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Overcasters
The Whole Sea Is Raging
(self-released)
www.overcasters.com


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 else.

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.

-David DeVoe

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