“If you’re consuming our art with any preconceived notions or expectations of how it should be presented then you will find yourself extremely disappointed”. That’s a line from Ocean Grove’s Rhapsody Manifesto, an online document essentially outlining the band’s reason for being in a series of clauses and agreements to anyone who wants in. That alone should be enough to establish that Ocean Grove aren’t playing games here, but that quote pretty much crystalises their ethos in one chunk. For one, the band are self-proclaimed inhabitants of the Odd World, a parallel universe where creativity is allowed to run amok, and from where their debut full-length The Rhapsody Tapes is the result of said creativity.
And after actually listening to The Rhapsody Tapes that earlier quote makes all the more sense, as this is clearly an album borne from absolute insanity and nothing else, throwing out completely adjacent genres and styles ranging from metal, grunge and hardcore to dub and acid house. And it honestly works. Yes, do throw out those preconceptions of Ocean Grove being yet another Australian horse corralled in UNFD’s stable, this is a manic, thorough cross-section of music as a whole that’s way more enjoyable than it has any right to be.
But first, to address the elephant in the room, it’s worth noting that any cohesion on this album is nonexistent. Here, Ocean Grove dive headfirst into the album-making process with reckless abandon, and while the most common element is a permutation of nu-metal-flavoured metalcore as shown on Beers or These Boys Light Fires, it rarely lasts, instead giving way to a seemingly random genre whose inclusion has to be for no reason other than the band to say “we tried that once”. The shift is particularly jarring in the most dissonant cases, like the juddering ’90s house of From Dalight or the swirling half-psychedelia, half-reggae of Slow Soap Soak, but at least there’s an acknowledgment in the title of this being a glorified mixtape, throwing this clusterfuck of sounds together without rhyme or reason, and hoping it sticks.
Thankfully, it does, and on the whole, Ocean Grove’s jukebox approach to music manages to pay off without too many hangups. As is to be expected there’s the odd dud here, most notably the lumbering When You’re This High You Can Say What You Like, or Hitachi which feels too understated in its muted vocals and crackling beat to justify its place as closer. These are definitely in the minority, though; most of the time, Ocean Grove know how to run with what they’ve got, not particularly far, but far enough to get some good results out of it. At their very best, Ocean Grove manage to hit some great moments by tapping into their more off-kilter sensibilities, like the jagged, low-hung bass and menacing vocals of Intimate Alien, or especially Thunderdome with its sensual trip-hop beats and studio member Running Touch’s very reedy but effective crooning that breaks into its surging hook. There’s a dexterity and malleability here that allows such disparate parts to form part of the same whole, particularly in the triumvirate of vocals powers, with Luke Holmes, Running Touch and bassist Dale Tanner, between them running the gamut from guttural half-raps on Intimate Alien and What I Love About A Natural Woman to resoundly metalcore screams on Beers and hushed, emotional whispers on The Wrong Way in a way that somehow sounds completely natural
Then again, nothing on this album really sounds natural, but that’s why it works so well. If The Rhapsody Tapes proves anything, it’s that few bands are more fearless and gung-ho with their execution than Ocean Grove. The Rhapsody Tapes is a sledgehammer to the face of boring, faceless bands by actually having the guts to try something interesting that may not always stick the landing, and while it frequently resides deep in the uncanny valley, it overflows with personality and a truly inescapable approach of smashing down genre boundaries. If there’s one band for whom “expect the unexpected” is less a piece of advice and more a prerequisite, it’d be Ocean Grove.
For fans of: Marilyn Manson, Enter Shikari, Limp Bizkit
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘The Rhapsody Tapes’ by Ocean Grove is out now on UNFD.