Fresh from the vault (5)

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Still with my gig head on and in anticipation of upcoming dates with Fish and Yes, I thought I’d share a previously- unpublished review of a classic gig from a now sadly-departed British band. The mighty Oceansize played alternative rock worthy of the name: fiery, complex, emotionally engaging and frequently exhilerating:

Oceansize,  Brighton Concorde, 06 Oct 2010

“You must never lose touch with silly” as Humphrey Lyttleton once advised his ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’ cohorts. Like the late, great jazzmeister, Oceansize are serious musicians with a well-developed sense of the ridiculous: their intro tape consists of looped samples from a Venom gig; Cronos’ faux-demonic cackle rousing his – frighteningly – enthusiastic audience to increasing heights of ritual ecstasy. Tonight’s audience are mostly too young to remember Venom, but when the band stroll on and tool up, anticipation has been properly ramped up to a simmering intensity.

New album opener ‘Part Cardiac’ also begins the set: a grinding doom metal call to arms, which lacking either the unnerving tempo shifts or dreamy interludes typical of their music sits uneasily within their canon. It feels like a second intro. ‘Superimposer’ hits the spot, though: imagine Mastodon covering Radiohead fronted by Ian Brown – artful, heavy yet dead catchy with a certain Manc brassiness. The mix is fat in the bottom end – I could feel the shockwaves sloshing the Guinness around in my stomach – whilst generally clear enough to allow the subtleties to shine through, although guitarist Steve Durose’s backing vocals are occasionally drowned out in the cacophony.

“Our best songs are always track seven”, Vennart intones dryly, by way of introducing ‘Silent/Transparent‘, a song which, actually sounds a little ‘Oceansize by numbers’ to me. ‘Self Preserved…’ is a fine album, yet it’s some of the older tracks that ultimately move me the most. Amputee (from their debut EP of the same name) remains a potent reminder of their early impact – and of Mike Patton’s impact on a younger Vennart – and the show almost inevitably ends with another long-running fan favourite, ‘Ornament/The Last Wrongs‘. In between, ‘Unfamiliar’ and ‘Trail Of Fire’ represent ‘Frames’: the latter is perhaps the band’s best 8 minutes. From rippling opening through thunderous double bass drum climax to sweet fade, I’m transfixed. Like ‘Superimposer’ these songs showcase just how jaw-droppingly effective Oceansize can be with all the elements in perfect balance. Their propensity for juxtaposing piledriving aggression and lush ambience is second to none. They also serve OTT: songs like ‘Homage To A Shame’ and ’Sleeping Dogs And Dead Lions’ layer on the riffs, beats and screams almost to the point of tilting from sheer excess. We (sadly) get neither of those tonight, but ‘Build Us A Rocket Then…’ and ‘It’s My Tail And I’ll Chase It If I Want To’ are very much in that tradition: relentless, intense and ever so slightly daft.

Those same superlatives could equally well be applied to Cardiacs; a band much beloved of Oceansize. Tonight, Vennart draws our attention to a Cardiacs/Tim Smith tribute album to which Oceansize have contributed, ‘ Leader Of The Starry Skies’. That I ordered it the following day is a tribute to Vennart and company’s conviction. This is British art rock at the top of its game, a must-hear for any – not too – serious prog fan. Seriously.

(Couldn’t find any decent quality footage of OC live to link to so here a couple of tasters of them rockin’ da warehouse ;-))

And in the studio:

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2 responses »

  1. Again you get me interested in another awesome band. These guys I really dig. I’ve heard of them before but never got around to checking them out. This is some seriously quality stuff. I like the Porcupine Tree feel they have to them. Starter album recommendations?

    • I’d say that their last album, ‘Self Preserved While The Bodies Float Up’ is their most accessible album; but my personal least favourite, though still pretty good. The previous one, ‘Frames’ would be my recommendation, both ‘Sleeping Dogs…’ and ‘Trail Of Fire’ are on that. What I like about Oceansize is – much like Opeth – the light/heavy contrast they do really well. They’ve only got four LPs and a handful of EPs in total, though, so it’ll be no bother to collect all their stuuf if you feel inclined (although the early EPs tend to go for silly prices on eBay, especially now that they’ve split).

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