Review Summary: "What Being As an Ocean presents its listeners with here is an album that is decently fit for someone who wants to feel emotion but doesn't want to think very hard."
If any band could elucidate just how gentrified the modern emotive hardcore scene has become, Being as an Ocean would be the foremost example. If anyone wants wants a full-fledged screamo revival to occur, it's me. Please, dear reader, don't think I have a problem with the concept of the genre being made more accessible. I have no qualms with it, seeing how bands such as Touche Amore, Pianos Become the Teeth, and La Dispute have rightfully squeezed their styles to the top of the food chain. Regardless of any given opinion on them, they've earned their spots due to how they capture emotion in a way that the true screamo movement of the nineties did so well. On top of that, these bands have added heaps of modern flair without losing their integrity. Emotional music as a whole has had its peaks and valleys not only in quality but in presentation as well. There was a strong push for gritty experimentation decades ago to promote individuality and a punk attitude, but lately, the focus seems lost among the lesser bands of this ilk. Post-rock has been a trendy genre often used to augment the emotion in already very emotional music. It can be used effectively often, but it also becomes exhausting and far too weighty. In Being as an Ocean's case, polished post-hardcore and dreamy post-rock are thrown into their brand of modern emotive hardcore. While this is by no means a new idea (look at Envy or Daitro), the result is ultimately too familiar and predictable.
I remember the buzz surrounding their first full-length, Dear G-d, and how I always felt that the draw to it was a bit confusing. While it had its moments, the majority felt like a bleeding-heart display of distraught spoken word over decent instrumentation. It was nothing that I hadn't heard before and only two years later, it already feels dated. This band was late to the party. It's good at least that they don't attempt to make themselves out as anything more than they are, but they don't seem to take any risks that are outside their boundaries. It renders all of their attempts at creating a moving album disingenuous. The bold lyrical statements and building guitars just fade out of memory once it's all over. Its memorability is dampened by just how strangely it's been compiled. There were ideas and passages in Dear G-d that I enjoyed (particularly the album's lengthy centerpiece), but it felt uneven and lacking in everything it set out to accomplish. It was not a poor listening experience overall, but I walked away from it perplexed and just empty. Though their sound has shifted more to the poppy side of post-hardcore on this sophomore effort, there don't seem to be many changes at all.
How We Both Wondrously Perish presents us with the idea that all struggles are connected in some way and how there is always hope... or something like that. Not to belittle the power and validity of that sentiment, but Being As an Ocean's convictions seem shaded by generic lyrics and riffs, so it's hard to pull a message from it at all. The opening track, "Modern Shakespeare," starts with a bubbling synth loop and leads to a passionate harsh vocal assault from lead vocalist Joel Quartuccio. A strong riff and drum pairing plays behind the vocals very nicely for an opening track to get the blood flowing, though it sounds like a riff ripped straight from any song from Defeater's back catalog. The band recently enlisted Michael McGough, formerly of the United Kingdom's The Elijah, as a clean vocalist. His voice, especially on clean-heavy songs like "L'exquisite douleur" or "The Poets Cry for More," have a soulful tinge that is reminiscent of the pipes belonging to Emarosa-era Jonny Craig. Though he has a strong voice, it feels out of place and awkward here. Paired with the highly polished guitars and occasional ambient drones, it feels more like a standalone project away from the album as a whole. Herein lies the main issue with How We Both... in a nutshell: the inconsistency.
The production feels unwelcome on several tracks because of how raw the emotion and delivery is outside of the parts heavily saturated by studio tricks. "Even the Dead Have Their Tasks," one of the best tracks on the album, is a good example of a secure marriage between the harsh and the smooth. The choruses and backing tracks are comprised of well-layered vocals laid against pummeling post-hardcore riffs, whereas the verses are lyrically strong screams and spoken word against a wall of somber and reflective guitar work. The bridge of the song is so brilliantly explosive, but the song ends shortly after, cutting the experience short prematurely and bringing very little closure to the song.
"Grace, Teach Us What We Lack" speaks on Grace in a very religious sense, which adds a certain amount of emotional fervor to the product. A verse of the song features a short spoken-word speech on love and acceptance, but it feels thrust into an odd environment, as the rest of the song is comprised of the same, familiar arpeggios and drumbeats behind a wall of clean vocals singing some generally lame lyrics with only a few moments that may lead the listener to reflect critically on what they believe.
The two closing tracks are extremely messy compared to the album's strong midsection. "Mothers" and "Natures," respectively, feel like more of an afterthought than a sincere and confident conclusion to the experience. The end of "Mothers" showcases a small trumpet solo in front of an off-kilter drum beat and pseudo-jazzy guitars. Leading into "Natures," it's clear that things are slowing down. The track starts slowly and eases into a display of Jesu-esque auto-tuned vocals that seem poorly controlled, but the lyrics here are most heartfelt. They reflect on humanity in a spiritual way that anyone with a heart could easily ruminate over. While it isn't the ideal way of ending the experience at all, it's appropriately moving and leaves me wondering why on Earth that focus wasn't applied all the former songs on the album.
What Being As an Ocean presents its listeners with here is an album that is decently fit for someone who wants to feel emotion but doesn't want to think very hard. It also shows that the band may be stagnating a bit in their own ambitions. From the previous effort, there is no direction towards improvement but it isn't an enormous step back, either. It feels a bit pretentious to induct religious and spiritual aspects into the songs and still have them seem so bland, but the idea is certainly interesting. This isn't comparable to the greats of the genre by any means and feels a little too clean and rushed to be taken as seriously as it wants to be. With some more time and focus, Being As an Ocean could easily become one of the giants in modern emotive hardcore, if they didn't get so lost in their hopes of getting there.