For Fans Of
Ocean Grove are shamelessly, proudly, products of their musical upbringings. Everything about this band – from how they dress and their aesthetic, to their videos and their music – screams this ethos. They truly love and respect what they were brought up on, wishing to put their own spin on those sounds, on the bands and records that influenced them, inspired by what they loved as young men who are now growing into adults. An existence where mullets, JNCO jeans, So Fresh CDs, and Limewire are all life.
After their exceptional, nu-metalcore-meets-alt-rock-meets-experimental debut LP from three years ago, the reinventing break-through that was ‘The Rhapsody Tapes,’ Ocean Grove are now transitioning into various other musical worlds. After amicably parting ways with vocalist Luke Holmes and guitarist Jimmy Hall back in early 2019, with the band’s biggest sound change coming now in the different tone and style of the vocals, the four-piece now hurl their weird blend of pop, rock, nu-metal, electronica, down newer avenues. Though maybe not necessarily better ones. For it there are any similarities to their last outing, it’s surface-level only, as these songs all take on a new dynamic.
While I personally much prefer their debut album over this newest record, ‘Flip Phone Fantasy‘ also isn’t a mere safe rehash of its predecessor, nicely showcasing the wide breadth of ideas this Melbourne act harbour. Whether it be grungy rock akin to Nirvana or their most notable Aussie comparison, Silverchair; the immensely groovy, bass-smacking nu-metal of Limp Bizkit or Korn; the explosive, rocking Brit-pop of your Blur’s or the catchy alt-rock of your No Doubt’s; or on one particular stand-out track, OG paying homage to the ’90s U.K. drum-and-bass scene in damn fine fashion, there’s a little something for everyone here. And every song is different than the last, with most of the rock-orientated tracks sounding like WWE entry themes, making for a fun, amusing time.
Following a ringtone and a quick “hello?,” opener ‘Superstar‘ kicks off with big synths, distorted power chords and cheeky vocals like its 1999 all over again. For many songs on ‘Flip Phone Fantasy,’ this is the core songwriting bread-and-butter: hulking metal grooves from the rhythm section of talented drummer/producer Sam Bassal and bassist Twiggy, complete with Matthew Henley’s heavy-ass guitar tones, as frontman Dale Tanner leads us through a melodic gallery of hazy alt-rock and catchy pop hooks that will make you check your calendar every two or so minutes just to ensure you haven’t suddenly gone back in time 15-20 years.
With a seamless transition, searingly bright guitar melodies and modulated vocals of “find a way out” drive the speedy ‘Neo‘ forward into being a cool, short and sweet rock tune; one of the album’s better cuts, for what it’s worth. The de-tuned riffs, snappy snare hits, and “wo-ooh” vocal lines give ‘Sense Again‘ a smoothed-over pop edge before it bulks up on a chunky wall of rock guitars and Dale’s gritty yells as he opens up those belting pipes in the huge choruses, sounding like the kind of chart-topping pop-rock hit that Daniel Johns never got around to writing. While I’m not that overly stoked on it, as that kind of poppy Occa-rock often does little for me, it’s clear that songs like this are going to seriously place OG as bigger festival drawcards moving forward.
‘Sunny‘ is one of the catchiest OG songs so far, no question about it, but the insane amount of high-end frequency information in the chorus between the vocals and guitars creates this grating, wall-of-sound effect that is just so fucking painful on repeat listens. It’s obvious that that’s the intention: it’s supposed to be big, loud, abrasive, and overwhelming in those massive refrains. Yet this was too much, lads. Similar to ‘JUNKIE$,’ ‘Thousand Golden People‘ is one of but two heavier-themed cuts on ‘Flip Phone Fantasy,’ with huge bounces and vinyl-scratches likely satiating the nu-metal demographic of their audiences; listeners who are probably confused and disappointed about what’s going on now. Regardless, it does sound like a weaker, re-run version to ‘Glass Gloss‘ in form and feel, without the “oomph” of that other track.
In an extreme polar opposite, ‘Guys From The Gord‘ is easily THE song of the album. This is OG’s take on ’90s underground jungle/drum-and-bass music and they do it so bloody well. There’s just so much energy in this thing! The looped drum break samples overlaid with Sam’s snappy live drumming, and Dale’s gruff yells and lo-fi vocals singing about “heartbeats in the bass-lines” as wobbling bass-heavy subs attack everything in their path is a glorious thing to behold. Like the next step from ‘From Dalight.’ ‘Guys From The Gord‘ has so many little details in it, and I always gravitated to it the most during each and every trip around this stylish mobile. It’s banger central, reminding me of the other great, left-of-field mid-release songs that OG have done in the past: from ‘Diploid‘ to ‘Slow Soap Soak.’
As for the other side of this pink Motorolla flip-phone, we get the feel-good, summery radio-rock sound of ‘Shimmer,’ which just goes in one ear and out the other; the kind of safe commercial rock sound that the band will no doubt cultivate more over time. Things then chill out harder with the soft, lazy, laid-back acoustic ’90s lullaby, ‘Baby Cobra.’ A decent, peaceful little ethereal piece that acts as a sweet palette cleanser, ever-increasing the diverse dynamics of ‘Flip Phone Fantasy.’ (That songs’ title also gives me a conspiracy feeling that it’s inspired by Limp Bizkit’s ‘Golden Cobra,’ which wouldn’t be out of place knowing this bands’ roots and influences. But I also have no way to prove it. So like all half-baked theories, I’m just going to let it drift off into the digital void for eternity.)
With ‘Ask For The Anthem‘ having been released over a year ago, it has the longest, most familiar lead-in of any song present on ‘Flip Phone Fantasy.’ To the point where I’m not really sure if I’ve just heard it so many times by now that I’ve grown accustomed to it, that I don’t mind it within the context of the LP, like a form of musical Stockholm Syndrome. Either way, it’s a witty mixture of 2000’s alt and pop with a meta lyrical sense about a deeper connection to music that all could’ve been a lot worse. Then, acting as a low-key, OG-branded hip-hop/house track, ‘Sway‘ is another tiny but tasty surprise morsel for the record’s vision and pacing, and I sincerely hope that the band never stop writing these kinds of shorter interlude jam tracks.
The groovy, massive-sounding nu-metal thrasher of ‘JUNKIE$‘ is definitely a key stand-out of OG’s second effort and a song that has grown on me so much since first covering it. As it blends what they’ve done previously with where they’re going now very well; an irresistibly fun and head-banging slapper that feels natural, even if I still do think the lyrics are a bit off about the response to their new sound and who their true fans are. Still, between it and ‘Thousand Golden People,’ ‘JUNKIE$’ is the clear winner. Then ‘Freaks‘ closes shit out, a power ballad rock song switching between intimate acoustic verses and wailing choruses and screaming guitars. It ain’t a bad send-off for the album, but not a particularly memorable one either.
Look, no matter what, all art is based and judged on our preconceived notions; nothing exists in a bubble. And if there’s one big critique to be leveled at OG’s sophomore effort, it’s that it doesn’t feel or sound anywhere near as forward-thinking or as coherent as their previous record. ‘The Rhapsody Tapes,’ for all of its cool experimental ideas and strange genre-hopping, still felt totally complete and perfectly curated; one of its strongest aspects as an album. Sadly, that simply isn’t the case with the overall flow and style meshing of ‘Flip Phone Fantasy,’ as while it’s inconsistent with its styles (not a bad thing), I do find it inconsistent with what songs land well and which don’t. However, this LP isn’t some glaring step-backward for the Melbourne group; just a slightly lower step to the side.
The greatest success of ‘Flip Phone Fantasy’ is its boldness, and how Ocean Grove are truly championing free self-expression, for themselves and for other artists alike. Ocean Grove’s open-mindedness is extremely refreshing, and while not every part of this new album lands as well other aspects – ‘Guys from the Gord,’ ‘Sway,’ and ‘JUNKIE$’ hit for me, but ‘Freaks,’ ‘Thousand Golden People’ and ‘Shimmer’ do not – it’s sense of musical adventure is incredibly noble. Something that bodes well for what other strange horizons Ocean Grove will set their sights on in the future. The sonic and stylistic diversity of ‘Flip Phone Fantasy,’ measured with its metaphorical and either subtle or not-so-subtle lyricism, creates another interesting, fun listening experience from the wonderfully weird minds of OG. While it definitely isn’t another ‘Rhapsody Tapes,’ neither in terms of high-achieving quality or in the heavier core-driven genre that flowed so impeccably well, that’s fine. As it’s not even trying to be like its predecessor. Yet what ‘Flip Phone Fantasy’ does get right, it executes with a somewhat inconsistent, but loveably weird and fluid grace.
Thousand Golden People
Guys from the Gord
Ask For The Anthem
‘Flip Phone Fantasy’ is out now: