Review Summary: Oceansize remain as off-kilter and complex as ever while welcoming new sounds into their repetoire.
If Oceansize have one thing to brag about, it is their awareness of their music and images. Following the release of their sophomore album, Everyone Into Position
, they admitted to trying a more mainstream, accessible sound and sacrificing their creatiivty because of it. While it worked to get them more popularity (their music found its way onto the OC), they entered the recording of Frames
with a different mindset. With a new member, Steve Hodson, and a vow to push their sound further, Oceansize present Frames
, a certain step in a new direction for the band.
took the band’s heavier, progressive influences and mixed in post rock and softer rock, Frames
completely inverts that formula. The heavy, bombastic riffs from songs like “You Wish” and “Massive Bereavement” are almost completely gone on this album, and instead provide final climaxes for the album’s lengthy compositions, all pushing beyond five minutes. With bonus track “Voorhees”, the album goes past an hour, almost as long as their debut album in much less tracks. Regardless of the song lengths, the album feels much more cohesive than both its predecessors because they present fewer ideas on this album, albeit those ideas are some of their most complex and intricate yet. Again proving their consistent awareness, singer Mike Vennart noted after the completion of the album that it would take listeners more than a few listens to even figure out what they are even playing. For music theory nerds, this complexity makes for one of the most engaging listens of the year. Of course, the consistent complexity, especially in the band’s infamous odd time signatures, can also wear on an unprepared listener.
“Commemorative … T-Shirt” immediately shows the many changes in the band’s songwriting techniques. It builds upon a repetitive yet off-kilter piano progression, which in itself demonstrates two ideas new to the band: first, the use of keyboard instead of guitar to build main motifs, and second, the use of repetition to provide memorable melodies. Before, they constantly changed ideas and it became hard to remember many of the melodies from their songs. As the song progresses, that melody always remains somewhere, almost like a modern fugue. Other changes, however, are not as welcome. Vennart’s vocals undergo major surgery throughout the album, as he plays with vocal effects for most of the songs. “Sleeping Dogs and Dead Lions” shows how these effects actually detract from the effect of the song. Where musically the song reaches a climax, his vocals get quieter. Demonstrated on previous albums, Vennart possesses an explosiveness that really adds to the band’s heavier moments, but his screaming on this song sounds incredibly weak and laughable at best. Overall, his vocals take a backseat to the instrumental sections of the songs, and his voice only adds in just when the instrumental melodies start to get repetitive. “The Frame” perfectly symbolizes his role on the album with the album’s punchline, “I am not the picture now; I’m the frame.”
With the exaggerated prevalence of instrumental sections, Oceansize welcomed new ensembles into their sound. “Savant” begins with a synth brass choir very reminiscent of the end of DJ Shadow’s “Stem/Long Stem.” As it continues, Vennart’s vocal effects actually work in the subdued atmosphere; he sounds almost underwater. The song’s final climax presents another new ensemble, a string choir. They blend in with the band for a good bit of the song until they take the song through a baroque-inspired outro. They remain in the mix through some of “Only Twin”, easily the band’s most complex work to date. Once again, a repetitive melody starts out the song, but suddenly, a drum beat comes in with a completely different time signature. While the band always played with complex mixed meter, they never tried the arrhythmic style of “Only Twin.” Growing with the aforementioned strings and an oddly produced choir backing Vennart’s vocals, it climaxes into a slower tempo that gives off the effect of half time. The song embraces the new Oceansize while still showing off their hard rock roots. Still, it shows off the album’s other main flaw, the production. At many of the song’s climaxes, the production mixes everything so loud that it distorts the overall sound.
In terms of composition and coherence, Frames
is the band’s best effort. The production, whether on Vennart’s vocals or the overall sound, really brings the album down. While some moments sound perfectly fine, the volume other times gets ahead of itself and leaves nowhere to go at each song’s loudest points. Still, Oceansize make an engaging listen that combines the band’s affinity for mixed meter with newfound memorable melodies. With the addition of choirs, strings, and all kinds of synth sounds, Frames has variety as well. From the typical Oceansize rock of “Unfamiliar” to the much more atmospheric, watery “Savant”, they prove that they can extend their influences to many different sounds. Hopefully, they can once again admit to their mistakes and continue down their musical path in new directions.