Oceansize, Amplifier, Martin Grech
Alex Worsnip 15/08/2005
Somewhere in another universe, Oceansize would be commercially viable. As it stands, their progressive (but not as such prog - despite the long songs and experimentations, they're too lean and mean to ever make anything overly fanciful) sound, influenced by post-rock and metal but not fully either, is unlikely to break any sales records in the near
future, but with a new album out soon, they're doing enough to get by. And clearly that's not going unappreciated - the audience here, very serious and hairy, know every word, though most of them would never do anything so indie as to mouth or let along sing along. Accordingly, appropriate support acts have been chosen for this show at the (frankly
pretty horrible) Barfly. First up is Martin Grech, whose recordings exhibit invention and complexity that takes in everything from classical to metal to folk, along with a haunting voice that recalls an evil (in the best possible way) Jeff Buckley. That voice is here tonight, enhanced by an echoing mic effect, and that always counts for something, but unfortunately the inventiveness isn't. The reason? It's an acoustic set. Most singer-songwriters lose very little acoustically, gaining intensity if anything, but because Martin Grech's arrangements and instrumentation are important, he loses more. Stripped down his songs seem more portentous and weighty, and some of the lyrics are revealed to be somewhat cliched. There genuinely seems to be very little logic in his playing acoustically. Next up are Amplifier, who
fit, as far as there is any kind of scene around Oceansize's sound, into the same kind of bracket, or at least so I thought. The first track is slow, atmospheric and intense, and sounds like if only the annoying singer shut up it could be pretty accomplished post-rock, though Oceansize do the similar sound better. But after this they declare the rest of their set will be 'new material'. And they've got a new direction - namely to strip back to sub-standard hard rock which,
despite the occasional interesting riff or bassline, is for the most part entirely uninterested, sounding, oddly, at times even like a third-rate Nirvana. It's shrill and genuinely really quite horrible.
But of course the band I'm really here to see is Oceansize. Frontman Mike Vennert is in a contrary mood, partly perhaps due to the venue, and certainly the sound problems which they face towards the beginning, but this ultimately comes good, resulting in the gloriously patronising proclamation following the outbreak of moshing during one of their heavier moments, 'dance like adults; don't push each other like children'. You could forgive the latter though, as the set is blisteringly intense and the old material sounds awesome, with the 3-guitar attack delivering a perfect rendition of 'Amputee' and a savage version of 'One Out Of None', amongst others. The new material, however, is mixed. It's more metal-influenced, in keeping with the Music For Nurses EP, and seems heavily influenced by the extreme quiet-loud dynamics of Aerogramme. But on the surface the melodies that link all the technical excellence and odd time signatures (which, incidentally, are so much fun to attempt to dance to it's almost insane, even if I'm one of the few people doing so -but seriously, there's a certain groove to Oceansize's music) seem strangely absent. This is, however, until the last song, 'Music For A Nurse' (not off the EP of the almost same name but in fact off the forthcoming second album 'Everyone Into Position'), which is utterly incredible: all-out post-rock, pianos and all, tear-inducingly beautiful yet, as always, building to a furious climax, perfect noise that is like prime Mogwai except possibly even better - yes, that good. It sounds like the best thing they've ever done, which is truly no mean feat, and should make the next album worth the entry price alone. No encore - always a good move - and so it finishes on a high. Don't count them out yet.