Oceana - Clean Head
Record Label: Rise Records
Release Date: May 11, 2010
Birth.Eater was Oceana’s first album to feature second vocalist Brennan Taulbee, whose chilling yet somehow plaintive crooning juxtaposed his aggressive, tormented screams. Birth.Eater was largely political, aiming at the topic of abortion and unwanted children, and while aesthetically pleasing, the album’s subject matter was almost too manipulative and caused a fair amount of controversy. After Oceana’s dissolution and subsequent reformation in the fall of 2009, they returned to the scene with their new EP, Clean Head, in May of 2010. Clean Head is analogous to Hell or High Water by As Cities Burn; in the same way that As Cities Burn progressed from post hardcore to softer indie rock, Oceana completely transformed their sound on Birth.Eater, aggressive, melodic metalcore, to positive, uplifting indie rock on Clean Head.
Clean Head has four tracks, clocking in around 18 minutes long. Album opener, "Blue," wastes no time getting to the meat of the track, beginning with loud, fuzzily distorted guitars and relentless, pounding drumming from Denny Agosto. "Blue" opens dirtily, and continues without pause, as Taulbee effortlessly begins “That’s you.. Hardly making new, living, laughing, lose,” indicating a softer vocal approach for the album. Throughout the song, Taulbee’s singing rarely rises as high in pitch as it did on Birth.Eater. This is not for lack of ability, though - on Clean Head, Taulbee seems to be more mellowed out, more at peace with his topics. "Blue" is a loud, powerful song involving multiple layers of guitars, even three at a time. Rhythm and guitar textures are amplified compared to Birth.Eater, as the layers of distortion and noise seem to be meticulously mixed for equal amounts of clarity and edginess. "Blue" features a brief reggae-flavored guitar plucking respite between the loud chord sections and Taulbee’s mellowed, blunt voice. "Blue" evolves into an abrupt section of dramatic chord strumming and stopping, almost like a breakdown but in a more drawn-out, musically fluid sense.
Track two, "Barracuda, Capital of the World," begins clearly with Taulbee’s narration, “Above the house, there’s water. Drinking it up, poor little kid. Now, now, now...” and Taulbee’s crooning grows more moving as cinematic, twanging guitar leads meander in and out of the speakers. Soft drumming begins to patter in the mix as gentle, muted keyboard melodies are introduced. "Barracuda, Capital of the World" takes an abrupt turn into energized indie rock as electric guitars begin to strum and Taulbee takes the mic with more direction and control. Taulbee gains energy as the song continues, emphatically drawling, “I see it, I feel it.. It’s me, it’s me. And every part of me is learning to do better things,” as dirty chords add a carefree indie vibe to the song. "Barracuda, Capital of the World" hits full circle as Taulbee references the title of the album, “The cross head disease ends, my feet show that’s all I did. Welcome in a clean bed, welcome in a clean head,” consciously addressing his decision to improve himself spiritually and psychologically. The song’s outro features impromptu drum solos and muted, gentle guitar accompaniment.
The third song, "Wool God," is simultaneously the most religious and personal of the four tracks. The song is dirty and tinged with indie rock, but Taulbee expresses himself incredibly clearly, soaring above the music, “This heart is, this is where it stays. This is where god is, and this is where it stays. Oh god, I feel it. No fonder feeling exists,” expressing his personal religious catharsis. "Wool God" slows down towards the end, with slow yet complex drumming, dual layered guitar melodies in both speakers, and quiet keyboards in the background.
The fourth track, "Joy," is my personal favorite on Clean Head. Its title really says everything, without any post modern irony to decipher – it is an uplifting song about happiness. "Joy" begins almost as an afterthought of "Wool God," seamlessly strumming and pounding in a crescendo. The music falls and Taulbee begins his final narration, “And we believe a fonder reel pulls you in.. I love you somehow and it’s better. It works out, and it calms me down. I’m glad I know you,” likely referencing his love for god and beauty in life. "Joy" is an incredibly dynamic track, with sections of near complete quiet where only distantly plucked guitar strings are heard, as well as noisey, chaotic, and joyfully uplifting rock sections. As "Joy" leads into its final sections Taulbee seems to be addressing religion again, “I’m sure of a name I won’t know, how can I? How could I? And I see that I’m sure that I know. I won’t hide, I won’t hide, I won’t hide,” expressing his final resolution and decision to embrace his god.
Oceana’s Clean Head turned out to be their final release, as they changed their name to Polyenso, going on to release One Big Particular Loop, an even more abstract and indie directed release. Clean Head is religious, but not in the judgmental or controversial way that Birth.Eater may heave been. On Clean Head, Taulbee’s religion seems to be manifesting his inner peace and catharsis compared to his pain and anger on Birth.Eater. Clean Head's dramatic musical change is welcome as well, as the noisy and textured guitars add unique grit and maturity to the album, and the lack of screaming vocals allows a more melodic, mellow approach to be taken on Taulbee’s part. In summation, 10/10 would listen.