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Smalltape: The Ocean

OK, so I’m doing this backwards, having listened to and been pretty much blown away by the third album from Phillpp Nespital’s Smalltape project, I’m now working backwards into their second outing, The Ocean, which was released back in 2017. Impressively, the growth and gentle diversity from album number two to the third instalment of Smalltape is really quite marked, but that doesn’t mean that The Ocean isn’t worthy of time in your listening schedule - far from it.

Now, having listened to The Hungry Heart numerous times before dipping a toe in The Ocean, the more forthright attack of the guitars here really is quite stark and in general, the brush strokes here are broader, deeper and more pronounced. Nespital handles, with a few others helping along the way, pretty much everything, although he does clearly like to have a bespoke bassist involved where the need arises. However, it has to be said that his guitar work, keyboard playing, singing and especially his drumming, is top notch throughout. And, while this album is maybe less obviously nuanced than what followed, that “The Ocean Pt 1” holds a jazzy piano interlude at its heart, illustrates that while we are still in the realm of progressive rock with a touch of metal, there’s much more going on and I’d suggest that most of that comes from the piano work and clever arrangements. That jazzy feel also permeates through “Mirror”, but here it’s a less obvious flavour - and it’s also only at this point that I’ve realised how much less vocals are involved compared to the album that comes next. The Ocean instead being much more about virtuosity and musicianship than the more song-based approach of The Hungry Heart. Interestingly, on that scale anyway, I’d say that this album is much more proud and loud, and yet that doesn’t always mean that it hits harder. That’s not to say that there aren’t pieces that draw you in through their intentions here and not just their execution, because there undoubtedly are, with the 15 minute “Kaventsmann” a wonderful example of what this album can do in terms of scope and ambition, while “The Ocean Pt 2” cleverly brings back earlier themes in differing configurations.

Had The Ocean been the first piece of music I’d ever heard from Smalltape I would still be heartily lauding it and the fact that for me what comes next raises the bar quite considerably doesn’t stop this album being enjoyable, engaging and coming highly recommended.

Track Listing
1. When the Waves divide 

2. The Ocean Pt. 1 

3. The Shore 

4. Mirror 

5. The Sailor's Tale 

6. The Diver 

7. Kaventsmann 

8. Concrete Silence 

9. The Ocean Pt.2 

10. Picture of a Dawn

Added: March 5th 2022
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Smalltape @ bandcamp
Hits: 509
Language: english

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