The other day I wrote about how Mark Eitzel’s 60 Watt Silver Lining would be top of my desert island disc list. Also on that list would be an album by Oceansize, but of their four albums I’d be hard put to choose between any three of them on any given day.
But, right now, it’s their third album, 2007’s Frames.
Manchester progressive rock / post-rock band Oceansize tick many musical boxes for me. Musical elements that I’ve also loved when encountered in other music earlier, and that I’d often use when writing music myself. Complex time signatures, shifting rhythms, and songs that build – often through the use of increasing layers on repetitive refrains – towards vast codas of either noise or beauty (often both).
And that’s very much the style of this album. Coming off a vague attempt to be a bit more commercial on their second album, Frames saw Oceansize with a new bass player and a new intent to make an album for no-one but themselves. So they let themselves write long, often repetitive songs, allowing each song time and space to develop and build into a massive wall of sound.
Oceansize’s sound, particularly on this album, resembles New Zealand’s post-rock icons Jakob meeting Radiohead. Most of the tracks could probably survive quite well as post-rock instrumentals, but Mike Vennart’s vocals and lyrics tie the band’s sound to something a bit more progressive than post-, and can often be very sing along-able.
Sometimes sinewy, sometimes screamed, often layered and soaring, joining the guitars, bass, keyboards and drums in the wall of sound of yet another gorgeous climax.
And, wow, the drums and the drumming. Unlike Jakob (but like Radiohead), Oceansize don’t spend a lot of time sitting in a 4/4 beat. The album’s controversially-titled (and sort-of-censored on the cover art) opening track, ‘Commemorative 9/11 T-Shirt’ is named not due to any lyric about the terror attack, but because the song moves back and forth between 11/8 and 9/8 time signatures. Drummer Mark Heron’s lays down complex, fascinating patterns here and throughout the album. Even a song that sits consistently in 3/4 or 4/4 may appear trickier due to his choices of where he lays the emphasis; often in counterpoint to the rhythm followed by the melodic instruments.
The sound is huge, and often vast. The band make more use of synthesisers on this than any of their other albums, and a few tracks also feature beautifully arranged strings. ‘Savant’ and ‘The Frame’, in particular, are songs that conclude with massive walls of synths, strings, guitars and long-held vocal notes sitting down within the mix.
It’s a beautiful album. And if ever I feel sad that Oceansize decided to disband shortly after the release of their fourth album, 2010’s Self-preserved While The Bodies Float Up, I just put this on and bask in a band who knew how to combine both soundscapes and songs into a uniquely massive sound.