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Oceansize: Frames

After issuing a string of EPs and singles, United Kingdom's Oceansize made a strong start with their highly acclaimed debut Effloresce in 2003 and backed it up with Everyone into Position two years later. Though there is no general consensus as to which album is more successful, it seems the opinions are based on the listeners' expectations moreso than the musical quality put on display.

In many ways, Frames evokes the denser, more detailed sound of Effloresce, in part because it was produced by the same engineer, Chris Sheldon. Unlike the Coldplay guy who worked on Everyone into Position, Sheldon favours a sharper production with more space. That, however, is where the similarities between the first and third albums end, as Frames sees the band expand on a more accessible soundscape than either of its predecessors. With the exception of track two, "Unfamiliar", the album forges its own path relying heavily on atmospheric depth and melancholy-inducing elements.

The aforementioned "Unfamiliar" feels like a leftover from their earlier sessions, given its brisk rhythm guitar attacks, alternative rock-styled vocal delivery which occasionally borders on aggressive onslaughts, and heavy finish, amidst a dense pool of wailing guitars and pounding drum beats. It is questionable how well this kind of aggression suits the otherwise mid-tempo-paced material on the album, one exception being "Sleeping Dogs and Dead Lions". However, the tracklisting of Frames deems it necessary for such a bludgeoning piece to appear between the experimental instrumental cut and powerful finale. This song unleashes a wave of dissonance, rarely heard on their other albums, and erupts into a bass-centred rhythm, underpinned by maniacal screaming, heavy drum syncopation, and violent, relatively more technical instrumentation.

The frequent incorporation of synths on some of the tunes has rendered them more spacey, particularly on "Trail of Fire" and "Savant". The former is a ballad-like anthem, focusing on solo piano; and a steady, powerful build-up with lofty acoustic guitars and whisper-like vocal manipulations. Oceansize creates an epic in the form of "Savant": it has a cinematic bent to it, sort of like a movie soundtrack. Driven by drawn-out instruments, mellow vocal lines, and cool percussion, the ending boasts an almost classically inspired coda -- it's truly beautiful.

Vocalist Mike Vennart gives a semi-spoken, semi-sung performance on "Only Twin", surrounded by shades of synth layers, and a tenacious, drum machine-like cadence. However, it isn't until the ten-minute instrumental "An Old Friend of the Christies" kicks in when it becomes apparent how talented this young band really is. The funereal acoustic guitars, doomy drumming a la early 90's British doom acts, and a lucid string element form the framework for the ambitious composition. Halfway through, three-part guitar melodies are filtered through myriad sound effects in order to create a thicker, heavier body. The way each repeated note grows to an epic-size monster at the end is testimony to their potential.

The first and last songs are in a way direct opposites to each other. The opener boasts overtly repeated guitar notes overlapping the big drum sound and rising to complex crescendos, whilst the title track, another ten-minute cut, is slightly reminiscent of Godspeed You Black Emperor with vocals. As the band produces strong melodies and sprinkles single-note acoustic bits throughout the piece, the vocalist's desperate croon works phenomenally atop the discreet keyboard line, not to mention the final guitar at the very end. Those who won't sit through the album patiently will unfortunately miss out on one of the most beautifully constructed melodies of the year.

With that said, and while wholeheartedly agreeing that Frames is bound to become Oceansize's breakthrough, I cannot help but think the best from them is yet to come. Once they continue to refine their songcraft with their huge creative range, more people will discover them. The addition of greater amount of post-rock sounds and progressive structures into their albums will surely culminate in more accomplished efforts in the future.

I personally was reluctant to check Frames out right away, having heard their previous two discs and evaluating them as "good but not great" albums. However, once I saw the album listed in Steven Wilson's playlist, I decided to give it a chance -- I'm glad I did. This is their best work so far, but they will surpass it -- they can.

(Please note that the promo copy of the CD that has been circulating around for a while is an unmastered version, and thus does not represent the full quality of the record. I highly recommend checking out the real version before forming a final opinion.)

Track Listing

  1. Commemorative T-Shirt
  2. Unfamiliar
  3. Trail of Fire
  4. Savant
  5. Only Twin
  6. An Old Friend of the Christies
  7. Sleeping Dogs and Dead Lions
  8. The Frame

Added: July 6th 2009
Reviewer: Murat Batmaz
Score:
Related Link: Oceansize website
Hits: 4199
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Oceansize: Frames
Posted by Yves Dubé, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-07-06 07:14:26
My Score:

" The sound is progressive but never forgets the importance of good songs."


In 2007 Oceansize followed up their critically-acclaimed albums "Effloresce" and " Everyone Into Position" by releasing their most accomplished, most innovative, and most interesting disc to date: "Frames". Made up of 8 tracks and clocking in at over 67 minutes in length, this is the disc that should fully establish this British band as one of the best to come out of the UK in many years. In 2009, SPV, by way of Superball Music, have finally released this brilliant disc in America; hence the fact that we're 2 years late in reviewing it for you. The packaging comes with a companion DVD of the band playing "live in the studio" the entire album.


Oceansize's music, while being its own entity entirely, can be compared to other British bands like Radiohead, Coldplay, and even Porcupine Tree. The band weaves dark musical threads in hypnotic patterns, over cryptic lyrics at times crooned gently, at other times screamed frantically. "The song" is at the forefront of every number in the sense that it's not about any virtuoso playing or technical chops up the wazoo. The tracks tend to be longer than your usual pop fare and, although they are mostly lyric-driven, the vocals never become tedious. The album does contain one instrumental piece, the hypnotic "An Old Friend Of The Christy's", which builds up from a deliberate drum beat to explode into a riff-driven hard rock opus. The band can get VERY heavy too, as "Sleeping Dogs And Dead Lions" aptly demonstrates. By and large, however, the music contained herein is mostly slow to mid-tempo , slightly brooding, and lyrically ambiguous. Although the band is primarily guitar/bass/drums driven, the addition of keyboards and the excellent vocal harmonies do lend the music a bit more color and depth.


As stated above, this package also contains a DVD of the entire disc, with every song played in the same order. The band delivers each track with even more power than the studio versions. The DVD is shot in a studio that looks like a converted hangar. It's a multi-camera shoot with some of the gimmickry too often applied to these types of releases (ie: grainy images, fast moving cameras, fish-eye lens shots, etc…) yet never overdoes any of these things and is actually quite enjoyeable to watch. The DVD also contains footage shot during the recording of the disc, band photos, and other assorted goodies. Each of these, released seperately, would be worth the price. To get them together in one package truly makes this one a no-brainer


Oceansize: Frames
Posted by Jon Neudorf, SoT Staff Writer on 2009-06-19 13:43:40
My Score:

To say I was surprised when this one came across my desk is an understatement. Then I realized this was a special double disc version of the original 2007 release. What is really nice is the fact I had not yet heard the original release so I dove into this one not really knowing what to expect. I will say this right from the start; this is an excellent album and I am highly impressed with this Manchester band. Sometimes albums need to grow, but for me this one clicked immediately. This is their third release, with the first two geared more towards space/psychedelic rock, or so I have been told, as this is my first exposure to the band. To me, this is closer to post rock, with the occasional foray into symphonic, alternative and metal. If you enjoy the later stuff of Anathema, Tool, Porcupine Tree and to some extent Anekdoten, you will want to give this one a listen.

The music is mostly guitar dominated with the synths and keyboards providing accents to the wall of sound that is Frames. After all, we are talking about a triple guitar attack. While there are some pretty cool guitar solos, the band's use of intelligent rhythms building intricate patterns is invigorating and quite unique. The gradual build-ups within many of these eight songs gives the music a dramatic flair and keeps up the interest level, at least for me. Special mention must be made of drummer Mark Heron. He really leaves his mark all over this disc with his intricate rhythms, patterns and odd time changes making this music all the more progressive.

The songs are all over six minutes in length, long enough to explore different soundscapes and textures, effectively never cutting themselves short. The disc surrounds itself in a veil of melancholy but in no way did I find this a depressing record. Poignant is more like it, especially during the more delicate passages. There is a nice contrast between soft and heavy interludes.

"Commemorative t-shirt" makes for a great beginning with its repeated instrumental melody, blasts of guitar, delicate keyboards and the perfect timing of Heron. With a beautiful keyboard melody, "Trail Of Fire", is another winner, although not without an undercurrent of sadness. At times Vennart's vocals vary from a near whisper to full on intensity and waves of keyboards add a degree of lushness. With its peaceful beginning of sporadic piano chords, lovely synths and slightly distorted yet melodic vocals, "Savant" is one of the album's best songs. The gorgeous orchestral arrangement should appeal to fans of symphonic rock.

The DVD contains Frames performed live in an abandoned warehouse with no audience. Each song is presented as a separate video. The performance is excellent and the sound quality and video footage is very good. It also comes with bonus features including a couple more songs performed live and a photo gallery.

My only gripe is with the liner notes which are virtually invisible to the naked eye. After all, what sense does it make to have them if you cannot read them? Other than that, this one is a winner.

Oceansize are an impressive band to say he least and I hope you enjoy this album as much as I did. Highly recommended!




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