Ocean Alley – Chiaroscuro
2.) The Comedown
3.) Happy Sad
7.) She’s Always Right
11.) Flowers and Booze
12.) Man You Were Looking For
The Pier Album Rating:
Release Date: March 9th, 2018
Official Website: Ocean Alley Website
Ocean Alley is a 6-piece out of Australia that merges reggae and psychedelic rock. The Sydney-based band typically balances back-and-forth between dreamy, laid-back songs and dark, gloomy jams. Prior to the group’s sophomore release Chiaroscuro, Ocean Alley had racked up well-deserved hype from their debut album Lost Tropics (2016) and two EPs Yellow Mellow (2013) and In Purple (2015). The Aussie band carries their studio success on to the stage, delivering chilling live performances night in and night out. Ocean Alley makes their first trip to North America in spring 2018, performing at California Roots Music & Arts Festival, then continuing a headlining tour across the US and Canada.
At first glance Chiaroscuro, the title of Ocean Alley’s sophomore album, may seem like some bizarre, unpronounceable gibberish. Those who actually paid attention in art class, may recognize chiaroscuro as an Italian term that describes the interplay of light and dark, and its ability to create the perception of depth. The title is fitting for an album that swivels back-and-forth between songs of bubbly exuberance and bleak depression. Ocean Alley has an uncanny ability of seesawing between dark and light, often times within the same song.
Ocean Alley originally took their music in a darker direction on their seriously impressive 2015 EP In Purple. However, their debut album Lost Tropics (2016) underwhelmed as an entire collection of music, and proved the band still had room to grow. Chiaroscuro feels exactly the opposite. The 12-track album showcases their breakthrough psych reggae rock sound, honed songwriting skills, and their overall band cohesion.
Chiaroscuro begins with a dark, eerie and enchanting, one-minute guitar intro on “Corduroy.” Entering his hazy conscious, Baden Donegal (lead vocals/rhythm guitar) sings, “Feels like we’re floating…This is just a space town, soon we gotta come down.” Relying on an Ocean Alley signature, the song finishes with a thunderous guitar solo, which leads into the appropriately named song “The Comedown.” The track perfectly encapsulates those hungover, next day blues with its deliberately slack pace. “Happy Sad,” a 5-minute hit from the album, slowly builds itself up, before ending in a passionate outburst.
“Confidence,” one of the lead singles off of Chiaroscuro, is almost comically shallow in its lyricism. “It’s all about confidence baby, she was a confident lady, and I know she’s driving me crazy,” rhymes Donegal. But putting that aside, “Confidence” has an inescapable catchiness. It’s a song you simply can’t avoid coming back to.
A repetitive theme in Ocean Alley’s lyrics is the idea of finding solitude. On “Knees,” Donegal sings, “Cuz’ I’m only a man, and I think I need some time to breathe.” “Knees” is that track that you underestimate upon first listen, but later come to realize its impassioned beauty. On “Overgrown,” Donegal pleads for his isolation once again, singing, “So please, let me be, on my own, overgrown.”
Chiaroscuro is rounded out by other top tracks like “Frostbite” and “Flowers and Booze.” The former stokes the imagination of a dark, psychedelic winter, while the ladder is a rosy song that marks the most upbeat number on the album. The only track I could never fully get behind was Chiaroscuro’s closer “Man You Were Looking For,” a slow, acoustic ballad lacking the zest that exists throughout the rest of the album.
Chiaroscuro exhibits the group’s superb interplay with one another, and their ability to convey themes of darkness in a genre often riddled with false positivity and canned “good vibes” lyrics. Musically, Ocean Alley has created a winning formula: fiery, heartfelt vocals, riveting guitar fills and solos, reggae-inspired organs, and a top-class rhythm section. Chiaroscuro largely maintains the reggae rock essence that they first came up on & if they expand on the formula above, we could be watching the development of one of the next major reggae rock bands around.
Written & Reviewed By: Brian Winters
[Editors Note: All reviews are reflective of the album in it’s entirety, from start to finish. These reviews are the honest opinion of each writer/reviewer expressing their feedback as a genuine fan of the music. Each star rating reflects their review of the album, NOT the band. Music is subjective. Regardless of the review or star rating, we encourage you to listen to the music yourself & form your own opinion. Spread the awareness of all music in its art & contribution]
Watch: Ocean Alley – “The Comedown”