Even though I own every solo album of Townsend and a few Strapping Young Lad
discs, it is important to note that I am still in the very early stages of
digesting his writing. I've listened to all of his albums quite a few times but
not enough to compare the rest of his catalog with his debut effort Ocean
Machine, which is the one and only Townsend disc I've been wearing out as of
late. I remember listening to this the first few times and being shocked. I
couldn't grasp it and had a hard time understanding what was so special about
his music. But after giving it some time, with several spins every once in a
while, the music began to slowly sink in.
This has to be the one of the most difficult pieces of music to put into
words. Maybe it's because it doesn't sound like anything else I've heard before,
maybe it's because of its experimental attitude. What I know, however, is that I
appreciate Ocean Machine in more than one respect. The album consists of
many layers, all of which catalog various musical and lyrical ideas. Upon
lifting one layer, you find a new one that has a lot more to offer. The music is
very rich in content; it shows that Townsend is an extremely talented musician.
The production work is masterfully crafted. Devin is a very independent-minded
artist; I honestly don't believe any record label would ever release this. That
is probably why Devin began his own label (HevyDevy): to liberate himself from
restrictions and experiment with new and fresh musical ideas. Thus, the outcome
is very innovative and sublime. There is a general dark and brooding atmosphere
that surrounds every song, but not in a negative way. His music is far from
depressing, it's just that he obviously likes to reflect the darker side of
life. The album generally catalogs lyrical themes such as loneliness, despair,
love, and it documents Towsend's emotional state vividly. It is like a diary
that gives the listener a glimpse into the many facets of his inner world.
Although each song stands on its own, they all make a unified statement
giving the impression that there was a very strong sense of unity during the
creation of this album. Musically the album entails various elements that refuse
to acquiesce. They are virtually impossible to categorize, but some
distinguishing characteristics include avant-garde influences, odd
instrumentation, dark lyrics, unusual compositional structures, and a secret
rejection of commercialism. As much as the playing on this album tends to
display a minimalist approach, the compositions vary a lot with effective key
and tempo changes. Devin Townsend's vocals range from very smooth to almost
harsh growls, although the latter is kept to a minimum, since the songs really
don't need any aggressive vocal harmonies.
I think this is one of those albums you need to listen to from beginning to
end since each song serves a purpose. It is therefore difficult to choose
favorites but I particularly enjoy the songs "Funeral", "The Death of Music",
"Life", and "Bastard". Although this album has a running time of 74 minutes it
is very interesting how it gets more and more addictive towards the end. The few
songs in the middle, such as "3 AM" and "Greetings", balance the album out
perfectly. Then things begin to gain momentum again and the songs guide you
through the haze.
If you are familiar with Devin Townsend through his work with Steve Vai and
haven't heard any of his other albums, then be prepared for a nice surprise.
Because this might be one of your most interesting musical discoveries ever.
Whether you will like his solo or Strapping Young Lad albums is beside the
point. They may not be up your alley, but one thing is certain: Devin Townsend
is one of the most original artists you will ever hear. Until I discovered his
music, I must admit I'd never heard anything like this, and didn't believe such
a thing was even remotely possible. He creates music that has a sound all its
own. His approach to songwriting and expressing himself artistically is the main
aspect that distinguishes him from any other musician I know of, be it a
contemporary artist or not.
1. Seventh Wave
4. Hide Nowhere
6. 3 A.M.
7. Voices in the Fan
11. Bastard: Not One of My Better Days / Girl from Blue City
12. Death of Music
13. Thing Beyond Things