Another reader-requested WYSL entry, Hershey, Pennsylvania’s the Ocean Blue combined their youthful energy and love of early ’80s alternative and new wave music into a relaxing, atmospheric blend of evocative music full of imagery and thankfully, hooks. After a few bright years in the alternative major-label music spotlight, the band found itself taking the indie route to relatively less acclaim, even though their sound stayed consistent. So, why should you like the Ocean Blue? The evidence, please:
The Band Sire Sired: Pioneering new wave label Sire Records was a huge influence on the Ocean Blue, as the band immersed itself in the label’s roster, including the Smiths, Echo & The Bunnymen, New Order, and more. Still in high school, the group proudly wore these influences on their sleeves, becoming one of the first bands to truly reflect the pedigree of the early ’80s alternative sound on their self-titled debut. “Between Something And Nothing,” the group’s first modern rock radio hit, came off like an Ocean Rain outtake, and MTV hit “Ballerina Out Of Control,” from the band’s second album, Cerulean, sounded like Bernard Sumner was the new lead singer of the Smiths:
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The strength of the band’s high school-written material was enough to get the band signed to a major label in 1988 … Sire Records.
Cocteaus For Two: The band’s youthful naivete sometimes showed on its debut (“Office of a Busy Man,” anyone?), so it was nice to see the maturing band grow on Cerulean, as the group found itself moving in an even more atmospheric direction, finding inspiration in the stacked guitar reverb sound of the Cocteau Twins. One listen to the album’s opener, “Breezing Up,” (download) showed a new resonance that relied less on single-ready hooks and served as the perfect intro to the band’s progression. That doesn’t mean the Cerulean wasn’t without catchy songs, as the single “Mercury” proved:
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Stab For Mass Appeal: While Cerulean was a great leap forward for the band, vocalist David Schelzel told me when we met in 1994 that it almost spelled the end for the Ocean Blue. Shelzel said he wrote all of the album alone and the less accessible sound was achieved with less of the other band members’ input than before. So their third album, Beneath the Rhythm and Sound, was a return to the “classic” Ocean Blue sound and lead single “Sublime” (download) was so catchy, MTV and some Top 40 radio stations jumped on board.
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The more mainstream sound wasn’t enough to spur sales, however, and Beneath… ended up selling less than its “less accessible” predecessor. After one more EP, Sire and the Ocean Blue parted ways.
Departure and Arrival: Not only did the band say goodbye to Sire, but also to keyboardist/saxophonist Steve Lau. Lau claims the band had an issue with his homosexuality, a charge the group vehemently denied. In any case, touring guitarist Oed Ronne was promoted to full band member, bringing along a rawer, post-grunge sound. But before anyone panics, the resulting disc, See The Ocean Blue, wasn’t a complete break with the Ocean Blue of old as “Slide” (download) proves. But the guitars move to the front, the effects get turned down and Ronne even contributes to the writing process, but I defy anyone to sit through the excruciating “Behind” to the end. Not many saw See, so after just one album with new label Mercury, record company upheavals left the group unsigned again.
Indie-an Ocean: Yeah, sorry about that. Anyway, since getting dropped the band has concentrated more on their day jobs, but new Ocean Blue discs have appeared here and there on independent labels. Davy Jones’ Locker was a fan-club only release that got greater distribution a couple years later via March Records and luckily it was another retreat back to the band’s classic sound as “Ayn” (download) features the Rickenbackers of old. The band continues to tour when it gets the chance and release singles and EPs, the last being Waterworks, featuring the single, “Pedestrian” (download) in 2004.
Their Crowning Moment: Cerulean‘s “The Planetarium Scene” (download) is the perfect summation of the Ocean Blue, as the soaring synths, chiming guitars and almost go-go instrumental break envelope an evocative lyric of escape. Beautiful stuff.
For Fans Of: The Smiths, Cocteau Twins, Echo & The Bunnymen, New Order
As a bonus, here’s the band’s sublime take on the Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out (Live)” (download) from the Peace & Light EP.
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