The Ocean Party
The Ocean Party pen wistful twenty-something lullabies that deserve close attention, writes DOUG WALLEN.
I’ve seen The Ocean Party play live three times in the last six months. They’re great fun, falling immediately into the same comfy guitar-pop groove as their records and – gasp – actually moving around on stage. (Although, come to think of it, there wasn’t a stage at any of those three gigs). Caught up in all that easy charisma, you almost forget just how slow and subtle those records are. Both Social Clubs and its quite recent predecessor, The Sun Rolled Off the Hills, are unhurried to the point of feeling like wistful twenty-something lullabies.
That’s underscored by the lyrics, sung with fragile grace mostly by guitarist Lachlan Denton. The last album had a tender tale of virginity lost in ‘Shakin’ Like a Leaf’, and here Denton sings of running circles, long shadows, second-guessing himself, being buried beneath clay and other sources – metaphorical or not – of everyday, internal frustration. The Melbourne band’s plucky hand at pop jangle – none other than Dave Graney has compared them to early Orange Juice – is constantly balanced by a nagging melancholy streak that goes hand in hand with the music’s laidback pacing. As warm and friendly as the single ‘In a Knot’ is, it actually slows a bit down for the chorus instead of the other way around.
I’m not complaining – not in the least. These guys mingle happiness and sadness in a way that should appeal to any Beach Boys or Kinks fan, while at the same time proving as tuned into common Australian life as Dick Diver or Lower Plenty. Social Clubs offers amiable sleeve photos of the band members with dogs and chooks, and ‘Sit on the Hill’ mentions “suckin’ at a bag of goon” amid its other little moments of truth (“Sit on the hill and talk of everything”). The songs were even home-recorded, before being handed off to the recently prolific Melbourne combo of Jack Farley and Casey Rice for mixing and mastering, respectively.
It’s all Sunday afternoon in vibe, music to nurse drinks and gaze out windows to. Yet for all the downbeat self-deprecation and similarities between songs – something shared with the last record – there are a lot of unexpected moments too. ‘Locusts’ smuggles in not just the strange line “I hope I’ll never have to drink my own piss” but also the foreboding image of “twenty thousand locusts at the garage bin.” The harmonies and untidy guitar are nice touches on ‘Hot Headed’, while something like a country twinge surfaces amid guitarist Curtis “Velcro” Wakeling’s soft vocal turn and frank lyrics on ‘Bored of It All’. The minute-long title track acts as a fleeting centrepiece that kicks off the album’s second half, upping the jangle and reverb while couching the lyrics all the more.
Sung by bassist Liam Halliwell, the closing ‘No Reason’ opens with a twinkling keyboard line recalling Buddy Holly’s ‘Everyday’. Yes, it’s more of that thoughtful soul-searching, another plea for connection, but it’s also less mannered, despite the line “I’m straight-laced and so sincere.” The song is as close as The Ocean Party come to rocking out, on record at least. It nails everything so perfect about this record: not just the time-honoured guitar-pop rituals, but the patience of the music and the couched wisdom of the songwriting, both seeming preternatural.
Go see them live. Buy their records. Pay attention to those lyrics. Most of all, give the songs the time they deserve. Rarely has disappointment and general malaise sounded as sweet as it does in the hands of these unassuming young sages.