the early part of the nouties last decade during which time they  released a couple of EP’s, namely Amputee and A Very Still Movement.

It was in 2003 however that the band released their first album proper, the pleasantly titled Effloresce (which to this day I always associate as having an -ense on the end, probably and unfortunately to do with band around at that time that had a similar-ish name….). At this stage I have to pause and appreciate how incredibly fortunate I was that a particularly geeky lad who lived down my halls had the good sense to introduce me to this album during a somewhat hazy evening of listening to Mars Volta, being assured that these guys were a more mellow alternative. In hindsight I can’t agree with that description all that much…but I find him and the description worth mentioning simply because I really am glad he introduced me in the first place.

I don’t think I have ever spent so long trying to pick a song that best summarises an album. I really want you guys to love this band…and after much deliberation I’ve gone for something of a slow grower in the exceptionally titled “Women Who Love Men Who Love Drugs”.

 Oceansize – Women Who Love Men Who Love Drugs

I can’t entirely say what drew me to this band or this album at the time. No-one else knew them, no-one else liked them much when I shared the songs and whilst I now understand why (songs are long, complex and you have to get to know them to really appreciate them) I still don’t think these are good enough reasons. I have vivid memories of falling asleep to this album, of waking up to this album, going to lectures listening to this album, getting ready for parties, getting drunk, getting high and EVERYTHING in between, to this album. Yet tell me a good time to sit down and listen and it’s impossible. You need to be right there and just be willing to really give it a go.

The whispering vocals and gentle interplay of two guitars is often incredibly simple, but layered and built up to such a fine extent that on first listen it’s incredibly difficult to know when you have finished one song and begun another. In fact the album surges and crashes in so many areas that it can simply meld into an unstoppable force if the listener stops paying attention. I am completely unreserved and unashamed to say that Oceansize have produced some of the most beautiful, gripping and immersive music I have ever had the pleasure of listening to. Just going over this album now, which I admit I rarely listen to in its entirety these days, I am finding new idiosyncrasies that hundreds upon hundreds of listens had yet to yield. And for an album produced in 2003 I am still simply staggered that these guys never really got the recognition they completely deserved.

Meanwhile though, 2 years on from Effloresce and the follow up Everyone Into Position was released, to little fanfare and unfortunately more record company shoving than anything else. With some songs showing more of a definitive “hook” than any of their previous work the band themselves observed that the more single-esque of their tunes not only were not fan favourites, but also not favoured by the band as well. And yet when this album was released I still remember enjoying many aspects of it.

If Effloresce displayed the sensitivity that was possible from the band, Everyone Into Position demonstrated the more abrupt and heavy nature with crashing cymbals, scratchier vocals and abrasive guitars that can sometimes feel so off key as to be considered accidental. The utterly vast contrast between songs like “Homage To A Shame” and “Ornament/The Last Wrongs” is positively palatable. So much so that I suggest you try both….

 Oceansize – Homage To A Shame

Oceansize – Ornaments/The Last Wrongs

And yet, even after this release, following some air play on American and English TV shows alike, the band still didn’t gain anywhere near the recognition they probably deserved. Still touring like utter maniacs, they played tiny venues that even myself and a few members of this blog have played, which is just plain ridiculous in the scheme of things.

Not to be deterred however, the band went back to the studio to record their pièce de résistance, Frames. Released in 2009, again to very little fanfare, the album surpasses all their previous work in so many ways it’s quite difficult to know where to begin. So lets start at the beginning. The opener “Commemorative 9/11 T-shirt”  (absurdly blanked out on Spotify as an offensive title….) begins as gently as any Oceansize song, but at just shy of 9 minutes in length, you can forgive it for the build up it creates (4 minutes in fact) before anything really happens. Like the best of all their work the song is made up of mind blowingly simple riffs layered upon each other over a complex timing that ultimately sounds effortless in all the right ways and complicated enough to retain a level of interest rarely possible over such a long period for one song. Even the solo, which when it comes in is near faultless for timing and impact, simply repeats the original riff on a higher octave with added distortion. Few bands could get away with such a neat trick.

 Oceansize – Commemorative 9/11 T-Shirt

The song comes to it climax and crashes straight into another blinding song, “Unfamiliar”, a strong contender for my favourite Oceansize song of all time. The pacing seems completely at odds with the seemingly more up-tempo previous track but just give it some time and you will be sucked into another frenetic bit of pace changing. And this is something that Oceansize manage to do better than anyone else: they pace themselves and the listener to perfection, more like directors of their own songs than writers and performers. In many ways that is what I love the most about their progressive quality, where bands like Genesis and Yes would keep their audience interested through constant and abrupt changes throughout one song, Oceansize have the skill and patience to lead you through a seemingly logical and linear path of a song, with changes showing a delicate subtlety that only after a good few listens you realise are actually fundamental – see the last 60 seconds of “Unfamiliar” and you will see what I mean:

Coming from such a superbly climactic song I would now like to present one my most loved slower Oceansize songs, simply titled “Savant”.

 Oceansize – Savant

A song of staggering beauty that just touches me in the right way with the introduction of each progressive chord. The vocals, lyrics and melody colliding in such a way as I could only hope to dream of accomplishing in a song. It’s a song that I would almost dare someone not to be moved by…if only I knew what the lyrics actually meant:

“The future age, cast asleep but the film remains,
this aftertaste, all I want is that which I gave,
master / slave, I burn fast on sinking ships,
and I can talk, I place pride on tick and tock”

I’m aware at this stage of the review/essay of course that many of you will begin to, or have already, tuned out. So I’ll make this bit quick. Oceansize released their 4th and final album Self Preserved While The Bodies Float Up in September 2010. Recorded in their own personal studio, the album has the measured feeling that comes with a band being comfortable with their sound, their environment and themselves. However being recorded in their own studio it also reeks of that sound that no longer pushes the boundaries of capability and perhaps has even been produced by the band themselves (although I can’t confirm that) which to me is never good. I feel that often an album can be made or broken by it’s producer and whilst some may disagree, the employment of an outsider can often really bring out character within songs that someone who is too close to the recording can’t ever possibly hope to do. The album is certainly a mix of their previous work with the heavier songs and quiet songs taking equal part and the length of tunes also shortening to make an album quite a manageable length of just over 50 minutes. And yet…it just doesn’t have the magic of their previous work and I could only suggest it is because of the reasons above.

I don’t want to finish this review on a negative…I would really encourage you to go out and really listen to these guys so I leave with the best song from their final album and hope that you will give these guys a shot. It’s a quiet song at first – so perhaps it will soften you up a little – and “Oscar Acceptance Speech” is still a quirky song with a somewhat ethereal melody that builds up faster than any previous work they have done.

Actually….scrap all that shit. Instead of anything from their latest album, I leave you with the mightiest of their epic masterpieces. The final and title track from their very best album Frames. I admit that it came on shuffle just now and I always somehow forget about it when I go through the backcatalogue. Not this time though, oh no. Lap this up as it is a truly incredible way to spend 10 minutes of your life listening to a band that for reasons unknown, never got to play the big festivals and never got to their rightful spot at the top of the UK alternative/rock platform whilst their peers found wild success around them.

Tonight I shall be having a drink to these guys. The greatest band I will never see.

 Oceansize – Frame


7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 29, 2011 5:33 am

    well said my friend…shame they called it quits. If you like these guys, check out Biffy Clyro – another great band from across the pond. Mike Vennart toured with them for a while.

    • Chris Bingo permalink
      March 31, 2011 10:46 am

      Cheers Ryan! I know Biffy very well and thankfully have seen them on more than one occasion! I’m just really hoping one of Mike Vennart’s side projects hits the right note for me so that when I see them live I get something of a similar experience to Oceansize. Here’s hoping! 🙂

  2. R.Biz permalink
    March 30, 2011 12:48 pm

    wow Chris, what a great eulogy to a band that seems to have ticked all the wrong boxes throughout their career. Although I feel your passion for them, as well as your angst, emanating from this article, I can’t quite imagine ever being madly in love with Oceansize. Not retroactively, at least. Perhaps things would have been different if I’d heard them a while ago. I did like the songs you suggested above, but I must admit it was a bit of a strain to listen to the full songs – while you might say “build up”, I would say “drawn out”! It’s very hard to get in to songs like this in this day and age, given the vast selection of things we already listen to. I think it would take quite something for a band like this to sneak in to my repertoire. But as you say, things like this take time. You can’t judge on one listen to just a few songs, and maybe I will notice the subtleties soon enough to want to listen more. I’ll give the albums a try, and get back to you.

  3. crank permalink
    April 4, 2011 4:21 pm

    Simply the best, most underrated band. Very good writeup, couldn’t agreee more. Their last album may not be as good as their previous work but that’s just because their standard has been so high. I can’t think of another band that has this consistent quality of music all through their catalogue. In that respect, these guys are unmatched.

  4. j-diz permalink
    April 20, 2011 11:25 pm

    Nice write up Bingo – I finally found the time to read this article properly! Now I know what people must have felt about my Deftones article…!

    Anyway, I listen to them every now and then after you gave them the big sell to me a while ago, and while I like parts of what I listen to, I’ve never thought “I need to listen to that song again”. But I’ll give them a chance, because I see that they do indeed have ‘something’, whatever it is, though it’s that particular ‘something’ that I appreciate less and less as time goes by (basically heavy rock). I don’t know if I could stomach a whole album… but I’ll try. Your passion has bought them that much.

  5. Anonymous permalink
    January 8, 2013 12:30 am

    Last album is underrated gold and is much better then Everyone Into Position. It is a very cool kind of mindfuck.


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