Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up, the fourth studio album by alternative progressive band Oceansize has a heavier tone but manages to reintroduce the band’s skillful songwriting style, packed neatly in thick guitar soundscapes and clever stereo manipulations.
This might sound weird coming from a member of a prog-rock band, but when I first read that Oceansize’s Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up was going to be “fifteen songs, all under four minutes”, I was genuinely excited.
An Introduction to My Oceansize Experience
When I first heard Oceansize’s first album, Effloresce, I really liked its classic ‘The Bends’ alternative rock sound, only it came with a more vigorous approach. I listened to it a lot, though it didn’t scale as a top album at first.
When Everything Into Position was released, I got it and listened to it a few times, thinking it was nice. I told Opher about it, without making much of a fuss about it. “Oceansize have a new album out” is pretty much all I said.
Then a few weeks later Opher said he had been listening to the album and that it was awesome. So I gave Everything Into Position another listen. All of the sudden, I rediscovered the amazing and rich musical world that is Oceansize. I consumed both albums repeatedly, savoring the music over and over again, always finding out something new.
This band was giving me everything I ever wanted in music: a dynamite sound with sharp guitars, a good versatile vocalist and compositions that are both intelligent and emotionally driven. What was so great about them was the fact that they were able to produce complex prog-like riffs and compositions, but it sounded like they weren’t even trying to do that. Only after dozens of listens to Effloresce did I even notice that many of the songs sported odd time signatures. This was refreshing compared to all those Neo-Prog bands that have been dragging 7/8 into the ground in the past 30 years, creating what we in the “scene” call a Progressive Rock Cliché.
And then, came Frames. I was concerned that Oceansize would become too self-conscious by the great artistic and critical accomplishments of Everything Into Position, and when it was released, I felt like that’s exactly what had happened.
Frames still had the great sound and powerful performance that an Oceansize fan would expect, and it did have some great moments, but to me it felt like the natural complex compositions were gone, and were replaced by songs that sounded like very long sessions. It was as if in the past, they just wrote songs that sounded proggy, but when they became aware that they’re actually playing progressive rock they panicked and started trying too hard to keep up with themselves and ended making the same mistakes that rookie neo-prog bands do.
Don’t get me wrong, Frames was definitely not a flop. It does have some great moments, exciting riffs and an amazing sound. It wasn’t a huge disappointment like every Mars Volta album released after De-Loused in the Comatorium. But it did have 10 minute long instrumentals that took forever to get to nowhere, like “An Old Friend of the Christies”. The album’s opener, Commemorative 9/11 T-Shirt (awesome title btw), featured the same 11/8 time signature used on the Charm Offensive to open Everything Into Position, except that on the Charm Offensive, it actually went somewhere, instead of repeating the same riff for three and a half minutes before actually starting the song.
My, that was a Long introduction; let’s get to the actual review, shall we?
So anyway, after an album with songs that lasted for over eight minutes for no apparent reason, the fact that the band even joked about producing an all-four-minute-song album was a hint that they’ve seen the error of their mistake, and are now ready to return to their roots.
As with all Oceansize albums, it took a while to get used to it. Even as I was writing this review, I was listening to parts of Frames and telling myself “hey, this is actually not that bad after all.” So Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up took some time to sink in, as any album with profound music and lyrics does.
At first it sounded like the band was burrowing deeper into their Meshuggah influences. After a few full listens, it became evident that this was only partially true. The heavy songs were much heavier, but that didn’t reflect on the lighter songs, nor did it cause them to feel unrelated to the feel of the album. That’s the sign of a really good band: when it can slap a progressive death metal assault next to a slow, mellow ballad, and still sound like the same band.
The album’s sound is very warm and concise, with a rich analog feel to it. The guitars sound like they were played out of king-size high-end amps, the mix is sharp and clear, the arrangements are well balanced, allowing you to hear every single instrument (or at least, so it sounds, maybe there are more layers of guitars hiding somewhere).
The album also includes some very interesting stereo manipulations, which at first I felt were a bit redundant, but after getting to know the songs I learned to appreciate them. Silent / Transparent begins with very eclectic drumming, and the extreme panning stood out so much that at first it made feel like they were artificially trying to cover up the lack of originality in the songwriting with some technical tricks. But then I decided it wasn’t the case, so stop writing that hate mail.
Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up is not without its faults, though. There’s still an excessive use of consistent patterns, which generates a certain sense of repetitiveness, lacking the rich composition style of Everything into Position. Some redundant moments like the 3 minute long postlude on Oscar Acceptance Speech, which does sound very nice but lasts for way too long, and the over-the-top metal extravaganza of It's My Tail and I'll Chase It If I Want To.
The last two songs, Pine and SuperImposter, are quite reminiscent of the band’s “old style”. I love the sound of their spacey effect-drenched guitars, combined with Mike Vennart’s smooth, relaxing and yet somehow at the same time haunting and disturbing voice. These two songs make an excellent ending for a somewhat unbalanced album.
Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up shows that Oceansize still has a lot to offer. It’s not their best album, but once again, it’s not their worst album either (seriously, that Mars Volta album was horrible.) I’m looking forward to hear more from the band, as even on their worst day, Oceansize still kicks the collective asses of most of the bands that operate in today’s “New Prog” scene. I’m hoping to fly out of the country sometime and make it to at least one of their shows before it is too late, like in the case of the Cooper Temple Clause.