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Album Review: Light Weight- The Ocean Party

The Ocean Party are one of the most prolific bands in Australia currently; ‘Light Weight’ will be the Melbourne six-piece’s fifth album in three years. This condensed time frame, though, makes for exciting permutations. Already, the Ocean Party are exploring stripping back their sound, grand themes and emotional landscapes, and finally shedding the sort of self-consciousness that can plague young pop bands in their early years. Whisper it quietly, say it softly to your neighbour over a conspiratorial lemonade, but the Ocean Party’s ‘Light Weight’ is the third album in 2015’s Holy Trinity of Great Aussie Jangle Pop, alongside Twerps’ ‘Range Anxiety’ and Dick Diver’s ‘Melbourne, Florida’.

There exists at the heart of ‘Light Weight’ a dichotomy that defines the album: though the album so obviously is the next logical step from 2014’s ‘Soft Focus’, it is also an album with such a different emotional spirit to anything the Ocean Party have previously produced. By allying a spacious, suburban landfill sort of Australian pop sound with the emotional maturity that comes with time together as a band to be able to make sense of it all, the Ocean Party have honoured the contract they wrote themselves supporting such acts as Real Estate and Stephen Malkmus, two masters of that particular game.

Album opener, Black Blood, such a simple song in hindsight, perfectly encapsulates the Ocean Party’s new maxim against clutter; the song warbles and meanders, one of the most acoustic on the record, and it moves with all the space of Billy Slater in a broken field. It’s the sort of pleasantly tasting aperitif to introduce a song with real emotional meat. Light Weight really ought to be ‘Light Weight’s’ third single. One particular lyric dripped so much sadness, so much hard-won knowledge, that the rest of the song was cast in its shadow: “We caught a taxi back and I walked home from yours/ You said I’ll see you soon I said I wasn’t sure/ There was everything and nothing everywhere/ And I had the idea I deserved even more.” Third track Phone Sex finally succumbs to the temptation to pair the emotional content of the music with a broad, wounded Australian accent that feels somewhat contrived, especially when the point is made much more subtly by next track and single Guess Work.

Guess Work truly is a gorgeous song, the sort that captures the imagination and holds it for long after. Had it been written in 2007, it would surely have been used in the soundtrack for Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. A miscellaneous post-punk drum beat is layered with brooding vocals and a Joy Division- riff, before breaking open like an unexpected egg with a wistful, bitter-sweet snatch of piano, the yolky chorus rich in feeling. The delightful fuzzy synth is simply the artistic flourish at the end, the initials in the corner of the masterpiece.

The Ocean Party’s post-punk influences are never more apparent than in single Greedy, which really does have all the elements you’re looking for: acoustic flourishes, moody baritone, expansive riffs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one joker in the studio did a hackneyed Ian Curtis inspired chicken dance. ‘Light Weight’ enters into a different phase in its second half: more introspective, jammier, more groove but less change of pace or tone. The exception is probably the jaunty Aircon, which the horns give a carnival sort of air to the song, which has the grand thrust and build that HOLY HOLY utilised so well on their recent debut LP.

‘Light Weight’ is an album that holds up well to repeat listens. Funnily enough, it’s often the simple sounding, spacious albums that do best. Complex albums, with lots of things going on at once, often use that clutter to disguise a void in emotion or technique. ‘Light Weight’, rather, presents itself as exactly as it is, and invites the listener to contemplate its ramifications, rather than convincing the listener of complexity via more and more noise. Even the album’s title is open to interpretation. ‘Light Weight’ as in not heavy, or as in unable to cope? It feels like there are so many answers in this album, but I can’t for the life of me find their shallow grave beneath the veneer of perfection coating this album. 8/10

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