Monday, 10 November 2014

Seeing The Ocean In Soft Focus

There are many reasons I love The Ocean Party's fourth album, Soft Focus. I have been a fan since 2012's Social Clubs; I put on their Brisbane leg of their launch of 3rd album Split (and first on Spunk Records) Split. I have even had the enviable pleasure of sleeping on the floor of their Osborne Street premises in Melbourne (alas, no more - the boys have flown the coop). The five piece are a great group of guys, who love their beer, their taylors, their VHS collection and their Snood. In fact, back in May when I was in Melbourne for the Gazar Strips Sparkling EP launch, I heard a couple of tracks that eventually made the album, and the lusher, "lounge" sounds, the pastel notes, it all seemed like a confident step in the right direction - a new dawn. It was The Ocean Party in soft focus (yes, the album title works incredibly well here). But from the warm opening moments of 'Went Out', the first song on Soft Focus, I knew without doubt that they were onto a winner. The trumpet is warm, sonorous, enveloping. The jangle doesn't feel lazy or commonplace (not saying that this has ever been an Ocean Party aesthetic), but an effortless extension to Lachlan Denton's warm, laconic vocals - a Go-Betweens sojourn down Brunswick lane. It's a warranted and welcome comparison. Not many songs - on this album, or in 2014 - reach this height of wide-eyed, creaseless gaiety and relaxed, free abandon. All worries wash away. It's an incredible thing. There is more to Soft Focus than this 3:16 minute corker though. Single 'Wading In' comes next and it's following in the laconic slipstream of its predecessor, with added synth and lazy calyspo New Wave drum machine... Yes, I could see the boys decked out in white suits and loafers. But that countrified swagger that imbues 'Taylors & Sharps' and the genre tinged shift is welcoming. 'Head Down' has that watery guitar warble but keeps up a more energetic gait; 'Bed As A Grave' takes a melancholic dive (even with Ashley Bundang's golden backing vocals). Nothing truly develops into anything other than an amble though, and remains inoffensive. But here's the thing - I have stated in the past that there is nothing more offensive than inoffensive music (and I maintain this wholeheartedly). But Soft Focus somehow becomes the exception that proves the rule. The word of the day here, as drab and lazy as it may be, is "warm" - the production is sublime and glows, lending these eleven songs with elegance and wondrously humble gravitas; and the shifting vocals (all boys are heavily involved) remains a effortless yet horizon-broadening masterstroke. But the sombre outro 'Still Stuck Out Here' probably sums it up best. Soft Focus shows that despite the myriad musical outlets these guys have, it's as a collective unit that they truly grow - they are pushing themselves further from shore, they are getting wiser, and it's a matter of time before everyone notices what a treasure they have on their doorstep. And as Denton murmurs to that brooding Cars-esque score (complete with lush sunset synth and sax solo), 'Ill be still out here in ten years or so, just wait and see.' I bloody hope so.

Soft Focus is out now through Spunk and Jigsaw Records.

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