Oceans – Nothing Collapses

Oceans - Nothing Collapses

Oceans - Nothing Collapses

Practitioners of post-rock often weave dramatic, story-like compositions that aspire to soaring heights. Oceans’ debut album, Nothing Collapses, cradles this method in downy soft melodies that both allay and arouse.

Their two preceding self released demos forecast this Chicago 5-piece’s eventual emergence in the genre. And Nothing Collapses is very much a genre album. It meets all post-rock’s requirements, from the instrumentation to the song structures to the use of dynamics. Oceans sets itself apart in other ways, most notably with their knack for subtlety and their first-class musicianship.

But the uniqueness of Nothing Collapses–what it does better than other post-rock albums–is sprawl from sea level to the heavens while working within a very modest emotional spectrum. The music here somehow never abandons a sense of peace and calm. Yet it expands and explores, making this one emotional space into a world all it’s own. It seems to come from a simple, singular inspiration the same way an author might pen a remarkable novel after only a few minutes spent staring at a cloudy puddle in the driveway, noticing first its oily center, then how the breeze makes the light play off it, the overhead tree branch in the reflection, the way it tapers off perfectly on one side while the other side ends abruptly along the pothole’s edge. The puddle, once only a muddy inconvenience, has become a world of fleeting beauty and drama, all the more lovely because it is evaporating with every passing second.

I laid that on thick, I know. But it’s a good album. That rich calmness trickles and pours from intertwining guitars creating beautiful, crafted melodies to a humming bass and crisp drumming.

“Ways with Wolves” could be the album’s best track. Early on, the drummer coaxes small splashes from the the cymbals while his sticks seem to dance through the drum set, still nudging the song onward. Guitars eventually perk up and begin a marriage of pull-offs and chimes. At 2:20 the song changes direction, finding a special rhythm centered on a rapidly beating bass drum. The song expands on the melody moving faster towards the hook. Really, “Ways with Wolves” is a song full of hooks, impressive in how it summons a great variety of feelings.

“Boy Detective”, one of the longer tracks at nearly 9 minutes, creeps up with a tapping guitar figure, a straight beat, and a refined foundation laid out by the bass. As the song approaches 6 minutes the momentum builds, promising to shoot skyward. And then a vocal pushes out, somewhat muted, from the back of the mix–one of two times this happens on the album. There is nothing stellar about the vocal but it works largely because, here, the guitars cut out to make room for them. In “Boy Detective”  the vocals add a youthful sense of togetherness simply by virtue of being sung gang style.

The 8 minute long “Terrified of What We Might Become” opens with a marching snare drum over minimalist guitars, feedback waxing and waning in the background. The song hums and chimes along, patiently waiting for the guitars to find their groove, which they do nearly 4 minutes in. They play off of one another, building a relationship built on melody and wordless communication. One of the most consistently impressive things about Nothing Collapses is the drumming, so crisp and compelling in the little fills and calculated responses teased from the cymbals. Here, the bass and drums team up, tossing little tricks into the rhythm while the guitars march onward, seemingly oblivious and yet wholly in step with the beat.

Every song on Nothing Collapses has value. Of course, some songs are much better than others. By comparison, “Traps and Traps” and “Sound of Static” probably fare the worst.  At times the music falls too deep into tranquility, falling to the point of boredom. At other times, songs suffer from a guitar figure repeated one time too many. But this isn’t often, and the sound quality remains immaculate throughout thanks to stellar production. So I’m a fool to complain. Nothing Collapses is an achievement, and by all rights it should lift Oceans to the forefront of post-rock.