Liverpool aside, is there a city in the UK more crucial in the history of our rock scene than Manchester? The Hollies, 10cc, Buzzcocks, Joy Division/New Order, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Oasis, The Happy Mondays/Black Grape… The now defunct Oceansize continued that tradition of making daring, against the then-fashionable, superlative guitar-based rock music. Their trio of EPs in the late ’90s/early ’00s garnered attention in the British indie press, and debut LP Effloresce earned them an instant cult-following with it’s post-rock soundscapes, driving riffs and compositional complexity. Thanks to the likes of The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Mansun, Pure Reason Revolution and Porcupine Tree, musicality and ambition were back in, and prog was no longer the dirty word it had been back in the Britpop years.
Second album, Everyone Into Position, though generally critically-acclaimed, lost marks in some quarters for attempting to be too diverse: to me that’s its strength. Over its 70-min duration, the mood is constantly shifting and evolving, both within individual songs and as a unified piece. It’s a cliche to talk of a ‘musical journey’, but totally apposite here, and it’s a journey at times as blissful and awe-inspiring as gently orbiting the Earth, at others more akin to an extended motorway pile-up; full of jarring impacts, life-before-my eyes slo-mo and time-stands-still moments. And on the subject of cliches, how many bands boast – exaggeratedly, in the main – of being musically hard to pin down? Oceansize were genuinely difficult to categorize, though: there are moments of metal intensity, sparse post-rock repetition and enough tricky time-sigs to please the prog-heads, with flashes of Manc rudeboy swagger. Deep, bowel-stirring riffage is interspersed with lush atmospheric passages, vocalist Mike Vennart employs similarly-diverse approaches from a darkly-seductive whisper to demented, unintellible screaming: he cites Cardiacs and Mr Bungle as his favourite rock artists, also slyly admitting to being a big Maiden fan in his youth – that’s an interesting mix of influences right there…
Imagine members of Tool, Deftones, King Crimson, The Beta Band, Radiohead and Gazpacho joining forces to form the ultimate art-rock supergroup: it’s that good.
Since the band’s demise following fourth long-player Self-Preserved While The Bodies Float Up, Vennart and guitarist/keyboardist Gambler have followed the more atmospheric thread with their British Theatre project, whilst guitarist Steve Durose has joined the ranks of fellow-Manc-based heavy space-rockers, Amplifier, following a stint as their touring guitarist. Both bands have created fine music, but for my money Oceansize combines the best of both: pummelling rock intensity and nuanced atmospheric beauty. Like Sweden’s Opeth, it’s the sheer contrast in musical mood from moment to moment, song to song that gives them their edge: the Home and Minor EP, like the latter band’s Damnation album, eschewed their more metallic leanings in favour of a more mellow vibe, and like Damnation, whilst undeniably beautiful it’s the band’s least interesting release. Everyone…, along with third album Frames is a record I come back to time and again and it never fails to blow me away.