The Ocean Blue – Waterworks EP

The Ocean Blue
Waterworks EP

The Ocean Blue’s lead singer/songwriter/guitarist, David Schelzel, recently said the reason for the long wait between 2001’s Ayn and the band’s newest EP, Waterworks, was his pursuit of an advanced university degree and fellow members’ other musical pursuits. Clearly, The Ocean Blue is a band whose smarts extend beyond musical creation. Originally signed to Sire in 1988, shortly after graduating from high school in Hershey, Pennsylvania, Schelzel and his three mates released an amazing self-titled debut album of a dozen tracks that ranked with the best songs by The Smiths and The Railway Children. They followed that 1989 LP with two more albums of perfect Pennsylvanian pop with a British flavor.

When e(M)p(T)y-V turned its back on melodic modern rock in the early 90s, The Ocean Blue lost a major avenue for its music to reach fans, but the band forged ahead through the grunge-centric 90s, lost two original members and picked up new contributors in their place, and released two more albums and two EPs of jangling, clever guitar pop with occasionally romantic nuances. Waterworks finds The Ocean Blue exploring new musical roads while continuing to create instantly memorable, infectious indie pop.

The EP opens with the dreamy, meditative, synth-driven “Fast Forward Reverse.” The Ocean Blue has offered instrumental tracks on albums in the past, but none quite as easily reflective as “Fast Forward Reverse.” The first vocal piece on Waterworks is Schelzel’s mysterious “Pedestrian,” with its predominant drum loop. Schelzel’s intriguing lyricism and clean, youthful voice have not faded over the last decade and a half; if anything, they’ve improved. With echoing, swirling guitars courtesy of his and Oed Ronne’s playing, Schelzel sings: “I saw you last night / Alone in your car / It wasn’t quite right / Your headlights were out / I woke up today / I had to find out / If all was OK / But your phone line was out / If you don’t come quickly / If you don’t come to / I’ll be gone.”

The band’s tribute to San Francisco, “Golden Gate,” sounds like a lost classic from the late 60s, with its gentle instrumentation and prominent “la la la’s.” The band’s drummer, Peter Anderson, and guests Allen Clapp and Jim Ruiz on acoustic guitar and vocals and bass respectively, are especially effective in creating the sun-drenched, stunning Beach Boys-like harmonies on “Golden Gate.” Ronne, who joined as an official, full guitarist of The Ocean Blue in 1996, surprisingly contributes two lead vocal performances on two songs he wrote, first on the gorgeous, spacious “Ticket to Wyoming.”

This song is so rich in optimism and love for life that even full-time sour pusses won’t be able to resist its charm. Ronne brims with joy as he sings: “I know your daddy didn’t like me / He said I wasn’t up to any good / So I high-tailed it to Wyoming ‘cause I could / ‘Cause out here the air is very clear / And the mornin’ dew will see you through the day / A sky so wide you can leave your past behind / And lose yourself, and even change your name.” Ronne’s second turn as lead singer is with the quick, choppy “Sunshower.” Ronne’s accent sounds slightly English, appropriate since the guitars on “Sunshower” recall Johnny Marr’s finest moments. The rhythm section of Anderson and original bassist Bobby Mittan is dynamite on this effervescent rocker.

Waterworks concludes with its longest track, the mesmerizing instrumental “The Northern Jetstream.” Dominated by Mittan’s brilliant bass playing and the band’s electronic experimentation with 70s synthesizer motifs, “The Northern Jetstream” floats on for over seven minutes with guitars, hand claps, and uttered vocal “do do de do’s” to hypnotic, enjoyable effect. It’s a great way to close an excellent EP from a band as eager to explore harmonies and deliver majestic melodies in 2004 as it was 15 years ago.