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[Digital review only, I do not own a physical copy.]
[There is some strong language in the lyrics. None is quoted in this review, but just a heads-up for if you're considering listening and may be offended.]
Oceansize are a progressive rock band. Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up (their fourth full-length) was released in September 2010. Shortly after, the band split up, which is unfortunate. At least they've gone out on a high!
1. Part Cardiac (4:10)
2. SuperImposer (4:15)
3. Build Us A Rocket Then... (3:59)
4. Oscar Acceptance Speech (8:54)
5. Ransoms (4:07)
6. A Penny's Weight (3:38)
7. Silent/Transparent (8:29)
8. It's My Tail And I'll Chase It If I Want To (3:36)
9. Pine (4:55)
10. SuperImposter (5:16)
(Total Running Time = 51:19)
You may never have listened to Oceansize before, so what should you expect from the first track? A small improvised drum section and a wail of feedback welcomes in the opening song which is very heavy and slow, with each and every dramatic note carrying a lot of weight. It's not particularly catchy, with little predictable repetition, but it definitely gives me an ominous sense of being on some kind of mission. Still, it feels very human in places, and some of the vocals towards the end of the songs are even screamed, which adds to the drama. The opening line of 'Self preserved while the bodies float up and the hard luck follows them all down the well' summarises the darkness of this song, definitely a demonstration of the band exploring their heavier side.
SuperImposer is the only track from the album which was released as a single. Musically this is not as challenging to listen to as Part Cardiac, and it's more mid-tempo and cheery. There are plenty of interesting rhythms, while this is melodically very consonant (a combination which I don't seem to hear often enough). When the lead guitars and vocals perform in unison it sounds wonderful (even keeping its appeal throughout the whole day, when it stubbornly refuses to leave my head). The lyrics aren't simple sing-along material as you'd find in any chart album, with Oceansize instead opt for more intelligent lyrics with depth, such as the epic climax of 'They've no voices, just consequential immunity from reason // Bullets and at birth should be isolated // Protection from decency, 'cause this is how the wars get started.' which is the highlight of the song in my opinion.
-Build Us A Rocket Then...-
This song starts in a huge burst of 7/8 energy, then calms down for the verses in preparation of the moment where an incredible 5/4 lead riff hits at 2:27. From here on in, the song is truly breathtaking, delivering a minute and a half of outstanding and memorable songwriting. I personally love rhythms that require a bit of thought on the first few listens, which this definitely delivers. This song has stood out as a favourite since the first listen; it needs to be heard to be believed.
-Oscar Acceptance Speech-
After all the heavily distorted guitars of the first three tracks, Oscar Acceptance Speech gives a chance to catch your breath. It's almost 8 minutes of progressive goodness, with a rhythmic idea in a dodgy time signature repeated throughout on drums, which alone can keep me entertained for the duration of the song. The other instruments and vocals are top-notch, and I consider the more prominent place of the keyboards relative to the other songs is very welcome. If the heaviness of the album's opening trio of songs seems like too much for you, I'd definitely recommend this song. It's far mellower, but it's still just as interesting to listen to. The last few relaxing minutes consists of only strings and occasional distant vocals. It's beautiful to hear.
Ransoms is another slow song. It's quite mournful as the organs and snare ghost notes sit under the slow vocals of '...When they found her body, no offer or ransom could bring her back to me, for a walk in the moonlight'. The mournful monologue continues and shows desperation, in the anguish-laden repetition of 'I'd pay all the money'. The tremolo-picked guitars drenched in delay and reverb give a huge sense of space when they come in later on, and I find this to be a powerful song.
-A Penny's Weight-
The guitars constantly swapping between left and right with each strum sounds brilliant if listening through headphones with closed eyes. The vocal harmonies are very effective, and the song as a whole has quite a dreamy feel to it. When the drums finally come in after a minute, the slow beat shows a lot of restraint and feel on the drummer's behalf. I may be getting slightly off the topic of this song, but it must be said that the drummer (Mark Heron) never overplays, despite being extremely capable of simultaneous speed, limb independence and playing in a variety of unusual time signatures. Mark is definitely one of my favourite drummers, as he is always complementing the sounds coming from the rest of the band and being inspirational while never trying to selfishly steal the show.
This is another one of the long songs (at 8:29) and also one of the songs that stands out to me. The song never seems neither self-indulgent nor rushed, despite keeping the same basis for the majority of the song, with a gradual progression. I may not be a drummer, but yet again I do spend a lot of time listening to the drums here. This song showcases the vocals extremely well, with some unique lyrics ('a view of space, with an elephant obstructing it') and vocal melodies that are a joy to listen to. The beginning of the song is fairly laid back, before it strips back further and begins a long, tense crescendo. After a cue of 'Silent and transparent - the one who holds the candle to the glow of you', it happens. The walls of guitars come and surround you, drown you in huge instrumental waves, in the best way possible. You're free: swim around, let the waves crash over you. The band name suddenly seems relevant, it sounds enormous, almost like some kind of epiphany. It draws to an unexpected close, leaving only the empty sound of silence, and the temptation of the repeat button!
-It's My Tail and I'll Chase It If I Want To-
Simon Neil (vocalist of Biffy Clyro) does backing vocals on this track; another dramatic one. I find it difficult to tell what Simon says here, as he uses his strange semi-scream. The first time I heard this song I was completely speechless, with more of the large sound and heavily reverbed guitars which wouldn't be too out of place in post-rock bands, such as And So I Watch You From Afar. The lyrics here are rhyming nonsense, delivered at high speed. Although most of the song is instrumental, the quick vocal parts in the middle are fun to attempt singing along with.
Another slower one that sounds very nice. As with Ransoms, A Penny's Weight and SuperImposter, Pine is part of my playlist which I use for carrying me to the edge of sleep. I wouldn't recommend it if you're feeling a bit drowsy and hoping to stay awake (like myself now, after being awake for 33 hours straight so far), while otherwise it's a good song. There's a gentle metronome (or something that sounds suspiciously similar to one) providing a constant tempo throughout the song, which only makes things more relaxing. The lovely sound on the cymbals, snare ghost notes, clean guitars and alternate-picked reverbed guitars all help to build a wonderful soundscape. Also, Pine is a welcome return for strings on the album.
Not to be confused with SuperImposer (see what they did there?), this is the closing track on the album. A nice bass line holds up arpeggiated guitars and more slow vocals. The final verse of the album isn't particularly a cheery finale, with the lyrics of 'Should I not fraternize with these angels I've loved? // But if I'm out of time, I'll say my goodbyes and float downstream // And have cynics witness me grow rotten at the seams.' I generally prefer a bit more light in my music, but it sounds so good that I'll make no complaints.
All in all, Self Preserved is a very interesting progressive album with some incredible rhythms and a very dynamic mixture of heavy and dreamy. If you want a quick bit of karaoke fun then you'll want to look elsewhere, and some tracks may disappoint if you don't enjoy both ends of their sonic spectrum, but it's the kind of release I love, and it always keeps me coming back for more. Let's hope for a reunion!
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Part Cardiac (4:10)
2 SuperImposer (4:15)
3 Build Us A Rocket Then... (3:59)
4 Oscar Acceptance Speech (8:54)
5 Ransoms (4:07)
6 A Penny's Weight (3:38)
7 Silent/Transparent (8:29)
8 It's My Tail And I'll Chase It If I 9. Want To (3:36)
9 Pine (4:55)
10 SuperImposter (5:16)