There’s a latent statement that comes with self-titling an album. It’s an effective way for an artist or band to communicate that this is their definitive work, the yardstick to compare their other records to and the truest expression of their identity – admittedly this becomes muddled if they self-title more than one of their albums (Killswitch Engage, Fleetwood Mac, Weezer) or redundant if like The Bronx they give all their albums their own name. As such, a self-titled album also carries certain expectations. It should represent either a dramatic musical departure or simply the best music they’ve curated to date, and if it’s not questions will inevitably be raised.
Raising expectations was something of a necessity for Being as an Ocean after lukewarm sophomore album ‘How We Both Wondrously Perish’ failed to achieve a positive response across the board, unsurprising considering its sacrifice of songsmanship in favour of chilly ambiance and uncomfortable spoken word sections that had started to feel stale where once they were a distinctive calling card for the band. Meandering instrumentation with little purpose or conviction hid behind lyrics that dwelled where they should have cut deep, and the result was a disappointing follow up to the promise of 2012’s ‘Dear G-d’. That its follow up comes only a little over a year later may or may not be an admission that better was expected, but a reassertion of why Being as an Ocean deserved attention is by now a necessity.
Their self-titled third offering is exactly that. Cutting away the droning excess that blunted the quality of its predecessor, its distillation of atmospheric and aggressive elements in symbiosis rather than opposition results in a far more satisfying body of work. The jagged immediacy of brilliant potential future single “The Zealot’s Blindfold” shows that the band haven’t forgotten how to turn out mature, reflective post-hardcore that neither pulls no punches nor appeals to the lowest common denominator, and has killer interplay from spoken/screaming and singing vocalists Joel Quartuccio and Michael McGough. “St. Peter” opens magnificently with twinkling electronics and a restrained monologue before a rousing three minutes of rise-and-fall melodic rock, but the real highlight is closing couplet “Sins of the Father” and “…and Their Consequence”, a thrill ride of viscerally emotional lyrics and unpredictable, dynamic musicianship.
‘Being as an Ocean’ is an excellent album at its heights, but has in truth lost too much of the dynamic variance of the band’s older material. There are moments like the muted opening of “Little Richie” and drawn out, building piano on “Judas, Our Brother” that offer points of respite but they’re too few and far between to really give the blasts of noisy punk intelligentsia their rightful impact. A production job that renders many of the nuanced guitar textures indistinguishable doesn’t help matters, but regardless there is too much homogeneity here to push the album to the top tier of the genre. Ironically, a touch of the icy ambient breaks that bogged down ‘How We Both Wondrously Perish’ could have done wonders here, without overstretching the relatively brief runtime.
Appropriately self-titled in that it reaffirms how good Being as an Ocean are at their best, their latest full-length has moments of brilliance but can’t deliver them as consistently as could be hoped for. Their lyrics remain stimulating and musically clear improvements have been made, but this is a collection of songs that consolidate on past strengths and yearn for, yet don’t always quite reach, new heights. Inconsistent but an enjoyable listen, ‘Being as an Ocean’ gives a largely but not entirely glowing image of the band whose name it takes.