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Oceanator says "Don't Worry, Maybe" on LP number two, Nothing's Ever Fine

Photo by Alex Joseph

The artist known as Oceanator lives up to her moniker on Nothing’s Ever Fine (Polyvinyl Record Co.), the Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist’s second full-length release—co-produced with her brother/longtime bandmate Mike Okusami as well as Bartees Strange—an album that rolls in on a gentle tide of arpeggiated guitar and loping drums before a crashing wave of power chords and glistening melody disrupts the dewy vibe of the opening track “Morning,” a tidal dynamic that’s also at play on the album’s final track “Evening” which depicts the “sky fad[ing] from black to red” in a waltz-time arrangement utilizing acoustic guitar, Mellotron, a choir of cicadas, and a final burst of sonic fireworks akin to that great yellow-red orb of ours putting on a fiery light show just before it slips under the oceanic horizon.

In other words, this is an album that captures both the ocean’s shimmering translucent beauty (see: the outro to “Summer Rain”) and its sheer, unforgiving raw power (see: “Post Meridian”/“Stuck”) and you’d best keep an eye out for its dark emotional undertow too (e.g., “Bad Brain Daze”) which can suck you under at a moment’s notice.

And just in case you think I’m blowing smoke up your funnel (who me?!) the high tide/low tide oceanic theme is made explicit in more than a few of the record’s lyrics which contrast, for instance, the American Pastorale of driving out to the beach with a “cherry coke and crumpled bag of french fries lying on the passenger seat” with the more fatalistic admission that “by the ocean is where I wanna be / when this all comes to an end / crack a cold one and watch the tsunamis come / surrounded by my friends” sung over a buoyant power-pop arrangement. 

This arresting mix of escapism and fatalism fits neatly within Elise Okusami aka Oceanator’s self-professed love of science fiction writing, in particular as authored by Black female writers, a literary genre known for exploring the extremes of utopian/dystopian thinking—consider for instance Octavia Butler’s deft interweaving of humanism and hope with her prescient depiction of this century’s convergence of climate crisis and reactionary politics in her two Parable novels written in the ‘90s—and it’s not hard to see why various protagonists on Nothing’s Ever Fine express the desire to “strike out on our own / trying to find a new home” allowing that “all I wish, all I want / is to be on another planet with you.” (Jason Lee)

Oceanator kicks off a 22-date national tour in Phoenix on May 20th, and plays seven dates across the UK in late August and early September.


Oceanator "Things I Never Said" vinyl release

Quoting a Deli blogger from a few years back, Oceanator is "the Brooklyn-based grunge project of Elise Okusami, one bore in equal parts from the its [sic] crunch-heavy guitars as well as Okusami's no-holds barred lyricism." I'm opening with this quote since there's nothing to indicate the songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has departed from her no-holds and crunch-heavy ways in the interim (but what do I know she could be working on a pirate-metal chiptune opera as we speak) and when it comes to Brooklyn-based grunge well there's still some of that around too--despite the best efforts of real estate developers who are attempting to entirely wall off Greenpoint with high-rise condos, clearly a plot to turn the neighborhood into a penal colony inspired by John Carpenter's Escape From New York so the joke's on the condo buyers and renters--and did you know Brooklyn actually invented grunge. Not the music. Actual grunge.

Oceanator released her debut full-length LP Things I Never Said last summer and reviewers at the time tended to dwell for understandable reasons on the album's recurring themes of cataclysm and apocalypse. Even though it was written and recorded well before the actual apocalypse arrived (the opening act of the apocalypse anyway) Okusami managed to channel the upcoming zeitgeist as demonstrated in the opening one-two crunchy-grungy punch of "Goodbye, Goodnight" and "A Crack In The World." But what's striking in listening to the album now is how little Okusami dwells on disaster itself, and how instead her lyrics so ably depict and dissect all the ways people react to disaster whether interpersonal or societal or both: Hiding away or diving straight into it. Looking to be alone or seeking human contact. Thinking too much or pursuing oblivion. Viewing disaster as an end point or a starting point for renewal. This album lays it all out and it's cheaper than therapy.

Much the same goes for the music too considering how Oceanator conjures an array of psychological mood state. Sure there's the aforementioned crunchy grunge but there's also the poppy bop of "Heartbeat", the new wave sheen of "I Would Find You" (new video alert!) and the classic girl group sway of "Walk With You" (RIP Mary Wilson) which back-to-back make up the middle portion of the album. Things I Never Said climaxes with the penultimate track "The Sky Is Falling" with its dramatic stop-start verses, soaring guitar breaks, and majestic outro that adds layers of additional guitar, keyboard, and ghostly background vocals to the mix before a final breakdown at the end. And finally the closer "Sunrise" is not at all ironically named but instead ends on a ray of hope: "I'm going outside today / I'm feeling like things might be okay." This album takes the listener on an actual journey.


And speaking of journeys if you journey over to Polyvinyl Records they've just re-released the album, now available on vinyl for the first time so you can show off your Hi-Fi system to your pet rock. And who wants plain ol' black vinyl (BOR-ing) so you get a choice between Orange Swirl vs. Funfetti aka "Clown Vomit" which suggests these records may be edible but I'd check with the manufacturer first. (Jason Lee)

Oceanator brings sun-drenched catharsis to Trans Pecos 2.9

There’s an immediate feeling of satisfaction when listening to the music of Oceanator, the Brooklyn-based grunge project of Elise Okusami, one bore in equal parts from the its crunch-heavy guitars as well as Okusami’s no-holds barred lyricism. Oceanator’s 2018 EP Lows is bolstered largely by Okusami’s unapologetic narrative as songwriter, where, over the course of five sun-drenched tracks, she broods over past pain on songs like “Not Around” and Mistakes.” Not all of Lows is an emotional catharsis however, with closer “Inhuman” being an open meditation on what it means to be human, providing a deeply essential ending to a short, albeit standout effort.

Oceantor plays Trans Pecos on February 9th, lending support to BRNDA, Maneka, and Patti. Stream their most extended play below. -Connor Beckett McInerney (@b_ck_tt)


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