There is a distinct magic that many people have forgotten over the last two
or three decades, and one that many of today's music listening public
has never even experienced - the magic of putting the needle down
on a newly-gotten chunk of vinyl and hearing the pops and hiss and
then the magical opening notes of a finely made record album. That
magic was recently lived by me as I got a chance to hear the latest
record from Overcasters before it was released. I grabbed my
borrowed copy and called a friend who I knew had a killer turntable
and stereo set-up and headed over for some great listening. From the
moment the needle dropped onto the record, I was entranced and smiling.
The magic of the experience was as beautiful and as meaningful as
the music, but as soon as the music started, it overpowered everything
Led by Kurt Ottoway - a longtime member of the Colorado music
scene with his fantastic former bands Twice Wilted and The
Tarmints - Overcasters conjure a noisome, trancey shoegaze filled
with roaring drums, throbbing basslines, and wildly howling guitars
that nearly mask the beautiful and oftentimes delicate melodies that
form the heart of the music. Ottoway's guitars play beautifully off
of guitarist John Nichols' guitars, each one finding its own
space within the mix, layered in feedback and melody to create maximum
effect. Erin Tidwell plays the drums like a devil on a mission
there are no easy passages on The Whole Sea Is Raging, even
when Tidwell lays back there is an urgency and a power to the drumming
that leaves no space for calm. Ottoway's newest songs are his strongest
to date; each is filled with a power and a reflection similar to that
which his songs have always possessed, but the directness and strength
of the delivery, the clarity, are more pronounced than ever before.
It seems Ottoway has found some sort of uneasy truce with his demons
as he seeks to exorcise them in these newer songs.
The sound of The Whole Sea Is Raging draws heavily from some
pretty classic sources, and is enhanced heavily by the participation
of Rick Parker, who produced the record as well as mixed it.
Parker has been responsible for some pretty amazing records over the
past decade, not the least of which are two Black Rebel Motorcycle
Club records, including probably their deepest and densest record,
Howl. Parker also understands the British influence in noisy
pop, he produced the initial offerings by the mid-90's Manchester-influenced
The Shore. Drawing heavily on and enhancing their own musical
backgrounds, Parker was a perfect choice to bring out the magic in
Overcasters' sound on their debut long player. More than once on The
Whole Sea Is Raging are we reminded of the aforementioned BRMC
and their clear sonic ties to The Jesus And Mary Chain. Even
more prevalent is a melodic and compositional feeling that ties directly
to Brit stalwarts Echo And The Bunnymen, and their short side
project Electrafiction. Nichols' contributions to the sound
dig heavily into the magic bag of bands like Ride and My
Bloody Valentine as he coaxes sounds from his guitars that take
melodies and strangle them and run them through the wringer, only
to emerge somehow more beautiful than when they went in.
Take a listen to "A Jagular", a track that begins with
a mystical, almost rockabilly, guitar line (Remember the early days
of The Cult? Yeah. Like that.) before launching into a full
blown sonic maelstrom of guitar wonder, all backed by a tremendously
solid rhythm section. At no point are the guitars over-done, or stepping
on each other. There is a precious space within the vortex of sound
that allows everything to breathe nicely and interact magically with
the other instruments, and especially with Ottoway's vocals. The turnarounds
on "In The Clouds" are saturated in late 1980's melodic
leanings, pulling the song in a direction fairly unexpected. In between
guitar bursts that are as beautiful as anything The Catherine Wheel
ever played, there is a melancholic sweetness as Ottoway reaches into
his higher register to find a clearer singing path, reminding this
set of ears of a very late '80's voice that I can't quite place. Side
A (more LP lingo) finishes up with another rocker, "Vertigo".
This song has the drive and push and spirit and grit of BRMC, and
really shows Parker's hand in things. The band digs into a slower,
bluesier groove, working in more subtle dynamic touches as the music
ebbs and flows, waves of sound fading out and then exploding back
in as if for the kill.
Side B has a little different spirit as it begins with a slower,
dirge-heavy track ("Psychopomps") that leads into the almost-poppy
"Take The Sun", a track with a brilliant melody line that
lilts beautifully among the battling guitars. The guitars in "Who
Do You Think You Aren't" have a much more mid-90's flavor, recalling
Twice Wilted's unique voice, as the drums rely more on toms and move
in and out of crashing waves of sound. This is where the band's sound
becomes much more cinemagraphic, realizing a sound that is as visual
as it is auditory, filled with brilliant colors and swirling patterns.
"Conjure" is the slowest track on the LP, taking the tempo
down a notch and trading a bit of overt power for atmosphere. The
guitars are gritty and spend their time moving back and forth as the
crescendo builds to when the song finally breaks free. Closing side
B is the powerful "The Tide", a song that is as deliberate
and as spooky as it is beautiful. The song rides a wave of bass guitar
and solid drumming, the guitars working in and out, twisting melodies
into buzzsaw grinds and feedback-heavy drones as Ottoway's voice breaks
through the morass to punctuate the changes.
However, all of this great music might not have even been reached
without the opening album track "Kiss Of Sister Ray". The
first thing you hear when the needle lands on The Whole Sea Is
Raging is the steadfast and puissant drumming of Erin Tidwell.
Then launch the dueling guitars and throbbing bass before Ottoway
lays in with his vocals, completing the brilliant torrent of sound.
An excellent start to what turns out to be a really, really fine record.
The Whole Sea Is Raging is probably one of the finest records
to ever come out of the Denver area
if not the finest.
One of the greatest things about record albums, other than their
sound and vibe, is their length. A vinyl album never overstays its
welcome and oftentimes, such as this, it leaves far too soon. Nine
songs and roughly 34 minutes makes for a great album length, but when
the needle came off of side two of The Whole Sea Is Raging,
it definitely left me wanting for more. Perhaps a double album next
time would be just about right
All you kids go out and find a turntable and the new Overcasters
record and see just how great your musical life can be.
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