Monday, March 25, 2013

The Ocean Blue — Ultramarine

It should come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever that I've been anticipating this album for at least three years (probably longer, if we're being completely honest).  And the fact that it's rumored to have been in the works for at least twice that long should be an instant recipe for disappointment.

But no.

The Ocean Blue has always been a band where I get exactly what I expect from them and, somehow, they still manage to throw in a few surprises.  Surprises that, confusingly, make absolute perfect sense after hearing them.

Sure, there's vintage slow layered strummers like 'Whatever You Say, It Breaks My Heart,' 'Blow My Mind' and 'A Rose is a Rose.'  But the band seems to have developed a new maturity along with its classic twee sensibilities, even since last time out.  Songs like the surprisingly dancey (and undeniably catchy) lead single 'Sad Night, Where is Morning?', the melancholy hindsight of 'Ground Gives Way' or the majestic and ambitious mini-epic 'New York 6AM' are all things that the band pulls off extremely well, but given their previous output, were completely unforeseen.

But it's when they consider their past is when the album really unfolds and reveals itself.  Following the tried and true tradition of sequencing the album so the highlight is smack dab in the middle, 'Fast Forward Reverse' is destined to be a monument in the band's catalogue.  I first heard the tune and I went, "Wait, I know this!"  And, sure enough, on the band's previous release, it appears as an ambient instrumental.  But, even without that connection to their now distant past, it's still a right brilliant pop tune that manages to blend the layered dreaminess of the band's past with their now maturely streamlined jangle.  Top gear, all the way.

It's hard to call this sort of thing a revival for a couple reasons: this sort of jangly dream pop is almost woefully unfashionable at this point and, most importantly, the fact that it's next to impossible for one of the key bands of a style to revive it — how can one of the building blocks now be a revivalist?  It's only now, after seeing them survive this long and letting the world come to terms with their records on its collective own, that the Ocean Blue can be asserted the status as one of the defining bands of their initial era.  And now that that era has passed, here they are again, in case you forgot — or if you missed them the first time around.

Through a discography that can be described as "inconsistent" at best and a band history that can only be dubbed "fragmented", Ultramarine makes the grand statement that the band has seemed poised to make ever since Beneath the Rhythm and Sound

And it's easily their best since that album.


PS— There's already been one b-side released, as well.  It's a sad piano-y thing.  Decent and a wonderful compliment to the album.

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