Record Club: Oceanator – Things I Never Said

Record Club was intended to be a regular feature on this blog where I talked about the records I bought, a love letter to the physical medium and a look into the mind of a life long collector. Then I promptly stopped blogging. Woops.

The last time I wrote one of these was almost 5 years ago. The last time I personally wrote anything on this blog was over 4 years ago. I didn’t fall off the face of the earth or anything but I moved to Phoenix, Arizona so, I don’t know, same difference to some people? Life got in the way of any pretense of being a “freelance writer” — but my brother(co-blogger of 15 years, off and on) and I started a podcast 2 years ago and we just recently surpassed 100 episodes.

Back in July we had Elise Okusami on as a guest to discuss a sort-of random record (that’s our gimmick). Elise is the mastermind behind Oceanator, a NYC based grungey indie project who recently put out their debut full-length Things I Never Said on her own label Plastic Miracles. I’ll give you the hype right here before I dive into the body of this post. This record is so good I HAD to start blogging again, I had to tell the world, the people need to know.

Alright, well, the people might already know. Despite some manufacturing delays every vinyl copy of the initial release of this record has already sold out and shipped and Oceanator have signed to Polyvinyl and announced a reissue in record time. You are going to hear about this record and this artist from a lot more people if you haven’t already.

My old friend “frustration-free” packaging

I am still not a fan of these record mailers. I wanted to take a second to talk about them because I love the standard mailers, they’re sturdy, size adjustable and endlessly reusable and it’s so easy to just cut the tape to open them. The little perforated zipper pull tab on these don’t always pull very easy. I assume these are very easy to pack though, so maybe that’s the “Frustration-free” part.

I got the 90s bundle

But it’s what’s inside that really counts. I saw a tweet from Oceanator saying the 90s bundles were almost gone on a recent Bandcamp Friday just before the records started shipping out. It had been on my mind to order this record since I first listened but I hadn’t gotten around to it, so that was all I needed to finally make the purchase. The temporary tattoo flash sheet and the pog set with custom Oceanator slammer are such great little collectables to me.

I love little trinkets and things, you should see the pins and patches and old toys all over my desk. When bands add non-standard merch options to their preorders they always go with the “wedding favors” stuff like drinking glasses or flasks or things I just don’t want at all like knives or lighters. To some people it’s passé to trade in nostalgia but I think this is the way to do it. Especially for an artist who was a child in the 90s making music primarily aimed at people who were also children in the 90s. Pins and patches are cool too but like I said, they mostly sit on my desk, this I can keep with the record and get a little kick out of it every time I take it out to listen to it later. It’s a little gift that keeps giving. Thanks Elise! There are some pogs and tattoo sheets still available as well as the tapes, koozies and postcards so you should go grab those because who knows what extra merch will be available with the Polyvinyl version, these are likely very limited. Also worth mentioning, the standard clothing merch options are pretty non-standard, there’s tank tops and pocket t’s which I thought was pretty cool.

The 90s Taco Bell color palette of the album design goes hand in hand with the pogs and the “90s Indie Rock” sound of the band. I’m putting “90s Indie Rock” in parentheses because that term has been worn so thin over the last decade of alternative music journalism and to me it evokes much more of a Pavement or GBV sound than I hear on this record. Musically Oceanator fall into a category that people are trying to call Power Pop because there’s a strong balance of “ROCK” and “Pop sensibilities” but it’s a useless descriptor in my mind beyond the pre-Punk(not proto-Punk), pre-New Wave, non-Metal, non-Prog, non-Country Rock commercially oriented FM radio Rock music of the 70s and more contemporary artists directly influenced by those sounds. Even by 90s Power Pop standards it’s a stretch because these melodies and riffs don’t sound anything like Weezer or Teenage Fanclub to my ears. All in all, I’d just call it Punk Rock and not feel like I was misleading anyone even if most of the songs are mid-paced and strictly clean sung.

There’s a passive grunge influence on this record that is probably more of an inescapable subconscious influence given her earliest musical experiences of starting a band in 4th grade and by the same token there’s a sort of intangible Green Day style 90s Pop Punk baseline for the music she makes. It’s just what was on the radio when she learned to play and write music. If there’s any direct “90s” influence it seems more than likely to stem from Pedro the Lion, especially in terms of the heavy downbeat guitar strums and some very Bazan-esque phrasing and melodies. Elise’s vocals on this record are mostly low, measured and clean; she doesn’t push and strain the way so many vocalists in the alternative genres tend to and it’s a refreshing approach. The melodies are superbly catchy, matching that with her vocal approach makes every song instantly memorable, fun and rewarding to sing along to.

The record plunges right into the depths with “Goodbye, Goodnight” that subtly sets the apocalyptic lyrical mood of the record as she reflects on a dissolving relationship. Eva Lawitts’ bass tone is humongous and though the guitars get pretty fuzzy pretty often on this record they have a rubbery sound that blends nicely with the bass and the hefty low tom and kick drum all tied up nicely by Elise’s smooth brassy alto voice.

The sound of the record, recorded and mixed by Elise’s brother Mike, truly suits the somber and weighty feelings of the lyrics. Though I don’t want to over-emphasize the gloomier side of this record because there’s some killer fun upbeat cuts too. The second song and the lead single “A Crack in the World” lyrically fits the bummer jam bill but the melodies and riffs are pure bliss. She adds to the second refrain of “it’s not what you wanted but it’ll do / it’s not what you wanted but it’s what you get” a glimmer of hope, not necessarily asking but bluntly stating “who knows things could get better yet” before shifting into the excellently delivered bridge that carry some of my favorite lines on the record “taking pleasure in simple things in between / hot tea on a cold fall day / and dressing up for halloween.”

The sequencing and song structures themselves on just these first two tracks are staggering. There’s double verses and progressive choruses, intros and honest to god coda’s. I could listen to that cross fade between those two songs on a loop.

The third track “Hide Away” ups the rhythmic complexity reminding me of something J Robbins would have come up with for Burning Airlines while the vocals, tightly double tracked, soar to some of the highest heights on the record. Lyrically it reinforces the theme of trying to make the best of life in the face of the looming Anthropocene.

“January 21st” doesn’t clarify the significance of the date but the first couple lines make it clear, it’s not a happy day. There’s a little part where she says the word “sludge” and her vocal chokes out the word. The little details like that really takes the record to another level.

“Heartbeat” is a surfy, rock’n’roll number that sounds like ToyGuitar doing a Blondie cover. There’s a gorgeous little descending vocal harmony on the second time through the chorus before an instrumental break and an “uh oh, uh oh oh woah oh” that you’re gonna be singing to yourself for hours after the record is over.

The B-Side opener “I Would Find You” echoes the feelings of the opening track, lyrically playing like a response from the estranged lover or friend, but the guitars are understated, taking a backseat to some late 80s synth stabs. The end-times tinged anxiety of most of the record’s theme comes to it’s most poignant and inspiring revelations on this song. If there’s one song from this record you should hear, it’s this one, even if it’s not sonically a perfect example of Oceanator’s “sound” but most of the B-side is spent expanding what the definition of that sound could be.

“Walk With You” reaches even further back than the 80s and 90s roots of the record with a 50s/60s R&B sway. “The Sky Is Falling” inverts the loud/quiet/loud formula of the Pixies with an especially cinematic build up with fuzzy guitars layering on top of each other with toy piano sounds and ghastly background vocals; seriously, someone needs to license this song for the theme song of a horror anthology series or the closing credits of a psychological thriller. Finally, “Sunshine” churns out the same three chords with the guitar and bass in lock step and no drums in sight for three minutes before a feedbacking guitar comes screaming in to reiterate the melody.

I really cannot wait to see what comes next from Oceanator. Putting a record like this under a microscope could easily spoil the thrill of finding a new artist that hits you in the chest but the craftsmanship is top of the line, this record is gonna hold up for a very long time.

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