Review Summary: Self Preserved is a complicated release. The evolution on this record will take both avid fans and new listeners a while to understand, but in its own right, Self Preserved is an exciting and beautiful listen.
Oceansize is “one of those bands”. Now, I’m not talking about “one of those” in the sense of heads turning away at the mention of them, nor am I talking about “one of those” who is adored and yet looked strangely upon like a lion in a cage (a la The Mars Volta). Oceansize is one of those special bands that consistently proves themselves to a very select audience, while the rest sit on the sideline and ponder why the music is not moving them in the same way, if they have even heard of the band in the first place. Perhaps the secret to this (along with their viciously fanbase and consistent praise) is that Oceansize refuses to be lumped into a category. This doesn’t necessarily mean being spastic and eclectic, with heads ten leagues into space. It doesn’t mean insane experimentation. The secret to this is ‘Size’s evolution of their sonic nature. Debut Efforesce was a powerful and incredible release. With every subsequent after, Oceansize has tinkered with the formula while still holding fast to the roots of their sound. As Mike Vennart stated, “…it's really hard to change what you sound like. You can bring in all these strange influences and get introduced to all kinds of new music that can instigate fresh ideas but at the same time you're still going to sound like your band."
And things on planet Oceansize are still following the same laws of physics. After stating that they think this is their best album yet, there is a lot to live up to. Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up is surely worth all the (perhaps unheard of) hype. It has just about everything you would expect from Oceansize, plus some new surprises as well. Opening the album with sludgy, heavy, bombastic Part Cardiac perfectly sets the mood that this is once again a new feel. The mood is chaotic, dark, menacing, and yet epic. From here, the album begins to open up. The first tri-attack of songs bombards the listener with walls of sludge, distortion, and of course, those classic mathy time changes. Build Us a Rocket Then… opens with insane speed, and shows off the amazing technical skills of Mark Heron, truly rivaling that of Gavin Harrison. The bass lines of Steven Hodson on this song is also very pronounced, as he gallops around, carrying the whole song above him.
Following the opening three songs, the album slows down, for most of the remainder of its length (which is much shorter than that of the average Oceansize release). Oscar Acceptance speech is hauntingly beautiful, and gives an example of how Mike Vennart prefers to use vocals as an instrument rather than a highlight. This is apparent in the whole record due to the production, which is very dense in the heavy parts, yet lush and full in others. These dense parts are perfect for the avid listener who wants to carefully dissect all the noises and harmonies hidden within.
One drawback to the structure of the album is that the middle section slows down greatly, however the quality of the writing is just as good as the beginning. Ransoms is an incredible song, and while simple in nature, it is incredibly beautiful, and perhaps an unsung highlight of Self Preserved. Luckily, as the listener feels the album is beginning to drag out and stagnate, It’s My Tail saves it with its abruptly aggressive and catchy nature, exploding out of quiet studio background noise.
The end of the album once again showcases a soft side. Overall, this album is actually softer than Frames. There are only four truly heavy songs, and the rest are some of the most lush, pure tunes Oceansize has written to date. While perhaps SuperImposter was not the best choice as a closer, when compared to epics such as The Frame, Long Forgotten, and Ornament/The Last Wrongs, in its own right, it is a good song, and closes the album in a proper mood.
The question really remains if Oceansize have truly lived up to this self-proclaimed hype. Self Preserved is truly a subjective album, and takes many listens to fully understand. The short songs may be hard for long time fans, while new listeners would most likely cling to these. This record, much like every other released by the band, has its own entire feel. This means that comparing it to other releases is unrealistic to do. Every Oceansize album has a unique atmosphere, and should be appreciated for what it is, not questioned in relation to what the past has shown. Standing on its own, Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up in an incredible release; beautiful, epic and aggressive. Despite a bit of sluggishness, every song on the album shows a lot of heart, and perhaps emulates the most personal side of Oceansize.