Oceans Are Zeroes - Oceans Are Zeroes - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Oceans Are Zeroes - Oceans Are Zeroes

by Bill Golembeski Rating:8 Release Date:2017-04-14

Well, I guess it’s time to scrounge through my attic and find that ancient “NO DANCING” sign we posted for the Amazing Blondel cover band that played in Wisconsin during the early 70’s. You’d think this would have been a no-brainer, what with the crumhorn, harmonium, violin, flute, guitars, exotic percussion, and mellotron. But I still have that sign, and prog rock is back! Idaho’s Oceans Are Zeroes play intense, melodic, and at times acoustic, perceptive rock music. This stuff just rumbles with emotion.

I need, perhaps, to recuse myself from this review. But I like this album too much. So, all right, I admit to being a lover of all things progressive rock. That’s not a criminal offense. But really, if I were to somehow invent a time machine and be able to alter the past, there are many events I would love to change. The crew on the Titanic could be warned about icebergs; a guard could be instructed to protect Abraham Lincoln; the Decca Record label could be told, for crying out loud, to sign The Beatles. For sure, all of those things would be nice. But first, I’d travel back to 1973 and convince Jon Anderson and Steve Howe of Yes to read a few more of those footnotes from Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi so they  could come up with enough lyrics and music to stretch Yes’s Tales from Topographic Oceans to a three disc, or even better, a four disc set. That’s eights sides of the old vinyl, and that’s eight sides of the old vinyl progressive rock heaven.

But, as I said, I like this album quite a bit. This is lovely stuff for people who want rock music to contemplate itself. It’s labeled “post rock.” And that’s true. But really, if the mission of prog rock, as Steve Hackett stated in his Melody Maker advert is to “strive beyond existing stagnant musical forms,” well, this fits the bill. As a reference, it follows the same slow burning and mood creating game plan as Mogwai, but OAZ are much more song-oriented and avoid the occasional sharp dissonance. Perhaps the meticulously crafted newest Marillion album Fear is another comparison. If I had heard Oceans Are Zeroes in 1979, I would have thought they were a band with a unique twist on prog, which was a difficult thing to do back then with Kansas, Styx, and Starcastle filling the airwaves. Listening today, I still feel they are a band with a unique twist on prog rock, and that’s still a rather difficult thing to do.

This music demands attention. The first track, “Back to the Place,” is the band’s raison d’être. The sound of KJ Zimmerman’s violin travels an eerie landscape of a melody, and then the band kicks into a deep drama overdrive. Joseph Lyle’s vocals ride the emotion. This sounds like some grand finale to a Yes side long opus. Peter Gabriel talked about a “presence” during early Genesis music like “The Musical Box.” Yeah, this creates that presence. Yet this is only the opening move. “Some Stay Young” follows and is an anthem that manages to stay on the right side of arena rock thanks to the engine room bass and drum work of Justin Gaupp and Tyler Shockey. It also has a nice Sam Carrier Hackett-like guitar bit toward the end. And I really like Lyle’s voice. “Inside” is a slow beautiful song with an acoustic guitar and more of   heavenly violin. Yes, this is all quite dramatic stuff.

The band, by its own admission, incorporates ambiance. Now, I’m not a big fan of minimalism. I have a refrigerator, and my math friend Sally Setter says the compressor oscillates in the key of D flat. So I can listen to that. Just the other day, I was met with a look of total incredulity when I went shopping for a new fridge and asked the sales person if the latest GE Side-by-Side model hummed in different compressor musical keys. I specifically asked for F sharp minor. Apparently, the world of kitchen appliances just doesn’t work that way.  But not to worry: “Underneath Everything” fills the sonic space in a grandiose good post rock prog way. Then “Standing Still” speaks for itself with a simple and sedate violin melody which flows into the acoustic guitar and vocal of “In My Dreams.” This really does need that “No Dancing” Amazing Blondel sign. If you are looking for Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” well, this just isn’t the space and this just isn’t the place. But it’s a lovely six minutes of music. And if this incorporates ambiance, all right, I’m a convert.

I was at a Jethro Tull concert some years ago. The people next to me talked incessantly throughout the show. Then one of them yelled, “Play Aqualung!” I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Ian and Company had just finished that very song! That guy won’t like this music. But I was at a Brand X show at the great Shank Hall in Milwaukee and some guy burst into spontaneous attentive applause right in the middle of John Goodsall’s  guitar solo. Now, OAZ sound nothing like Brand X, but that guy would like this record.

“Fugue State,” thankfully, has nothing to do with Emerson, Lake, Palmer and classical music. A “fugue state” references a memory loss, and this is another anthem that plays as legitimate rock music, perhaps in the vein Blue Oyster Cult’s “Flaming Telepaths” or “Astronomy.” That’s an odd reference, but I think it fits. It’s a good and almost upbeat song amid the slow beauty of the album. “Hollow” resurrects more Amazing Blondel introspection. What a nice melody, and the great vocals hover with patience and drama, especially during that “more and more each day” lyric. “You Said” just continues the tension with thick guitar textures and dreamy vocals. I’d love to be in the audience and never feel the need to dance because this music, as stated before, just rumbles and (at this point in the album) whispers with emotion. The final song, “Wine,” with vocals and a violin sounding like a celestial choir, slowly closes the show. It’s all quite beautiful.

I really like this album. Like I said, this is rock music contemplating itself. Perhaps, it’s rock music that allows the audience to contemplate itself, too. Some music sings with the familiar sound of billiard balls spinning on a billiard table. That’s good down to Earth melodic music. And other music sings with the cosmic vibrations of planets spinning in a billiard table of a universe. That’s good moody music. This album manages a billiard ball bit of both. And that’s saying quite a lot.

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