Graded on a Curve:
The Ocean Party,
Beauty Point

Extant since 2009 and currently six members strong, The Ocean Party formed in Wagga Wagga, Australia and are currently based in Melbourne. With the release of Beauty Point, their discography is now seven LPs deep, with a couple of cassettes sprinkled in. Specializing in a mature strain of indie pop, fans of fellow Aussies The Go-Betweens or Scotland’s Orange Juice might find these 13 tunes strolling right up their main street. The new record is out now on vinyl and compact disc, in their home country and New Zealand through Spunk Records and in the US, UK, and Europe via Emotional Response.

The Ocean Party’s output resonates an undeniable 1980s feel (but in a non-labored way), and yet their prolific nature, releasing those seven full-lengths across the same number of years, gives off something of a ‘60s vibe. Making this even more impressive is the sophisticated nature of their sound right from the get-go; The Sun Rolled Over the Hills is their 2011 debut.

Social Clubs made it clear they’d located their sound, honed through a Wagga Wagga arts council giving young local bands an opportunity to play the city’s library (there was an additional youth-run program named Youth Voice), and Split drove home solid musicianship and occasionally biting lyrics that helped to set them apart, important qualities when putting discs in the racks with such regularity. Soft Focus came next, followed by Light Weight, and 2016 brought Restless.

This shouldn’t suggest a sameyness in execution. For starters, since Split, everybody sings their own songs, and for Beauty Point there are a few guests voices including recurring backing vocalist Ashley Bundang. Over their existence the lineup has changed little, and for the new record there’s Zac Denton, Liam Halliwell, and Curtis Wakeling on guitars, Jordan Thompson on keyboards, Mark Rogers aka Crowman on bass, and Zac’s bro Lachlan Denton on drums.

In terms of development, Restless did find the band at an intersection of accomplished songwriting and increasingly sophisticated execution; the result was perhaps a bit too refined. Beauty Point’s tunes are just as proficient, but the aura overall is vivid rather than simply polished. For example, opener “The Great Divide” is a terrific serving of downtrodden pop, the piano and saxophone lending a touch of the urbane while avoiding the middle of the road. The whole tickles these ears a little like Saturday Looks Good to Me.

By contrast, the succinct “Dust Clears” is lively in a manner recalling the indie pop exuberance of Orange Juice. As said, the production is unabashedly (and appropriately) bright, with keyboard additives and a rhythm that’s funky without going overboard. From there, the equally concise “Crisis” is sophisto indie pop wielding intermittent bass guitar boom.

But it’s “Memorial Tree Flames” that gets back within spitting distance of “The Great Divide,” doing so through cleanly plucked and strummed guitars, the distinctive texture of the keyboard/ synth counterpoint during the verses, the entrance of the saxophones as the finale nears, and a mood throughout, enhanced by the warm vocals, that’s halfway between introspective and breezy. It leads into the nearly as strong “More to Run,” which spikes a borderline melancholy atmosphere with anthemic choruses.

“Quiet Life” follows, delivering a slice of ’80s-hued pop with an arty streak (due in part to the chewy sax lines) and a sturdier than expected constitution (due to more thick bass propulsion) that’s almost like noir-shaded (and radio-ready) power pop. “Quality Control” features prominent guitar layering including a tasty instrumental spot leading into even more saxophone; as played by Halliwell, the horn is one of Beauty Point’s key attributes.

There’s no sax in “Runaway,” but there is (what sounds like) pedal steel and piano, the playing especially rich as the entry of the vocals is deftly delayed. The pace picks up in “Concrete View,” but the instrumentation and the conversational directness of the singing are no less effective. The latter is crucial to the success of “Strike,” which is one of the record’s standouts. Here, The Ocean Party take a turn toward the socially relevant (not a new scenario for them), specifically prison system injustice, with the result a bit like Pop Group words dropped into a Martin Hannett-produced post-punky pop situation.

That might sound iffy, but rest assured it’s a winner. So is “If I Blink,” a finely crafted indie pop tune with a meticulously rising (somewhat New Wavy) emotional upswing that feels like it’d be a great soundtrack for standing atop a hill on a brisk evening while embracing a loved-one. “Concrete” isn’t as appealing, but Rogers’ bass again adds heft and velocity to the finesse.

Closer “Cracked and Shattering” takes a substantial dip into a synth-pop neighborhood, which isn’t a shock as a handful of the prior tracks loiter on the border of the vicinity. What’s unexpected is the almost Spector-ish late twist indicative of how The Ocean Party avoid sinking into mere retread territory. Even folks (kinda like this writer) who prefer the louder and edgier side of the indie pop spectrum could find Beauty Point to their liking.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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