Review Summary: Contrary to what the album's title suggests, Ocean Is Theory has a bright future ahead.
It's not hard to see that the outlook of a young person in 2012 is much different that it was ten years ago – or, heck, even five years earlier. Something's changed, and not for the better.
For those of us born roughly between 1980 and 1990, the idyllic nineties of our youth are a distant memory. We live in our parent's basements, indebted college graduates working for $7 an hour at Wendy's or Target – if we manage to find work at all. Our countries are run by people disconnected from reality, our neighbors' houses foreclose every week, and your best friend's dad lost his cozy IT job a year ago and can't even get hired at Wal-Mart. We immerse ourselves in entertainment, nostalgia, and shallow social networking, because it's better than having to acknowledge your country is bankrupt, you can't get a job, and have no prospects beyond eating instant noodles and playing Modern Warfare into the dawn.
This might seem like a self-indulgent (and pessimistic) digression, but it's necessary to frame Ocean Is Theory's departure from the hope-starved millennial mindset. When you listen to Future Fears, you feel something rather unexpected – hope.
It would be easy for a band like Ocean Is Theory to simply react; many artists have made their career on bashing one highly-visible public figure or another, as if getting rid of Their Guy and replacing him with Our Guy would actually accomplish anything. But with their aptly-titled debut album Future Fears, Ocean Is Theory strikes right at the heart of the millennial's generational predicament with a ray of hope. Singer/guitarist Josh Williams is more than willing to get his hands dirty, metaphorically speaking, by dealing with ambition, failure, and loneliness in the right place, at the right time. Although one could justifiably fear that the band might lose their edge upon signing with Razor And Tie – who proceeded to sit on the finished album for something like a year before the group re-acquired the rights and put it out themselves – the group has finally begin to truly show off the potential hinted in their first two EPs.
Future Fears is a refreshingly straightforward-sounding indie rock album that actually knows how to rock: this is a rock band that is not embarrassed to rock, contra endless streams of critically-acclaimed chamber-folk records by ironic guys with mustaches. The guitar riffs are excellent in every single song and balance nicely against Williams' vocals, and almost every song is packed with great melodies, though the first and last tracks are clear standouts. The group's rhythm playing sounds better than ever, and the songcraft has evolved fluidly since the enjoyable but somewhat derivative post-emo of their debut EP.
Ocean Is Theory has already attained what many bands strive for across a long career: evolving beyond their varied influences to offer a fresh take on one of rock's many aspects. Although not as earthy as, say, The Gaslight Anthem or The National, Ocean Is Theory has already grown into a fine, all-American rock band. 'Candlewood Lake' is the most obvious evidence of this, but the album's other nuanced tracks provide an excellent contrast to the straight-up rock that dominates most of the album.
So if Ocean Is Theory is so great, why are they getting a four-star review instead of five? Well, for the best possible reason: the album doesn't lack anything in particular, and there's very little to criticize (though personally, I wish the group's bass playing had a bit more presence; I've been too spoiled by the borderline indulgent low-end of groups like Acidman.) But on listening to Future Fears, the listener feels that Ocean Is Theory has just begun to show off their true potential. If the band continues to make albums of this quality, then contrary to the album's title, Ocean Is Theory has a bright future, indeed.